Torres del Paine National Park
Chilean Extreme South : Torres del Paine National Park
The Torres del Paine (Spanish for "Towers of Paine" and "Paine" is the old indigenos name for the colour blue), three immense rock towers give the park its name.
Other attractions include the Cuernos del Paine (Spanish for "Horns of Paine" -- horn-like mountain tops), Grey Glacier, Lago Grey, Lago Pehoe, Lago Nordenskjöld and Lago Sarmiento.
Flora and fauna
Guanacos, Flamingos, Pumas, Nandu
Daily buses run from Puerto Natales (2 hours), the main connection with civilization. Their itinerary depends on time of year, from November until february there are 2 frecuencies: at 7.30 AM arriving at 9.30 Am to Laguna Amarga entrance, and in the afternoon at 14.30 PM arriving at 16.30 to Laguna Amarga Entrance. From this point there are shuttles available to gest into Las Torres sector where Base Of Las Torres trek (the most famous one in the park) starts.
There are no direct buses for El Calafate but many tour operators offer them, in particular Chalten Travel. It is thus possible to go directly from El Calafate to the park and even return another day, although this is expensive (count 80 US$ return, +40 US$ when returning another day).
A Ch$15.000 (Nov 2009) entrance fee is collected on entrance. People from Mercosur and National students get in at discounted price.
A catamaran runs between Refugio Pudeto and Refugio Paine Grande. A one-way ticket is CLP 11.000. Round trip costs CLP 19.000 (Nov 2010).
Another boat runs between Hostería Lago Grey and Refugio Grey, but you need to book it on advance (about 80 US $ p/p).
A minivan runs between Laguna Amarga and Los Torres (to connect to the big busses, 4 times a day). The price is CLP 2.500 one way (Nov 2010).
The rest must be done by foot.
Hike the W Circuit: Bus to Visitors Centre/Administration, hike via Campamento Las Carretas to Refugio Paine Grande (17.5 km), sleep first night there, Hike to Refugio Grey or Campamento Las Guardas (beautiful view of Grey Glacier) and back to Refugio Paine Grande (15 km), sleep at Refugio Paine Grande, hike to Campamento Italiano (7.6 km), sleep there, hike to Campamento Britanico and the Mirador of Vallé Frances (beautiful view on the snow-covered summits) and back (15 km), sleep at Campamento Italiano, hike to Hosteria Las Torres (16.5 km), sleep there, hike to Campamento Torres and Mirador Torres (beautiful view of the three torres) and back (10 km). Minibus to the Laguna Amarga park gate.
Hike the Big Circuit: with the connection of the two ends of the W via Campamento los Perros, Refugio Dickson, Campamento Seron.
Daytour: Drop off at Administration, Mirador Condor, Salto Grande, Mirador Cuernos, Mirador del Nordenskjold. Catch the bus at Laguna Amarga Gate.
Daytour: Drop off at Laguna Amarga Gate, Minibus to Hosteria Las Torres, hike to Campamento Torres and Mirador Torres and back (10 km). Minibus to the Laguna Amarga park gate.
Daytour: Drop off at Pudeto, by boat to Refugio Paine Grande, back by boat. Sightseeing tour by boat on lago Grey to the Grey glacier.
For this season there will be no more ice hiking it will be available again on 2011.
Although it is possible to follow the well-marked trails through the Torres del Paine National Park without assistance, the experience is greatly enhanced by joining a guided tour. The guide will point out and name flora and fauna along the way, as well as making side detours to points of interest that the casual traveler might miss. The biggest advantage is that all equipment, such as tents, sleeping bags, mattresses, crampons for walking on ice and luggage transfers, are all provided by the tour companies.
Chile Tours runs a one-day private driving tour into the park from Puerto Natales, including a picnic and an easy walk through the ancient beech forest. It also offers a two-day trek or a two-day combined boat trip to the Last Hope Sound to view the glaciers, followed by a trek through the park. Compa Tourismo and Marapatagonia also offer one-day tours for the time-pressed traveler, at a more competitive price.
Most companies run longer tours into the Torres del Paine National Park and these are generally between 5 to 7 days' duration. Go South Adventures, Adventure Life, Expediciones Chile, Antares Patagonia Adventure, and Chile Nativo and Marapatagonia all run comprehensive tours with local knowledgeable guides, many of them following the famous "W" circuit, and including a cruise up the Serrano River or along one of the fiords.
Depending on the tour, accommodations are provided in tents (either in an organized camp with all facilities, including hot showers, or in the wild with pit latrines), in the park's refugios listed above, or in lodges or remote mountain inns.
Other activities offered on guided tours include fly-fishing, kayaking through the fiords and channels, or ice hiking.
There are several basic lodgings in the park called "Refugios". If you plan on staying in those, make reservations well in advance. The cost for a dorm bed is about US$40.
Both FantasticoSur and Vertice will ask for credit card information and charge it two weeks before arrival. There appears to be no cancellation penalty before that.
There are several campsites. Camping near a refugio costs Ch$3.500 or Ch$4000 - 5000 the other campsites are free. Away from a refugio you may find the pitches very small and on steep ground. All campsites have at least basic toilet facilities (bring your own toilet paper). Despite warnings there seemed no need to book camping spots even in peak season.