Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
by Lilian Lee
Nature lovers, rejoice. Adventure lovers, rejoice. The Torres del Paine National Park in Chile’s Patagonia, a wonder-inducing land of peaks, glaciers, lagoons, and rivers, awaits majestically for you to come admire its quiet colossal beauty, play on its granite towers and glide on its waters.
It’s an understatement to say that this vast pocket of land (stretching 450,000 acres) is a place unlike any other It is one of the most unspoiled locations on Earth. Standing at the foot of one of the park’s three namesake towers can both swiftly humble you and make you swell with the power of your humanity. Standing there, the bravest will feel that it’s their destiny to climb these towers, a difficult but enviable feat. For the rest of us, there is a plethora of other activities at our disposal: kayaking, trekking, mountaineering, ice-walking, horseback riding, sailing, fly fishing, and not least, hiking.
For first-timers, going through a tour operator is highly recommended. Different operators specialize in different activities. Chile Nativo Expediciones, for instance, offers three to twelve-day expeditions on horseback along the Patagonian paths, which are only accessible on horseback. Those who don’t mind getting wet can enlist the Indomita Big Foot tour guides for a kayaking journey to the Balmaceda Glacier through the Ultima Esperanza Fjord, with its waterfalls and cliffs. Trekkers looking for an intense excursion circling the entire Paine Mountain Range, where one witnesses all the micro climates and the corresponding landscapes, go with Andes Moutain Expediciones.
Whatever you do, however, you will understand why Torres del Paine is called the crown jewel of Chile’s Patagonia, which is sensational in its own right. Where else will you come across such unbelievable juxtapositions of immense ice-carved towers and lush green valleys; of pure-white glaciers aside blue-green waters? And because of the numerous micro climates, you’ll be in the company of an extraordinary variety of flora and fauna. Bird-watchers will enjoy a special treat with over 100 known species within the park.
With all the extra physical duress people are likely to experience at Torres del Paine, it’s only natural that the park is also home to explora’s Hotel Salto Chico, a five-star hotel with none of the obnoxiously luxurious trimmings that would be out of place. Overlooking Lake Pehoé, Hotel Salto Chico features a simple pool, open-air jacuzzis, a sauna, and a massage room. As for the rooms, well, no need for wall art here: 50 stunning rooms open out to waterfalls, lagoons, and valleys. Imagine waking up to that!
But in fact, it’s hard to go wrong with accommodations in this place. Peppering the park are several other inns and hotels that similarly encapsulate visitors with that sense of wonder and awe at simply being present. Even camping turns into a deep privilege with the sheer beauty of the natural surroundings.
Torres del Paine is open all year round, though the best months to visit the park are from October to April, which comprise spring and summer in the southern hemisphere. During the summer, visitors enjoy up to 18 hours of daylight, which, though discombobulating at first, allows an abundance of time to savor their wayfaring.
LAN Chile flies to Santiago, where you’ll take a connecting flight to Punta Arenas. From there to Puerto Natales, the closest city to the park, and from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine requires ground transportation. The entry fee for foreigners is 15,000 Chilean pesos ($28) in high season, and 5,000 Chilean pesos ($13) in low season.