Is Torres del Paine National Park Worth Visiting?

Filed Under: Travel, Trip Reports

If you’ve ever picked up a National Geographic magazine, REI catalogue, or any other publication that remotely documents outdoor adventures, chances are you haven’t had to look too far to stumble across a picture that was taken in Torres del Paine National Park.

And with its soaring towers and crystal-blue lakes, it’s no wonder that the park sees over 250,000 visitors annually.

While that number may seem relatively small by national park standards (Yosemite sees over four million visitors a year, as a point of comparison), keep in mind that most of these visitors are there during the roughly four and half month high season, from November through early March. And with peak summer temperatures reaching an average of around 58 degrees F (14 degrees C), and nightly temperatures still hovering in the 40s, you can’t really blame people for planning their camping holiday during the small window of time when it doesn’t freeze.

Furthermore, whether visitors are day hiking or planning a five-day expedition, the grand majority of tourists are hiking somewhere along the famous W trek, which only measures about 50 miles total, and includes some out-and-back hikes.

All that to say that I loved coming here, and I really felt the strain on the park.

So, rather than providing a complete analysis, I’ve decided to divide the post into four separate sections:

  1. Hiking – If you’re coming to the park, that’s what you’re here for. Views, trails, navigation – it all matters.
  2. Weather – When the majority of your trip is going to take place outdoors, this is definitely something to consider.
  3. Value – While most of us probably plan to drop some cash while traveling, I do prefer not to feel like I’m not lighting money on fire every step of the way.
  4. Overall experience – How easy is the place to get to? Is it easy to meet other like-minded travelers? If applicable, how is the food? I consider this more of a catch-all for anything that hasn’t already been covered, and all of these little things start to add up.

Bearing all of this in mind, let’s see how Torres del Paine stacked up.

Hiking

I know that everything I have written so far indicates that I had more than one frustrating moment on this trip. But, holy [fill in the blank here], this is why you come to Torres del Paine. In the age of Instagram and Google Earth, it’s getting harder and harder to visit a place and say “it’s better than the pictures.”

Well, this is indeed one of those places. Rather than writing about it, I’ll let a few of the pictures speak for themselves:

Part of what makes it so nice is that the park is relatively compact, which allows you to get really close to the various mountains and lakes without necessarily needing an expedition support crew. You also get a ton of bang-for-your buck as far as the variety of scenery on any single hike.

The trails themselves, while crowded, are well-maintained, with plenty of suspension bridges to get you through the tougher spots.

My only complaint about the trail system itself is that some of the spots are pretty narrow, which makes considerations really tricky. But I suppose that’s more of an issue of crowds, and not the trails’ fault. 😉

Weather/Climate

If you’re traveling to Patagonia, let’s be honest – you’re not going there to escape the cold. With unpredictable weather that can go from sunny to rainy in a matter of minutes, you’ll want to pack for all four seasons, even in the summer.

We were lucky enough to have sun for the majority of our trip – a rarity in Patagonia. Even with the rain levels down, the wind was up, and a drier-than-average season resulted in some pretty epic dust storms. I didn’t capture any pictures of the dust storms themselves (we were too busy, well, trying to breathe) but the whitecaps on the lakes were pretty impressive – and a testimony to the impressive wind.

Lago Nordernskjold, or Oahu’s North Shore?

The upside to visiting Torres del Paine – or anywhere in Southern Patagonia’s Fjords, really – is that the whole area sits at a relatively low elevation for a glaciated landscape, so you won’t find yourself gasping for oxygen when you’re sitting still. The highest point where you are likely to be is at the Base las Torres (base of the three towers), which sits around 1,500 meters, or roughly 4,900 feet – lower than the city of Denver. Most of your time will be spent much lower than that, so you don’t really need to worry about altitude considerations.

Another perk of visiting during their summer is the 18 or so hours of daylight. It does make for extremely early wake-ups if you’re trying to catch the Towers at sunrise, but it sure helps with the Vitamin D deficiency that we are often prone to in the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months.

Value

If you’re looking for a bargain backpacking trip, this isn’t it. I’ve already shared my experience booking our lodging on the “W” trek in an earlier post, and while I knew what we were getting ourselves into, it didn’t take the sting away. Three nights for two adults at the Refugio Central, including breakfast and family-style dinner, set us back a grand total of $960.

