Welcome to Torres del Paine, one of the most remote national parks in the world.
It’s a place where the weather changes in split seconds from nice and sunny to rain and snow.
It’s a place where the howling winds never leave and where winters are so stern, it gets shut off from civilization.
But despite this, Torres del Paine is a hiking walhalla.
And it’s 4 to 5 day W trail is the number 1 must do hike in Chilean Patagonia. Here’s why.
Nature at it’s best.
Lakes in every shade of blue, alpine meadows, spiky mountain tops, glaciers and spooky forests, Torres del Paine is nature at it’s best. Yes it takes 68 km of hiking and a lot of effort but can you honestly tell me you wouldn’t want to see the highlights listed below?
The most popular sight in the park is undeniably Las Torres, 3 spiky mountain tops who dance with the clouds, glacier ice and a milky blue lake lying at their base. Getting to the mirador is one of the toughest ascends on the W circuit and only the lucky ones get to see it on a blue sky day.
When we made the ascend it was raining and all the mountain tops were wrapped in grey clouds. I asked a hiker who was on his way down: ‘Is it worth getting up there in this weather?’.
He answered: ‘Yes you need to try. It changes so rapidly. You might be lucky.’
So we persevered. And in a window of 10 minutes it happened. The clouds disappeared and the 3 mountains revealed their gorgeous spiky tops.
10 minutes later all of it was gone. Hikers who made the ascend later that day never saw the towers. And even those who got up for sunrise the next day were unlucky.
If you really want to see them you’ll need two things: good weather and time. Make sure you have an extra day to try the ascend if needed.
Cuernos – the horns of Torres
The second famous mountain range in Torres is Cuernos, 3 yellow horns with rugged black tops which look like the back of a dinosaur. You can see them up close from the refugio lying at its base.
French Valley and Mirador Británico
Mirador Británico is a fantastic viewpoint where a rim of mountains surround the forest in the valley below. It is a tough and rocky ascend that will take you from the meadows in Valle del Francés all the way up the glacial mountains.
Grey is a massive blue glacier that stretches as far as the eye can see. You’ll get introduced by the icebergs floating along on Lago Grey. We got some bad weather on our way there and decided to turn back and catch the catamaran. So unfortunately I never saw the glacier from up close.
Lago Nordernskjöld and Lago Pehoé
Lago Nordernskjöld and Lago Pehoé are two huge lakes but as different as two siblings can be.
Lago Nordernskjöld is a milky blue lake in between Cuernos and Torres, surrounded by hills that look like waves. It has a bit of a Scottish look and feel to it.
Lago Pehoé on the other hand is a dark blue lake surrounded by fierce mountains covered in ice. The catamaran ride that you’ll take on this lake is one you won’t forget.
A sensory experience
Hiking Torres del Paine isn’t just a visual treat. It indulges all of your senses. You will see, hear, feel, smell and taste nature.
There will be a moment that you’ll hear a loud cracking sound like a thunderstorm hitting you from out of nowhere. You’ll freeze and look around you, trying to spot dark clouds. After a while that you’ll realize the sound is made by huge pieces of ice cracking of the glaciers high up in the mountains and sliding down to the valley at the speed of a formula 1 car.
Then there is the unpredictable weather that will make you feel the forces of nature. The rain leaves you dripping wet, the sun warms you up again like a good lover only to have the wind trying to knock you off your feet. Your only way to fight it is by bringing the most silly looking of hiking weapons: a pair of poles.
And finally, you can also taste nature here. The water from the springs is crystal clear and safe to drink. Simply refill your bottle at next best river and taste the purity of glacier water.
Digital Detox and the Hikers community
One of the reasons why Torres feels like you are at the end of the world is because there is no cell phone or wi-fi coverage. You are completely disconnected from the outside world and the next village is a two-hour drive away from the park.
The great thing about this digital detox is that people talk to each other more. After a long day of hiking we would all sit around the fire or meet up at the dinner table, drinking beers, playing rummicub and chitchating. A lot of people walk the same trail distances and so you become part of this little community meeting every night at the next refugio.
Hiking Torres is getting back to basics: nature and socializing. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Looking for tips and tricks to prepare and plan your hike? Read our practical guide!