A Guide to Hiking and Rock Climbing in Torres del Paine
A Guide to Hiking and Rock Climbing in Torres del Paine
Situated among the mountains, glaciers, rivers and lakes of southern Patagonia, Torres del Paineis one of the most beautiful locations in the entire world.
Defined by the three distinctive granite peaks that compose the Paine Massif, Torres del Paine National Park draws 250,000 visitors each year from just about every corner of the earth. It has long been the subject of European and North American fascination, with the first foreign tourists arriving in the 1880s and millions more exploring the scenic spot since.
The park has long been recognised for its preeminent beauty. It has been elected the fifth most beautiful place in the world by National Geographic and the Eighth Wonder of the world by TripAdvisor.
Containing four large lakes, three glaciers, numerous valleys and mountains as well as encompassing a portion of the Southern Patagonia Icefield, the park was also named a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1978, in recognition of its unique fauna, flora and terrain.
During the summer, which stretches from December to February, hiking and rock climbing are two of the popular draws for this rugged and beautiful region. They have become so ubiquitous for outdoor adventurers that they are often done in tandem.
Indeed the park offers a varied and ideal landscape for the two activities. The popular Circuit trail is one of the park’s most iconic routes, circling around the massif. Meanwhile, each of the three granite spires of the massif also make for some of the most challenging and extreme big wall climbing routes in the world.
Sprawling over 1.800 square kilometers, there is enough in Torres del Paine to keep even the most avid adventurers occupied for a lifetime. In order to get the most out of the park in the limited time that you likely have to explore it, we’ve compiled some useful facts and information to aid you in booking your next adventure here.
3 reasons why you should travel to Torres del Paine
Outdoor adventurers have been visiting this region even before it became a national park, in order to enjoy its sublime beauty. Whether you climb to the top of one of the granite towers in the massif or hike around its base, you will be met by stunning views at every turn.
The combination of mountains, glaciers, lakes and valleys, means there is no shortage of stunning scenery to take in. Be sure to bring extra batteries for your camera!
Plenty of variety
Whether you are looking to do some rock climbing, hiking or both, Torres del Paine will not disappoint you with its various options for both sports.
While there is not much here for beginners, there is more than enough for intermediate and advanced rock climbers. Whether you head out for a three-day climb up the Aleta de Tiburón or a half-month expedition to the top of one of Torres del Paine’s three towers, you could spend a lifetime climbing in this pristine location.
For hikers, there is even more variety. Head out for the famed Circuit trek and spend nine days exploring the exquisite wilderness or spend a single day hiking around the outskirts of the famed towers. Whatever you choose to do, you’re sure to be met with stunning views and make lasting memories.
Fantastic fauna and flora
While you’re in Torres del Paine, keep your eyes peeled for some of the impressive wildlife that can be found in and around the park. The South American gray fox, rhea, guanaco and caracara are among the many unique animals you might see here.
The park also boasts seven different types of Orchidaceae, among many other unique species of plants, all of which can be seen as you trek through the park.
Hiking in Torres del Paine
The Circuit Trail
Perhaps the best known trek in the whole national park, the Circuit Trail takes you all the way around the massif. It was first completed in 1976 by the British mountaineer John Gardner, and has since become the park’s preeminent hiking route.
Lasting for about nine days, the trek usually starts at the Laguna Amarga hut. From here you head west into the valley and pass by Lake Dickson before making your way south over John Gardner Pass.
You then continue south and further west, past the Paine Grande and down into the Valle Francés at the foot of Mt Fortaleza. From here, the trip takes you past the shores of Nordenskjöld Lake and back around to the eastern side of the massif to the starting point of the trip.
There are numerous highlights all along the route, including stunning views of the Paine Massif and Mt Fortaleza. Each night, you will camp in a different, scenic location and take in unique views of the surroundings. The trek is also an excellent way to see some of the unique flora and fauna in the park.
The W Circuit (W)
For those who do not have the time to complete the entire Circuit Trail, the W Circuit is a shorter alternative that offers spectacular views.
Beginning at the same spot as the Circuit Trail, the route heads west into the valley, following the full trail until Valle Francés. From here, you will transfer back to Puerto Natales. This variation of the trip takes about five days.
The West Circuit trek has a bit of a faster pace than the full trek because it takes you well past the trip’s halfway point and, therefore, requires participants to be able to hike between six and eight hours a day with minimal stopping time.
However, the time spent on the trail is spectacular. Enjoy hiking on Grey Glacier, snap a photo of the iconic Lake Mirador and take in views from several scenic overlooks as we go.
This route is sure to whet your appetite for more adventures in Chilean Patagonia, while leaving you time to also sample some hiking over in neighboring Argentina.
The Sendero de Chile
Taking a slightly different approach, the Sendero de Chile starts at the Serrano lodge and runs for about 18 kilometers up along the western bank of Lake Pehoé before finishing at the Pehoé Lodge.
The trail takes about a week, but could last longer depending on how quickly you choose to go. Along the way, there are spectacular views of the Paine Massif and surrounding mountains as well as Grey Glacier.
Heading up into the mountain passes before descending back down into each of the valleys that divides them is a breathtaking experience. During the trek, enjoy spectacular views of the massif as well as surrounding wilderness.
Like the W Circuit, this is an ideal trip to sample these spectacular surroundings and is easily combined with a hiking expedition in neighboring Argentina as well.
