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When is the best time of year to visit Torres del Paine?

Photography: @grafixart_photo

 

So you want to visit the crown jewel of Chile’s national parks, Torres del Paine! Located in the farthest of Chile’s regions, the Region of Magallanes and Antartica, Torres del Paine has become renowned for its spectacular natural landmarks like the Paine Massif, home to the iconic Cuernos mountains and the Torres, and the Grey Glacier. Most people come to do the W Trek, which takes hikers to all the park’s highlights including the Grey Glacier, the Frenchman’s Valley, and the base of the Torres, but you can also the full “O” or Paine circuit which connects the two ends of the W by going around behind the back of the Paine Massif or just do day trips.

But now comes the next question: when is the best time of year to visit Torres del Paine? Most people visit during the Patagonian summer months of December through February, but as travel to Chile becomes more popular, visiting Torres del Paine during those high season months might not be the best option for everyone as the park will be overcrowded, which ruins the wilderness experience. In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of each season in Torres del Paine, to help you choose the best time of year to plan your trip!

 

Photography: flickr @TerryAllen

 

Spring

Lasting from mid-September through November, spring  can be a great time to pay a visit to Torres del Paine. Without the crowds of high season, you can enjoy the park in peace and quiet, as well as get to see new baby animals and new plantlife starting to bloom. The main disadvantages are that the nights can still be pretty chilly, snow and ice are still possibilities, there will likely be rain in March and April, and, as always, the weather can be unpredictable and the winds are pretty strong. Also, some campsites, hotels, roads, and parts of the park may not yet be open if you’re traveling during the early part of the season, so depending on what you want to do and see, doing research beforehand about what will be open is recommended.

 

Photography: @TurismoChile

 

Summer

Summer is by far the most popular time of year to visit Torres del Paine, and there are several reasons for that. Lasting from December through February, this season is when the days are the warmest and the nights are the least cold, all parts of the park are accessible, there are longer hours which allows for more hiking and exploring, and since the weather is generally the best in summer, you have a better chance of having good weather to see the landscapes and do hikes. If you’re a very social traveler, it’s also the best time to visit to meet lots of people on the trails and at the campsites. There are some drawbacks, though: as it is high season, rates for things like refugios, hotels, campsites, transportation, etc., is more expensive, the park is at its most crowded, and there are strong winds and unpredictable weather and rain. If you do want to travel to Torres del Paine during summer, it is recommended that you make reservations for your tours and book things like campsites, refugios, etc., well in advance to guarantee a spot. One of the advantages of booking a tour through a company like EcoChile is that we take care of all those reservations for you!

 

Photography: @danielkordan

 

Fall

If you love foliage and crisp fall weather, autumn in Chilean Patagonia is the best time to visit! Torres del Paine is already one of the most visually spectacular natural places on the planet, and its beauty is only enhanced by the addition of gorgeous fall colors covering the landscapes. Lasting from March through May, the days are still warm but nights are starting to get colder, and there are increased possibilities of rain and snow, especially toward the end of the season. In March, there are sometimes still bigger crowds but the numbers gradually decrease going through the season. Some of the hotels, campsites, areas of the park (such as the Gardner pass) etc., close down before the season officially ends in mid-May, so do research beforehand to see what will and won’t be open as the season advances. After summer ends at the end of February, most companies also switch into shoulder/low season pricing, so it’s a more economical time to visit as well. Since there are fewer crowds and many animals have just had their birthing season, it’s also a great time to see wildlife, so nature and wildlife photographers may find that fall is the best time.

 

Photography: @hotellastorres

 

Winter

Winter can be a tricky time to visit Torres del Paine, as officially the park is closed to everyone except expert winter trekkers and select groups, but since interest in visiting the park is growing, officials have started to open up the park for some winter tours and activities, and EcoChile Travel is one of the few Chilean travel companies that offers the W trek during winter! Winter in Torres del Paine lasts from June to August, and the weather is not for the faint of heart: plunging temperatures (low 20s [-3 – 0 degrees Celsius], low 40s [5-8 degrees Celsius]), strong snowstorms, low visibility during storms, unpredictable weather, and strong winds make it a challenging time of the year to visit.

But the winter weather is also why the experience can be so rewarding: you get to see the spectacular mountains, plains, glaciers, lakes, valleys, and rivers of Torres del Paine covered in glorious snow and ice, creating the ultimate wilderness wonderland. Plus, there will be virtually no one else in the park, so it’s a great time to see untouched winter landscapes at their most pure and without any crowds to disturb the peace. At this point in time, except with special permits, you can only enter the park during winter if you are with a tour group like EcoChile Travel, as most of the hotels, campsites, and other amenities are closed, so prior arrangements need to be made via an authorized tour company. In closing, while it is physically a very difficult time of year to visit, the winter views and isolation make it a worthwhile endeavor.