And while it was still nicer than a tent accommodation, it was a tough pill to swallow for bunk beds:

Refugio Central

Nearby hotel accommodations for the same dates would have run us over $1,000 USD per night.

Other costs included:

  • Bus from Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine (about $60 USD per person, round trip)
  • Park entrance fee (about $32 USD per person, good for multiple days)
  • Meals outside of the included breakfast and dinner
  • Boat transfers within the park ($27-$100 USD, depending on the route)
  • Bus transfers within the park (about $5 USD, per person, per ride)
  • WiFi ($5 per device for one hour, $10 per device for eight hours)

And look, while none of these single costs break the bank, it all adds up, particularly for a “roughing it” vacation. Perhaps more importantly, it just started to feel like we were being nickel-and-dimed after a certain point.

Maybe I’m spoiled by the free shuttles offered within the U.S. National Park system, but there’s a certain point where, when they start charging you to use the toilets (yes, this is actually a thing at some of the campgrounds), you have to start wondering what your national park fee is actually paying for.

Overall experience

This is the area where I struggled the most. Even outside of the financial value, the park is a bit of a logistical cluster. I know that this can start to sound a little like whiny tourist syndrome, and yes, the scenery absolutely warrants the crowds – and I get all that.

The scenery was beautiful…the angry hikers not so much.

Still, there were several examples of general frustrations, even outside of the crowds, that were shared by many of the fellow travelers that I encountered:

  1. The nearest airport of note is located in Punta Arenas, about four hours away by car. Most people travel here by bus, but there is no direct bus service. Rather, you take one bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, and a second bus from Puerto Natales to the park entrance. Once you’re at the park entrance, you’ll likely need to take a third bus to get to your accommodation within the park. And while these bus companies are all aware of each others’ schedules, they all operate independently of one another, so each ticket needs to be purchased separately.
  2. Similarly, much of the inter-park transportation is dependent on boats, which turn around roughly every hour and a half, depending on where you are. They may fill the boat to capacity…or they may fill it halfway and leave everyone else on the dock for an hour and half until the next boat arrives.
  3. If you plan to do any of the multi-day treks and don’t want to pay the premium for a guide, you’ll have quite the time booking the campsites or refugios. As of October 2016, park regulations require that anyone doing any of the multi-day treks have campground reservations in advance. The sites are operated independently, by three different operators, with various levels of English translation. So if you do decide to book even three nights on the trail, be prepared for several hours of Google translate and multi-tab browsing. I like backpacking, but I don’t necessarily like doing it with Excel spreadsheets.
  4. On the flip side of the equation, if you’ve already pre-booked your campsites for each night of the trek, and you find yourself, say, arriving early or needing extra time due to weather conditions, you’re out of luck.
  5. We opted for the half-board option (breakfast and dinner), and while we appreciated just how centralized everything was, the menu appeared to be roughly inspired by Elementary School Cafeteria.

Anyway, these were just a few of the highlights from the list of things that were just a general P.I.T.A., and that others seemed equally frustrated with. No single issue was a deal breaker, but, much like someone kicking your seat repeatedly on a plane or a hotel neighbor who slams their door every morning, these little frustrations added up with time.

On the plus side, we met lots of great people, the family-style dining at the refugios did a stellar job of facilitating social interaction, and we ended up catching every bus that we wanted.

All that to say that we still had a good time, but we experienced far more headaches than we do on an average trip like this.

Alternative options

If you’re cringing at the idea of paying hundreds of dollars a night for bunk beds, but you continue to dream of glaciers, towering peaks, and amazing vistas, here are a few other options worth considering that might scratch the itch.

El Calafate and El Chalten, Argentina

Located on the Argentinian side of Patagonia, El Chalten is a sub-three-hour flight from Buenos Aires. Once you’re in town, renting a car and cruising around Los Glaciares National Park is downright easy, with zero permitting required. The immediate area is home to some of the world’s most scenic glaciers, including the famous Perito Moreno, which you can practically drive up to:

Perito Moreno Glacier

El Chalten, located about two hours away by car, is the launch pad for expeditions to Fitz Roy, which is literally the Patagonia logo. You can pretty much pick up your pack and go, camp wherever you can find space, or day hike if you prefer coming home to warm bed at night. Basic hotels were going for around $120-$130/night in early January, a downright steal compared to the $1,000+ hotels near Torres del Paine.

