Travel tips for Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
Ever since we saw Torres del Paine in Chile on tv about 12 years ago, we knew one thing for sure: this is a place we had to go to one day. This world famous park encompasses spectacular mountains, multi-colored lakes, glaciers, lots of wildlife and a magic touch that you will never understand unless you have been there.
By December 2009 we had saved up enough after buying our house and it was our time to head south to Patagonia! We spent about a week in the park, hiking the W-trek and enjoying the outstanding beauty of this place. In 2012 I got the chance to go back again and stayed for three more days … we consider ourselves incredibly lucky that we were able to go here and are sure we’ll return again one day. For now, we’ll share our travel tips for Torres del Paine with you. Including our hikes, how to get to Torres del Paine and where to stay. Enjoy reading!
Where is Torres del Paine?
Torres del Paine is located all the way down south in Chilean Patagonia and it’s quite a journey to get there. But as a real traveler, I can’t really be bothered. From Santiago in Chile, you can fly to Punta Arenas. From Buenos Aires in Argentina, you can fly to El Calafate (where you’ll also want to see pretty Perito Moreno!). From both places it’s an approximate 6 hour drive or bus ride, however the one from Argentina is quite a bit more expensive and the border crossing may take a bit of your time, especially when it’s busy.
And how about the name?
The park is named after the famous rock formation Las Torres del Paine (The Towers of Paine). Those three towers rise dramatically from the Paine massif and are the centerpiece of the park. If you want to get up close and personal with them, you will have to work for it. From Hosteria Las Torres it’s about a four hour walk up to the base of the towers, the last hour being quite a scramble over a steep rocky trail. The trek up is well worth it however! If you are not planning on trekking, the best location to see the towers is from Laguna Azul in the eastern side of the park.
Another impressive rock formation in the Paine massif is Los Cuernos (The Horns). It´s located towards the western part of the park, at the base of the turquoise colored Lago Pehoe. Unfortunately, they are not possible to access such as Las Torres, however if you are on the popular W-trek you will get quite close when walking from El Chileno to Refugio los Cuernos, the mountain hut that is located pretty much at the base of the Horns. If you are driving from east to west, Los Cuernos will appear in your rearview mirror at some point so never forget to look back every now and then!
What to do in Torres del Paine
One of our favorite things to do in Torres del Paine is visiting Lago Grey and the same name glacier. Glaciar Grey is one of the few calving glaciers within the park boundaries that is relatively easily accessible. Just like many of the other glaciers in Patagonia it streams down from the massive South Patagonian ice field, one of the largest ice fields in the world. You can get to the glacier by boat or by foot. If you decide to go for the boat option, keep in mind that the navigation is subject to weather and is canceled quite often because of the winds. If you decide to go by foot, prepare for a sturdy 2 day trek. If you are lucky, chunks of ice have broken off the glacier and those icebergs can be seen from the shores of Lago Grey. A truly picturesque scenery and one of the most impressive I´ve ever seen!
About the Patagonian wind
Another thing we should tell you about are the Patagonian winds. They are unbearable, but they come with the visit. There’s almost no days without wind, I’ve been to Patagonia four times (sorry, not trying to brag here!) and it’s always windy. Make sure you are properly dressed in layers and bring a hat and mittens. Yes, even in summertime! Just try to see the fun side of it, at least your hair will look perfect … or not (my case).
Wildlife is abundant too. You will definitely run into guanacos and hopefully some Andes foxes too. Don’t forget to look up above your head every now and then, big chance you will see condors gliding through the sky. If you are lucky you may get to see a puma. We never did, so that’s a good reason to head back some day, as well as wanting to do the whole Circuit trek instead of just the W-trek.
Travel tips for Torres del Paine
– Unlike most of the other national parks in Patagonia, the entrance fee is quite high, about 40 euros per person. Tickets can be purchased upon arrival but only in Chilean Pesos, at least to my knowlegde. Credit cards and Argentinian Pesos are not accepted so if you come from El Calafate, it’s wise to visit a bank and get some Pesos there. Also, there are no ATM’s but most accommodations do accept creditcards.
