Torres del Paine is a massif of several mountains jutting
out of the Patagonian steppe on the eastern side of the Austral
Andes. The names of the mountains can be quite confusing. The
Torres del Paine massif in Torres del Paine National Park includes the
Torres del Paine range (which we refer to as Las Torres or the Towers),
the Cuernos del Paine range (the Horns) and the Grey Glacier beside Paine
To the west and to the north, the Torres del Paine
National Park forms the southern portion of the Southern Patagonia Ice
Field. The ice sheet is continuous from the park's Grey Glacier to
Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, which is about 50 miles north.
To cover this distance by vehicle will take about 8 hours, including
travel south toward Puerto Natales, then northeast on the Patagonian
steppe to El Calafate and then west to Perito Moreno and the ice field
Trekking in Torres del Paine can be done in a full 100 km
circle of the massif or by the shorter and more popular 5 day hike called "the
W Circuit" shown on the
map of the W Circuit route. The "W" refers to the pattern of the
trail. It is also possible to hike separate sections of the W
Circuit in 1 - 3 days. The W Circuit includes the las Torres Valley, the
French Valley bordered by Paine Grande / Cuernos del Paine and the
trail along Lake Grey / Paine Grande to the Grey Glacier.
This area is close to Antarctica and not very warm, even
in the summer months of January - March. Wind and cloud are year
round impediments to the fabulous views. Rainfall is fairly light
and consistent throughout the year, though March does have slightly more
rain. It is windier in the summer months. Expect average
highs of around 66 F (19 C) in summer (January) and average lows of 44 F
(6 C). In the winter average highs are 40 F (5 C) while
lows average a few degrees below freezing. Be prepared for rain and sleet during
your hike regardless of what the weather is when you start your
day. Also, use lots of sun screen, as the exposure to UV rays can
be very high. Want to know the current weather temperature in Torres del Paine?
Puerto Natales is the staging area for Torres del
Paine. Buses and tours run regularly each day to the park at Laguna
Amarga in under 2
hours. There is a small airport in Puerto Natales, but the
more common access to the city is via a bus ride from Punta Arenas, which
is 4.5 hours from Puerto Natales. Bus-Sur,
Gomez and Buses Fernandez provide
access on this route. The roads in the park are gravel, which
may affect the ability to rent a car. Refugio Las Torres runs shuttles to and from the park entrance at Laguna Amarga.
They're free if you're staying at the refugio. It is also possible to
arrange bus transportation between El Calafate and the park.
Holland America offers a full day excursion to
Torres del Paine by flying in from Punta Arenas.
Puerto Natales is the best place to outfit your
trek. Rent sleeping
bags, tents, walking sticks, water proof jackets & pants and
waterproof duffel bags. Leave your suitcase at a hotel in
storage and retrieve your non-trekking belongings after your
excursion to the Towers. You can also rent tents and sleeping
bags at Lodge Paine Grande. The lodge has public washrooms, a
small store, a cafeteria and a bar.
Camping at Lodge Paine Grande with views of Cuernos del Paine
Trekking and Hiking in Torres del Paine:
Las Torres (the Towers) - This is the most difficult climb of
W Circuit Trekkingand forms its right side. The hiking trail starts by
the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia and Ecocamp Patagonia. It climbs the base of Almirante
Nieto mountain and then levels out in a glacial valley. Next it
turns steeply upward, traverses up a moraine and arrives at the small
lake at the foot of the towers, where the viewpoint is called
Mirador Las Torres. Some recommend climbing early in the morning
for the best views, however our guide indicated the clouds often clear
each day at around 3pm, which is exactly what happened during our Take
That Vacation trek. Plan at least a 7 hour day on this 19 km
return hike or camp an hour below the
viewpoint and wait for the best views.