Rock climbing in Torres del Paine
North Tower of Paine Massif
Rising 2.260 meters above sea level, the North Tower presents a challenging mix of trad, alpine and ice climbing, even in the summer. The solid granite tower boasts several multi-pitch routes and is quite challenging, making it well suited for advanced rock climbers.
The approach requires two to three days of incredibly scenic hiking and, overall, the whole trip takes about a week. Guides generally offer a one-week option that focuses solely on climbing the North Tower or a longer, two-week option that involves several other warm-up climbs prior to finishing off with the North Tower.
From the base of the tower, 500 meters separate you from the usually snowy summit. The climbing is quite technical and the ascent takes about 10 hours from base to summit and back.
The views from the top are truly sublime and well worth the effort. Expect panoramic vistas out over Chilean Patagonia and unrivaled views of the rest of the massif.
Central Tower of Paine Massif
Often considered some of the best and most challenging climbing in all of the Torres del Paine region, the Central Tower is a technically difficult climb that is perfectly suited for advanced-level rock climbers.
At 2.460 meters in elevation, the imposing solid granite massif is the second highest of the three iconic spires. From the top, there are expansive views out over Chilean Patagonia as well as of the rest of the massif.
Getting to the top requires ascending the 44-pitch eastern face of the spire. This involves a combination of trad climbing, crack climbing and some ice climbing toward the top. The base is separated from the summit by 1.300 vertical meters of rock and the climb takes about an entire day to complete.
However, before you even get to the climbing, you need to arrive at the base of the spire. This takes between two and three days depending on the point from which you begin your trip.
Most guides offer the trip over a two-week period in order to get a few practice climbs in prior to making the final approach and ascent of the Central Tower.
Aleta de Tiburón
Outside of the iconic towers, the Aleta de Tiburón, or ‘shark’s fin’ as it is known in English, is an incredibly popular climbing location in the Torres del Paine National Park.
Located in the Valle Francés, this granite spire offer climbers a 500-meter vertical ascent to its summit. The climb is of intermediate difficulty, requiring several multi-pitch ascents to the top.
Like the rest of the rock formations in the park, the Aleta de Tiburón is composed of solid granite, aside from the first 20 meters of climbing, which requires scrambling over loose rocks.
For those preparing to climb one of the iconic towers of the Paine Massif, the Aleta de Tiburón is considered the perfect warm-up option. There are spectacular views from the top to whet your appetite for more and the hike to the base of the spire is quite spectacular as well.
From base to summit, the climb takes less than a day, but factoring in the approach guides offer two lengths of trips. The half-week option is the more basic and only includes the approach and climb. The slightly longer, one-week option includes a bit more hiking in the national park, beginning from a slightly farther point.
What is the best time to go hiking & rock climbing in Torres del Paine?
Like most places in Patagonia, the weather in Torres del Paine is fairly unpredictable and extremely changeable. You can experience all kinds of weather in the same day! The region is also famous for its fierce winds, which make outdoor activities more extreme and challenging.
The best time to visit the park for rock climbing and hiking is from September to April. Due to the location’s southerly latitude, days are quite long throughout the late spring and into the early autumn.
During the summer, average daily temperatures are about 16°C, but can dip down below freezing at higher altitudes and at night. It is therefore best to pack warm clothes, even for the high summer months.
The park does not receive much rain during the summer, but showers are not uncommon. The autumn is the wettest time of year, with the most rain falling from March to May.
How much does it cost?
How much a trip to Torres del Paine costs depends on several factors, including how many people you are traveling with, what is included and how long you are staying for.
Hiking and rock climbing trips to the park generally cost between $1.500 (USD) and $6.000 per person. The lower end of the spectrum is generally for one-week trips, while the higher end is for trips that last two to three weeks. Some single-day rock climbing trips may cost as little as $300 per person.
Guides generally include the their fee, accommodations, meals, transport to the start of the trip and equipment (for rock climbing trips) in the price. Going with a group is likely to bring prices down. However, every guide’s prices are different, so be sure to confirm the cost and what’s included prior to completion of booking.
What is often not included is the park entrance fee, which is about $30 per person from October 1 to April 30. In order to rock climb in the park you will have to fill out an application beforehand. The permit is free.
How to get there?
Getting to Torres del Paine may not be the easiest of tasks, but the effort is certainly worthwhile. Since it is located right along the border with Argentina, there are options of getting to the park starting in both countries.
Fly into the international airport at Santiago (SCL) and then to Punta Arenas (3h 30m). From Punta Arenas airport, take a bus to the small city of Puerto Natales. From there, you can reach the park by a scenic drive up Chile Route 9. Buses head from the city to the park and back each day.
Fly into the international airport at Buenos Aires (EZE). You then transfer on a domestic flight to El Calafate. From El Calafate, it is a three hour drive to the park down Argentina’s National Route 40, before making a right over the border on the Y-205 and connecting with Chile Route 9. There are also some buses to the park from El Calafate.
If you plan on doing a series of single-day activities in the park, there are numerous places to stay just outside of the park, including in the cities of Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales and Calafate, Argentina.
Inside of the park, there are numerous mountain huts and campsites in which to stay as well. In order to better preserve the park, you must book all mountain huts or campsites prior to entering the park.
The huts are basic, but perfectly adequate for treks and rock climbing expeditions. Camping is forbidden anywhere except the marked campsites and wood fires are banned throughout the entire park.
Many guides will book the accommodations for you, in order to avoid the headache, but not all of them do this. Be sure to check with your guide what is included prior to completion of booking.
So what are you waiting for? Book your next rock climbing and/or hiking trek to stunningly scenic Torres del Paine today and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!