It’s official. Torres del Paine National Park won the title of “8th Wonder of the World.” The southern Chilean wild land garnered five million votes in a worldwide competition that attracted more than 300 entries from more than 50 countries.
If I had voted, the count would have been five million and one, for Torres del Paine, by far the most dramatic site in southern Patagonia, is drop-dead gorgeous, aglow with electric-blue icebergs; golden pampas; waterfalls and crystal lagoons; gnarled Magellanic trees; Chilean firebush blooming riotous red in spring; and beech trees sunflower-yellow in fall.
While inhabited by few people, the park is full of wildlife such as guanacos, flamingos, ostrich-like rheas and Andean condors. The signature park feature is the “towers” of Paine, strange needle-like spires of gray granite, dusted with snow, enveloped in mists, soaring to heights over 9,000 ft. They form the backdrop for splendid Lake Sarmiento and Lake Grey, two of many glacier attractions in the park, which is laced with an integrated network of hiking trails, suitable for day trips on foot or horseback, as well as longer backpack trekking.
In less than a decade, accommodations within the park have not only increased, but have reached new heights of comfort. Actually, the standard for elegance, excellence and exceptionally high-end, all-inclusive packaging was set many years ago with the opening of explora en Patagonia, which offers an all-inclusive stay and panoramic views from everywhere (including the slate-tiled bathrooms) of the Paine massif reflected in the turquoise waters of Lake Pehoe. Frommer’s Chile & Easter Island guide got it right in calling explora “a one-stop shop for an unforgettable experience.”
Top-of-the-line properties in the park include Hotel Rio Serrano, which offers panoramic views from large, comfy rooms, and excursions such as trekking, horseback riding, fishing and zodiac excursions on the Rio Serrano; Hotel Las Torres, originally a working cattle estancia and still has stables full of horses, as well as a first-class lodge offering good excursions and a spa. And in the spirit of glamping, guests staying at Cascada’s EcoCamp sleep in geodesic dome-tents, fitted with wood-stoves, king-sized beds, and en-suite bathroom with hot showers, all topped with star-gazing skylight; larger domes house lounge and dining areas.
Outside the park, but with superb views looking in and located on the shores of Lago Toro, is Patagonia Camp. Like Cascada, it accommodates guests in 18 wood-framed yurt tents with central heating, deep tubs and star-gazing from their bed. Also just on park perimeters are two new luxury lodges, both with grand views of the “towers,” a full roster of activities including park visits, and luxury accommodations: the 40-room Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa and Awasi Patagonia (sister hotel of Awasi Atacama) whose packages include exclusive guiding in private 4×4 vehicles.
Getting to Torres del Paine National Park (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve) is a 5-hour trip overland from the air gateway of Punta Arenas, usually with a stop for lunch in Puerto Natales, which among other points of interest is a really good pizza cafe. The recent addition of some fabulous high-end design hotels around the town—the 72-room Remota Hotel or the 57-room The Singular Patagonia, for example—offer good reasons for clients to check in here and visit Torres del Paine on a day trip. Frankly, to capture the full Patagonia experience, I think this corner of Chile is well worth a good portion of a Chilean itinerary: one night in Punta Arenas on the Magellan Strait, two nights in Puerto Natales for cruising on the fjords, and three nights in the windswept wilderness of Torres del Paine, which brings us to say once again: Hats off to the 8th “Wonder of the World.”