Torres del Paine is an icon, certainly for Chile, but more generally for Patagonia and southern South America. Guide books and tourist books prominently feature its photo. Granite peaks and towers soar from sea level to about 9,000 feet. Although these mountains sit within the Andes, they are much newer, about 3 million years old. The Torres are three pinkish, granite towers that sit in a row above a small lake formed by glacial run-off.
And me in a self-portrait.
From the beginning of our trip, we planned to go to the national park. But because of weather, it took several tries. We got our first glimpse of the peaks, the Cuernos, from Navimag (see previous post, Navimag on good days). When we first arrived at Puerto Natales, we planned to go directly to the park; but the rain was a downpour, so we jumped on a bus to Rio Gallegos, hoping to return for better weather. As we returned by bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales, we got our second view of the park; the Torres shined in the distance across the plain.
Torres del Paine is a long way from anywhere; it’s three hours or 250 miles from Puerto Natales. Although we stayed at an Estancia west of Cerro Castillo, it was still a 1.5 hour drive. The first day I attempted to see the towers, the guardaparque thought the weather might break, but warned me they were not visible. After hiking for awhile, the rain (and snow) became more intense. I went to the Refugio de los Torres, had lunch and turned around. I waited a couple of days and tried again; I got a gorgeous, sunny day. The lower trail goes through a forest of lengua trees. Gauchos use horses to take food to the refugios. The biggest problem is that I wore too much clothes and got hot. As they say, Se vale la pena (It was worth the trouble). They are truly a natural wonder of the world.
My recommendation is to go in December or earlier. By January, the wind and the tourists are in full force. During my hike, I bumped into several groups of twenty hikers along the trail. At the mirador for the Torres, there were
over 50 people. When I stopped to take photos of guanaco,
vans stopped behind me. Right around Christmas, the park fills up and stays that way throughout the summer. Also, if you can, plan on backpacking and NOT having reservations. Backpacking makes it easier to experience the interior of the park than staying at a hotel or hosteria. If you backpack, but have reservations at the refugios, this is also problematic. What do you do if it is cloudy and you can’t see the Towers? Go on to your next reservation and miss seeing them?<
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