The Torres del Paine National Park - an area of 2,400 km² - was declared a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO in 1978 and is a popular hiking destination. There are clearly marked and well maintained paths and many refugios which provide shelter and basic services. Views are breathtaking.
Hikers can opt for a day trip to see the towers, walk the popular "W" route in about five days, or trek the full circle in 8-9 days.
The "W" route is by far the most popular, and is named for the shape of the route. Hikers start and finish at either of the base points of the "W", performing each of the three shoots as a day trip. The five points of the W, from west to east, are:
Glacier Grey, a large glacier calving into the lake of the same name. Camping is available next to Refugio Grey. Refugio Pehoe, situated on Lago Pehoe. This site offers good views of the "horns" of Torres del Paine. Valle del Francés ("Frenchman's Valley"), often rated as the best scenery in the whole park. The path leads up into a snowy dead-end, where several small glaciers are visible. Hosteria las Torres, a large hotel at the base of the mountain range. The Torres del Paine themselves, large rock formations over a small lake, high in the mountains.
The longer "circuit" walk includes all the sights of the "W", but avoids most backtracking, by connecting Glacier Grey and the Torres del Paine around the back of the mountain range.
Boats and buses provide transport between Hosteria las Torres, Refugio Pehoe, and the park entrance at Laguna Amarga.
It is a national park and thus hikers are not allowed to stray from the paths. Camping is only allowed at specified campsites, and wood fires are prohibited in the whole park.
In 2005, a Czech backpacker camping in the park used a gas stove and caused a fire that destroyed 160 km² of the park. Replanting, with assistance from the Czech Republic, was set to begin in September 2005.