A quick note of warning: the weather in Chalten is arguably even worse than in Chile, and you do run the risk of not seeing the mountains, given that they are further away from the town than the comparable vistas in Torres del Paine. Still, even on rainy, cloud days, the views aren’t so bad.

Laguna de los Tres, near El Chalten

Milford Track, New Zealand

If multi-day hiking in the southern hemisphere is the goal, the Milford Track is an obvious choice. Prices have gone up in recent years, and early reservations are essential – with permits disappearing sometimes eight months in advance.

If you are going self-guided, hut reservations cost $140 NZD (just under $100 USD) per night, for three nights total. So the value isn’t that much betterbut the booking process is downright easy by comparison. Indoor cooking facilities, bunk beds, and water are provided, but you do need to bring sleeping bags (which can be rented in Queenstown) and food.

Mackinnon Pass, Milford Track, New Zealand

Self-guided hikes are capped at 40 people per hut, per night (because that’s how many bunks they have), so while you’ll have to manage some crowds, at least the numbers are relatively contained.

Alternately, if you prefer sleeping in a bed with sheets and having a hot shower at the end of the day, you can choose to go with a guided group. The price increases exponentially to $2,130 NZD (about $1,466 USD at the time of publishing), but it does include an extra night at the Milford Sound, and it’s much easier to find last-minute booking options.

Either way, it’s nice to book the whole thing through one website.

Iceland

Okay, I know we’re hemisphere-jumping a little bit, but if the goal is glaciers and the time of year doesn’t matter, you can’t really beat Iceland for scenic views and endless summer daylight.

Many people who visit Iceland stop over and visit the incredibly popular Ring Road, but if you keep driving east past Vik, you’ll be rewarded with Patagonia-level glaciers and a fraction of the crowds. Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón both have a variety of boat tours on their glacial lagoons, while a myriad of other operators offer options trek or ice climb on glaciers.

And you can always drive up and snap pictures on your own.

Glacial lagoon, Iceland

The rest of the hiking isn’t terrible, either.

Iceland waterfall, about a mile hike past Skogavoss

Still want to visit Torres del Paine?

I don’t blame you – the views alone are worthwhile, and for many people, this is a bucket list destination. If you do decide to make the trip, here are a few ways to make things easier, and avoid some of the mistakes that we made:

  • Book early — Ten months out seems to be the magic number, but if you want to do it right, I would look at closer to a year if you factor in flights and other considerations.
  • Consider the shoulder season — You won’t get the sweeping hours of daylight if you visit in the spring or fall, but you won’t get the hordes of other tourists, either. It may be worth considering a trip in October or March, especially if you are part polar bear.
  • Look at packaged trips –– You can probably avoid some of the logistical conundrums (and multi-tab browsing) by booking a trekking trip directly through the Torres del Paine website. Five-day W treks are currently pricing around $1,100 per person for a self-guided trip, or $2,195 per person with a guide. Prices include transfers, park fees, and other costs that you may have heard me griping about earlier. While I cringe a little bit at the thought of paying upward of $200/day for a self-guided camping trip, the ease of booking at this incredibly popular destination might be worth the price.
  • Adjust your expectations –– At the end of the day, we can’t control the price or the crowds, but we can control how we react to our environment. Yes, it’s a lot of money, but it somehow stings a little less if you know what’s coming. Yes, there are a lot of other people enjoying this beautiful location, and most of them are probably nice, adventurous souls who have traveled to the ends of the earth for what is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. So if you’re going, understand that you’ll be dropping some serious cash, and won’t be descending to the remote depths of isolation. And you can still have a great time.

At the end of the day, this place is beautiful, overcrowded, scenic, overpriced, and breathtaking all at the same time. So while I probably will never be back, yes – it was worth the visit.

Have you ever traveled to Torres del Paine? How was your experience? 

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Is Torres del Paine National Park Worth Visiting?
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• Delta Sky Club Santiago Review
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Comments
  1. I think booking a tour, and the right tour, could make a difference. But yes, I think Chile as a whole is more expensive than one might think.

  2. I went to El Calafate in December and can confirm that it was absolutely breathtaking and a lot less crowded and nickel-and-dimey than it sounds like the Chilean side was. Also worth noting that Argentine Patagonia is absolutely massive geographically as compared to the Chilean side, and there are lots more destinations than El Calafate and El Chalten, though those are some of the best known and easiest to get to. We began our trip at Ushuaia which felt totally different and was also very cool. While you will see some crows at attractions like Perito Moreno at peak season, it seems to me there is just a lot more displace to disperse people.
    Finally, it is worth noting that the Argentine Peso has absolutely divebombed in recent years (down from 15 to 1 USD when I visited to 42 to 1 USD today); the better hotels, etc. are starting to charge in USD, but they are still a great deal, and anything you pay for in pesos, including park admission, meals, etc. is an absolute bargain. That is true in Buenos Aires too, now.

