Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is a world famous spot for hiking, best reachable from Puerto Natales. The are two main hiking trails available there: the “W trek” and the “O Circuit“. You can do both with a guide – but it is amazingly expensive and not very useful as the trails are straightforward and well traveled.
The W is the busiest option, as the 76km path is chosen by the vast majority of hikers. You walk along the front of the Paine Massif and can hike the trail in the direction of your choice. The hike offers spectacular views on the Gray Glacier, the Paine Massif, the French Valley and the Towers. It takes between 4 and 5 days to complete the W.
With the other option, the O Circuit, you circle around the Paine Massif. You basically start at the same place than when doing the W, but you will also walk on the back side of the Paine Massif. You can only hike this trail in one direction and it takes between 8 and 9 days to achieve the whole loop.
Picture from www.torres-del-paine.org
Hiking the O Circuit
Of course, between hiking 4 or 9 days, we chose the longest option! As we wanted to take it easy, we decided to plan 8 nights/9 days for hiking the O Circuit.
Day 1 – From the park entrance to Seron
- Duration: 4 to 5 hours
- Distance: 13km
The bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine left at 07:00am, so it was an early start! After a 2 hours ride, we arrived at the park entrance where we had to pay 21.000CP/Person and looked at a movie telling us not to start any fire inside of the park! Shortly after 10:00am, we were ready to go and we started walking in the direction of our first camping site, Seron.
The walk was easy: the path went slowly uphill before heading downward to a beautiful meadow full of flowers. The weather was sunny and the hike very enjoyable – we didn’t know it, but it was to be the last time we would see the sun before a couple of days… We arrived early at Seron, around 02:15pm, and had plenty of choices for the place to set up our tent. We spent a relax afternoon, lying around in hammocks, enjoying the sun and later on, a nice hot shower.
Day 2 – From Seron to Dickson
- Distance: 19km
- Duration: 5 to 7 hours
It had started to rain during the night and sadly, it didn’t look like it was about to stop… We packed our tent as quickly as possible and started walking towards Dickson. This day was the worst of the whole hike: clouds were so low we couldn’t see anything and it rained without any break. At least, we had the opportunity to test the water resistance of our rain jackets 😉 it took us around 5 hours until Dickson, but we hurried because of the weather.
Once there, we realised that Kai’s sleeping bags and mattress were completely soaked below its rain cover. Mine’s were luckily packed in plastic bags below my rain cover and were therefore still dry. As we were both cold and Kai didn’t look forward to spend a night in a wet sleeping bag, we decided to upgrade our planned camping night to a night in the refugio. It was a very good decision as the rain didn’t stop for a minute during this night!
Day 3 – From Dickson to Los Perros
- Distance: 11km
- Duration: 4 to 6 hours
After leaving Dickson around 11:00am and going up for about 30 minutes, we turned around to take a last look at the camping site in the background. The view was cloudy, but still beautiful. There was one big improvement in comparison to the previous days: we walked almost the whole time under trees. As a result, we didn’t get as wet as the last two days. The trail went slowly up the whole time, leading through beautiful forested areas. After a last ascent, we reached the Los Perros glacier and lake – luckily, the weather was good enough to enable us to see them 🙂
After 5 more minutes, we arrived at the Los Perros camping site. The temperatures had really dropped during the day and we hurried up to set our tent. Afterward, we headed to a relatively well build hut where we spent the rest of the afternoon and the evening. When we went back to our tent, we realised we had made a big mistake: the rain had become a lot stronger in the last hours and our tent laid in a big pool of water… With fingers numbed from the cold, we had to move our tent in the darkness until we found an appropriate place to set it up.
Day 4 – From Los Perros to Paso
- Distance: 8km
- Duration: 5 to 6 hours
When we woke up, a nice surprise awaited us: it was not raining anymore… but snowing!!! It was freezing cold and we hurried up to pack our tent to leave as early as possible. Indeed, weather conditions are supposed to be better in the morning around the John Gardner. As the weather was already quite bad, we knew we had to make it as early as possible to the pass, otherwise the park rangers would close it and tell us to turn around. We actually decided on the day before to follow a group with a guide in order to increase our chances to successfully go over the pass.