 

Photography: flickr @nicolasques

 

So what do we recommend?

Ultimately, there is no singular best time of year to visit Torres del Paine. There are drawbacks and benefits to each season, and deciding when is the best time to go depends on what you want to do and see. Highly sociable hikers may love going during summer as there are many opportunities to meet and explore with new people, whereas people who want to escape into nature without the distractions of the real world would find fall or spring a better time. Photographers may want to take pictures of the snow and ice during winter, or capture the fall foliage. More budget-conscious travelers would probably prefer to visit during spring and fall when pricing is in shoulder/low season rates. So the best time of year for Torres del Paine is the best time of year for you.

No matter what you choose, Torres del Paine is bound to impress and dazzle travelers year-round. So do some research to figure out when will work for your budget, as well as determining what you want to do and see, and then get ready to book your dream vacation to the eighth wonder of the world! Also, if you have more questions or aren’t sure what time of year is the best for you, our expert trip designers are happy to answer any of your questions and help you figure out how to plan the best vacation for your budget and goals!

 

5 Activities that you can do near Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales

The main reason people go to the farthest region of Chile and the town of Puerto Natales is to visit Torres del Paine National Park, which is famous for its mountains, glaciers, and hiking opportunities. But while Torres del Paine is a must visit, there are plenty of other great places to explore and outdoor or cultural activities to try located just a short distance from Puerto Natales, which is known as the gateway to Torres del Paine. This town, which is located at the mouth of Last Hope Sound, is usually just known as the stopping-over point before going to Torres del Paine, but just outside of town you can do on fun hikes, horseback rides, kayaking, and much more! Here are 5 activities you can do near Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales!

 

Photography: @estancia.lapeninsula

 

1. Visit a traditional Patagonian estancia – In the 1800s, the wide open pampas (plains) of Patagonia became prime real estate for sheepherding, and a whole ranching and baqueano cowboy culture grew up around the care and keeping of the thousands of sheep that roamed the region and were used for their wool and meat. Some of these estancias are still operational, but many around Puerto Natales, while still carrying on the traditional estancia activities and work like sheep shearing, also offer tours and activities so visitors can learn about the estancia lifestyle. One of the most popular to visit, Estancia La Peninsula, requires a boat ride to get to, and they show you a sheep shearing demonstration, take you on a horse ride, and prepare an authentic Patagonian asado.

 

Photography: @YanniRindler

 

2. Go for a hike at Cerro Dorothea – While Torres del Paine gets all the glory for beautiful landscapes in the region, the surroundings of Puerto Natales on Last Hope Sound are also stunning, and one of the best places to take in those views is from the viewpoint at the top of Cerro Dorothea. Located on the outskirts of town, Cerro Dorothea is the tallest point of a short mountain range, with views overlooking Puerto Natales, Last Hope Fjord, and Admiral Montt Gulf. The hike is relatively easy, it’s very accessible from town, and the views are well worth it. Plus, it’s also a great spot to keep an eye out for local birds like the Andean condor, one of the largest flying bird in the world.

 

Photography @adrianmoltedon

 

3. Visit the Mylodon Cave – Located about 15 kilometers from Puerto Natales, this vast, open-mouthed cave is where the remains of now-extinct mylodon (giant sloths), saber-toothed cats, and dwarf horses were found in 1895. This discovery was the catalyst for travel writer Bruce Chatwin to come to Patagonia and write about it in his famous travelogue “In Patagonia”; he first was inspired to visit Patagonia thanks to his grandmother owning a piece of the mummified skin from the mylodon. Visitors can roam around the cave, see where the remains were found, and also pose with a life-size statue of the mylodon; out of the cave entrance you can see the Patagonian landscape stretching off to the horizon.

 

Photography: @PaulBarnovin

 

4. See the Balmaceda and Serrano Glaciers – Most visitors to the area want to see the Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine national park, but there are two other equally impressive and lesser known glaciers are can be found nearby Puerto Natales in the southern part of the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. The two glaciers descend mountainsides into the waters of Last Hope Sound, and are accessible via a boat tour from the pier at Puerto Natales (many tours also include a glass of whisky served with glacial ice) or you can go kayaking at Balmaceda, which allows you to get closer to the glacier (while still being safe) and kayak around the lake around the icebergs that have calved from the glacier. The glaciers have receded a bit in recent years because of global warming, but they are still spectacular to see up close. Plus, as they are not as well know as the Grey Glacier, you have the chance to see something a bit less touristy.

