Torres del Paine is considered by many to be the 8th Wonder of the World, and if you’ve seen pictures of the area it’s easy to see why. The towering granite peaks seem to have been thrust out of the earth at stunning angles. The countless glittering lakes, ranging in color from cool grey to aqua blue that rivals the waters of the Caribbean, flank the mountains and add color to the otherwise stark landscape. The wildlife abounds from the comical guanaco to the endangered huemel. If you’re a bird lover, there are an estimated 118 different species that call the park home.
Getting to Torres del Paine
We took the “long way” to Torres del Paine, stopping by El Calafate and El Chalten in Argentina before driving south again to the park. Most people fly into either Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, or El Calafate. From any of those towns you can either take a bus or rent a car. Puerto Natales is definitely the closest town to fly into and you don’t have to worry about border crossings, but it’s also the most expensive to fly into. All of the roads into and through the park are dirt, with small paved sections outside the park, and the roads can be quite rough, narrow, and steep. So regardless of whether you drive yourself or take a bus, it will probably be a rough ride.
There is one gas station in the park and it’s for emergencies only. We didn’t find out the official price of gas but heard rumors of it being 10 times more expensive than gas in Puerto Natales. The closest gas station outside of the park is at least 80 km away (50 miles). There also are not any services or cell reception within the park. If you have car trouble, you’ll need to find a landline and call someone in Puerto Natales.
Staying in Torres del Paine
There are a handful of options for staying in Torres del Paine, as well as hotels just outside the park and in Puerto Natales depending on your budget and goals in the park.
Hotels in the Park
The hotels in the park range from 5-star to glorified hostels. We stayed in Hosteria Pehoe, which was a complete dump and I would not recommend it. At $155/night you could spend a little more money and book one of the nicer hotels. I’m posting a “Worst of Torres del Paine” soon – check it out if you want more details. Hotel Lago Grey looked like a nice mid-range hotel with rooms around $300/night when we were there. Hotel Las Torres is in an amazing location (the hike to the Base of the Torres starts from it’s lawn) and rates are a relatively reasonable ~$400/night for the non-all inclusive rate. All inclusive rates can be found on this site, and generally seem to be worth the price, especially if you choose not to rent a car. There isn’t public transportation in the park so you will need to arrange transportation if you don’t have a car and choose a non-all inclusive rate.
Camping in Torres del Paine
We didn’t personally camp in Torres del Paine. Since we went for our honeymoon we decided to splurge for hotel rooms instead of sleep in tents. If you do want to camp, book far in advance. After problems with overcrowding, Torres del Paine implemented a permit system for camping. Keep in mind you have three options for camping: Refugios, Free Camping, and Paid Camping. All require reservations and different companies operate the reservation system for each. You can find information about camping in Torres del Paine at this website.
Hotels Outside the Park
We stayed in two hotels outside the park and both were fantastic. The first hotel we stayed in, Patagonia Camp, is truly a luxury resort. It was not cheap ($440/night for the non-all inclusive rate and over $2000/night for the all-inclusive rate) but was worth every penny. We didn’t choose the all-inclusive rate but the hotel let us purchase everything we needed for the park there so we didn’t have to use our limited amount of pesos. In addition, the food was DELICIOUS and worth every penny. They even do a nightly wine pairing (red and white options) based on the meal options and offer a complimentary “tea service” complete with snacks, drinks, and full tea bar.
The other hotel we stayed in outside the park was Hotel Rio Serrano. It is located less than a mile from the park entrance and features a fantastic restaurant, lots of activities (most are included with the all-inclusive rate and are affordable if you choose the non-all inclusive rate), and next year they will have a full spa. It is also the cleanest hotel I have ever stayed in. The cleaning staff steam clean the carpets between guests and actually clean the bathroom every day!
The hotels outside the park are more affordable than the ones inside the park and offer almost all of the same amenities. There is a fee to enter the park, but the ticket is good for three days as long as you get it stamped each time you leave. If you do an excursion with your hotel, they will stop at the park entrance each time they enter and leave to allow you to stamp your ticket. If you drive on your own, you’ll have to remember to do this.
Eating in Torres del Paine
There is very limited dining options in the park. There are a couple of dining hall-type eateries, but at the end of the season they didn’t have very many options. Other than dining halls, the only options are eating at hotels. All hotels serve three meals a day and a couple offer box lunches you can take on hikes. I highly recommend stocking up on food in Puerto Natales before entering the park. If you are coming from Argentina, remember that you can’t bring fruit, vegetables, or nuts across the border.
Things to Do in Torres del Paine
Obviously there are lots of hiking options in Torres del Paine. I’ve written a couple reviews on the hikes we did:
There are also a couple of day hikes that we didn’t do but come highly recommended:
- Valle Frances
- Paso John Gardner (I really wanted to do this one – a translation issue/mixup with the Lago Grey boat prevented us from doing it)
- Grey Glacier
For any activity in Torres del Paine, remember that the weather is frequently bad and can change suddenly. We were lucky with the weather, but many people who go during the peak tourist season (January and February) are stuck with rainy days or wind so strong that it can blow you off the trail.
There are also plenty of non-hiking activities. These include:
- Ice trekking
- Ice climbing
- Rock climbing
- Scenic boat rides
- Scenic bus tours
- Horseback riding (we booked through Hotel Rio Serrano but Fantastico Sur also offers tours)
- Fly fishing
- Mountain biking (you are stuck to just riding on the roads but they are working on getting access to more trails)
No matter what you are interested in, there is something for you to do in Torres del Paine, even if it’s just watching the cloud drama unfold over the mountains.