So at 07:00am, we started walking: the whole group hiking the O Circuit ended up walking in line behind the guide. The 20 last minutes before the pass were particularly hard, with snow going up to the knees and strong winds challenging our balance: the combination of both made it hurtful to keep our eyes open! As we finally arrived at the pass, we hurried to go down and tried to find some shelter from the wind. Because I was mainly looking at my feet, it actually took me a couple of minutes to realised that the visibility on this side of the pass was better and that we had on amazing view on the Grey glacier 😀
After a short break, we headed in the direction of the Paso camping site. We arrived there around 12:00, after a long and steep descent. We learned later on that the guards had actually closed the pass. The only reason why they left us go up was because we were following a group with a guide… Lucky us!
Some people go directly to the camping site Grey on the same day. We would have liked to do the same for several reasons:
- first of all, the Paso camping site is definitely not the best one… It has no hot shower or flushing toilet and no closed shelter to cook. After walking 5 hours in snow, we would have enjoyed the confort of Grey camping site…
- second of all, we arrived very early at Paso. It was freezing cold and we would have prefered to keep walking in order to stay warm rather than staying in our sleeping bag for the whole afternoon in order not to freeze.
On the other hand, if the pass is closed and you have to spend a second (unplanned ) night in Los Perros, you will loose your reservation for the next camping site. If you had booked Paso, it won’t be an issue, you just have to make it until Grey in one day – which is not that far away – in order to “catch up” with your normal camping site reservations. However, if you had booked Grey from the beginning, you will have to walk until your next reservation, which is very lickely Paine Grande. This would be a HARD day!!
Day 5 – From Paso to Grey
- Distance: 8km
- Duration: 3 to 4 hours
This day was easy and short. For the first time, it did not rain the whole time! The path offered beautiful views on the Grey glacier, especially from the two hanging bridges we had to cross. The longest was 50m long and quite high – impressive! The wind was getting stronger and stronger and we were quite happy to arrive at Grey camping site. The camp is located in the middle of a small forested area and very well protected from the wind.
We took shelter inside of the cooking room – a closed and well maintained building with running water! – and played “pass the pigs” with our two German hiking buddies, Philipp and Marlene! Sadly, they had to hike until Paine Grande on the same day and left after a well needed break. We spent the rest of the afternoon inside of the shelter and passed the time by playing cards and reading. And in the evening, we could even take a hot shower 😀
Day 6 – From Grey to Paine Grande
- Distance: 8km
- Duration: 3 to 4 hours
From the camping site Grey, you will be on the W trek. And you can immediatly see the difference! The track was a lot more crowded and we crossed many people with only small backpacks. As it is possible to sleep in refugios every night on the W trek, some people don’t carry so much equipment with them…
When we woked up, the wind was even stronger than the day before. We quickly packed our tent and started our way toward Paine Grande. We went up for a while before arriving at a splendid view point. There, the wind was so strong that it was hard to stay on our feet! We quickly took a couple of pictures before heading down to Paine Grande.
Like yesterday, we arrived relatively early and set our tent as close as possible from the mountain in the hope to get some protection from the wind. This camping site has a great room to cook or take shelter from the weather, and the hot shower was also very nice.
Day 7 – From Paine Grande to Italiano
- Distance: 8km / 11km additionally for the French valley
- Duration: 2 hours / 4 to 6 hours additionally for the French valley
Going from Paine Grande to Italiano is quick, it takes around 2 hours. From Italiano, it is possible to discover one “leg” of the W trek: the French Valley. So we set your tent when we arrived at the camping site, and went exploring the French Valley. What a wonderful feeling to walk without our heavy backpacks on our backs!!
The landscape there is simply stunning! There are two viewpoints: Frances Mirador and Britanico Mirador. From the first one, you get an amazing view on the Frances Glacier. From the Britanico Mirador, you get a view on the whole valley – and what a view!!! The way up is not easy, but it is totally worth the effort 😀
If you cannot get a camping spot at Italiano, you can still leave your backpacks somewhere around the camp – hide them well in some bushes – go up the French Valley and pick up your backpacks on the way back.