 

Photography: @estancia.lapeninsula

 

5. Horseback ride to Laguna Sofia – Thanks to the estancia and baqueano cowboy culture in Patagonia, there are many opportunities to get to know the landscape on horseback. One of the best places near Puerto Natales to go for a ride is at Laguna Sofia, a beautiful lake located an hour from town, surrounded by snow capped mountains, rolling hills, and forests. Here you can do horseback riding in the hills and forests close to the lakeshore, or go to lookout points over the lake, which is serene and a lovely spot to spend the day or just an afternoon. If you’re not big on horseback riding, you can also just go for a hike.

Laguna de los Tres Hike in the Argentinian Patagonia

Fitz Roy: Laguna de Los Tres

The Laguna de Los Tres hike is a 24 km (15 mile) day hike and is an absolute must-do for anybody visiting the area. The trail, like much of Los Glaciers National Park, can be easily accessed from the charming town of El Chaltén in the heart of Argentinian Patagonia. With just over 2,000 inhabitants, this cozy little town is a mecca for all things outdoor. There’s no shortage of rock climbing, trekking, kayaking, and rich adventures to be found here. All easily accessible by foot!

 

Getting there:

Wherever you stay in El Chaltén, it won’t take you more than 1km to get to the trailhead.

Pack light as the last leg of the trail is very steep and you won’t want to be climbing up the mountainside with a heavy backpack weighing you down. If you are planning on camping, you will be able to drop off your bags at the campsite and pitch your tent before reaching the tougher terrain.

 

The trail:

The lagoon is a 12 km (7.5 mile) hike from the trailhead, making the trek a total of 24km (15 miles) there and back. The mileage is broken up nicely with several miradors (scenic lookouts) along the way for you to rest, take photos, and grab a handful of trail mix.

 

 

Rió de Las Vueltas mirador is .7km (.4miles) into the trail and offers vast panoramic views of the valley.

 

 

The Mirador Fitz Roy is located 4km (2.5 miles) in and is well worth a prolonged stop. Here you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Fitz Roy and the surrounding rivers and mountains that shape this breathtaking landscape.

The popular Poincenot campground is found 8km (5 miles) into the trail. If you plan on camping, take the opportunity to ditch your heavy bags and prepare your tent before heading back on the trail. For those of you not camping, this is also a lovely area to have a rest by the river, fill up your waters (this will be your last chance), and get some food in you before embarking on the final leg of the ascent. There are two outhouses on the campground as well as one more about 15 minutes from the campsite along the trail. So make sure to utilize these facilities before it’s too late!

After you’ve had some snacks and filled your waters, you’ll continue on the same trail to Laguna de Los Tres. From here you’re just 4km (2.5miles) shy of the lagoon. It will take approximately 1.15hrs to walk and the last hour is more or less a steep climb on rocky terrain, so walk with caution and use trekking poles if you have them!

 

 

Once you get to the lagoon, make yourself comfortable on one of the many giant rocks, you’ve made it! Enjoy lunch while gazing at one of Argentina’s most prized possessions, Cerro Fitz Roy. If you feel an awe-inspiring sensation while taking in the scenery, you’re certainly not alone. The image made such an impression on Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, that he decided to use the mountain range as the logo for his company.

When you’re ready to explore some more, walk down to the lagoon (~2 mins) for some up close and personal photos of the ice-capped water and stunning mountain scenery.

After the hike:

As you’re making your way back into town, pop into any one of El Chaltén’s craft cervecerías or local restaurants for a much-deserved beer and a hearty meal.

What to bring:

  • Daybag
  • Trekking poles (not a total necessity, but they will be nice to have for the last leg of the journey)
  • Water
  • Snacks + Lunch
  • Sunblock + sunglasses
  • Have warm layers available so you can spend lots of time at the lagoon comfortably. There’s a very good chance that you won’t want to leave this place!

Best time of year to go:

November to March

Grade of difficulty:

Moderate to challenging

Stats:

  • Distance: 24km (15mile) round trip
  • Elevation gain: 882m (2,894ft)
  • Time: approximately 6 hrs of hiking time

 

 

The park is filled with native wildlife unique to the Patagonia region such as huemuls (deer) and carpinteros (large woodpeckers). These animals are very difficult to spot on your own and require expert eyes and an advanced knowledge of the area. If you’re looking to gain more insight about the region and see wildlife, then we recommend hiring a guide to get the very best of your hike.

Ready to start planning your trip? Visit us here to find an expert local guide to show you the area!