MIRADOR TORRES DEL PAINE

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If you make the trip to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in Chile, there is one thing you MUST do while there whether you’re hiking the circuit, the W, or staying just one night. I personally demand that you visit the Mirador Torres del Paine at sunrise. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful, awe-inspiring, and unique sights you will ever experience in your life. If that claim isn’t enough to get you there, I don’t know what is.

The Mirador Torres del Paine is a lookout point that gives a breathtaking, up-close view of the park’s namesake massive granite towers. Of course, you can visit this gem of a spot any time of day, but the best views are at sunrise when the towers turn a shockingly bright orange. (Photos don’t do it justice, so you’ll have to check it our for yourself.)

The best way to know if the sunrise trek is worth it is to wake up at around three or four in the morning and check if you can see stars. This alone is a heart-stopping experience, as you’ll likely see more stars and in a clearer sky than you’ve ever seen before. If you do, in fact, see thousands of luminous stars, you’re in luck – chances are good that the view at the Torres will be lovely. However, if you see a sea of blackness and clouds, go back to sleep – the view won’t be worth it. At least this is what the park guides promised us.

If you’re lucky and find yourself under a blanket of twinkling lights, get your camera and get ready to go. Depending on where you sleep, your trek will be between an hour and a half to three hours. For those of you out there who aren’t frequent hikers, this won’t be an easy few hours... but it will be worth it. Trust me. The first part is simply walking through the pitch black woods. Not too difficult. The last hour of the hike, though, is a tough one. All uphill, you’ll be traversing hands and knees over rocks at some points. At other points you’ll be literally hiking up streaming waterfalls, and walking next to massive drop-offs. Needless to say, be aware of your footing! I highly doubt there’s much of a history of hikers falling off the mountain, but it’s worthy of note, just for good measure. The trek can be tough on the knees, especially on the way down, but again -- it’s worth it.

One last (important!) piece of advice: at the end of the hike, you’ll come to a quite steep rocky incline. You need not scale this dangerous stretch, especially if you’re an inexperienced hiker. There is a path marked by orange poles, and though it’s hard to find at this last part, it is much easier, safer, and faster.

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The best way to access the Mirador at sunrise is by camping the night before at Campamento Torres del Paine, which is situated at the foot of the mountain. If you don’t have camping gear of your own, you’ll have to stay at Lodge El Chileno (the nearest refugio) or rent camping gear. If you stay at the refugio, plan to wake up around 3:30 or 4am to start your trek to the Mirador, depending on the time of year and when the sun will be rising. The trip should take you two and a half to three hours. Remember, you’ll be hiking in the dark, so be sure to bring a headlamp or a flashlight, or rent one before you get there.

Good luck, and don’t forget your camera. This is certainly a frame-worthy sight.

SLEEPING IN TORRES DEL PAINE

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If you’re planning a trip to Torres del Paine, you’ll most likely be needing somewhere to rest your head at night. There are several options, based on what you’re carrying with you and how much cash you’re willing to drop.

BYO Camping

For the real outdoorsy hiker types, you'll probably be carrying your own tent and gear. This will prove to be a huge advantage, as you can camp much closer to some of the best sights.

If you bring your own camping gear, you’ll have two options for where to set up camp. The first option is at a refugio-run campground, where you will find showers and bathrooms, and have the option of purchasing meals. Of course, if you choose to stay at one of these places, you have to pay a small fee to use the campgrounds, but it is usually reasonable (around $10 USD). The other option is to camp in the non-refugio-run campgrounds, which have no facilities or guides available. These sites are usually excellently located, so if you don’t need a shower or breakfast, this is your best bet. They’re also free!

If you do choose to carry your own equipment, be sure to spend a night at Campamento Torres – it gives you the best access to the lookout point for the massive granite towers and makes it a whole lot easier to get up to the top for the beautiful sunrise view (a must-see!).

Camping Rentals

If you want to camp but don’t have the gear, fear not. Most of the refugios have an adjacent camping area, where they will rent you a tent, mat, and sleeping bag for a reasonable price. This is a great option for people who don’t have gear or don’t want to carry it with them for the duration of their trek. The fee for camping includes showers and bathrooms, and is a much better deal than staying inside the actual refugio.

You can also rent camping gear in the town of Puerto Natales, in which case you will carry it with you for the extent of your trek. If you choose this, refer back to the Bring-Your-Own Camping section.

Refugios

If you have a decent amount of money to spend and aren’t that into camping, refugios are the way to go. Of course, they will lower your bragging rights a bit, but a real bed and shower might be worth it to you. There are several refugios in the park, giving you plenty of options depending on what path you choose to take.

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Most refugios are relatively pricey, running fromm $40 to $75 USD a night, depending on if you want sheets, a sleeping bag, breakfast, lunch, etc. All of them include a shower and a bed. During high season it’s usually recommended to reserve your spot ahead of time so you don’t end up bedless -- many allow you to reserve online, or you can go directly to the company offices in Puerto Natales. Fantástico Sur owns the refugios on the east side of the park near Sector Las Torres, whereas Vertice Patagonia owns those on the west side within the park.