Day 8 – From Italiano to Chileano
- Distance: 22 kilometers
- Duration: 7 to 9 hours
This felt like a looong day. We walk fast – we know it because we generally leave among the last from the camps and arrive among the first. But it still took us almost 7 hours to walk from Italiano to Chileano… However, the landscape on the way was stunning: we walked along the Nordenskjold Lake for quite a long time and the colors kept changing depending on the weather. And for the first time in 7 days, the sun was really shinning!!!
Shortly before arriving at Chileano, we walked on a steep and norrow trail along a gorge. It was here that we catched our first glimpse of the Torres! After setting up our tent and leaving our big backpacks in it, we headed in the direction of the Torres. Sadly, it started snowing after 20 minutes and the snow kept getting thicker and thicker. At some point, we couldn’t even see more than 5 meters away and decided to turn back and rejoin the camp. There, we enjoyed our first “real” meal of the trek. Indeed, Chileano offers only camping spot with fullboard, so we didn’t have to cook for the dinner: we just headed to the refugio and enjoyed a grilled salmon with homemade mashed potatoes and a salad 😀
Day 9 – From Chileano to the park entrance
- Distance: 7 kilometers
- Duration: 2 hours
This day didn’t really work out as it was supposed to 😕
Originally, our plan was to head very early for the sunrise to the Torres lookout. However, my parents were joining us for the Christmas period and were arriving in El Calafate early in the morning on the next day. As I really wanted to welcome them at the airport, we decided to take the bus today from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. We had only see one bus leaving Puerto Natales in the afternoon at 03:00pm, which meant we had to leave the park in the morning. At Chileano, some guards assured us that there would be a bus leaving at 09:00am to Puerto Natales.
So our new plan was to leave Chileano at 06:30am to be sure to catch this bus to Puerto Natales at 09:00am. As a result, we didn’t have enough time to manage the climb to the Torres Lookout and couldn’t admire the Torres from the Laguna. Well, our only choice is to come back one day 😉
We arrived at 08:00am at the park entrance and discovered that there was no bus leaving the park at 09:00am… The guards there told us the only bus was leaving at 02:00pm, meaning we wouldn’t be able to catch our bus to El Calafate at 03:00pm. I was so disapointed to hear that… One person from the park told us that the “main road” was only 8km away and that, from here, it was possible to hitchhike back to Puerto Natales. Once again, this information was bullshit! Indeed, we later discovered that the “main road” the person was talking to was located 50km away from the park entrance…
But we didn’t know that at this point and we started to walk. After 12 km with very few cars passing by and none stopping to take us, we decided to sit on the side of the road and wait for a car to stop. It was already 11:30 and our schedule was now quite tight. As I was ready to give up on beeing able to greet my parents at the airport, a car finally stopped and asked us if we were heading to Puerto Natales. I don’t even remember the name of our driver, but I will remember his kindness for a very very long time… He even dropped us directly in front of the bus terminal!
The funny thing about this whole story is that the bus from Puerto Natales at 03:00pm was full… BUT there was another bus leaving at 06:00pm and there were still free seats that we hurried to book. So in the end, we could have gone up to the Torres Lookout, take the bus at 02:00pm from the park entrance and arrive on time to take this bus at 06:00pm to El Calafate 😆
In the end, we managed to get to El Calafate in the evening and catch my parents at the airport on the next morning. But that’s a story for another article 😉
Did we like hiking in Torres del Paine?
There is a good reason why so many people want to hike there: the landscape around the Torres is amazing! The view on the Grey glacier we suddenly had as we went over the John Gardner pass will stay in my mind for the years to come! As will the thunder sounds of the ice riping apart from the Frances glacier and crashing on the rocks some hundreds meters below!
But to be completely honest, there were two aspects of this hike that I didn’t really enjoy. First of all, for me, hiking means feeling free – the freedom to choose where you set your tent, how long you walk today… And one of the things I love the most while hiking is the quietness and remoteness you can experience.
Well, in Torres del Paine, you can’t decide on the day where you are going to sleep because you have to respect your camping sites reservations… So you can’t adapt to the weather conditions and your own physical condition. And the fame of the Torres means that it is hard to walk longer than 20 minutes without crossing somebody. However, there were far less people on the O part, and this issue disturbed us mainly on the W side 🙂
All in all, we enjoyed this hike and the wonderful landscape we discovered there. We are definitely happy to have hiked there. But I think we will favor more remote and “wild” hikes in the future.
