Geographic location of Torres del Paine national park
Between the Andean mountain range and the Patagonian steppe, Torres del Paine National Park lies at the heart of the 12th Region of Chile, a beautiful province named Last Hope (Última Esperanza). Puerto Natales is the closest city to the main entrance (Sarmiento), 115 km away along an unpaved road (2-hour ride). Torres del Paine is also adjacent to Los Glaciares National Park, on the Argentine side and, together, these two areas offer one of the most amazing landscapes across Latin America.
Torres del Paine National Park covers 181,000 hectares and was declared a Biosphere Reserve by Unesco in 1978. Thousands of visitors come every year to this place for hiking and to enjoy the breathtaking views: forests, mountains, valleys, lakes, glaciers, and waterfalls. Animals are particularly abundant in the region: pumas, huemules (small Andean deer), guanacos, condors, flamingos, etc. The area was named after the three granite peaks, which are the most characteristic of the park, reaching up to 2,900 m.
One of the main features of the massif peaks is their difference in color: clearer in the middle and darker at the base and peak. The reason for this is the geomorphology of the Paine: 12 million years ago a magma layer was formed in between the sedimentary mantles. Once the magma cooled down, granite was formed which later came to the surface due to the tectonic earthquake that elevated the massif. The numerous valleys are the result of the Southern ice field glaciers. Rivers and lakes are also of glacier origin, but have formed at different heights and are joined by small falls.
The first pioneers came to the region in the late 19th century. They settled at cattle and sheep-raising estancias. The preservation of the park has led to a decrease in this activity and several estancias have turned into guest houses.
See our page: When to go to Argentina.
What to see in Torres del Paine ?
The Paine massif extends over 24 km and is 13 km wide. Notable is Cerro Paine Grande which has four peaks, the main reaching up to 3,050 m. The Valle del Francés separates that range from the Cuernos del Paine, three peaks displaying different colors, clearer in the middle, like Monte Almirante Nieto (2,640 m). On the southern front stand the celebrated Paine towers: Torre Central (Central Tower) (2,800 m), Norte (North) (2,600 m), Sur (South) (2,850 m).
The glaciers stem from the huge Patagonian ice field (known as the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, Chile) which extends down the whole of Patagonia, both in Chile and Argentina. Here you can see a wealth of glaciers: Dickson, Grey, Torre, Perro, Geike. The Grey is the biggest extending over the lake bearing the same name. You may get closer by boat if you take the beautiful excursion among the icebergs that have broken off from the glacier, all the way down to the front ice wall.
Lakes and rivers
The various lakes and rivers of the park originated in the glaciers, in the Patagonian ice field. Differences in height cause the formation of falls: Paine, Salto Grande and Salto Chico. Lakes are joined by rivers: lakes Dickson, Paine, Nordenskjold, Pehoé, Toro… All of them of turquoise color and milk-like texture depending on the weather, depth and composition. Many of the lakes are salty and rich in nutrients, such as Sarmiento and Amarga, and have the greatest variety of animals. You may take a boat excursion to visit them.
Birds: Birds: nearly 105 species live there, among them various ñandúes and also Andean condors, eagles, cormorants, herons, ibises, flamingos, black-neck swans, turtle dove, owls…
Mammals: 25 different species, among them guanacos, foxes, rodents, pumas, huemules (deer), armadillos…
The landscape is very varied in the park and there are four types of vegetation: pre-Andean brush along rivers and lakes, mainly weeds and small shrubs, the Magellanic forest with lengas and coihues, beech species, the Patagonian steppe with weeds and small shrubs, and height vegetation, the more scarce.
Trekking across Torres del Paine national park
Torres del Paine National Park is one of the top-ten places for trekking in South America. There are various well-defined trails with signs, refuges spread around the several circuits.
Circuit Paine : This circuit is especially recommended for the advanced and those venturing for 7-10 days in the mountains, that is the time required to return to the Paine, including nights at the refuge. By doing this you’ll get closer to the Torres del Paine and also the celebrated Cuernos (Horns). Going ahead towards south, you’ll see the Valle del Francés and the glaciers.
