Punta Arenas Torres del Paine is where you will begin your journey before setting off to the national park. Before you begin exploring Chilean Patagonia, you’ll fly into Punta Arenas airport (PUQ). From Punta Arenas, most people head straight to Puerto Natales, which is the best place to rent hiking gear in preparation for visiting the Torres del Paine National Park. However if you wish to stay in Punta Arenas for a few days to explore the area, there are still a number of interesting places to visit, although most will require private transportation.
Apart from visiting Torres del Paine national park, there are still some beautiful places to see around Punta Arenas. You could explore Fuerte Bulnes, located just below the Puerto del Hambre and in another smaller national park that has a fascinating museum about the history of Chile and its settlers as well as a great viewpoint over the ocean. You could also take a ferry to Porvenir, from where you can reach the Tierra del Fuego. This is the best place to cross if you plan on continuing your journey on to Ushuaia in Argentina. In addition, there are penguin viewing trips you can take from Punta Arenas, though these will typically require a full day and can be weather dependent. You can also do whale-watching, kayaking or sailing, fly-fishing and even horseriding if you are looking for more alternatives to trekking! If you are keen to head directly to Torres del Paine and see the mountains, then there is no need to stay in Punta Arenas, which is mostly flat and quite urban. In addition, you would need to rent a car to make the most of your time in Punta Arenas, although public buses are available for the more intrepid travelers.
Puerto Natales is where everyone typically stays before they arrive in Torres del Paine National Park. It’s famous for its trekking and camping shops where you can rent all kinds of gear in preparation for your trip to the park. As a town itself, it has limited beautiful things to see and do, and is best considered a base to enter/exit the park. However if you have a bit of extra time outside of your Torres del Paine trip, there is an excellent hiking trip you can take that leaves from Puerto Natales and takes you in the opposite direction to the traditional National Park trek. This can be up to three days and is a slower, more leisurely circuit of the beautiful surrounding mountains that should be considered for those looking for a less intense and less busy trek in the area that still has impressive sights.
This is of course the most famous National Park of Chile and arguably within the whole of Patagonia. From the impressive “Horns” or “Towers” themselves, imposing granite peaks which give the park its name, to beautiful blue lagoons and vast glaciers, Torres del Paine is an unmissable stop in Patagonia. The most famous sites of the park are Glacier Grey, a vast stunningly blue glacier, the French Valley, from which you can see the Southern Patagonian Ice Field as well as the Horn Peaks themselves, and the Cuernos trek itself which takes you right up close to the Horns and the lagoon at their base. Whilst these are the most well known and are what you will see on the classic ‘W’ trail, there are many other lagoons, glaciers and simply stunning views, where you can see condors and other wildlife and incredibly diverse wilderness that should not be missed if you have a chance. You can either try the longer ‘O’ circuit which takes you all around the whole park, or go on a day hike or shorter trek if you don’t have time to do the full circuits. Just ask us for more information on these by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The best time to go is during the off-peak times when the weather is still good, so roughly September-October and March-April. In the peak of summer between November-February, there will be many more people, and it’s highly likely campsites and refugios will sell out unless you book a minimum of four months in advance. Winter treks are also possible, but typically these require a guide as most trails in the park are no longer accessible in non-guided groups for safety reasons between the months of May and August.
If you are traveling to Torres del Paine, it is not necessary to stay one night in Punta Arenas if you would rather escape to the mountains straight away. Many people go straight to Puerto Natales, where you can rent gear needed for your trek. It’s also a lot closer to the park, so if you arrive on a later flight, you could go to Puerto Natales and then be ready to leave for the park early in the morning the next day. It’s about a three hour drive by car from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, and another two hours at least by car to Torres del Paine National Park. If you are going by bus these times will be longer. Within Torres del Paine there are a great many different campsites and refugios where you can stay, and depending on whether or not you go West to East or East to West on your trip, the places you stay will vary. In addition, if you want a bit more luxury within the park there are also a few hotels available (even open in winter) which provide more comfortable accommodation options if you prefer.
Punta Arenas is famous for its Arctic Crab and Patagonian Lamb! The Arctic crab is a delicious delicacy and can be eaten grilled or also in a dish much like the classic Chilean Pastel del Choclo, except instead of chicken and beef in the dish you have crab. Slow roasted Patagonian Lamb is also a must-try here. The Patagonian style of roasting is to roast the entire lamb for 12 hours over an open fire, leaving the meat succulent and tender.