  3. You can also see glaciers and hike them in Alaska and in Canada-much more affordable and Glacier Bay in Alaska is one of the most amazing sights I’ve seen!

  4. I’m sorry you didn’t have the best experience. Chile was a lot cheaper when I visited in 2002 and without the Instagram crowds… to be honest, you didn’t spend any time elsewhere other than TDP which is a shame. It’s like going to Yosemite and not venturing out of the valley which is what 80% of tourists do anyway.

  5. Great article. We did the Routeburn Track this year and W Trek last year in March and somehow were able to make reservations a month in advance with the Refugios! While I agree Torres del Paine is extremely difficult to get to, I think that’s part of the fun in visiting remote parts of the world and makes places like Patagonia a once in a lifetime trip. I highly recommend the Routeburn Track over the Milford Track if you’re looking for better views, however just like Patagonia, keep in mind weather is a game and plan on it to rain the entire time in the summer and if it’s sunny you lucked out.

  6. I agree Torres Del Paine isn’t cheap, but it’s not that bad. It is definitely a place trip that you need to plan ahead. I’ve taken plenty of trips with minimal to no planning, but that just won’t work in Patagonia. I went in April with 5 people total and the temps were only a little cool (I was pulling layers off on the hike to the base of the towers), it wasn’t overcrowded, and the food was amazing!! Be prepared for surprises though. Our big one was a flat tire in the middle of no where which was an interesting experience changing. That said, we laughed afterwards, and felt it was authentic Patagonia. It’s well worth the planning, and was truly a trip of a lifetime.

    P.S. the hikes are no joke. Most intense I’ve ever done, and we were very sore.

  7. Tdp is one of the most stunning places i have been. expensive yes, but amazing place. and require advance planning to book accommodations at the best prices.

    also i dont think traveling during xmas-new yr is a fair reflection of the crowds. it is pretty much the worst time to be everywhere, except your own house. just visit outside of this period and south americans school holidays period and one will experience less angst

  8. We went to Torre del Paine for our Honeymoon 2 years ago, in early march. one of the best, if not the best trip in my life.
    Sure, it wasn’t cheap, but still manageable. Staying in the park was not feasible (too expensive). Instead we opted for a much more reasonable airbnb / hostel in Punta Arenas, and from there used buses and tours 3 days in a row to get to the park and discover. The first day was a bus tour with 5 or 6 stops to get a feel for the park. That night we went around town in Punta Arenas to negotiate with tour operators to get us to the base of the trail to get to the “base de las torres” full day hike and back. The last day we splurge for a day excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
    We spent less than 200$ a person for the Base de las torres and Perito moreno combined. about 60$ for the first day trip.
    But we had to negotiate !
    Overall, i’d do it all over again!!!

  9. I visited Torres del Paine in January right after the New Year. LATAM flies non-stop Santiago to Puerto Natales on some days, which is closer to the park than Punta Arenas. Flights into PNT are expensive (believe they wanted $300+ for a one-way in economy) but I found award availability for 6,000 AAdvantage Miles + $12.60 USD by calling AA (a total steal). You just need to use the BA Search to find dates with availability.

    We spent a night in Puerto Natates and picked up our rental car the next day and drove into the park- it is about an hour and 1/2 drive from PNT. We spent two nights in a tent at Camping Central which allowed us to do a day hike to the Torres. While we didn’t do any of the circuits, we felt that we got a good feel for the park and did the most popular hike.

    While LATAM flies direct from SCL-PNT, flying home, you need to take a 30 minute flight further south to Punta Arenas which makes the flight back to Santiago a lot longer.

    Overall, food in the park was expensive but I felt that with planning (securing rental car and flights early), you can do Torres del Paine cheaper than you may think.

  10. edit: We stayed in Puerto Natales, not Punta Arenas… 2 years later i still get them mixed up…

  11. My daughter and i went to Patagonia in March for 2 weeks including all the places Steph mentioned, and had a travel agent organize everything (we gave him a long list). Yes, it was much more expensive but for the most part it went exceptionally well and we didn’t have to worry about anything nor spend months planning. I loved every day we had. This approach is probably not for budget-minded backpackers and more appropriate for us folks in our 60s or 70s.

