Patagonia. The name conjures a sense of awe and mystery. The expansive land at the bottom of Chile and Argentina, from calm meadows to rugged snow-capped mountaintops, Patagonia boasts some of the most diverse landscapes on the planet and beckons adventurous spirits to come explore. One of the most famous treks in Patagonia is the "Torres del Paine" (Towers of Blue). Lush green terrain lies beside quiet lakes tucked between monstrous peaks spotted with glaciers.
The drastic scenery gives the impression you're at the end of the world and simultaneously in heaven.
Torres del Paine is found in the Chilean side of Southern Patagonia. All treks are based out of the nearby town Puerto Natales. During peak season (December-April) you can occasionally find flights directly to the local airport. If not, book flights via LAN to Punta Arenas and take one of the many buses (about a 3 hour ride) that leave directly from the airport to Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales, buses leave every morning and afternoon to drop trekkers at the entrance of the park about 2.5 hours away.
Puerto Natales has developed entirely around travelers trekking Torres del Paine. You will find numerous outdoors stores to pick up items you may have forgotten. Many of these stores also rent gear you need for your trek. They have tents, camping stoves, trekking poles, warm clothing, and much more. Although a small town, Puerto Natales also has a large supermarket where camping food may be purchased for the coming 5-10 days of trekking.
The "W": This is by far the most common route in the park. It is shorter and includes all the major highlights. The "W" takes approximately 5 days to complete ending with a breathtaking view of the Towers. It's normally completed West to East; from the park entrance most trekkers take a short trip on a catamaran to get to the western trail head. The trail takes the shape of a "W" and includes views of glaciers, lakes, and tall peaks covered in snow.
The Paine Circuit: The circuit is for the more adventurous and ambitious trekkers. We highly recommend this trek if you have the time and endurance. Taking 8-10 days to finish, the route completely circumnavigates the Torres del Paine National Park. The trail wraps around the back of the park and meets to continue on the "W" after coming over a snowy pass with stunning views of Glacier Grey. For every 3 or 4 people who complete the "W" only 1 completes the entire circuit.
Tents vs. Refugios
The Chilean National Park has done a fabulous job of making the trek doable for a variety of visitors. Throughout the park there are many campsites with facilities ranging from just outhouses to campsites with showers and enclosed areas to cook meals. Those who choose to camp and carry all their own gear and food will be more than satisfied with the designated campsites. However, if you are not inclined to carry a large pack, the park has built refuges throughout called Refugios. Functioning like a hotel, the refuges provide a warm bed with basic amenities and the option to purchase hot meals. Because of these well-equipped refuges, a trekker may hike with little more in their pack than clothes and water. These are often fully booked in peak season so make sure to make reservations ahead of time!