I had always wanted to visit Torres del Paine national park in winter. This year I had my chance, as I had been organising a trip to the total solar eclipse in northern Chile for Oxford and Cambridge alumni (another story, another article) and was looking for somewhere to add something totally unique and different to their tour.
Most people visit Torres del Paine in summer. Days are long and temperatures relatively mild (although the park has always had a reputation for having all four seasons in one day). The tourist season has been slowly lengthening into spring (lovely flowers) and autumn (beautiful leaf colours from the three southern beech species create layers of orange/red on the hills) but it is undeniably busy.
Winter, therefore, has the main advantage of less people. It also has less wind, so lake reflections can be stunning, although the air currents that form beautiful layers of lenticular clouds have to dissipate somewhere, and exposed paths and cliffs can be windswept at any time of year.
Less people means a better chance of seeing the more elusive wildlife, and one of my main hopes was to see a puma. Ironically in the end I was the only member of our small band not to see one - just wrong place wrong time! No shortage of guanacos and condors however.
Only a few hotels stay open all year - in the park itself Hostería Lago Grey and the fabulous Explora hotel, where we were lucky enough to be staying, take guests. The trails are still open, the Pudeto boat keeps running (for access to the French valley), and even though most campsites are closed some refugios (mountain inns) operate a cut-down service, even if it only means the loos are available.
Days are quite short, but snow in the hills and on the mountains adds to the atmosphere. Sunrises and sunsets are magical, and you’re awake to see them. Trails and roads are empty, and if you are as lucky as we were skies are crisp and clear. It’s also worth visiting Last Hope Sound in Puerto Natales because at this time of year the swans and flamingos spend time here rather than in the lakes and rivers of Torres del Paine.
Just don’t tell anyone else.