Destination guide: Torres del Paine, Chile
The Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most visited destinations in Chile, especially by European tourists. This natural site belongs to the Chilean National System of Protected Wild Areas and has everything from mountains, valleys and forests to rivers, lakes and glaciers. It is worth pointing out that this natural attraction was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO.
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Torres del Paine - Practical Information
Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is 112km north of Puerto Natales via a decent but sometimes bumpy gravel road. A new road from Puerto Natales to the Administración provides a shorter, more direct southern approach to the park.
At Cerro Castillo there is a seasonal border crossing into Argentina at Cancha Carrera. The road continues 40km north and west to Portería Sarmiento, the main entrance where user fees are collected. It’s another 37km to the Administración (park headquarters) and the Conaf Centro de Visitantes ([hrs] 9am-8pm in summer), with good information on park ecology and trail status.
Be sure to make reservations. Arriving at the park without them, especially in the high season, enslaves you to make camp in the few free options. Travel agencies offer reservations, but it’s best to go directly through the concessions.
The park is open year-round, subject to your ability to get there. Transportation connections are less frequent in the low season and winter weather adds additional challenges to hiking. Visitor flow is edging toward regulation. Shoulder seasons of November and March are some of the best times for trekking, with fewer crowds and windy conditions usually abating in March.
Internet resources include Torres del Paine (www.torresdelpaine.com) and Erratic Rock (www.erraticrock.com), with a good backpacker equipment list. Park administration distributes a detailed map to all visitors and the same map is available as a download on the official park website. The best trekking maps, by JLM and Luis Bertea Rojas, are easily found in Puerto Natales.
Nationals of the US, Canada, Australia and the EU do not need a visa to visit Chile. Passports are obligatory and are essential for cashing traveler's checks, checking into hotels and other routine activities.
The Chilean government collects a US$132/56/132 'reciprocity' fee from arriving US/Australian/Canadian citizens in response to these governments imposing a similar fee on Chilean citizens applying for visas. The payment applies only to tourists arriving by air in Santiago and is valid for the life of the passport. Payment must be made in cash; exact change necessary. It is advisable to carry your passport: Chile's police can demand identification at any moment, and many hotels require you to show it upon check-in.
If your passport is lost or stolen, notify the police, ask them for a police statement, and notify your consulate as soon as possible.
Shops in Chile open by 10am, Government offices and businesses open from 9am to 6pm. Banks are open 9am to 2pm weekdays. Tourist offices stay open long hours daily in summer, but have abbreviated hours in the off-season. In many provincial cities and towns restaurants and services are closed on Sunday. Museums are often closed Monday. Restaurant hours vary widely, but most places are open from noon till 11pm. Many restaurants do not open for breakfast and quite a few close for the lull between lunch and dinner.
Weights & Measures
Check the website for Chilean customs (www.aduana.cl) if you're concerned about what and how much you can take in and out of the country.
There are no restrictions on import and export of local and foreign currency. Duty-free allowances include purchases of up to US$500. Travelers should consult the Chilean Customs website information for foreigners at www.aduana.cl/prontus_aduana_eng/site/edic/base/port/foreign_travelers.html (in English) for information on allowances.
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