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Get to Know Torres del Paine: Patagonia’s Crown Jewel

Photographs of Torres del Paine National Park may reveal its legendary craggy peaks, crystalline glacial lakes, undulating grasslands, and the charismatic creatures who inhabit its remote wilderness, but they can’t tell the full story. To walk these trails is to recalibrate the senses that dull with too much time spent indoors. In this way, Torres del Paine’s true beauty defies documentation, inspiring a wonder so pure in form that you’ll simply need to witness it for yourself. Before you visit, our mini guide will help get you acquainted with this treasured paragon of Patagonia. Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up


Where is Torres del Paine?

In the Magellanes region of southern Chile, Torres del Paine National Park spans 450,000 acres between the Andes Mountains and the Patagonian Steppe. In addition to its eponymous mountain range, the ecology is made up of glaciers, lakes, rivers, lagoons, and four distinct vegetation zones: the wind-bent grasses of the steppe, the pre-Andean scrub of the plains and plateaus, old-growth deciduous forests, and sparse Andean desert. Puerto Natales is the nearest city, just over 70 miles southeast of the park.

Granite Horns of Torres del Paine.jpg

Why are the mountains called Torres del Paine?

Torres del Paine translates to “Towers of Blue.” The towers, three distinct 8,000-foot peaks of glacially carved granite, preside over the Paine Massif—an eastern spur of the Andes. “Paine” is a native Aónikenk (Tehuelche) word for “blue,” likely a tribute to the surrounding expanse of sky and ever-shifting shades of water that reflect on the mountainsides. The Cordillera Paine also features Los Cuernos, the iconic “horns,” whose stark bands of light granite contrast dramatically with charcoal-grey sedimentary rock, and the snow-capped Cerro Paine Grande, the range’s highest peak at 10,000 feet.

The wildlife of Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park weaves together a mercurial mix of terrains, microclimates, and ecosystems, making for a rich diversity of fascinating fauna. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1978, the vast park is home to 25 different mammals and over 100 bird species—including 15 birds of prey. Here are just a few of the emblematic species you may encounter as you explore.

What else is special about Torres del Paine? 

The Paine Massif’s glorious peaks may be the park’s masterpiece, but they’re part of a whole museum of natural artwork shaped by the glaciation of the last Ice Age. Glacial runoff and snow melt cascade through the park in rivers, streams, and waterfalls of cerulean blue—like the thunderous Salto Grande—toward some of the world’s most spectacular lakes and lagoons.

Torres del Paine borders the vast Southern Patagonian Ice Field to the north, one of the largest remaining on Earth outside of the poles with an area of over 6,000 square miles. Here, it extends a three-toed foot into the immense Grey Glacier, which flows around two islands into the serene Grey Lake. Several hanging glaciers remain nestled in the granite of the Paine, too; and their calving ice sends echoing cracks through the valley.


When is the best time to visit Torres del Paine? 

We recommend visiting Torres del Paine National Park in March or November, on the fringes of the summer high season (December-February). In March, the fierce winds of summer are notably calmer and a golden, autumnal glow descends on the plains. The lenga trees are particularly vibrant this time of year, setting entire hillsides aflame in bright red foliage.

In October, daylight begins to stretch, and signs of spring blend with a backdrop of snow-covered peaks. By November, wildflower blooms paint the valleys in purples, greens, and yellows. Spring is also a great time to spot wildlife—including chulengos, rhea chicks, and puma cubs. The park is still quiet, so its year-round residents have yet to retreat from their free rein of the roads and trails.

Regardless of when you travel, it’s imperative to pack thoughtful layers, as the refrain about “experiencing all four seasons in a single day” is closer to truth than lore.


Exploring the Park on Expedition

Backpacking may be the most popular way to explore Torres del Paine, but the park’s sights are just as accessible to those who’d prefer to return to a plush bed—and perhaps a refreshing pisco sour—at the end of the day. Arriving via ship on a Lindblad-National Geographic expedition, you can have the best of both worlds, without worrying about renting a car or reserving a campsite.

Each day, expert guides lead the way to the most jaw-dropping miradors (viewpoints) in the park and eagle-eyed naturalists point out the region’s most exciting flora and fauna. And there’s no shortage of adventure either: opt to Zodiac cruise among icebergs, hike through ancient forests, traverse the pampa on horseback as the baqueanos do—and capture stunning images along the way under the wing of a certified photo instructor. As if you’d forget even a moment of this once-in-a-lifetime journey.