Ice as far as the eye can see, granite towers, turquoise waters, forest, tundra, wildlife and more than 150km of trails: Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile has everything Patagonia has to offer to explore. With 8 days and 8 nights of adventure on one of the most beautiful trails of the planet, our South American exploration ended up in apotheosis.
In this article, I tell you all you need to know about this magical place. You will get:
- an overview of the trekking possibilities in Torres del Paine National Park,
- some tips to navigate between the different options,
- a zoom on the “circuit” trek
- some advices for the hike,
- all the online resources I used myself to prepare my trek.
Trekking and hiking in Torres del Paine – why go?
- one of the most beautiful treks in the world
- a concentrate of Patagonia: glacier, impressive pics, changing weather, forests, fauna
- many trekking possibilities: from 4 to 12 days
- possibility to add an ice trek or a kayak tour close to the glaciers directly during your trek for full immersion
- well organized, and with refuges and little shops, makes it achievable even for less experienced hikers
How long will you trek?
4-5 days, 70 kms
Choose the most popular circuit “The W”. In a few days you can discover some of the best points of the Torres del Paine National Park. It can be done entirely by staying in cabins. This is a good length for a first trek for example.It is by far the most popular and crowded part of the trek.
8-9 days, 140 kms
By trekking “the circuit” or “The O”, you will be able to admire the park from many different angles and see the wonderful Grey glacier. You will enjoy the “quietness” if the backside of the park, less than 10% of visitors walk in this part of the park. You must be in good shape and if you want to enjoy it, I would recommend having done a couple of shorter treks before “The O”.
9-11 days, 157 kms
Almost everything that the park has to offer! You get extra views of peaks”the Q” on the first day. This will add a day compared to the circuit.
The O – the circuit, day by day
I am describing here the “0 circuit” the way I trekked it in January 2015 (distances and time based measured by myself).
Day 1 (17km, 4-5h): Leaving with the morning bus you will be able to start hiking from the park entrance around lunch time. Your pack is heavy and it’s the start. Get into the trek slowly with an easy 17km. At start you will get the first glimpse of the Towers that you will see again in more than a week. Night at Campamento Seron.
Day 2 (19km, 5-6h): For the second day we don’t rush things, you are still getting in condition. The difficulty of the day is a 200m climb. Lovely landscapes and a quite nice camp with view of peaks and glaciers. Night at Refugio Dickson.
Day 3 (13km, 4-5h): For that day, continue to take it easy in preparation for the next day. You will be in the forest for quite a while and will arrive at Campamento Los Perros, it’s a small camp just before the pass. It can be quite crowded and quite muddy.
Day 4 (20km, 8-9h): The big day! Leave the camp as early as possible (06.30am). If the weather is beautiful you will have an amazing climb up to the John Gardner and can take a short break at the top to enjoy the breathtaking view with some snack. You will then continue down to Campamento Paso. If you left early, you still have plenty of time to make it to Refugio Grey where the campsite has a bit more comfort (showers!). There is some river passages between the 2 camps.
Day 5 (11km, 3-4h): For the 5th day, consider adding an ice trek on the Grey Glacier, if your budget allow you to do so. It is an experience of a lifetime and it’s fun to do it in the middle of a trek. It will take you around 5hours. You can then continue to Refugio Paine Grande where you will spend the night. You will notice that the path is much more crowded. You have entered the “W”.
Day 6 (25km, 8-9h): Now you are fully trained and your backpack is a bit lighter, here is another ambitious day. After 8km you will reach Campamento Italiano. Here do like all the trekkers, ditch your heavy backpack and take only your valuables -time to use your padlock-. Climb up to the Mirador in the impressive Vallee Frances where you can have lunch and then get back to Campamento Italiano where you pick up your belongings (4.5h return trip). You will then push for another 2h of hike to Los Cuernos where you will spend the night.
Day 7 (13km, 4-5h): A short day to recover. You will enter the Vallee Ascensio. You can either campamento Chileno, a lovely campsite by the river, or continue another hour to Campamento Torres, the closest to the mirador. We choose the first one.
Day 8 (15km, 6h): Wake up early and start climbing at the light of your headlamp. The mirador is around 1h30+ from Campamento Chileno and 1h from Campamento Torres. Enjoy the sunrise over the Torres, get back and pack your equipment before finishing your descent to the Hosteria Las Torres. If you have an extra day that you have not used, a night in Campamento Las Torres is a great way to finish your trip. You can indulge yourself in a nice dinner at the Hosteria Las Torres. Otherwise you can combine day 8 and 9 in one.
Day 9 (6km, 2h): The final leg, you make back to the starting point. It is not the nicest part of the trek as you walk on the road most of the time but what a feeling of accomplishment when you arrive back at the start point, 9 days later, after 140km. Congratulations!