– There is no public bus transportation within the park. If you don’t have a car you will have to use the (rather expensive) private transportation offered by the hotels. You can also walk the W trek but you will still need at least one mode of transportation to get you back to the start of the hike. Prepare to spend (a lot of) money on transportation!
– Food is pricy, accommodation is even more expensive. Make sure to book ahead as there’s just a few places to stay. We’ve stayed at the Refugios when doing the W-trek, where you get a bunk and 3 good and filling meals a day (breakfast and dinner, lunch will come as package to carry on your hike). I’ve also stayed in Hosteria Las Torres which was wonderful and much more comfortable than the Refugio’s. However, be prepared to pay up for it…
– There are no supermarkets in the park, just a small store close to Las Torres. It’s suggested to take food with you from Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales or El Calafate because (sorry for repeating myself) the food is pretty expensive. Back in 2012 a lunch buffet at Hosteria las Torres was about USD 45. Just imagine the number of steaks you can get for that in a good restaurant in Buenos Aires.
– There’s no cell phone coverage in Torres del Paine. Some hotels have Wifi but it’s pretty slow. Just be prepared to be away from it all a couple of days and don’t stress out if you are unable to reach home to tell those who stayed behind what a fantastic place Torres del Paine is. Just enjoy it instead…
– You can camp in the park but in all honesty, it didn’t really look very appealing. The campgrounds I encountered were jammed with tents and backpackers, it felt like I was walking at a music festival rather than in a national park. I’ve often heard people say that their dream is to go camping in Patagonia because it sounds so idyllic, well believe me, those campgrounds are nowhere near idyllic. My guess is that they are rather cold instead.
– How much time you should spend in Torres del Paine? I’ll leave that up to you! If you don’t like hiking and are on a tight budget, I’d say two whole days. If you have more time and enjoy hiking, at least a week. One day is definitely too short and in case the weather is bad, which does happen occasionally, you always can have another go the next day.
Although I may not have convinced you to go to Torres del Paine, as I mentioned that it’s windy and expensive, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Out of all the places in the world I’ve been to, Torres del Paine is definitely in my top 10 of favorite places to go to. It’s a place I wouldn’t mind returning to year after year, just a shame that it’s basically all the way on the other side of the world…
Interested in hiking the famous W-trek in Torres del Paine National Park? Then read our full blogpost about this trek here.
[This article was first published in January 2014 and updated in November 2017.]
amazing place. this was an inspiring post!
Thanks! Hope you can make it one day!
Just got back from a whirlwind (literally!) trip ourselves to Torres del Paine. One day of really cold, bitter, windy weather. The next day was gorgeous. You can’t plan it, but it is gorgeous either way!
Glad to hear you got at least one gorgeous day! Even though the park is beautiful, good weather makes it extra special. First time we went there we didn’t even get to see the towers properly 🙁
Great photos and informative post! Would love to get there one day.
Thanks Frank! Hope you can make it there one day!
What amazing photos – and what a time! Thanks for sharing.
Amazing! Makes me wanna go there.. I know why I am staying away from travelblogs now!! awwww.
You sure have seen magical places and I wish I could do have of what you have done 🙂
thumbs up for the new layout!
Als ik dit zo lees voel ik me weer net alsof ik daar weer sta. Zo leuk! Volgende trip de W-trekking inplannen… Dacht dat ik alleen nog andere gebieden, waar ik nog niet geweest ben, op mijn wishlist had staan maar de lijst wordt langer…
I loved the park when I went in the early 90’s. We rented a car and continued north from there and spent additional time in the Lake District which was stunning as well. Your post just makes me want to go back!
Yeah, even reading my own post makes me want to go back … the Lake District is gorgeous too indeed, so many nice things to see in Chile!
So great to read your blog! My daughter and I are planning a trip to Chile in January and we only have one week. we both want to visit the park. Any advice as to 3 to 4 days? We love to hike and she has done Macchu Picchu and a base camp in Nepal. Would so appreciate your input.
