Situated on the extreme southern end of the Chilean Andes, this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is one of the most majestic national parks in South America. With divinely sculpted peaks, incredible waterfalls, ancient cave paintings, and some of the most premiere trekking in Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park is an absolute haven for adventurers. Not surprisingly, this is also Patagonia’s most popular travel destination. Thousands of visitors flock to this isolated paradise every year to be immersed in harmony with nature.
Torres del Paine National Park
Established in 1959, Torres del Paine National Park occupies 1,125 square miles of wilderness in the Magallanes region of southern Chile. This extraordinarily diverse reserve offers travelers the opportunity to discover sapphire lakes, glistening glaciers, golden-tinged steppes, sprawling nothofagus forests, and colossal mountains that collectively form what locals refer to as the Paine massif. The “towers” of the Paine Massif consist of three distinctive granite spires that rise like pinnacles with vertical walls more than 2,500 feet high. Inspired by the area’s breathtaking beauty during her journey across Patagonia, Lady Florence Dixie compared Torres del Paine’s peaks to Cleopatra’s Needles, describing its dazzling crests as Mother Earth’s version of the ancient Egyptian obelisks. The “torres” (“towers”) of the Paine massif are linked to Mount Almirante by the “Cuernos” (“horns”), an immense granite wall painted with hues of heather and indigo. Some argue that this incredible facade is even more beautiful than the towers themselves.
Torres del Paine is one of the best places in Patagonia to encounter wildlife. In fact, this region is home to large herds of guanacos (a wild camelid), black-necked swans, lesser rhea (an ostrich-like bird), Andean condors, gray foxes, buff-necked ibis, Chilean flamingos, silver foxes, and the endangered huemul. Perhaps the most enticing creature that dwells in these parts is the Patagonian puma, one of the largest of 27 subspecies of cougars. Biologists monitor these pumas closely and believe that there are between 40 and 50 specimens living within the confines of the park, some of which are spotted by lucky trekkers on occasion.
In addition to the wildlife within the reserve, there is a variety of wildlife close by including several Magellanic penguin colonies to the south. These unique birds were named after the French explorer Ferdinand Magellan who first spotted the species in the early 16th century. While large populations of these penguins still exist along Patagonia’s coastline, they are now recognized as a threatened species.
Torres del Paine Practical Information:Torres del Paine is located just west of the border of Argentina, and, as the condor flies, less than one hundred miles from Los Glaciares National Park. However, there are no direct roads that link El Calafate and El Chaltén with Torres del Paine. Thus, travelers coming from Argentina must access the park via the Cerro Castillo border crossing.
Local guides often divide the park into three sections, each of which are very distinct from the others. The western portion of the park harbors the famous Grey Glacier, and due to its proximity to the coastline, it is often the wettest and windiest section of the park. The middle section features the French Valley and refers to the section of the park located beneath the horns of the massif. The eastern fringe of the park contains the towers of the massif and often offers clearer skies due to its geographical location in the rain shadow.
The famous W trek gives travelers a comprehensive view of the park. Beginning in the western section near the Grey glacier area, the trek passes through the French Valley in front of the horns, and then finishes on the eastern stretches of the park near the towers.
For travelers, we recommend staying a minimum of three nights at Torres del Paine National Park, although a longer stay allows for a much fuller exploratory experience. We also advise travelers to choose excursions that venture to the different sections of the park on each day. In order to maximize your chance of seeing the spires, it is best to monitor the weather with your local guide to determine which day you will have the best chance of seeing the mountains and then seizing the opportunity while skies are clear (although you never know with the weather in Patagonia).