From wildlife spotting to cowboy culture, here are five adventures you can have in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile's Patagonia...
Sky-piercing snow-capped mountains reflect their jagged peaks in glacial lakes. Condors soar across pure blues skies. Guanacos walk across the rugged horizon and pumas prowl in the bushes, waiting to pounce. The Torres del Paine National Park in the Chilean Patagonia feels like the end of the world.
Enter Cerro Paine Reserve. Situated in the very heart of the Torres del Paine National Park, with campsites dotted along the famous W trek and a hotel at the trailhead, this privately-owned reserve is your gateway to a Patagonian adventure. And with its cattle ranch history, commitment to wildlife conservation and expert knowledge of the surrounding landscapes, you’re in for a culturally insightful and sustainable trip. Here are just five adventures to have in this incredible part of the world...
One of the reasons Chile’s Patagonia tops so many travel wish lists is because of the iconic W trek. The trek traces out the shape of a W over 73km, showing the most spectacular scenery the park has to offer along the way, from thick lenga forests to aquamarine lakes.
The first checkpoint is the Base Torres lookout, where you can gaze at the three natural skyscrapers that give the park its name. Visit at sunrise to see the rocks bathed in a pink-hued light. You will then zig-zag to the mountain-surrounded Francés Valley where huge slabs of glistening glaciers calve and crash. The most impressive glacier, however, is at Lake Grey, where the namesake 19km Grey Glacier can be found wedged between two mountains, spilling out into the water and glowing an icy blue.
Alternatively, you can try the 93km O circuit, a tougher and longer trail that extends further north than W Trek. Those who opt for this challenge will be rewarded with a much less crowded route and the highest views in the park. A 1,200m climb up the John Garner Mountain Pass will leave you with a bird’s eye view of the vast Grey Glacier, backed by a skyline of undulating snow-caked mountains.
Up until the early 1990s, the Cerro Paine Reserve operated as a working cattle ranch, and the cowboy culture is still very much alive today. Don’t miss meeting the baqueanos (Patagonian cowboys) who look after the reserve’s more than 200 horses and who will take you out to explore the private reserve on horseback.
If you don't want to walk all the way to the most iconic lookout of the park, you can take a horse some of the way instead. Your horse will carry you half-way up the Chileno Mountain Hostel. Don't forget to look behind you for spectacular valley views. Leave your horse at the hostel, and walk the final distance to gaze upon those slender peaks. Or for a shorter ride, opt for the half-day route through the west hillside of Cerro Paine. Starting in Pesebrera, your horse will wind you up the steep trail through the west hillside of Cerro Paine. You will then go through a forest of lengas, where birds flit past. Finally, you will reach the D’Agostini Viewpoint where you can enjoy sprawling views of the valley, lakes and the three peaks.
Most of the baqueanos literally grew up on horseback, with the Chilean Patagonia as their back garden, so who better to take you out and show you the natural sights than the people who know the area the best?
What’s more, you’ll gain valuable cultural insights about their way of life: join them for a cup of mate (a traditional Patagonian herbal drink) and listen to their fascinating stories.
Catching sight of a puma running at speed across a plain in pursuit of a guanaco is a sight you’ll likely remember for the rest of your life. Those hoping for a sighting need to be patient: the cats are elusive but hiring an expert guide will increase your chances of spotting one.
Seeing a puma is undoubtedly the highlight here, but there are many more animals worth seeking out. Torres del Paine National Park is home to 100 bird species, ranging from the Magellanic woodpeckers, Austral parakeets and Chilean flickers in the lenga forests to the huge Andean Condors that soar around the cliff faces.
Skunks, deer, armadillos and foxes are just some of the 25 mammals that call this neck of the woods home.
Trekking and horse riding aren't the only way to explore this part of Patagonia: kayaking and rock-climbing tours are available for those who are after a more adrenaline-inducing adventure.
For a closer look at the awe-inspiring glaciers and icebergs that are scattered across Patagonia's lakes, jump in a kayak. Paddling across the 500-metre deep Lake Grey allows you to observe the details of the bergs. Be sure to paddle alongside the wall of the Grey Glacier: from your position in the water - craning your neck at the icy wall looming over you – you will get to truly appreciate just how big the glacier is.
Rock-climbing is another thrilling way to explore the park. Don a helmet and head over to the Puma Cave, near Hotel Las Torres to have a go at the climb. There are three steep, towering walls to choose from offering rock-climbing for beginners through to experts. No matter what level you are, you can be sure that the views from the top will take your breath away (quite literally!).
Cerro Paine Reserve’s 50,000 square feet regenerative garden is one of the southernmost of its kind in the world and the region’s oldest. The vegetables grow under the gaze of the mountains using naturally regenerative and biointensive methods achieving an impressive ten tons of fresh produce for the hotel and mountain hostels each season.
Take a tour of the garden to learn of its history, breathe in its smells and sample the food. Veg has been growing here since 1950 and there are nine types of fruits and more than twenty-five types of vegetables, along with an ever-growing number of culinary and medicinal herbs.
The garden is part of Cerro Paine Reserve's long-term strategy to leave the smallest possible footprint within the National Park and just one example of its commitment to sustainable tourism.
Hotel Las Torres – a former cattle ranch – makes a great base from which to explore the park. The hotel offers all-inclusive packages that enable guests to experience and explore the park in a multitude of ways, accompanied by some of the best and most experienced passionate guides in the region.
After spending exhilarating days exploring Torres del Paine, you'll appreciate a comfy, cozy night here. All 74 of the rooms overlook the Torres del Paine's wild landscapes, so you can feel connected to the nature outside.
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