  12. No other trip required more planning than my TDP trip. Still, it’s without doubt my best trip ever. Part of what made it so great was being there solo, had the freedom to explore and met so many great ppl.

  13. You’re gonna have a tough time convincing the “affordable luxury” crowds on this blog to do this over spending their money in Bali or Bangkok, unfortunately. Which is a real shame because there is so much to the world than the same chain hotels and airlines…

  14. Sorry to be a grinch but why is this in points and miles? I know “why do u read it if you for care about it”?
    TripAdvisor has these type of reviews.

  15. Thanks for the trip report! Agree that the costs are nothing to scoff at. One way we really enjoyed being away from the tourists was staying at Tierra Patagonia. Like Explora, it’s an all-inclusive that includes food, alcohol, transfers, all excursions and fees, etc. While I really loved our hikes in the park, the highlights were the hikes we did in the surrounding areas outside of the park, which have the same scenery but almost no people (also allowed for better wildlife viewing – we saw 5 pumas outside the park). Most of the time it was only our hotel group or myself and my partner for our treks. The price of a place like Tierra can seem exorbitant at first, but when you add everything up and consider staying in a luxury design hotel rather than a bunk bed, it seems like a really good deal. Also used Citi Prestige 4th night free for our stay … this was in 2016 so I don’t know if they would still honor – they recently declined an inquiry to stay at Explora Sacred Valley in Peru, stating they don’t cover all-inclusives … they certainly used to!

  16. @Stephanie Woods

    Great point (and great name). I failed to mention that all of my “alternative” destinations were places that I’ve personally visited, which my husband-slash-editor pointed out (and is something I try to do, in general). Hope to add those to that list someday!

  17. Judging by the pictures, it’s not worth it, at all))
    Every mediocre hike in the Alps beats it, in terms of views, accessibility, value, you name it.

  18. Just pointing out that there seems to be a bias to really expensive cool places when there are places just as cool that are cheaper. For example, I’ve spent a week in the Azores on Terceira Island for under $1000-solo, everything-flights, meals, hotels, and marvelous hikes. Terceira is unspoiled, hardly anyone is there-you can bike, swim, whale watch, bird, hike, cave, snorkel, scuba and canyon and its 4 hours from Boston nonstop. Incredible scenery-and no one knows about it or ever blogs about as opposed to the Maldives which are incredibly expensive.

  19. I was there 5 years ago during end of March and it didn’t feel very crowded (W was open but not full ring). Just bring a tent and self cater and the whole thing is less than $200. El Chalten was also fantastic that time of the year with stunning fall colours and meeting maybe 10 people during a full 2 day trek.

  20. Visited in 1980. Hitch hiked in and out (in the snow). The only accommodation was a bunk house. No trekking available, as not developed yet. A hand full of other visitors, also staying in the same bunk house. Can’t remember how we ate, but must have packed it in with us. Beautiful views! COLD! A great memory.

  21. This should be combined with a trip to Antarctica if you wanna maximize your time down there. If so, you will need a minimum of three weeks.

  22. I booked the W trek through Fantastico Sur two years ago for just under $700 and had a great experience. They sorted through all of the logistics and we just had to make sure to hike to the right refugio each day. I do not recommend a guide or a tour for the W trek. It’s very easy to figure out where to go that doing it alone is preferable.

    More info on my experience if you’re interested!
    https://creditcardpediem.com/2017/03/05/hiking-the-w-trek-in-torres-del-paine-national-park/

  23. Somewhat disheartened that one of my favorite places in the world was somehow lambasted because it lacks the creature comforts Westerners are accustomed to. Sorry, you had to pay extra because I assume all of the refugios were already sold out. You perhaps booked late. IT is NOT the park’s fault. This is a national park and we can not expect them to have available hotels at your beck and call, particularly during high season. Secondly, the remoteness of the place adds to its allure. To get to Punta Arenas then to Puerto Natales was breathtaking in itself. Contrastly, Milford Sound was so easy to get to with tons of tour buses! NO, thank you. Punta Arenas has the fantastic Isla Magdalena, full of Magellanic penguins! Additionally, have you ever fathomed how far south you’ve traveled and how fortunate you were that there are now planes and buses that are able to take you to these areas? Maybe that’s the type of tour that floats your boat. Thirdly, you seemed to have missed a lot of the other highlights in the area – Glacier Grey, the incredible French Valley, etc that can only be seen if you had hiked the W. Put it another way, don’t judge Yosemite if you’ve only been trapped in the crowds of the valley. Also, Elementary School Cafeteria? How elitist! Do you actually expect Michelin star restaurants to be in that area? Thanks for the trip report, sorry you had a not-so-stellar experience but it appears to be rooted from your unrealistic expectations and some air of entitlement.

