The face of Patagonia, the awe-inspiring Torres del Paine adorns tourist brochures the world over and is South America’s most spectacular national park. Perched at the tip of the continent, the park was established in 1959 and encompasses some 2,400 km² of mountains, ice and rolling Patagonian steppe close to the border of Argentina. Designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978, the park’s iconic massif, a crown of granite peaks, rise thousands of metres out of the pampa grassland and is ringed with huge, turquoise lakes, native forest and imposing glaciers that give tantalising glimpses of the great southern icefield beyond. Surprisingly amidst such raw, weather beaten landscapes, wildlife abounds. Herds of guanacos and rhea graze the foothills ever on the lookout for their natural predator, the puma, while flamingos, parakeets and pygmy owl are among the 118 species of birds that all compete under the watchful eye of the huge, soaring condors.
Accessed from Punta Arenas, a 4 hour flight from Santiago, or from Calafate in Argentina, the Torres del Paine is the highlight of any trip to Chile and offers breathtaking walking, riding, bird-watching and boat trips. Trails criss-cross the park leading up to spectacular viewpoints while for trekkers, the iconic W and full Torres circuit are famous the world over. Accommodation, however, is limited. There is a handful of hotels within the national park from luxury retreats and traditional 3* “hosterias” to simpler “refugios” cabins and campsites. Today, many tourists choose to base themselves in the frontier town of Puerto Natales, 2 hours away or on remote, historic estancias which offer a more authentic Patagonian experience.