Torres Del Paine National Park: Everything You Need to Know
Torres del Paine National Park is definitely one of the most stunning places out there, with mountains of all shapes, mirror lakes all around and plenty of wildlife at every corner.
No other mountain range can be confused with the incredible Torres del Paine in Chile. These mountains have very particular shapes and colors and make the perfect subject for anyone who’s looking to get outstanding pictures. The whole national park is incredible, there’s so much to see and do and it deserves to be on top of everyone’s bucket list. However, to get the most out of it, it’s better to plan everything in advance to avoid any disappointment.
TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING
The closest city to Torres del Paine National Park is Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales you can rent a car (you’ll be able to find cheaper options in Punta Arenas though) and drive to the park yourself, join a one-day tour or simply take a bus (2h one way) to get to the park. Either way there are three points of access and an entrance fee for foreigners of CLP 21.000 (around USD 30) at each one of them:
- Laguna Amarga: 129 km from Puerto Natales
- Lago Sarmiento: 112 km from Puerto Natales
- Río Serrano: 80 km from Puerto Natales
If you’re planning to stay more than just a couple of days to explore the area yourself a vehicle is highly recommended. There are several car rentals in the town of Punta Arenas that are cheaper than the ones in Puerto Natales, one of them is Marc&Joe Rent a Car. Just remember to stop in Puerto Natales for fuel and consider bringing a fuel tank with you (at the time of writing there are no fuel stations inside the park).
Don’t feel comfortable driving your way around? There are a few bus companies that operate between Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine. The only annoying thing is that most of them allow you to book tickets only by phone or directly at the terminal.
Here some of the companies:
If your time in the park is short and you only have one day, you might instead consider to join a one-day tour by bus and try to see as much as possible. The area is quite big and there isn’t a single viewpoint I’d miss!
Another thing to know before getting to the park is that there are not ATMs inside. Your closest option for withdrawals is Puerto Natales. Bring sufficient founds with you, but keep in mind that you can pay pretty much everything by credit card (hotels, campsites…).
There aren’t supermarkets inside the park, just mini markets selling souvenirs, chips and other snacks especially at campsites (including the ones along the W trek and O circuit). Hotels and “refugios” have restaurants but the choice is not wide and prices not very low.
For those who plan to stay longer and camp, the best option is to shop for grocery in Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas. If you’re starting your journey from Punta Arenas and have rented a car there consider reaching the Zona Austral (or Zona Franca). It’s a tax-free area where you can find pretty much everything, from cheap camping and trekking gears to cheap food. The name of the supermarket is “Abu Gosh”, the choice is wide and the prices are very low. If you’re departing from Puerto Natales consider shopping for grocery at Unimarc, the biggest supermarket in town.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding going on about this topic, so let me make things easier for you. First things first, make sure to read and respect the rules of the park before entering it. Then take acknowledge of the followings when planning a trip to Torres del Paine National Park:
- You can’t put up your tent outside of designed campgrounds;
- You can’t hike the W Trek / O Circuit without printed proof of your bookings for the night/s;
- You don’t need to show proof of reservation for the night in the park when entering at Río Serrano (but remember point number 1);
- You do need to book your campsites for the W Trek / O Circuit well in advance (months ahead the trip);
- You do need to show proof of reservation for the night in the park when entering at Laguna Amarga (but if visiting just for the day, explain it to the rangers).
The most important thing to keep in mind is that if you intend to visit the park without staying overnight, you don’t need to show anything at the gates.
You can just enter early in the morning and leave at the end of the day. If you plan to stay overnight in the Pudeto and Lago Grey areas (including Hotel Lago Grey, Hotel Explora, Camping Pehoe and Hosteria Pehoe) and were unable to book in advance, you can still enter the gate at Río Serrano and try to see if there’s anything available once inside the park. Camping Pehoe has always a lot of room, a reception with a minimarket where you can also recharge batteries, free wifi during the night, barbecue and free hot showers.
The situation changes when it comes to choose a camping for the night while walking along the W Trek / O Circuit.