Some General Tips
Hiking the W or the O?
In our opinion, hiking the W in Torres del Paine is not very hard. The weather might make things a little more complicated, but the camping sites are close enough from each other for the walking times to be relatively short. As you will see almost all the main highlights of Torres del Paine on the W, if you don’t feel very fit, you might consider choosing to hike the W over the O.
The O Circuit is more challenging as there is a pass to go over, which implies quite a lot of going up… One very nice thing about the O is that you will get to know the people who hike at the same time than you. As you can only walk in one direction, you will encounter the same persons everyday at the camps. We were lucky to meet a very nice German couple – to have interesting discussions and enjoyable evenings when you walked 6 hours in the rain during the day helps to keep you motivated 😉
Since 2016, you have to book all camping sites in advance. Be aware many people want to hike in Torres del Paine, so book in advance. We would recommend to book everything at least 3 months prior to your trip to be sure to get every camping site you want. There are three different websites you need to use in order to book the camps:
- Fantastico Sur – Seron, Los Cuernos, El Chileano, Central and Frances
- Vertice Patagonia – Dickson, Los Perros, Grey and Paine Grande
- CONAF – Italiano, Paso and Torres
All camps from CONAF are free! Be aware that these are also the less “fancy” camping sites, with no shower or closed shelter to cook. In some camps like Chileno, you have to book the fullboard, otherwise you won’t be able to get a spot for your tent… T
he following camps have hot showers: Seron, Grey, Paine Grande, Frances & El Chileano. Most of them open around 6:00pm or 07:00pm: if you want your shower to be hot, be among the first there! One last peace of information: some hiking days are short and it is tempting to start walking late. However, try not to arrive too late or all the best camping spots will be occupied 😉
Food and clothes to bring
One key information: be prepared for ALL KIND of weather. And by this we mean hot, freezing, snow, pourring rain, winds strong enough to blow your tent away… So bring accordingly clothes for all kind of weather. Here is a short list of useful items:
- one rain jacket
- one rain trouser OR waterproof hiking trouser
- two quick dry t-shirts, one for the day & one for the night – don’t bring more, you want your backback to be as light as possible and you can wash them
- two pairs of socks – one for the day & one for the night
- one warm pullover
- one legging you can wear during cold nights in your sleeping back or below your hiking trouser if the weather is really cold
- a warm sleeping bag with a confort zone below 0 degree
- a beanie & glothes
Regarding the food, as a guideline, try to stay below 500g per person per day. The only way to manage this is to buy only dehydrated food such as cup nooddles, prepared mashed potateos, prepared soups, couscous, cereals with milk powder… So forget about fruits and vegetables (or anything with a nice consistency)! Take many snacks with you: chocolate, cookies and cereal bars will give you some energy during the day to keep walking 😉
Another important advice regarding your geer, food and clothes is to pack EVERYTHING in plastic bags or Zip-Loc bags. The winds are so strong in Torres del Paine that you rain cover might be blown away. And even if it does stay on your backback, if it rains like it rained during our hike, there are good chances that water finds its way below your rain cover!! So if you want to be sure that you don’t have to sleep in a wet sleeping bag, heed this advice 😀
Transportation & some Prices
It takes around 5 hours to go from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. Don’t bring fresh fruits, vegetables or meat, you will cross a border and the guards check the bags… The bus costs around 15.000CP/Person.
From Puerto Natales, it takes about 2 hours to get to the Park Entrance of Torres del Paine and it costs 14.000CP/Person. The price entrance costs 21.000CP/person. There is one bus leaving at 07:00am every day.
Where to sleep in Puerto Natales
We slept in the hostel Rustic Home Patagonia gor 26.000CP/double room with (a good!) breakfast. It’s close from the bus terminal, clean and the owner is nice. You leave some luggage there for free during your hike in Torres del Paine.
Where to eat in Puerto Natales
We tried one very good restaurant: the Cangrejo Rojo. It was really delicious and we paid around 30.000CP for 2 persons with drinks.