A must see is the Torres del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay) National Park or “Towers of Blue”. This national park is situated in Southern Chile and encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers. It was elected by National Geographic as the fifth most beautiful place in the world.
It has many famous and popular hikes each boasting spectacular views. Just make sure you plan adequately for the trip. Chile’s national parks do not offer the same services that national parks in the United States or Canada offer to lost or injured hikers. If you plan to go in you need to plan to get yourself back out.
The hikes in the park are not to be underestimated. The shortest hikes will take several hours. The longer ones can take several days and require that you pack your own gear and equipment with you. The park has several campgrounds which hikers utilize. Some offer basic supplies to replace any that may get damaged on the trail. One camper described how his tent was damaged one night while he was setting it up. He was able to purchase replacement parts at the campground.
It is an isolated part of the world, but it’s also a huge attraction so you will see other trekkers on occasion. The park will get 150,000 visitors in one season.
The longest trail in the park, and incidentally the one with most bragging rights, is known as the “W” because the trail does in fact look like a “W”. Hikers can take a full day to hike to the towers, the namesake for the park. Or if hikers are looking for more of a challenge they can backpack along the popular “W” route in about five days. For the truly adventurous trekkers, the full circuit around the towers will take eight to nine days to complete.
There is a luxury hotel at the entrance to the park if camping and backpacking aren’t appealing options, but you’d still like to experience the park.
Trails are marked well and hikers are expected not to stray from the path. A certified guide is required to access some parts of the park. These arrangements need to be made before entering the park.
Visiting the park is recommended between late December and late February, during the southern summer. Not only because the weather conditions are optimal, but daylight hours are very long given the extreme southern latitude. Outside of this time frame, the weather becomes too extreme for the majority of the public. During the southern winter, daylight dwindles to only a few hours a day.