  24. I visited Torres del Paine in November 2016. It is definitely worth a visit! The high price of accommodations discouraged me from staying at the park or in the vicinity. I booked a day tour from Punta Arenas. I don’t recall the exact cost but it was a lot cheaper than staying. The tour included no extended hiking but that isn’t necessary to see the main sights, the numerous lakes and rivers and general scenery including Torres del Paine and Cuneros del Paine. The tour also stopped at Cave of the Milodon National Monument about 50 miles from the park.

    Weather is a good topic. I found weather in the park to be highly variable. Some places felt warm while others felt like Antarctica. Grey Lake was much colder than other spots and the wind howled. When I visited, the wind was so strong it was exhausting and nearly impossible to walk against. As an experiment I tried jumping in the air, and although I could get little more than one foot off the ground with a standing jump, the wind was strong enough to move my body a few inches laterally! The views of Grey Glacier and Cuneros del Paine were worth it.

    Punta Arenas is a great spot to stay when visiting Patagonia. Among many attractions is Nao Victoria Museo, with full-size replicas of one of Magellan’s ships, an HMS Beagle replica, and the James Caird, the Endurance life boat Shackleton sailed 900 miles from Elephant Island on the Antarctica coast to south Georgia Island. The exhibits here debunk the claim that Magellan (killed in the Philippines) or any who made it back to Spain were the first to circumnavigate the Earth. That honor should belong to Enrique, a Malaccan slave/indentured servant who was captured on Malacca years before and escaped the expedition in the Philippines.

    I appreciate your review even though its is not about the nerdy pursuit of miles, points or credit cards. The point of accumulating that stuff is to travel. And the point of travel is to do something once you get to the destination. These posts help people decide where to go and what to do.

  25. I’m visiting next month during winter. Has anyone experienced Torres del Paine during this season? I’d love to get an idea on what to expect.

  26. I looked into both Argentina and Chile’s patagonia areas. I went Argentina for all the reasons you wrote about. Stayed in a nice hotel for 70 a night. Got a full tour of the glaciers by boat with a hike ON El Calafate for about 100 dollars and it finished with whiskey served with glacier ice. At dinner I just ordered the family meat platter. Because of the Argentinian peso collapse it was a 20×30 inch slab with all the meats the restaurant served for the same price I’d pay for an Applebees dinner in the US. It was so much meat I fed the friendly stray dogs on the way back to the hotel.

    Went from there to Ushuaia and the amazing landscape of Tierra del Fuego. And for 75 dollars booked a horseback riding tour through the mountains while there was sun, rain, snow and light in the clouds (all in 2 hours). My pictures from there are some of the most beautiful I’ve taken on any trip anywhere.

    Chile may have some stuff going for it down south but it can’t match Argentina.

  27. You’re so right, Ben, pictures don’t do it justice.

    There are few places in the world that have left me as awed — or stayed in my heart — as Torres del Paine has. And in this wanderlust soul, it’s one of the few places that calls me to return.

  28. I went to Patagonia for a week over Christmas and New Year’s and the weather was 0°, winds were 70mph, and it was constantly raining/hailing/snowing except for two days. Those two days which were 21° and the sunniest days where I took a 12 hour tour of TDP and went horseback riding outside of the park. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen in my life. Better than Canadian Rockies, South Island NZ, and the north shore of Kauai. It’s a hassle and journey but completely magical.

  29. Worth It??? You bet it is. We have traveled the world the last 25 years and I can say that our trip to Chile and to Patagonia is at the top of the list. One of our quests was to hike to the towers, we started with four and three of us made it with a guide. We did not break any records doing the 12 mile hike round-trip in one day but as seniors we accomplished it and have no regrets. Expensive? Somewhat, but the scenery was breathtaking. When we reached the base of the towers after five hours hiking, our guide had lunch prepared and even had a friendly fox watching us. The weather was beautiful for our trek in Dec 2016. We were back at our hotel in Puerto Natales, the The Singular Patagonia, a must stay place by 9 pm that night. We were exhausted but accomplished one of the great hikes a person should do in a lifetime!!!!