Thanks Kris! I’d suggest to stay overnight in Las Torres area and do on day hikes from there – they have an excellent choice of hikes you can do. The best one would be up to the towers as well as the French valley, those were definitely my favorite days on the W-trek. Are those 3-4 days inside the park or incl. travel to/from the park?
We will be heading there in Feb 2017 after our Antarctica trip. Definitely doing the W trek, thanks for the heads up about camping as we were contemplating taking a tent but I think a room inside a refugio sounds much more appealing!
Awesome, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it a lot! To me, the tents didn’t really look appealing, however the rooms are more expensive. I’d probably go for the rooms again, also because of the weather that can be horrendous there… have fun!
Great tips–thanks for sharing! This is so helpful. We are hoping to visit next year, but it’s still up in the air. Hopefully it all works out because this made me want to go even more–it looks like such a gorgeous area!!
Thanks Jenna, I hope you can make it next year!
Such a shame to hear places like this in Patagonia are getting so expensive. I’ve been wanting to visit for some time now so that I could hike around parks, just like this, but it looks like I’ll be holding off until money starts appearing more frequently out of nowhere! lol
That being said, the park does look absolutely gorgeous! When taking the treks, are you allowed to set up a minimalist tent along those hikes to help save some money? Food wise – how are the local markets and, as they call it in New York, how are the ‘street meat’ options? lol
Patagonia isn’t too expensive, I just thought TdP was, also because it’s pretty isolated. We were in northern Patagonia last year and it wasn’t too bad actually … however it’s still more expensive than the rest of South America. You can’t camp unless it’s on a designated campground though.
That’s incredible. I’ve always seen South America as a nature lover’s paradise, I have yet to make the journey, actually. For me it has primarily been deserts in North Africa and the Middle East, North America and Europe.
I hope you can make it, South America is one of the best continents for nature lovers if you ask me!
Planning a trip this summer!! I feel a little lost about how to get here!! Where should we fly into/ how did you travel here? Is it possible to explore the park by yourself or do you need tours? How much do tours cost?
It looks so beautiful I cannot wait to explore!
With summer, do you mean July/August or the South American summer? As far as I know, all accommodation is closed in the park in July/August (their wintertime), mostly from sometime May-mid September if I’m right. Are you already in Argentina or Chile when traveling to Torres del Paine? Let me know where you’re planning on coming from so I can give you more info on how to get there. If you have a car you can easily get around, but if not, it’s a bit more complicated and expensive.
Great read! My husband and I are going in February but I don’t think we will be doing treks due to the high costs. Are there places to stay in the park other than tents? We would love to go for about 3 days and do some day hikes around…our goal is to see the Torres del Paine.
Oh and I hope you will have awesome weather so you can see the towers!
Awesome read! My husband and I are from the States and are going this February to Chile (plan is to go to Puntas Arenas first). We won’t be doing the circuit or W trek because they are too expensive! However, we would love to stay several days in the park. The Refugios and the other place you mentioned are like hotels? We will probably do that and do day hikes (if possible) up to the Torres del Paine. Any recommendations?
Thanks! Sorry for the late reply but I was actually in Patagonia when you posted this. If you are on a budget I’d stay at the Refugio’s though they are still quite expensive compared to the rest of Patagonia. You have to book them in advance because February is super busy. Your best place would be to stay at Refugio Las Torres as you can do the base of the towers hike from there. You can also do various other hikes from there such as to Lago Nordenskjöld which is like the most amazing colored water ever seen. You’ll love it, enjoy!!
great trek Torres del Paine! Did the circuit and if you like, read my travel blog https://sites.google.com/site/chileandargentina2013/
Will check it out over the weekend, thanks for sharing!
Amazing place to visit. Its my dream destination soon i want to visit this
I hope you can make it there one day!
Absolutely gorgeous scenery. When we visited Patagonia, we stayed on the Argentina side and enjoyed El Calafate. You are right, the food was expensive even on the Argentina side. The glaciers are amazing and everything about Patagonia is amazing! A must visit destination, indeed!
I haven’t been to Chile yet but after reading this I think once in a lifetime one should visit Chile and experience the beauty of Torres Del Paine.
It’s awesome, I’m sure you’ll love it!