Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine
"The Paine massif is unrivaled..... In its colors and form it is without doubt one of the most fantastic and spectacular sights that human imagination can conceive." Salesian missionary Padre Agostini.
Set in the heart of Southern Patagonia the Torres del Paine National Park (declared a World UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978) is one of the most impressive natural geographical spectacles on Earth. The Park covers 182,000 sq hectares and is the jewel in Chile's tourist crown. Just why it’s worth travelling 4.5 hrs from Santiago on a plane and then driving a further 5 hrs by car is only apparent when you stand and stare in amazement at the unbelievable sight of this monumental cluster of mountain peaks that appear to stand all on their own in the middle of an otherwise flat plateau. Comprising this central massif are the "Cuernos del Paine" (Horns of Paine), covered in snow at varying altitudes and offering support to giant blue-white blobs of ice otherwise called hanging glaciers, and three other towers - which are the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine). The sight of the almost vertical rock sides rising up to an altitude of close to 3,000 m is what causes such an awe-inspiring view. For outdoor lovers Torres del Paine is a must to see before you die.
The vast Torres del Paine comprises the peaks of Torre Monzino (north) (2,600m), Torre Central (2,800m) and Torre D'Agostini (south) (2,650m). To the east of the Torres del Paine is the Valle Ascencio.
Cuernos del Paine comprise the Cuerno Principal (2,600m), Cuerno Este (2,200m) and Cuerno Norte (2,400m). To the west of the Cuernos del Paine is the Valle del Frances - one of the glories of the park - a high altitude valley ringed by a curtain of almost vertical rock.
Surrounding this jaw-dropping spectacle is a natural wilderness of turquoise-coloured lakes, waterfalls, glaciers (especially Grey glacier) and fast-running rivers. The massive Grey Glacier, 7km wide at its widest point and stretching back over 20 km., is still in the process of carving its own valley to the west of the Cuernos del Paine.
The vast majority of people coming to Torres del Paine will come to hike the famous “W” trek and the more serious trekkers will hike the complete “circuit”. The “W” is called so because the route forms a pattern like a “W” and the circuit, although encompassing the “W” also takes in the back area behind the Central Massif and completes a circuit of the Park and hence its name. Each route takes a number of days and involves serious trekking; therefore trekkers should be reasonably fit. All accommodation must be pre-booked. Options on the trails include a number of hikers’ hostels called "refugios" (refuge) and / or serviced camp sites. Refugios offer rather basic, shared dormitory-style accommodation along with communal shower rooms.
For those who prefer something more comfortable there are a number of hosterias, which are actually hotels with en-suite bathrooms and nice restaurants – but the hosterias are not generally located on the hiking trails, bar one: Hosteria Las Torres. Hosterias, apart from offering nicer accommodation, are better suited for those who have a rental car and who wish to drive out to stunning beauty spots as well as participate in some of the excursions such as visiting Grey glacier, horse riding, or trekking other than the main trails.
The best accommodation is to be found at the Hotel Explora Salto Chico where top-of-the-range all-inclusive packages are offered. Hosteria Las Torres, as mentioned, can offer hotel accommodation as bed and breakfast or as an all-inclusive package and is a less costly alternative to Explora. It is also an option for those wishing to trek the “W” and have their first (or final) night or two in a decent hotel.