You should put Torres del Paine National Park on your bucket list as a “must see” destination. It is a “wonder of the natural world.” I just returned from my 4th visit to the park; I become more fascinated by the place each time I visit. It takes a while, but it is not difficult to get there. Take an overnight flight to Santiago, Chile, then a connecting flight to Punta Arenas at the far southern end of the country (see map). Rent a car at the airport and drive 5 hours north from Punta Arenas to the park. The park is located in a notch between the Argentinian border and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
The park is a mix of unique mountains, glaciers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, forest, and grassland. Gravel roads traverse some of it, boats motor to several glacier faces, and it is ideal for short and long range hiking. Rafting and fly fishing are big attractions. Of the many large lakes, it seems no two are the same color due to different amounts of glacial flour input, and whether or not they outlet or evaporate creating different concentrations of salts and shades of blue (click on photos to enlarge).
The landscape is dominated by the Paine massif, which is a spur range off the Andes Mountains. Three large glaciers flow from the Patagonian Ice Field directly into the park. Most of the woody vegetation seen in the park are several species of southern beech. Guanacos, a species of llama, are common along with foxes and many birds of prey. Pumas, the South American mountain lion, are common in the park but rarely seen.
So, why have I been lucky enough to visit four times? Three visits were actually for business; my Chilean colleagues and I were consulting with the Chilean Forest Service on post-fire reforestation within the park. This last time I was on my own and just goofing off. And it was great! I moved at my own slow pace and was able to explore any landscape, rock, tree, soil profile, or wildlife I encountered.
Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, and Smoky Mountains Parks are all great places. But for something a bit more exotic, give Torres del Paine a try.