If you are hiking the W or the Circuit, you may want to spend a night in a refugio somewhere along the way to reboot and reenergize. But if not, more power to ya.

Hotels & Hosterías

If you’re really not into the idea of “roughing it” but you want to stay in the park, there are various hotels and hosterías. They will, however, cost you a pretty penny. Rates can be anywhere from $150 to $250 USD a night, and we’re talking pretty basic accommodations here. Still, it’s a good option for those who physically can’t camp and have the cash to drop on a nicer bed.

No matter what your timeline and preferred accommodations may be, spending at least one night in the park is definitely recommended, as there’s nothing more beautiful than the mountains at sunrise. Trust us, you won’t regret that 4am wakeup call!

PARQUE NACIONAL TORRES DEL PAINE

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South America is home to some of the most beautiful national parks on Earth. One such park is located in Chilean Patagonia, and boasts 1,810 square kilometers of crystal-clear, blue lakes, dense green forests, soaring peaks and babbling brooks at every turn. As part of Unesco’s Biosphere Reserve, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine rests peacefully as a mecca for nature lovers from around the globe.

There are tons of activities to be enjoyed inside the park, including horseback riding, kayaking, and even ice trekking on the park’s radiant glacier. The main attraction, of course, is some good old-fashioned hiking. I recommend a minimum of three days in the park, though if you want to fully enjoy all the breathtaking sights (and have the stamina for a longer trek), plan to stay seven to ten days.

Entry to the park ranges from $15,000 Chilean pesos in the high season to $5,000 in low season. The best time to visit is between November and March. Keep in mind that January and February bring the most visitors, so if you choose to go then you may be trekking amongst larger crowds.

Check out my posts on Parque Nacional Torres el Paine: 

  • Puerto Natales as an Entry Point to Torres del Paine
  • Camping & Refugios in Torres del Paine
  • Mirador Torres del Paine

TREKKING GLACIAR PERITO MORENO

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I can’t help but reiterate how remarkable this enormous ice mass truly is. With a surface area of over 250 square kilometers, Perito Moreno is one of the world’s most well-known glaciers.

The glacier is located within the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which offers all kinds of other activities, like horseback riding, kayaking and world-class hiking. But, of course, the main event is the bright blue hunk of ice that gives the park its name.

If you spend a day at the glacier, you’re bound to hear ice falling from all sides, and if you’re lucky enough, you might see a large chunk fall crashing into the icy water below. Don’t worry, though– this isn’t another effect of global warming; the regeneration that occurs is part of the natural cycle of the glacier. And, wow, is it a powerful sight.

One company, Hielo y Aventura, monopolizes the glacier trekking business at Perito Moreno, but luckily they do a pretty darn good job. The guides are young, friendly and, most importantly, knowledgeable. There are three choices for you to see the glacier: Safari Náutico, Mini-Trekking and Big Ice.

Safari Náutico: The view of Glaciar Perito Moreno from the water is unlike any other. Boats carrying up to 130 passengers will take you along Lake Rico to view the front side of the glacier. The boats depart hourly from 10am to 4pm, except June through September, when they only leave at noon. This is a great way to see the glacier from afar, but if you wanna get up close and personal with this ice mass, you’ve gotta do one of the trekking adventures.

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Mini-Trekking: I have to put in my two cents here: this trek is not aptly named in the slightest. It sounds rather cute, doesn’t? Prissy, even. “Mini-trekking” seems to invite you to bring the kids and ice cream cones and we’ll all go skipping along in the snow. Well, I’m here to tell you, friends, that the “mini-trek” is not kidding around. It begins with a short boat ride offering a view of the south side of the glacier, dropping you at the opposite shore, where you’ll meet your trekking guides. A short explanation of the glacier and the surrounding flora and fauna is given, crampons are distributed, and then it’s time to get to work. The mini-trek is a two-hour ice trek, where you’ll see streams, lagoons, and magnificent ice formations. Be sure to try a sip of the water... it’s delicious! The trekking isn’t extreme, but for most people two hours will be plenty of time to enjoy the glacier and get the gist of what ice trekking is all about.

Big Ice: This is the real deal. The big kahuna. If you wanna know what ice trekking is really about, then you want to tackle Big Ice. Think twice before signing on for this adventure, though– it’s seven hours of walking over rough terrain. If you think you can handle it, then prepare yourself to see some of the most incredible sights nature provides. You’ll see all the usual suspects– lagoons, streams, and ice formations– but you’ll also traverse into the center of the glacier, where you’ll encounter caves and crevices, and learn “the ways of the ice.” This is a serious trek, but well worth the effort if you can do it.

Both the Mini-Trekking and Big Ice culminate with a special treat: whiskey served over glaciar ice. Now, I don’t know if it was the fancy schmancy ice, but I’m pretty darn sure that was some of the tastiest (and most deserved!) whiskey I’ve ever had.

Be sure to wear close-toed athletic or hiking shoes for the treks, and warm outerwear. Also note: none of the excursions include the National Park entrance fee or lunch. Hielo y Aventura is headquartered at Avenida Libertador 935 in El Calafate, but you can also book these tours and treks through your hostel or hotel.