Take a Peak at Torres del Paine

The rain in Santiago reminds tourists and locals why it’s not just another big city. It’s not the storm itself, but the short sweet 36 hours after when the smog takes a vacation, unveiling the beautiful cordillera it selfishly keeps hidden behind its grey haze.

Gorgeous mountain peaks sit nuzzled between the gaps in buildings. The lungs remember how to breathe. Cerro San Cristobal is never more crowded. It’s a reminder that the cordillera is as essential to this metropolis as early morning construction and late night completos.

Photo by Kevin Kunitake
Photo by Kevin Kunitake

If the view only awoke that inner adventurer spirit, look up Torres Del Paine National Park and make the necessary travel plans. The park, located in the heart of Patagonia, is famous for its panorama landscapes and volatile climate. Visitors can see all four seasons in a single day, sometimes within an hour. A hike through a blizzard can turn to sunshine in a matter of minutes. It is by and far one of the country’s highlights.

December to late February is the tourist-heavy season. During the summer, the weather is more temperate and days are longer (it’s almost halfway between Santiago and Antarctica). Going earlier or later in the season means more of a gamble, but less of a crowd.

Photo by Kevin Kunitake
Photo by Kevin Kunitake

Most travel the popular “W” route, about a five-day venture that takes hikers from the glaciers on the westside through woods, lakes and valleys to the Cordillera del Paine landmark on the eastside. Or vice-versa. Backpacking is usually the way to go, but if roughing it isn't too appealing, the park also has hostels or refugios.

From Santiago, the first and last stops before the park will be Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. The towns are sleepy, but the slow-pace is a nice middle ground between those notorious Bellevista barhopping nights and ones in the quiet Patagonia wilderness. Expect overpriced, but convenient, shops for last-minute needs.

In Puerto Natales, look into staying at Erratic Rock. The hostel not only rents gear and hosts daily info sessions, but the bus into the park stops right at its doorstep.

It's quite the trek from Santiago to the park entrance, but the long travel hours seem insignificant once the backpacks are adjusted and boots laced up. Even the worst camera (or photographer) can’t take a bad picture in the park. Every view looks like a setting for a grand nature documentary.

Photo by Kevin Kunitake
Photo by Kevin Kunitake

However, what those serene nature documentaries don't show is the serious wind factor. It won't think twice or apologize when it tries to knock hikers off their feet. Walking against it can make any hike much more complicated.

Still, the wind is what keeps everything feeling so fresh and new. Take a minute to admire how quickly it pushes the clouds across the sky. It’s the invisible force that rules the terrain, suddenly turning blizzards into sunshine. It overturns the land the same way a farmer would a field.

Last year, a careless tourist lit his group’s toilet paper on fire igniting a blaze that consumed large portions of the park. Fortunately, young plants are already growing back in the blackened burnt areas. No doubt, the wind has played a part in that. The wind also has a hand in making every visitor’s trip to the park unique. While the Internet is full of testimonials and pictures, it doesn’t compare to seeing the cordillera up close and personal.

The Definitive Guide to Hiking Torres del Paine:

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