At the southernmost tip of Argentina and Chile is a vast remote area known as Patagonia. This region is known for its wild and rugged landscapes, consisting of vast areas of emptiness and isolation dotted with azure-blue lakes, crackling glaciers, and dramatic Andean mountain peaks that adventurous hikers dare to climb.
Patagonia has long lured adventurous travellers for a number of reasons, whether it be hiking, climbing, or for a true escape to a quiet and remote part of the world.
We decided to head to Patagonia to see its stunning landscapes for ourselves, and to enjoy the many outdoor activities the area offers. We started our exploration in Chile, which contains 10% of Patagonia (the rest is in Argentina).
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is Chile’s national park in Patagonia, probably the most famous and well known park of this region. Its most recognizable feature are its 3 famous mountain spires, the “torres”:
These peaks dominate the skyline of the national park, and are striking to see in person.
At the End of the World
As we mentioned, Patagonia is at the southern most tip of South America, and is thus a very remote and sparsely populated area. This means that you may spend hours driving a highway with not one other car in sight, or stare out at endless horizons of emptiness before coming across a small town. At times, it truly does feel like you are at the end of the world.
Even wildlife is a rare sight, with the occasional group of guanacos (similar to llamas) catching our eye.
Torres del Paine Park is no different. Though it is a national park, it is accessible only by one main road. There is no cellular service in the park, no Wi-Fi, no gas stations or ATMs. You must be prepared prior to your entry, as the nearest town is several hours away from the park gates.
It was nice to get lost in nature and disconnect for a few days. However, this also resulted in a few challenging moments – like when we realized our hotel didn’t take VISA and we didn’t have enough cash to pay for it. Or when we were ready to cross the border to Argentina but had no Wi-Fi to pay for our entrance fee and print our proof of payment!
Wind That Knocks You Off Your Feet
Torres del Paine is known for its unpredictable weather (similar to Iceland), where four seasons can happen in one day. We experienced sun, rain, sleet and snow within a period of 12 hours. Clouds can roll in within a matter of minutes and shroud the mountain peaks all day. But when it’s clear, the views are incredible.
Even more so, Torres del Paine is known for its wind. Wind can gust up to 150 kph on a given day, and checking the wind forecast (hello WindGuru.com!) is as common as checking the weather.
We got to experience this first-hand on our second day in the park, where the wind was so strong we could lean into it and feel like we were floating.
At night, the wind shook our house, rattled our beds, and forced its way into our closed windows causing our curtains to sway from side to side. It howled all night, and we thought the roof might blow right off!
Given its remote location, Torres del Paine is also an expensive place to visit. Our hotel cost 340 USD per night for very basic accommodations. The electricity and gas only ran for a few hours a day, and we spent much of our time in the evenings huddled under our woollen blankets or heating our clothes on the radiant heater in our room. And this was one of the most affordable options, apart from camping!
Also note that just entering the park costs 40 USD per person.
Thankfully once you are in the park, all the activities are free. There is plenty of hiking to do, and many natural sites to see, including turquoise blue lakes and grand waterfalls.
Torres del Paine National Park is a 4 hour drive from the nearest airport (Punta Arenas) and a 2 hour drive from the nearest major center (Puerto Natales). The last 40km of the drive into the park is done on partially paved partially gravel roads that are not too difficult to pass with a standard sedan. Within the park all of the roads are gravel and when driven properly are not difficult to navigate.
There are very few hotels in the park and most of them have minimal services. Prices can range from 300-1000+ USD. If you choose to camp you can find accommodations for much cheaper but be prepared for weather changes. Reliable WiFi and clean bathrooms can be found in the visitor center by the los Torres Hotel.
There is a 40 USD charge to enter the park as of 2017. You can enter/re-enter the park as many times as you wish so long as you get them to stamp your ticket on the way out. If you are not planning to do multi-day trekking then the park can easily be seen in 1 day with the addition of extra days for hiking as you choose.