  30. Thanks, useful tips as we start to plan our trip to the region later this year. We were in Chile lake district some years ago and loved it.

    We are right now in Yellowstone and there are no shuttle buses (tours maybe, nothing free). In fact the park is packed with cars, overflown parking and other nyances so that my partner said after first day that she is not coming back. We did come back, at 6am, but are cutting are visit short and heading to Glacier NP a day early. Quality of food isn’t that great, no good cafes anywhere, overpriced and of course non-refundable, fully booked accommodation.

    We love US national parks (we are from Europe), enjoy them a lot and have visited most of them but they aren’t without their issues (crowds, quality, prices) and the examples from Chile don’t really sound that bad in comparison. Of course not everyone is as crowded as Yellowstone and July is a busy season.

  31. We visited TdP for 5 nights as part of a 3-week Patagonia trip in February 2018 that also included El Chalten and El Calafate. While in TdP, we stayed one night just outside the park at Pampa Lodge ($284/nt), two nights at Hotel Lago Grey ($420/nt), and two nights at Hotel Las Torres ($437/nt). All of these were regular lodge rooms (sheets, towels, en suite bathrooms, views included). We did not book a year in advance – more like 3 months – yet we were still able to pay well below $1000 per night in each location. We took only two tours – a boat tour on Lago Grey for 75000CLP each (approx $108 in today’s dollars) and a two-hour horse ride at Pampa Lodge – spending the rest of the time walking in or driving around the park. Food was high but not exorbitant, given what it takes to get food into that place. We had read in advance about the rapid changeability of the weather and packed accordingly, so the sudden showers and periodic gales were taken in stride. All in all, our visit to TdP was stellar – easily one of my all-time favorite spots on the globe with its wild, breathtaking scenery – and that’s taking into account we followed our time there with visits to the stunning locals of Chalten and Calafate.

    It’s not necessary to book through expensive tour companies to just stay in the park, though it will take time to research and, yes, use Google Translate on some websites. We did not hike The W, so we did not have to deal with all of the craziness the author encountered to book the refugios. We also chose to drive R/T from Punta Arenas, which cut down on the stress level tremendously and gave us a lot of flexibility. The crossing into Argentina is one I’ll never forget (not negative, just bizarre), and the vast emptiness of Argentina between the crossing and Calafate is just awesome.

    I hope those who read this excellent piece will explore different options for their time in TdP before writing it off as too expensive or too much hassle. It was definitely the most complicated part of our Patagonia trip, but I wouldn’t hesitate to say it was the best part.

  32. We are going at the end of October and staying at a place called The singular which looks to me astounding and has been highly recomended. Its not cheap, but we found a nice package that includes breakfasts and some dinners and the excursion to Torres del Payne for about $400 a night per couple. Checked this out
    https://youtu.be/GZa7SL-PWWA

  33. Among the alternatives, I believe you left out one of the best ones out there: the Dolomites in Italy.
    Scenery -gorgeous, especially when they turn pink in the sunset. Comfort -you pick between huts, B&Bs and splurge hotels, ranging from 30 euros per day. Food -out of contest. History -it’s not wilderness, it’s a unique blend of nature and civilization. Sure there are some overpacked resorts there too, but the area is so big that if you want to get away from the crowds you have plenty of options.

  34. Great guide but your costing explanation is a bit ridiculous. What you have described isn’t remotely a “roughing it” experience. You’ve described how to turn a “roughing it” experience into a normal one, which given the wilderness it’s in, is not cheap.

    If you actually want a “roughing it” experience then you don’t need to pay for the boat, the refugios or the WiFi (seriously!?). It’s not cheap, but I spent 2 weeks in the park for something like $500 all-in, including transport.

  35. I completed the “O” circuit in TdP January of 2018 where i camped in a tent every night and carried my provisions and supplies with me in a backpack. I traveled solo and made some very strong connections with fellow travelers embarking on this same journey. We also all helped each other get through the challenges and tough days during this journey.

    It took some coordination and planning to line up camping reservations but it is doable with some focus (I don’t know Spanish). Besides airfare and backpacking supplies this trip was extremely budget-friendly.

