Torres del Paine - Patagonia

Guanaco in Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine (Southern Patagonia) is a land of extremes. Extremes in climate, extremes in landscape and extremes in distance. Torres del Paine National Park is certainly the highlight of Southern Patagonia.

The Paine massif made up of the "horns" and the spectacular "towers" is literally the definition of majestic. The hiking opportunities are nothing short of world class and wildlife abounds inside and outside of the park. Punta Arenas is the only real city in this part of Chile. Its an important shipping port due to its location at the tip of the continent and enjoys duty free status. All travel and commerce in this zone comes and goes through Punta Arenas. It's also the jumping off point for Tierra del Fuego.

The climate here is not only extreme but also unpredictable. Snow showers can happen any day of the year in the mountains of Torres del Paine and become common after April 15. Rain is common year round especially on the coast but summer (Dec.-Mar.) months are the driest. The summer days are long at 56° south latitude giving us plenty of daylight to explore this wonderous place.

The Park- Torres del Paine National Park is the crown jewel of the Chilean national parks system. In 1978 it was designated a Biosphere Reserve and is known internationally for its trekking and hiking opportunities. The Paine massif is the centerpiece of the park and is pictured in tourism publications worldwide. Two day-hikes take us into the most impressive parts of the Paine massif; 1) The French Valley with its incredible views of the "horns" and several glaciers, and 2) Valle Ascencio, an emotional experience when one first sees "the towers of Paine". Two ferry rides across glacial lakes bring us to various hiking trails, one to the foot of the massive Grey Glacier. Camping and overnight stays at remote "refugios" are options for those with a strong spirit of adventure. The park is equipped with several deluxe hotels in places of breathtaking beauty. If you're not a hiker the park has a well-developed road system plus the ferryboats. Guanacos (llama family), fox, rheas, and flamingoes are commonly seen inside and outside the park. While spotting a puma is more difficult due to their shy nature.

Punta Arenas- This is an important city economically in Chile. It's a major port because of its location and is the only place of consequence in Chile with any oil. Refineries dot the coastline. Delicious seafood restaurants are spread throughout the city along with several luxury hotels. Great views of the Straits of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego are found all around the city. Punta Arenas is also a duty free port. Shopping anyone!? A huge mall is jammed with tax-free shops.

Penguin Colonies- There are two colonies near Punta Arenas the most interesting is a short ferry ride from the city. See thousands of penguins close-up and nesting. The best place aside from Antarctica to photograph penguins.