For hikers, horseback-riding enthusiasts and other nature lovers, Torres del Paine National Park, located in Patagonia in southern Chile, is a bucket-list destination. Thousands of travelers come every year to trek the multi-day “W” circuit that takes you between the park’s dramatic granite spires, glaciers and turquoise lakes.
Others dream of traversing the region’s wide-open steppes on horseback, where guanacos (wild llamas) graze beneath the mountain peaks, and you might spot flamingoes or ostrich-like rheas.
Fortunately, you don’t have to rough it to enjoy epic adventures in Chile’s most scenic destination, which spans nearly 600,000 acres across the country’s southern tip.
One of the most upscale lodges within Torres del Paine National Park is Explora Patagonia, a high-end, all-inclusive property that offers 50 different guided excursions for all levels of hikers and horseback riders. Traditional gaucho barbecues, nature talks, meals, along with plenty of Chilean wine, are all parts of various Explora packages.
You can reach Torres del Paine National Park most directly from the Chilean capital of Santiago. From there, it’s a 3.5-hour flight south along the Andes Mountains (get a window seat on the plane’s left side for the best views) to Punta Arenas, where Explora staff will meet you and transport you to the lodge.
To minimize travel time, if you’re visiting in summer (December to February), look instead for seasonal flights between Santiago and Puerto Natales, a closer gateway to the national park.
When you arrive, settle into your room at Explora’s modern 49-room lodge, designed like a ship perched on the end of a point, with dramatic views across Lake Pehoé to the rocky peaks beyond.
Every evening during cocktail hour, Explora’s multilingual guides circulate among the guests, describing the next day’s excursions and helping you create a customized activity schedule.
While two days isn’t really enough time to explore this spectacularly scenic national park, this itinerary will jump-start your Torres del Paine travel plan.
Get up shortly after sunrise if you can. The early morning light reflects pinks and purples across the lake and mountains — a dramatic setting for your morning coffee.
After a hearty breakfast in the dining room, which has views across both the lake and the Salto Chico waterfall, meet your guide and fellow adventurers for a morning excursion. To test out your hiking legs, opt for a half-day walk, like the 4.5-mile Aonikenk trek on the park’s eastern side, where you’ll see plenty of guanacos as you hike toward a rocky cliff lined with ancient petroglyphs. A stop at the rushing Cascades del Paine waterfall gives you even more photo opportunities.
If you’d rather explore on horseback, spend your first morning riding across the pampas. Explora maintains its own stables, and depending on your level of experience, you might choose a short ride along the Linda Lagoon, a longer trip on the banks of the Grey River, or a more advanced trek across the Serrano Plains to a lookout with panoramas.
Once or twice a week, lodge staff brings guests to a nearby estancia (estate) for a traditional quincho, a barbecue lunch complete with gauchos sporting riding boots and berets, roasting whole sheep over an open fire. Have a glass of Carménère as you munch on freshly baked empanadas served with pebre (Chilean salsa), before filling your plate with delectably juicy, smoky roasted lamb.
When you’ve eaten your fill and enjoyed your post-prandial coffee, you’ll have time for another short hike, perhaps the easy La Loma walk, where you’ll spot more guanacos along with glimpses of the park’s three famous rock towers.
Return to the lodge for a late-afternoon swim in the lap pool, a soak in the hot tub or a massage in the lakeside spa.
During the pre-dinner cocktail hour, consult with the guides about your next day’s plan and take in a short presentation about the park’s history, geography and wildlife.
You can enjoy a nightcap in the lodge, though most turn in relatively early after such a busy day.
Plan to take an all-day hike, exploring one branch of the famous “W” circuit. One option is a moderate 10- to 12-mile hike through the French Valley, where you’ll cross a suspension bridge over the French River and take in great views of the park’s glaciers, mountains and turquoise lakes.
Another good choice with particularly varied scenery is a full-day excursion to the Grey Glacier. After a seven-mile walk through the woods to scenic Grey Lake, you’ll board a ferry that will bring you up close and personal with fields of craggy blue-white ice that jut dramatically out of the water. As you cruise, you’ll pass smaller icebergs that have broken off of the larger glacier, while you enjoy a pisco sour chilled with some of that same glacial ice.
If you’re up for a challenge, take the iconic hike to the base of the Torres del Paine, the three granite towers rising above 9,000 feet that give the park its name. On this steep 11-mile journey, you’ll climb up more than 2,400 feet, but your reward includes both panoramas over the park and close-up tower views.
Back at the lodge for cocktails and dinner after your gratifying day on the trail, you can compare notes and photos with your fellow guests, who typically come from all over the world.
And who knows? After looking at the snaps and hearing the stories, you just might decide that you need to stay on for one more perfect day in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park.