    I do not know if I will ever lay my eyes on a more beautiful place. The weather was intense, the wind king, and the wifi unnecessary. Disconnect and learn a lot about yourself whether you do the Circuit or the W. This place is powerful in so many ways if you do it right. Maybe I’ll see you there when I get back someday.

  36. I visited TDP a couple of years ago. As you describe, logistics are challenging, crowds are significant, and weather is volatile—and often horrible. I was there in the middle of March and had unusually good weather for at least half of my visit. This was the shoulder season, so crowds weren’t too bad, either. Despite all of that, I was underwhelmed. Awesome landscape to be sure, but better than the photos? No, not really. And the park isn’t that big, so you’re making a long, challenging, expensive journey for something of a one-hit wonder. And a lot of other people are right there with you.

    The place I return to again and again because I’m awed by the landscape is Norway. The weather is just as much of a wildcard (though without the fierce winds of TDP) and costs are high (though still better value). But the country is huge and sparsely populated (especially in the north). Norwegian law allows you to hike and camp pretty much anywhere you want. Cheap flights on Norwegian Air Shuttle make it painless to get to. And once you’re there, infrastructure is first-rate.

  37. My wife and I visited Torres del Paine as well as Punta Arenas and the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego a couple of years ago. Our trip was a little different from most as we are hikers in spirit but not in reality. So we did a couple of day hikes during our 3 days in the park as well as a small group tour and a drive around the park in our own rental car. Just wanted to give my perspective for other travelers not up for multi-day trekking.

    Even without the 5 day hike the park is incredible. The views from the roads around the park are magical. The water has a silty light blue character unlike anywhere else on earth contrasted with incredible mountainous terrain. The day hikes were plenty adventurous and offered some of the best views I have ever seen. Right from the road you can see incredible wildlife including guanacos, rheas, vultures and more.

    We stayed at the Rio Serrano for three nights. It is in an incredible valley along with some other hotels right outside the park (about a 5 minute drive up and down the surrounding mountain road). It was about $350 a night for the standard rate at the height of high season over Christmas, which included a great breakfast buffet but not the ($40 or so?) dinner buffet. They also offer a $1000+ per night all inclusive rate which I believe is what was shown in this write up. That comes with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Of course if you take advantage of lunch you’re not doing it right. Honestly I’m unsure what could be included (maybe complementary guides?) that would justify the all inclusive rate.

    The hotel is really nice with a cabin feel and a great lobby with pool tables, couches with animal skins, etc for hanging out in the evening. You have an incredible view of the Torres while dining at the extensive buffets. Among the small collection of other hotels there was also a restaurant which served incredible lamb asado al palo (really it was the beast meat dish I have ever had anywhere) at a very reasonable rate.

    I booked the hotel in November and got the sense that I lucked out getting a reservation at the standard rate with such a late booking. Afterwards we drove down to Punta Arenas which has a totally unique feel and is surprisingly cosmopolitan. That area is in itself quite an adventure…following in Magellan’s shoes in an end of the world ferry across to Tierra del Fuego, visiting the only mainland King Penguin colony, visiting entire islands filled with penguins, etc.

    TLDR: Just wanted to share that you don’t have to rough it or completely break the bank to enjoy this destination. It is not a budget destination, but it’s not Bora Bora either. There are also cheaper options such as staying in Puerto Natales and driving 90 minutes into the park each day, where I’m sure there are accommodations to fit any budget.

  38. Torres del Paine National Park is one of those places that help to reminds us that planet Earth is still a wild, untamed planet. I have trekked there three times: early March, mid-April, and mid-November. Yes, do consider the shoulder season (spring: Oct-Dec, and fall: March-May — the seasons in the Southern Hemisphere are reversed): While the weather may be amazingly beautiful, very cold, miserably rainy and really variable year-round, it’s at least not windy from late March to December. Wind, in the summer only –late Dec to late Feb– can literally blow your mind away!

  39. @Endre – why do you wish to police the points and miles requirement? I thought all your flights were paid first class hence no need game the system like the rest of the schleps?

  40. Pictures don’t smell good. Pictures don’t sting your face from the cold. Pictures don’t show the insta hordes. A picture is a good memento or inspo, but it is cheap substitute of the event. I haven’t been there, but many many seasonal places are expensive. Jackson Hole in summer??? cha ching! After this year and the nightmare of Everest, I think Nepal is also off my list. Sooo many fab places to see without hitting the trendy ones.

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