Photo: Suzie Dundas

8 Perks of Using a Guide in Torres Del Paine National Park

Chile National Parks
by Suzie Dundas Apr 23, 2023

Torres del Paine is hands-down one of the most beautiful parks in South America (and probably the world, honestly). But just because it’s a national park doesn’t mean it’s quite as easy to navigate as Yosemite or Rocky Mountain national parks.

Many of the roads in and around Torres del Paine are rocky, dirt roads, and they’re pretty steep — which can be a bit challenging to drive given Patagonia’s famously strong winds. The park’s shuttle system doesn’t connect every trail head, many of the hikes are point-to-point, the visitors centers aren’t necessarily close to the trailheads, and micro-climates in the park can leave some areas blistery cold while others are sunny and calm.

While you certainly can visit Torres del Paine on your own, using a guide makes your trip a lot less stressful and takes the headache out research and planning. Guides also have expert knowledge of the park and surrounding areas and can advise on the best hikes for avoiding crowds, spotting wildlife, or shielding yourself from the wind — which would be hard to do if you don’t know the park very well.

If you don’t use a guide, you need to either drive yourself on rough and windy roads, or take a series of public buses, which can be a long and arduous process (and not as inexpensive as you’d think). So before you commit to doing a Torres del Paine National Park trip entirely on your own, check out the list below of ways in which having a guide may be worth it, even for expert hikers.

How to get to Torres del Paine National Park

No matter where you’re coming from, you’ll probably need to fly int Santiago, Chile. Fortunately, it’s a huge airport and there are direct flights from most major cities in the US. From Santiago, ideally, you’ll fly to Puerto Natales. Flights either go directly to Puerto Natales, or make a quick stop to pick up passengers in Puerto Montt on the way. The flight from Santiago takes about three hours, and flights are more frequent during the prime tourist season (November to March).

Alternatively, you can fly into Punta Arenas, the second-largest airport in Chile. From there, it’s a three-hour drive to Puerto Natales or a roughly 4.5–hour drive to the park’s main trails.

To reach the park from Puerto Natales, you’ll just drive north. Getting to the main park gate only takes about an hour (assuming your driver knows the roads), and getting to various locations in the park can take anywhere from five minutes to an hour. If you don’t have a car or a driver, you’ll need to rely on a system of buses.

You’ll want to leave Puerto Natales on the 7 AM bus, and depending on where you’re going in the park, the drive takes anywhere from two to four hours. You’ll then have a line to buy your park admission, and then you’ll have to get yourself to whatever trailhead you want. That could mean walking a few miles, or hopping back on another bus. There’s no park-owned shuttle service.

1. It’ll take twice as long to get everywhere if you drive yourself

torres del paine guide - car on dirt road

Google Maps may say a drive takes one hour — but that’s only for drivers used to driving on the area’s many bumpy dirt roads. Photo: Suzie Dundas

If you’re going to Torres del Paine National Park from Puerto Natales, expect rough roads. Nearly all of the roads in the park are unpaved gravel with sharp turns. Many are steep and narrow, and there are plenty without any sort of guardrail on the ends. Though they’re used for two-way traffic, in the US, they’d be considered fire roads.

Even getting into the park is tough; there’s a long section (about 15 miles) of the road into the park currently under construction, so it’s rough and slow. In the US, a road in that condition would probably be closed.

But it’s the main road to get to the park’s primary entrance, and though it’s supposed to be completed by the end of 2023, it’s been under construction for five years, so that may or may not happen. Crews don’t work on weekends, in the winter, or if it’s too windy, which is pretty often. These roads aren’t unsafe and they don’t have drivers who play chicken with oncoming cars like other countries, but they are the kind of roads that the average American driver would take very slowly.

However, Chilean drivers and guides are familiar with these roads and generally drive them at their recommended speed, which is about 40 or 45 MPH. The travel times to the park and between areas in the park are based on driving the roads at full speed. If you’re driving yourself, you can expect getting everywhere to take nearly twice as long as it says it should.

2. You can start later and skip the lines

torres del paine guide - torres base

Hikers need to reach an upper-mountain cut-off point before 2 PM to be able to make it to the top of the Torres del Paine towers hike — which means you need to get started nice and early. Photo: Suzie Dundas

If you stay in Puerto Natales, which is the closest town to the park, you can expect the drive to trailheads in the park to take anywhere from one hour to 90 minutes (it’s about 55 minutes to the park entrance). If you plan to start the Torres base hike at 8 AM, that means you’ll need to leave your hotel around 6 AM (or 5 AM, if you’re doing the driving).

Having a guide means you can get there quicker, leaving your hotel later. You can also snooze in the car or take a nap after your hike to maximize your energy for fun activities that evening, like going out to dinner or having an après-hike pisco sour.

By the way: as an unofficial rule, guides don’t really wait in line in the parks. So you can wave goodbye to everyone waiting in line to buy park admission while your guide ducks the line and checks you in.

3. Guides make point-to-point hikes possible

torres del pain guides - trail map of point to point hikes

Photo: Suzie Dundas

Sure, Torres del Paine has some out-and-back hikes (including the famous Mirador des Torres/Torres del Paine base hike), but a whole lot of the best hikes in Torres del Paine are point-to-point. That means you need someone to pick you up on the finishing side. Having a driver means you can do whatever point-to-point route you want in the park and make decisions on the fly, as your guide will be able to call your driver and adjust the plans accordingly. That’ll be tough to do on your own as there isn’t much cell service in the park, and most drivers (as you’d expect in Chile) speak primary Spanish.

