This blog post is by AWR collaborator Sarah Martens. Sarah and her husband Ted are currently traveling around the world in search of adventure and, along the way, sampling some of AWR’s great trips and looking for new destinations.
There are several awesome AWR itineraries that will get you down to the end of the continent – once you’re there Puerto Natales, Chile is the main access town (only 1.5 hours from the park by bus). Puerto Natales is actually quite a cool little spot, so if you have some extra days to play with you can definitely hang out there and entertain yourself.
The real highlight and the reason to visit this area is Torres del Paine (pronounced pie-nee) where you’ll see Patagonia at its most spectacular. You won’t be disappointed!
Torres del Paine is blessed with extreme rugged beauty, but the incredible scenery does not come without a cost. After hearing people rave about the glaciers, the jagged mountains and the emerald blue-green lakes, the most common thing we heard about the park had to do with its notorious weather. It is a very windy place all year, but when combined with blowing rain and snow and muddy trails you can be in for a tough day of hiking! We were rightfully warned and decided to accept the potential bad weather as a right of passage. If you want to see some of the most amazing scenery in the world, you might just have to work for it!
There are many ways to spend your time at the park – anything from day trips to multi-week treks. The most popular route is called the ‘W’ which is in reference to the shape of your walking path that allows you to see the park’s highlights. The ‘W’ can take anywhere from 3 to 5 days and involves backpacking between refugios (huts) along the route. Some hardy people prefer to do a 5+ day circuit which includes the ‘W’ but also covers some more remote hiking that is off the established trail. Accommodation options include camping, the well-equipped refugios, and luxury lodges at the main trailheads (AWR trips combine “EcoCamp” lodges and the refugios). We opted for an abbreviated ‘W’ which allowed us to see the park highlights without having to carry our packs for long distances each day.
On the day we arrived I was mentally and physically prepared for both the mountainous glory and potential weather challenges Mother Nature might offer us. However, I had no need to worry as the weather was absolutely gorgeous – blue skies, very little wind and no sign of it changing.
My husband and I quickly selected our camping site and headed up to see the park’s namesake – the Towers of Paine. Though we were sweating when we arrived at the top, the cold wind quickly cooled us down. It is quite a view and definitely worth the final push to get up there.
Our second day involved taking a ferry boat over to another camping area. We once again had an amazing weather day and couldn’t believe our luck. The view from the ferry of Torres del Paine’s mountains and glaciers against the vivid blue color of the lake was phenomenal.
The third day was a long hike up into the French Valley and back. We finally got a taste of the park’s infamous “imperfect” weather but I guess it was our turn to experience the true character of Torres del Paine after 2 days of being spoiled. In the French Valley you get to hike next to an enormous glacier that thunders and calves every few minutes. The view from the top was a little cloudy but still afforded 365 degree views of a wide open bowl.
The last section of our abbreviated ‘W’ trek involved a hike to a glacier. I decided to take a rest day (which are allowed on vacation, right?); my husband, however, set out to see the Grey Glacier and his pictures make me wish I hadn’t been so lazy that day! You can walk along a path and look directly down onto the glacier, a unique angle to take in this mammoth flow of ice.
When we got back to Puerto Natales after 3 nights in the park we were exhilarated and exhausted. Nothing can prepare you for the incredible scenery that surprises you around every corner – it is worth every day you can spend there! We were spoiled by two days of phenomenal weather and loved our time in the park. But even those who get rained on (including us) love it – no matter the weather you’re sure to have a memorable time in Torres del Paine.