With jagged pink granite rock thrusting up to 10,000 feet, glaciers and their accompanying bright blue lakes, Torres del Paine National Park is going to compel you to stop often on its 52-mile loop for a photo or just a gasp. Hike all of it in ten days, take five days to trek what’s called the ‘W,’ or just head into the park for day trips to hit the highlights. The highest point in this UNESCO Biosphere is 4,000 feet so altitude sickness won’t be an issue. But you still get up close to glaciers and can even camp lakeside where the ice is crashing into the water. You’ll find plenty of wildlife, especially birds, guanacos (like llamas), nandu (similar to ostriches), and if you’re lucky, a puma. This is Patagonia at its most awesome.
When to go: If you like more hiking time in a day, best to go during December-January when the sunset isn’t until 10 p.m. During that time and through March is the warmest season with low chance of rain.
Difficulty: The trail covers all skill levels. Some paths may be strenuous but generally unintimidating. The main trails in the park are well defined, so you don’t necessarily need a guide, although a knowledgeable guide can remove the anxiety and enhance your experience. Hiking for the sake of hiking is one thing, but you can do that in the local park. You’re not travelling all the way to Patagonia just to walk from A to B. You’ll go to experience the breathtaking scenery, to absorb the glacial landscape, and perhaps even to learn a little more about the geology, the plants and the animals that make this staggering location as special as it undoubtedly is. A guide will not only show you something you wouldn’t otherwise have seen, they’ll also explain what it is that you’re looking at.
Things to know: You can check in at a local hostel near the park entrance or just pitch a tent. If you’ve got the money, one of the adventure lodges, such as La Remota with upscale pampering and daily expert guides, is a nice way to go too, as is a pre-arranged guided tour. It’s true that you need to wear sunscreen even when it’s cloudy. The sun in Patagonia is particularly strong even when the sky is gloomy. Take a camera and take it everywhere! To breakfast, to the bathroom, wherever you go! You can be sure that as soon as you don’t’ have it handy you’ll see something amazing; a pink sunrise, a low-flying condor, a double rainbow or something totally unexpected.