National Geografic Described Patagonia Dreaming: Adventures in Torres del Paine

If anywhere can make you feel like a dwarf before nature, it’s Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia.

If the rugged Cordillera del Paine mountains are the 600,000-acre park’s backbone, the 9,300-foot granite spires form its heart.

Along Torres del Paine’s western edge, massive fingers of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field claw down broad valleys, melting into dreamy blue-and-gray lakes. Glacial ice tumbles down steep mountain flanks, feeding rumbling rivers so pure you can drink straight from the stream.

In terms of scale, this is a landscape that refuses to be contained. Good luck trying to fit it all into one photo frame. Instead, immerse yourself in the park’s natural grandeur.

Nine ways to satisfy your thirst for adventure in this Patagonian wonderland:
Trek the “W”: Hiking opportunities in Torres del Paine rank among the best in the world. To hit the park’s biggest highlights in 4-5-days, follow this 32-mile W-shaped route, which zigs along the south side of the Cordillera del Paine. You can tackle this trek from either direction, but if you’re the kind that likes to save the best for last, start from the west, so the park’s famed torres (towers) serve as a climactic finale.

Hike the Full Circuit: If you’re interested in experiencing the quieter side of the park—and if you have the time; this trek takes about 10 days—do the full circuit. The “O,” as this 75-mile route is familiarly known, loops around Torres del Paine’s namesake peaks, culminating in the 4,000-foot summit of John Gardner Pass, which delivers a mind-blowing view of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.

Bunk in a Refugio: Along the W and the O routes, privately run backcountry refugios, (think shared bunk rooms, dining halls, and bathrooms) provide scenic—and affordable—spots to lay your head for the night. Vértice Patagonia operates several fine refugios and campsites on the western part of the circuit, while Fantastico Sur runs several on the eastern side (both companies also offer guided treks). Want to really rough it? There is an abundance of free, park-run campgrounds to choose from.

Sleep in a Geodesic Dome: Not up for a full trek? No problem. Gaze up at the stars from your bed in one of EcoCamp Patagonia’s domes, which are found on the eastern edge of the park within view of the famous granite towers. You’ll rest easy knowing you’re staying at a sustainably designed and operated retreat.