One of the reasons that Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is one of the premier hiking destinations in the Southern Hemisphere is not only because of its unique combination of mountains, glaciers, rivers and forests, but also because of the its well-marked trails and extensive tourist infrastructure. So you might wonder, if the trails are so clear and the set-up so visitor-friendly, what do you have to gain from choosing a guided trek? Take a look at our reasons why choosing a guided trek is still the best way to experience Patagonia; you might just find them surprising!
Guides know where they’re going so you don’t have to
Whilst it’s true that most of the main trails such as the W Trek or the Paine Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park are well defined, that doesn’t mean you can just wander off into the wilderness and expect to find yourself at the base of the looming Towers. Even in a city with marked roads and streets you’d still need a map to get around if you’re on your first ever visit, and Patagonia is no different. If you’d rather spend your time condor-spotting or taking in the ever changing panoramas than squinting at a soggy map as the wind tries to whisk it away across the steppe, a guided trek could be for you.
A knowledgeable guide can also remove the anxiety of an extended hike in Torres del Paine for anyone who is a little unsure of their own navigational skills. The far side of the challenging Paine Circuit is much less frequented than the more accessible trails nearer to the entrance of the park, and you can easily trek for hours without seeing anyone at all. For anyone who doesn’t like the thought of not being able to stop and double check they’re on the right path, having a guide along for the ride can be the perfect failsafe.
Guides have expert knowledge of flora, fauna and landscapes
Hiking for the sake of hiking is one thing, but you can do that in the local park. You haven’t decided to come all the way to Patagonia just to walk from A to B. You’re here to experience the breathtaking scenery, to absorb the glacial landscape, and perhaps even to learn a little more about the geology, the plants and the animals that make this staggering location as special as it undoubtedly is. The best guides will not only show you something you wouldn’t otherwise have seen, they’ll also explain what it is that you’re looking at.
It’s true that you can gain some insight from reading books and field guides before you set off on your trek, but nothing quite beats hearing about it first hand as you stand in the midst of it all. And no matter how good your guidebook, there’s nothing in there that can quite replicate the practical animal-spotting knowledge that can only be gained through years of working in the park. You’ll almost certainly see a handful of llama-like guanaco without any help at all. But what about a huemul? A condor? A puma?…
Guides know what’s safe. And what isn’t.
We may think we’ve tamed the wild lands of Patagonia, but the fact is that Torres del Paine National Park is still a land where the weather makes the rules. Whilst the wind, rain and snow can often be extreme in a good way, it’s important to know where the boundary lies between exhilarating and plain dangerous. Hiking with a guide means that you won’t find yourself cowering in your tent when it’s perfectly safe outside, or caught out in the open when you should be tucked up somewhere warm.
Sadly, it’s not just the weather that can create a hazard in Torres del Paine National Park. The man-made danger of forest fire has, on occasion, devastated huge areas of the park. If the worst should happen and a fire breaks out, your guide not only has the knowledge to steer you clear, but is also able to draw on their vast knowledge of the park to almost instantly devise an alternative itinerary to ensure that your once-in-a-lifetime trip doesn’t fall apart.
Guided treks cut down your planning time
For some people, meticulously planning their trekking route around the park, researching all of the different possibilities, booking the hotels and lodges and gathering together the best advice on what to pack is all part of the fun of the trip. Others don’t have time to get down into all the nuts and bolts of how everything fits together, or they’d simply rather spend their time in other ways. On a guided trek, the planning is all taken care of. Just gather together the clothing and kit as stated on the kitlist they supply, make sure you’re in good shape, and turn up!
Guided treks make use of porters, so you only have to carry yourself
If you’re keen to take on a multi-day hike but you don’t fancy playing at being a packhorse for the whole stretch, choose a guided trek that makes use of porters. You’ll still hike the whole trail for yourself and carry a daypack with some food and spare layers of clothing, but anything you don’t need for that day will be carried by a porter. When you make camp in the evening your change of clothes will be waiting for you, whilst your dirty clothes are sent back to base. Using porters on a guided trek is a great option for trekkers looking for an all-round Patagonia experience rather than an extreme endurance challenge.
Your guide is a jack of all trades
Out in Torres del Paine National Park, the feeling of isolation from the rest of the world is impressive. Many areas of the park don’t even have cell phone signal, never mind an internet connection. So whilst you might be more used to tapping into Google for any doubts you have, your guide is your new go-to guy (or girl!). Need advice on how to deal with the blisters rapidly taking over your heels? Ask your guide. Want to know what snacks you should bring to keep you full of energy throughout the day? Ask your guide. Perhaps you need to find a secluded and beautiful spot to say your wedding vows? Ask your guide! From basic first aid to special requests, your guide is your one stop shop for all you need to know about your hiking tour in Torres del Paine National Park.
We think that makes a pretty convincing case for why you should choose a guided trek in Torres del Paine. Can you think of any other reasons? Let us know!