4. Guides and drivers know where to spot wildlife

Photo: Suzie Dundas
Photo: Suzie Dundas
Photo: Suzie Dundas
Photo: Suzie Dundas

When I was in Patagonia, my driver on two days, Chatto, grew up in a family of hunters and fishers. So he had the knowledge of where certain animals hang out, and a keen eye for spotting them. While I was hiking, Chatto tooled around the national park looking for signs of pumas, which are quite difficult to find. He also was able to spot Chilean condors high up on ridgelines and knew where to go for the best shots of bright pink flamingos in a park lake.

A guide and driver also means you can look for wildlife while you’re driving. The entire region of Patagonia is gorgeous and loaded with wildlife, so not having to keep your eyes on the road makes it much more likely that you’ll spot everything from pumas to guanacos to rheas (similar to emus) and the adorable pudu — the world’s smallest deer.

5. Guides have an unbeatable knowledge of the park

torres del paine guide - no people

Want a hike with no other people? For a knowledgable guide, that’s no problem. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Hector, my hiking guide, wasn’t just a Torres del Paine guide for tourists — he was a former park ranger. That means he knew exactly where to go when I said I wanted a hike with great views, wildlife, and few people.

And boy, did he deliver. Not only did we not see a single other person while hiking in January (the middle of peak tourist season), he took me on a small offshoot trail to a rock wall with early cave paintings. And he knew the very best spot to randomly pull over on the side of the road for views of the park’s famous Torres del Paine (Paine Towers) and Cuernos del Paine (Paine, hornes, the park’s other extremely famous ridgeline).

Guides can also advise on what areas of the park are the most protected from wind and what areas get less rain, and are knowledge about the parks’ microclimates. They can also help you evaluate trails in terms of crowds, difficulty, trail conditions, and more.

7. They know secret spots outside the park

puerto natales other places

Both these places are beautiful — but neither is inside the park. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Guess what: Torres Del Paine isn’t the only gorgeous part of Chilean Patagonia. It’s just the only part that’s a park. But guides live in the area and spend their time outdoors, so they know everywhere else you can go to explore less-crowded areas. They also know (and have permission to access) areas outside the park that may be on private or shared land. Trailheads and parking areas aren’t very well mapped outside the park, and some aren’t marked at all, so it could be really hard to figure out on your own where to go.

8. You don’t need to carry tons of gear

Torres del paine guide - beer in patagonia

Don’t forget: you can leave a cooler in the car for a post-hike beverage before you head back to Puerto Natales. Photo: Suzie Dundas

Patagonia is unpredictable, and Torres del Paine is especially unpredictable, given how the steep peaks impact weather. That means on any given you day, you may need hiking pants and hiking shorts; a down jacket and a t-shirt; sunscreen and a fully waterproof jacket. You’ll also need tons of water, food for the day, and maybe even a pair of sandals in case your hiking shoes get soaked or muddy. That’s a lot to carry for a day hike, but if you take public transportation to the park, you’ll need to carry it all with you, all day.

Fortunately, if you use a guide, you’ll also have a driver, so you can leave whatever you don’t need in the car. While everyone can appreciate not having to hike with a bulky or heavy backpack, it’s especially useful for beginner and intermediate hikers who will already find the park’s wind and sun, long trails, and steep elevation gains fatiguing enough without adding an extra 20 pounds of food and gear.

How to find a Torres del Paine guide

torres del paine guide - victor and client

Hanging out with a guide early on in your trip can be a great way to meet locals with shared interests. Photo: Víctor Aragonese /

You can book a luxury trip to Torres del Paine with a private guide at your disposal every day — which is a truly amazing way to see Patagonia. But you can also book guides just for a day or half day. Here’s how.

Ask your hotel when you arrive

Using a Torres del Paine guide is really, really common, and nearly every hotel has a list of guides at their disposal. Hotels will either be able to give you the contact information for guides and tour companies they trust and work with regularly, or arrange it for you at no extra cost. Guided tours are really common around Puerto Natales (in fact, most people use guides), so booking services are something you’ll find offered at almost every hotel, including hostels. Some hostels even offer group tours themselves.

Book your hotel and activities together

For many travelers to Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine, booking your hotel and activities together will be the quickest and most stress-free way to plan your trip. Hotels in Puerto Natales are used to hosting adventure travelers, and most offer either packages that include activities and lodging (like eco-chic Remota Lodge) or allow you to book activities a la carte either at the time of booking or when you arrive (like the Singular Patagonia).

Book a pre-made adventure trip


Normally, booking a pre-planned trip is the most expensive way to travel, but since guides and drivers can be expensive in Patagonia, booking a package may not be much more expensive than booking things on your own.

Rather than spending time planning and figuring out what you need a guide for and what you don’t, just book an adventure package through a travel group. Companies like Orvis Adventures offer mid-range trips to Patagonia that including your hotel and activities every day, and since the guides and hotels are vetted, you don’t need to worry about ending up at a chain hotel or one-star motel. You can do trips specific just to fly fishing (it’s Orvis, after all), or general outdoor adventure trips. They’re all individual, so you pick your own dates and won’t be with a group of other people.

However, there are plenty of companies that offer group trips, which are great for solo travelers or friends traveling together who want to make friends on the road. G Adventures offers guided trips around southern Chile and Argentina starting around $3,000 per person, and Chilean-owned Chile Nativo offers group and private active trips focused on both Torres del Paine and activities like e-biking, horseback riding with gauchos (cowboys), and searching for rare pumas.

If you’re not concerned about price, you’ll find tours that take you between the most luxurious lodges in Patagonia (stopping for epic hikes and paddling adventures along the way) from operators like Abercrombie & Kent and Quasar Expeditions.

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