Between the Andes and the Patagonian steppe, Torres del Paine National Park is located in the XII Region of Chile in a province called Ultima Esperanza (Last Hope). Puerto Natales is the closest town to the main entrance (Sarmiento), 115 km away by unpaved road (2 hours).
The geographical location of the Torres del Paine park
The Torres del Paine also adjoins the Glacier National Park (home to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier ). On the Argentine side, the combined Paine with a trip to El Calafate offers one of the most beautiful landscapes in South America. Torres del Paine Park covered an area of 181,414 hectares and was classified as a biosphere reserve by Unesco in 1978. Every year, it receives tens of thousands of visitors who come to hike in landscapes of incredible beauty: forests, mountains, valleys, lakes, glaciers, and waterfalls.
The fauna is vibrant: puma, huemul (small Andean deer), guanaco, condor, flamingo, etc. It owes its name to the park’s four granitic peaks (towers / Torres) emblematic, culminating at 2900 m.
One of the characteristics of the massif peaks is their color difference: light in the center, dark at the base, and at the top. The geomorphology of Paine explains this curiosity: 12 million years ago, a magma layer was formed in the heart of the sedimentary layers.
When the magma cooled, the granite formed and then rose to the surface when the tectonic movement raised the massif. As for the many valleys, they were carved out by the glaciers of the Southern Icefield. The rivers and lakes are also glacial but at different elevations and connected by minor falls.
The first settlers arrived in the region in the last years of the 19th century. They created estancias for breeding cows and especially sheep.
Climate: when to visit Torres del Paine park?
Maximum temperatures are 20° in summer and a minimum -of 2° in winter. If the temperatures seem relatively mild in winter, we must consider the strong winds sweeping Patagonia and the humidity, which cause a much lower thermal sensation. The best season to visit the park is spring and summer, that is, between October and March: more sun, less rain, less cold, and long days of sixteen hours. But the park remains open all year round, from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Landscapes of this park: mountains, glaciers, and lakes
Torres del Paine park mountains
The Paine massif is about 24 km long and 13 wide. We distinguish the Cerro Paine Grande with four peaks, the main culminating at 3050 m. The Valle del Francés separates it from the Cuernos del Paine, the Horns of Paine, three mountains characterized by their color difference, lighter in the center, like Monte Almirante Nieto (2640 m). Finally, in the southern part, the famous towers of Paine: are Central Tower (2800 m), North (2600 m), and South (2850 m).
The park’s glaciers originate in the massive Patagonian Ice Field (Campo de hielo Sur in Chile), covering southern Patagonia, Chile, and Argentina. You can admire several glaciers in the park: Dickson, Grey, Torre, Perro, and Geike. The Gray is the largest and flows into the lake of the same name. You can approach it by boat, a beautiful excursion in the middle of the icebergs detached from the glacier until you arrive in front of the ice wall.
Lakes and rivers of this park
The numerous lakes and rivers of the park were born, like the glaciers, from the Patagonian ice field. The differences in altitude generate waterfalls: Paine, Salto Grande, and Salto Chico. Rivers connect the lakes: Dickson, Paine, Nordenskjold, Pehoé, and Toro lakes…
They use sumptuous turquoise or milky colors depending on the weather, depth, and composition. Several lakes are saltwater lagoons, rich in nutrients, such as Sarmiento and Amarga, and concentrate the most incredible animal diversity. Boat excursions are organized.
The Salto Grande is a large waterfall from which the waters of Lake Nordenskjöld flow into Lake Pehoé. Accessible in about fifteen minutes on foot from the main road, the path is easy and accessible to all. The viewpoint overlooks the waterfall and offers a unique perspective on both lakes. The waterfall is 10 meters high and as surprising as refreshing. A second viewpoint is located below, and from a third one nearby, you can observe the calm waters of Lake Nordenskjöld. For the more courageous, it is possible to continue on another path: a walk of about 2 hours leads to the viewpoint of Los Cuernos.
The Salto Chico is a small waterfall whose waters come from the union of Lake Pehoé and the Paine River. It is a pleasant walk that forms a loop of about 2 km, easy and accessible to all. The entire route is equipped with wooden walkways, and the waterfall can be enjoyed from an elevated wooden structure. On the way, it is possible to meet a huemul well-known in the area and nicknamed Panchita. You will also pass by the Explora Hotel.
Rio Paine and Paine waterfall
It originates in Dickson Lake, whose water comes from the Dickson Glacier. This river flows around the Paine massif before feeding the other lakes of the national park. It runs for 9 km and passes through the Paine, Nordenskjöld, and Pehoé lakes, ending its course in the Toro lake. Together with the Grey River, it is the tributary of the Serrano River, located in the south of the park.
The Sarmiento de Gamboa lake is located east of Torres del Paine park. With 86 km of surface, it is the park’s biggest lake. Unlike the other lakes, it was born from successive rains, so its intense blue color stands out from its turquoise to gray neighbors. It is also characterized by its white edges of calcium carbonate and the Trombolitos, singular limestone formations that form on its shores.