Be aware: the John Gardner pass can be closed in case of bad weather, sometimes for several days in a row. If you choose to do the circuit it´s an eventuality you have to accept, this would mean turing back. Plan an extra day in your itinerary and ask in the refuges about weather forecast and the situation on the pass, so that you can adapt your plans in consequence.
Accommodation: camping or cabins?
A bed, a proper roof above your head and no tent to carry. The advantages of staying in cabins when you trek are obvious, both for your comfort but also because you will have to carry less.
The cabins get fully early for example for mid January, they were already full in early September. less a problem is low season. However, this luxury has a price: from $50 a night.
As mentioned above, it is not possible to do the full Circuit without camping.
The rules are strict in the part. It´s forbidden to cook or camp anywhere outside of the camps. Most of the camps have hot showers, a luxury, when you know that you are so isolated!
No need to book the camping in advance, there is always space. Be aware you will be really squeezed in. We noticed that most of the people arrive between 17.00 and 18.00 at the camp. By leaving a bit earlier in the morning, you should be able to score a bet spot, and to skip the queue to the showers!
The campsites are administrated by 2 different companies each of them have their website.
Don´t get confused between campamento Torres and Las Torres!
Trek in Torres del Paine even if you are not an experienced hiker
There are a few things you can do to make sure you can enjoy the trek
- Choose a shorter trek
- Avoid the John Gardener pass
- Plan an extra day or two. You can choose to stop at every campsite.
- Book a tour. Does not come for free of course, but if you are a bit nervous about going on your own, it is maybe a good solution. usually you only ave to carry your personal items!
- Reduce your load. Between carrying 20 or 12kg, the difference is huge!
Carry less in Torres del Paine
If you can’t stay in a cabin but still want to reduce your load, a good option is to rent some equipment at the camping or refuge. The tent is the heaviest and renting it also has the advantage of not having to pack and unpack it everyday. That can be a huge plus! Mattress can also be rented for a small amount. You need to book the equipment a head in high season (around 2 months in advance as well for example for mattress).
Another solution is to buy food at the campsites. Most of them have some soup and some canned food ; Campamento Refugio Grey and Paine Grande have a fairly large choice. Of course it´s twice as expensive than in a supermarket but you don’t have to carry it and it can be good to have a change, buying eggs for example can be appreciable after 6 days of dry food.
You can also have meals in the refuges and get a picnic. We choose to do this for our last night in the park, it was a good way to celebrate.
Make it happen: hiking in Torres del Paine
Which budget for my trek in Torres del Paine?
Park entrance: $18,000CH
Bus from Puerto Natales: $17-20 return ticket
- Refuges start at $55 for a simple bed if you bring your sleeping bag and prices go up to $90 depending on the option you choose.
- Camping between $6-$12 per person, depending on the camping site. Note there are also a few free camping sites.
- Equipment to rent in the campamentos: tent $15 sleeping bag $7-$10, sleeping mat $3
- Check Fantastico Sur and Vertice websites for more details on price (links at the bottom of the post)
Food in the refuges: Full board $45-59, Dinner $20-26
Ice trek: 5h of ice trek on the Grey Glacier with Big Foot Patagonia $130. Leaves from Refugio Grey early morning.
When to go and what to pack
High season in Patagonia goes from mid December to early February, and there is a good reason for that! Even in summer you should expect the 4 seasons in one day and be ready in case some parts of the trail are inaccessible. In spring and autumn, make sure you have a really good sleeping bag and a mountaineering tent… or choose the comfort of the cabins 🙂
The nights especially can get cold year around (negative temperature are not uncommon during summer). Pack this extra pair of socks, these gloves and this hat “just in case” as well as suncream.
Not travelling with trekking equipment? You can rent equipment everywhere at Puerto Natales, even backpacks, gas stoves and jackets, so there is no excuse not to go!
Check my trekking packing list for inspiration and tips of essential items to bring.
Before you go
If you are not an experienced hiker or didn’t had time to research much, don’t miss the briefing by Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales . it will give you a good overview of the possibilities and some good hikers tips.
A good place to stay in Puerto Natales is Hostel Lili Patagonico’s, cosy and clean. affordable rivate rooms. Book in advance and leave your remaining items there during the trek
For supplies: there is a huge supermarket in town at Puerto Natales to buy food to bring on the trek. At the time of our visit there was also a smaller one that had a good choice of dry food, perfect for hiking.
You will get a map at the entrance of the National Park so no need to bring or buy one.
- Official website of Torres del Paine National Park
- A high resolution map of the park, to prepare your trek
- Accommodation in the National Park: Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia administrate the camps and lodges.
- Blogging resources we used to prepare our trek: BackPacker Steve get you into the detail of the Circuit trek and the W trek. For the full circuit detail, consult this article from Erratic Rock. I recommend also this good read on Ever in transit with more tips to finalize your preparation.
This blog post is based on my trek of the Circuit in Torres del Paine in January 2014, happy hiking!