Circuit Paine W : 4 to 5-day trekking adventure inside the massif up to the base of the Paine, visiting lakes Nordenskjold, Skottsberg, Pehoé and Grey.
Circuit Dickson glacier : 3-day trekking adventure. Departing from the park rangers station to Laguna Amarga, east of the massif, a 5-hour walk down the plateau around the Paine massif to the Serón refuge. The surface becomes craggy and it will take 3 hours to reach the Coirón campsite, and another 3 hours to get to the refuge and the Dickson glacier.
Circuit to the base of the Torres : From the Lagna Amarga park rangers station, along a 7 km road towards the Cerro Paine estancia. Then, a 2-hour hike to reach the Chileno campsite, and then the Torres campsite, 2 hours away, at the base (600 m) of the Torres del Paine. Minimum one-day excursion.
Grey glacier circuit : 3.5 hour trek around the Grey lake from the Pehoé refuge to get to the front side of the glacier. Whole day excursion.
Glacier Zapata circuit: 2-hour walk from the park rangers station at the Grey lake to the refuge and the Zapata glacier. At least half-day excursion.
Hotels et estancias : where to stoy in Torres el Paine national park ?
Hotel Altiplánico Sur, Puerto Natales
Located 3 km away from Puerto Natales, the Altiplánico hotel offers an experience where you will enjoy the best views of the Balmaceda glacier. An elegant and cozy hotel.
Hotel Indigo Patagonia, Puerto Natales
A charming Patagonian style hotel with 3 exterior Jacuzzi overlooking the Balmaceda glacier and a restaurant that offers the best delicacies of local cuisine.
Estancia Cerro Guido, Torres del Paine
The lodge is located at the park entrance, and has been set up on a genuine estancia since the beginning of the 20th century. The house that used to belong to the owners is currently the guest house.
Hostería Lago Grey, Torres del Paine
Located just by the side of the lake and the Grey glacier, these comfortable facilities provide a supreme view of the park’s wonders.
Transportation : how to get to Torres del Paine ?
Plane : The entrance to the park is at the same distance (400 km) from the airports of Punta Arenas, in Chile, and El Calafate, in Argentina. It is a bit closer from Río Gallegos, Argentina (375 km).
Road : Buses going straight to Puerto Natales (3 hours) and El Calafate (5 hours).
Boat :The boat trip from Puerto Montt (once a week) takes around three days. However, this ride will let you get to know the fiords and channels of southern Chile. You may also take a cruise from Ushuaia to Puerto Natales.
Around Torres del Paine national park
This small 18,000 inhabitants town has developed its tourist infrastructure to welcome those travelers who want to discover the park or who get there onboard a cruise. This port has multi-colored houses and is located on one of the sea branches, the Última Esperanza fiord, at the base of the Andes, and is one of the most amazing stopovers down Southern Chile. It is located at the main entrance of the Torres del Paine National Park.
Cueva del Milodón
Set of three caves and a 30m tall and 200m deep conglomerate of rocks known as the “Devil´s Chair.” It was named after the remains of the prehistoric animal found there: Darwin´s milodon. 24 km away from Puerto Natales.
Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers
From Puerto Natales you may take a 4-hour boat excursion down the fiord to the Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers.
El Calafate Los Glaciares national park (Argentina)
The small town of El Calafate is the main entrance to the Los Glaciares National Park, declared a world heritage by Unesco. The park has the Argentino and Viedma lakes inside. You may take a boat trip and sail in between the icebergs to get close to the glaciers, namely: the celebrated Perito Moreno.
Argentina Excepción offers several tours incorporating Southern Argentina and visits to Chile to discover the Torres del Paine National Park:
Trekking from El Chaltén to Torres del Paine : 14-day trip including 7 guided trekking adventures and 3 boat excursions among the glaciers and granite peaks of Patagonia, to both sides of the frontier.
Estancias of Patagonia : 14-day trip including 3 estancias near the glaciers in El Calafate and overlooking the Torres del Paine. Excellent trip to get to know the gaucho life while enjoying breathtaking views.
Glaciers of Patagonia and Torres del Paine circuit: 10-day trip with guide-chauffeur down the most beautiful parks of south Patagonia.