Torres del Paine National Park Overview
Torres del Paine is one of the natural highlights of Chile and one of the most visited parks in South America. The Paine massif is a sight to behold, as it rises up from the pampas and reflects off the Lago Nordenskjold. The main part of the cordillera are the twin peaks of Monte Almirante Nieto that are made up of enormous pieces of rock, 22km long and 14km wide.
The mountains are cut in half by two valleys: Valle Ascencio in the east and the Valle del Frances in the west. Heading west you'll find the Glacier Grey, which covers 7 km of area at its largest point, and the Southern Icefields (Campo de Hielo Sur, which extends over a million hectares of land and is one of the largest ice fields outside of the poles.
The best way to explore the park is by foot but there are other options if you don't want to hike. You can rent horses from one of the Hosterias and ride up to the Torres and Cuernos mountains, or ride in a four-wheel drive vehicle. Boats also run up and down the Rio Serrano that will take you on a three-hour return trip to Glacier Grey and the Lago Grey Guarderia. You can also mountain climb in the park, but you have to get a permit from the Direccion de Fronteras y Limites in Santiago.
Torres del Paine is also an excellent place for wildlife spotting. The park has over 100 different species of birds. Some species you may see on the trail are the Andean Condor, Black-Chested Buzzard Eagle, Black-necked Swan, Spectacled Duck, Magellanic Woodpecker, Ringed Kingfisher, and the Chilean Flamingo.
The National Park is open all year, but the best time to visit is from October to April, which is Chile's Spring and Summer. During this time there are more sunny days and less rain and more than 16 hours of sunlight due to the position of the earth. The entrance fee into the park during high season is $15,000 Chilean Pesos (USD $28) for foreigners and $5,000 (USD $13) for Chileans. The low season fee is $5,000 for foreigners and $3,000 (USD $6) for Chileans. For further information contact CONAF, Chile's National Forestry Commission.
There are daily flights serviced by Lan Chile that fly from Santiago to Puerto Arenas or you can take a four-day trip by ferry from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. The boat ride takes you through the spectacular scenic beauty of the Lake District of Patagonia and will be an experience of a lifetime.