If you enjoy getting out into nature and hiking, nearly every region of the world has opportunities for outdoor lovers. Some get more love than others but certain places get a ton of recognition for a reason. Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is one of them. It is continuously written and talked about as one of the greatest places in the world for trekking. What makes a place like Torres del Paine such a great hiking destination? Why do people travel from so far away just to go on a hike?
The Beauty and Variety
If you’re an avid outdoorsman, Torres del Paine will impress you at every turn, no matter where you’ve been and what you’ve experienced. The variety of the terrain and landscapes is amazing, from glaciers and lakes to mountains and valleys. The towers for which the park is named are fantastic in their own right, but there’s so much more to Torres del Paine than the towers. Every person who has trekked in Torres del Paine probably has their own favorite part of the park, showing just how versatile it is. This isn’t like hiking to Machu Picchu, where the payoff is Machu Picchu itself at the end of the trek. There are payoffs in Torres del Paine around every corner.
The Hiking Trail Options
While the beauty is what brings hikers here, the options that trekkers have is what makes this place great. There are a multitude of trails and routes, and every person can plan their own unique trip that allows them to travel at their own pace. There is no need to hire a guide or go with a group. Just do your research, plan out what’s best for you and your hiking style, and plan whatever trip that jives with who you are and what you want to get out of it.
Hikers have two main options in the park:
- The ever popular “W” trek – if you enjoy hiking and are willing to go on a multi-day trek, then the “W” trek is probably good for you.
- The full circuit – if you’re a serious hiker ready to tackle the backcountry for up to 10 days, then this option is the choice. (The “W” is part of the full circuit.)
The best part about hiking in Torres del Paine is that there isn’t just one route to take. You can hike west to east or vice versa, and how long it takes you to complete it is totally up to you. Some have blazed through the “W” in as few as three days, but most take four to five. It’s not uncommon to really take your time and be gone for six or seven. If you are going for the full circuit, allow seven days at the very least, but maybe closer to nine or ten depending on your abilities and the pace you want to hike. The classic “W” trek is much more crowded than the circuit, but even in high season on the “W” you can go a few hours without seeing another person on the trail. Parts of the back end of the circuit can be completely barren though.
The Sleeping Options
Another unique part of hiking in Torres del Paine is the sleeping options one has. We decided to go to Torres del Paine when we were planning a round the world trip, so we weren’t traveling with things like a tent and sleeping bags. Luckily for visitors to TDP, this is not an issue.
The park is littered with refugios, or guesthouses, for hikers to stay in. Note that these are quite expensive and book up weeks in advance during high season (December to February). Having the opportunity to sleep inside in a bed is worth it to many, however.
If you don’t have the coin to stay in the refugios, you have a few other options:
- Rent a tent in nearby Puerto Natales (the jumping off point for TDP) and carry it with you the entire trek, camping in designated areas along the way (all refugios have campgrounds).
- Rent a tent from each refugio. Arrive at the refugio with your tent already set up for you (no need to carry one with you).
- A combination of the two – sleeping in a tent a few nights and sleeping in a bed the few other nights.
There is no doubt that Torres del Paine is one of the most stunning places in the world to hike, but there are beautiful places all over the world where you can take in great scenery while trekking. The thing that sets Torres del Paine apart is the variety it offers, both with routes and sleeping options. Being able to trek in a park like this on your own and do it the way you want to do it makes this a must-do for any hiking lover.
Adam Seper is a veteran RTW traveler. He has taken to writing about his travels and appears on the AirTreks Travel Blog biweekly. He lives in St. Louis with his wife.