Please remember to book well in advance your accommodation for the whole walk to avoid disappointment, whether you choose to stay at campsites or huts. Rangers check on this and walk the path themselves to make sure nobody sleeps where it is not permitted. When choosing a campsite/refugio for the W or the O, there are basically three companies you can check out:
- Vertice Patagonia $$ – You can book your stay online or at their main office in Puerto Natales;
- Fantastico Sur $$ – You can book your stay online or at their main office in Puerto Natales;
- Conaf FREE – You can book your stay online or at their office inside the national park.
Both Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur campsites offer hot showers (in specific hours), mini markets with snacks and possibility to rent camping gears. If there’s a refugio near by you can even get free hot water for your meals. There are kitchen/dining areas at campsites where you must cook and wash your dishes (this is to prevent open fires). On the other side Conaf campsites are free and offer basic facilities: a cooking area, water from a stream and toilets. They fill up fast and somewhere, such as Base Las Torres, are the only sleeping option you have. Again, make sure you plan everything in advance and book all your nights!
Beside the more popular W trek and O circuit there are many other short walks that lead to beautiful views. You won’t need any camping gears and in general the conditions of the paths are very good.
Here’s just a selection of our favorite ones:
- Hotel Las Torres to Las Torres Lookout – About 3.5h, very steep at the beginning and at the end. From the top you can surely have one of the most famous views of the park, a turquoise lake reflecting the majestic towers. There’s a Conaf campsite at the bottom of the lookout, highly recommended to sleep there one night and hike up to the lake the next morning for sunrise.
- Camping Paine Grande to Mirador Glaciar Grey – About 4h, steep in some parts. From Mirador Glaciar Grey (just 10 minutes walk from Grey Campsite) you can keep walking until you reach a swing bridge that overviews the glacier. After that bridge, you reach another wonderful viewpoint right on top of the glacier that gives you an idea of how huge and beautiful Glaciar Grey is. Not a big fan of trekking? You can also easily reach Refugio Grey by boat.
- Salto Grande to Mirador Los Cuernos – About 1h, very easy walk. From the end of this walk you can see the majestic “Horns” and, if lucky, spot some “guanacos”.
- Camping Pehoe to Mirador Condor – 45min, steep walk. Once you reach the very top you have a fabulous view over the Lake Peohe, the Cuernos and the Hosteria Pehoe.
Mirador Las Torres
Mirador Glaciar Grey
Salto Grande to Mirador Los Cuernos
Other than trekking in Torres Del Paine National Park:
Before visiting Torres del Paine National Park it’s very important to know what species live inside the park, dangerous ones included. Whilst it’s very common to see guanacos (especially near Laguna Amarga), deers, armadillos, birds and flamingos (especially at Laguna Amarga), you could also be able to spot pumas during your stay. Usually they don’t attack humans and it’s very hard to see one. I’m not writing this to scare you, but to help you be prepared in the unlucky event you get too close to one of them.
If this happens, there are a few important things to keep in mind:
- Do not run and do not scream or they’ll think you’re a prey;
- Do start walking backwards very slowly without giving your back to the puma;
- Do make metallic noise;
- Do keep your children with you and don’t let them scream or run;
- Do put your backpack on your head and open your jumper/jacket to appear bigger;
- Do not panic and stay in group.
Except for pumas there aren’t other dangerous species in the park, but watch out for mice when camping as they like to steal food!
If you’re staying in the park for several days, or weeks like us, at a certain point Wi-Fi might become essential to keep in touch with the outside world. But where can you find free/cheap Wi-Fi? Pretty much all the hotels have it included in the room price, but if you’re mostly camping there are other ways to have it.
In the Pudeto area there is free wifi at Conaf station, Camping Pehoe and Hosteria Pehoe. The camping changes the password everyday and sticks the new one outside the door of the reception at 9pm. The same password lasts until 10am the next morning. The Hosteria has a bar/restaurant where you can get nice burgers, recharge your batteries and ask for Wi-Fi password.
On the other side of the park there isn’t free Wi-Fi at the time of writing, but you can buy some datas online for the time you need it.
Of course keep in mind that you are in a beautiful remote area of the world and Wi-Fi might not always work. Still, I’m sure the amazing view will fill the void!
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Thank you for reading.