del Paine NP
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Torres del Paine.
Photo by Liam Quinn
As one of the finest national parks in South America and UNESCO's Biosphere Reserve, the Torres del Paine National Park is a must for its magnificent scenery.
It has 15 peaks over 2,000 m high, the highest being Cerro Paine Grande at 3,050 m. The massive granite peaks of Torres (towers) and Cuernos (horns) del Paine (blue) change shape from every bend of the park and even on a cloudy day the peaks are imposing and beautifully indigo. And at the foot of the peaks there are turquoise lakes, glaciers and icebergs and, in season, flowers.
Photo by Poco a poco
The park's star attraction is 250 km of superb hiking trails including
the world famous 'W' 4-day trek and the more challenging
El Circuito(the Circuit) 6-day trek - a very steep hike.
Walking the W without camping gear is possible as shelters are available on the route, but El Circuito requires full camping kit as some sections have no shelter; the longest stretch is 30 km with only a couple of campsites en route.
Photo by AnjieKay
del Paine lies 145 km northwest of Puerto Natales, a lengthy 3 hour
bus ride from the town.
There is also a daily bus, taking 4 hours from El Calafate, an Argentinian town - the base for Argentina's Glacier National Park.
Although you need at least a week to see the whole of Torres del Paine
Park, it can be visited as a day trip from both Puerto Natales and
El Calafate by surprisingly popular guided minibus tours.
However, we think a day trip, particularly from Argentina's El Calafate is ridiculous, and is only for desperate people who have very limited time.
One of South America's downsides - poorly controlled and under-regulated bus drivers. Drunk drivers at the journey's start at 7 a.m. are unwelcome but not particularly unusual in this continent.
Getting there from Argentina's El Calafate
The bus leaves the town at 6:00 am and comes back at around 10:00
pm, but it's not just a long way to go, you also only get out of the
bus inside the park at a few viewpoints for pictures and
a lunch break at Lago Grey, plus a view of the Grey Glacier.
It is definitely no vale la pena! (not worth the crack). You will have plenty of opportunity to see the emptiness of the Patagonian Pampa though!
The park entrance fee is as much as US$20 and the park's roads are narrow, winding and buses go incredibly fast, some piloted by apparently drunk drivers.
Slow but sure.
The best time to visit this National Park is the spring time, October - November, for the flowers as well as hikes.
The summer months are the warmest but may be wet and windy and bugs can be annoying. Although the park opens year-round, in winter months some trails, El Circuito for instance, may be closed due to snow.
Hikers are advised to be well-equipped whatever the season as the weather can change dramatically and without warning.
Even slower. A gaucho in the park (or is that only Argentina?).
Photo by Jens-Bludau
Hiking into Torres del Paine.
Photo by Liam Quinn