The French Valley - This forms the mid section of the W
Circuit with the Cuernos del Paine on the right as you
ascend and Paine Grande on the left. The trail leads
northeast along the lake shore from Lodge Paine Grande and up to the Italian camp near the Frances
glacier. The distance is 7.6 km of easy walking or about 2.5
hours. It's another 5.5 km or 3.5 hours from there through the
French Valley to the British Camp. You can also reach the valley
from the Las Torres Valley by hiking southwest along Lake
Nordenskjold to the Cuernos Camp for 11 km or 4.5 hours. From
the Cuernos Camp to the Italian Camp is 5.5 km or 2.5 hours. It
can take 3 days to cover the entire middle section, but many tours
only access the French Valley from the Lodge Paine Grande to reduce
the hiking time to 1 or 2 days.
Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine
Lake Grey and Grey Glacier - This forms
the left side of the W Circuit. The trail starts at the Lodge Paine
Grande and travels between Lake Grey and Paine Grande
mountain. There is a lookout at the halfway point, a hostel at
the glacier and an option to take a ferry back down Lake Grey instead
of hiking a full day to return to Lodge Paine Grande. The one
way distance is 11 km or approximately 3.5 hours.
Lake Pehoe Ferry- Lake Pehoe is
located at the base of the Cuernos del
Paine mountain and is fed by the Salto Grande Waterfall, which
can be seen on the ferry ride. The lake and ferry are accessible by vehicle.
The Hielos Patagonicos Ferry crosses the lake from Pudeto to Lodge Paine
It's a key access method, as it provides the option to hike to the
Grey Glacier or the French Valley from the Lodge Paine Grande.
On the plains near the mountains, see ostrich-like rheas, condors, pink flamingos and guanacos (alpaca
relative). There are a great
variety of wild flowers in the park.
For insight into hiking the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, see stephandben.com.
- G Adventures has a great private camp and an excellent 2.5 days of
hiking on the W Circuit. Check out their End of the Earth tour,
which is how Take That Vacation visited in 2014.
Hotels in Torres del Paine:
Accommodation along the hiking circuit consists of hostels or lodges, often referred to as refugios.
The refugios offer camping and hostels with bunk beds shared by groups without differentiation
between sexes. The bathrooms are shared, but are differentiated by sexes.
There are a number of quality hotels located near the hiking circuit entry
Take That Vacation Refugio Recommendations:
Paine Grande - the starting point for hiking to the French Valley or the
Grey Glacier. It has single beds in a mixed dormitory with shared
bathrooms. There is also a store, cafeteria and a bar, plus Wi Fi.
Tent and sleeping bag rentals are available and there is open camping on
the grounds around the lodge. There is no vehicle access to this
lodge. It is accessible by the Hielos Patagonicos Ferry that crosses
Patagonia - located at the start of the trail to the Towers. Sleep
in private domed tents with washrooms and wood heat. Eat in a community
tent and have a drink at the bar. Full or half board.
Lago Grey - this is a refugio at the end of the Grey Glacier hike.
It has single beds in a mixed dormitory with shared bathrooms. There is
also a store, meals and a bar, plus Wi Fi.
Sur - Fantastico Sur has rights to the refugios and
cabins in the park.
Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, start of Las Torres trail
Take That Vacation Hotel Recommendations:
Las Torres Patagonia - a large hotel complex located at the start of the
trail to the Towers. This is the closest hotel to Mirador Las Torres and
they have many full
and half day excursions to choose from.
Lago Grey - located at the base of Lago Grey with views of the lake,
the glacier and Paine Grande. The hotel is accessible by vehicle but is
not near the hiking trails. Take their ferry to the Grey Glacier and
begin hiking the W Circuit. The hotel offers many tour options.
Enjoy the views from the restaurant, bar or lounge.
Patagonia - top quality 5 star hotel located beside Chico Falls with lovely
views of Pehoe Lake, Paine Grande, Cuernos de Paine and Almirante Nieto.
Pehoe - on a vehicle accessible island in Lake Pehoe with magnificent
views of Cuernos del Paine and Paine Grande. Unfortunately the hotel
doesn't rate as highly as their views.
Hosteria Tercera Barranca
- pleasant accommodation set back 20 km from the Las Torres trail head. It has excellent views of the Towers.