Guide to Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park
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Well-marked trails, good infrastructure, shops, restaurants, designated campsites near ranger posts and picnic areas make Torres del Paine national park a popular destination for thousands of visitors. That’s also the reason why the national park remains crowded during the peak season every year. Whether you are planning for a one-day hike or are interested in multi-day or longer hikes, the national park has something to offer to everyone.

Torres del Paine is usually on the top of the list of people visiting Patagonia. From immense glaciers to granite spikes and turquoise lakes, the national park has everything needed for a memorable adventure. Accessibility is another reason why so many people choose to hike there. Although most hikers prefer traveling in small groups, hiking solo is also possible. However, they need the right information to properly plan their trips. This post aims to cover such important details, including where to hike, itineraries and campsite information.

A Brief History of Torres del Paine

Patagonia has always been famous for its unspoiled beauty and ancient cultures. Dating back to 8,000 B.C, the region is an archaeological gallery that bears one of Earth’s longest rock formations. The national park was established in 1959 and it borders Chile and Argentina. The park welcomes more than 250,000 visitors each year with 60 percent of them being foreigners, and got its present name in 1970.

The area was first described in 1880 by Lady Florence Dixie in her book and referred to the three towers as Cleopatra’s Needies. She is also believed to be the first foreigner to visit the area currently in the national Park. Guido Monzino in 1977 donated around 30,000 acres of land to the Chilean Govt. In 1978, UNESCO designated the national park as a World Biosphere Reserve.

In 1985, around 150 square-kilometers of the national park was burnt due to a fire started by a tourist. A fire accident in 2005 caused destruction of about 150 square-kilometers. Another hiker burnt 176 square-kilometers in 2012, including 36 sq-km area of a native forest.

Torres del Paine national park is part of the National System of Protected Forested Areas of Chile and according to a 2013 survey it measured 181,414 hectares. The park is also famous for three granite peaks called Torres d’Agostini that are distinctive and located in the Paine mountain range.

Mountain Peaks in Torres Del Paine

Weather of Torres del Paine

The weather in the national park can be unpredictable and change quickly without any warning. Hikers need to plan their trip and pack gear keeping the season in mind, but they should still try to prepare for all weather conditions. Many travelers and hikers who have been there tell the stories of experiencing all four seasons in a single day, almost any time of the year.

That’s what hikers also need to consider when packing for the trip. Some rain is expected regardless of the time of the year you are visiting. Strong winds require more preparation, which are common in the summer months. Winds are almost non-existent in the winter months, while the air in fall and spring is calmer.

Special care has to be taken when walking suspension bridges, exposed lodges and on pass days. There are plenty of online resources that can help you better understand important parameters, including wind speed, cloud cover and precipitation of the area you plan on hiking.

When to Visit Torres del Paine National Park?

Summer

December to February are summer months in Patagonia, which is the peak season when the days are the longest and temperature warmest. Although hiking in these months is quite nice, you’d want to keep a lightweight waterproof jacket for dealing with bad weather.

Fall

Although temperatures are cooler in the fall months (March to April), hiking in fall is ideal for hikers who don’t like crowded trails. Winds are less intense during fall, but precipitation is the highest from April-May.

Spring

Spring is another great time to escape crowded trails with temperature averaging 50 degrees, which means hikers need to pack warm clothes. Winds are less intense during this time, while the precipitation is also low.

How to Reach Torres Del Paine?

The journey to Patagonia begins with a flight from either Buenos Aires (Argentina) or Santiago (Chile) after which you can reach Punta Arenas via a connecting flight. It takes about 3.5 hrs on a bus to reach Puerto Natales (gateway to the national park) from Punta Arenas. The national park is easily accessible and the buses are punctual, comfortable and in good shape.

However, it’s recommended to book bus tickets well in advance online otherwise you might have trouble booking in the peak season. Sites such as Recorrido make it super easy and convenient to book tickets in advance. You have to take another bus from Puerto Natales, which takes around 90 minutes to get you to Torres Del Paine. Tickets for this bus can also be bought online as well as at the Puerto Natales bus station.

The season time is from October to April with entrance time from 7 AM to 10 PM, while May to September is off-season (8.30 AM to 5.30 PM). The Administration entrance (the additional section of the Q Trek) is only for exiting the park in high season and you cannot walk it the other way around.

Hikers can also rent a car or hitchhike, but that might not be something every hiker would do because of time and other constraints. Renting a car is a better option if you are a day hiker and want to visit many places or if you are traveling in a small group. Public buses stop at three national park entrances and leave at 7.30 am / 2. 30 pm from Puerto Natale.

The W, O and Q Treks

There are many ways of experiencing the beauty of Torres del Paine national park, including treks and non-trekking options. Day hiking trails are common with distance ranging between 3-12 miles (5-20 kilometers). The W and O are the most popular and also the longest treks, which are named after their shape.

The W Trek

Being one of the most popular multi-day treks, the W Trek takes 3-5 days to complete and is roughly 50 miles in length. It covers Grey Glacier, Torres and Frances Valley, which are the park’s most iconic highlights. The trail is usually crowded in the high season with large tour groups, solo hikers as well as day hikers who only hike certain sections of the trail.

Itinerary

The W Trek is the most popular and can be completed in 3 to 5 days in either direction. Hikers can start from Paine Grande or the Torres.

Day One: Puerto Natales to Paine Grande to Glacier Grey and back to Paine Grande (6-8 hrs round trip, 13.5 miles).

Tip: You can book a free campsite in Puerto Natales (CONAF office or online)

Day Two: Paine Grande to Italiano (camping), up to Mirador Britanico and back (4.5 + 7 miles, 7-8 hrs)

Day 3: Italiano to Chileno (12 miles, 6-8 hrs)

Day 4: Chileno to Mirador Torres (8 miles, 4-6 hrs), and back to Central to finish the trek. You can catch a bus to Puerto Natales if you started the hike early and arrive back around afternoon

Hikers on W trek in Patagonia

The O Trek aka the O-Circuit

The 68-mile trek takes 6 to 9 days to complete and covers the same trek as the W Trek while circumnavigating Cordillera del Paine. Two to three nights of camping are common, which also provides you with an opportunity to enjoy solitude. The trek is comparatively difficult, but adventurous and spectacular.

Itinerary

The O trek can be completed only in a counterclockwise direction. On average, it takes 9 days to complete, but if you can hike at a good pace, you can complete it in 6-7 days. The two starting points are Hotel Las Torres and Paine Grande.

Day One: Hotel Las Torres to Seron (8 miles, 4-5 hrs)

Day Two: Seron to Dickson (12 miles, 5-6 hrs)

Day Three: Dickson to Paso (12 miles, 7-9 hrs)

Day Four: Paso to Paine Grande (11 miles, 5-7 hrs)

Day Five: Paine Grande to Italiano (camping) to Mirador Britanico and back to Paine Grande (4.5 + 7 miles, 7-8 hrs)

Day Six: Italiano to Chileno (12 miles, 6-8 hrs)

Day Seven: Chileno to Mirador Torres and hike back to Central (8 miles, 4-6 hrs)

The Q Trek

The Q Trek is the longest route and an extension of the O Trek. Only a small number of hikers opt for this track, which in most cases are the ones who want some time away from the crowds. An extra day of hiking guarantees you some of the most spectacular views in the entire national park. Another thing to keep in mind is that the extension part of the Q trek is not a circuit. Instead, it’s a return trek. Most hikers finish the circuit with the Paine Grande to Administration stretch.

Itinerary

The Q Trek covers most of Torres del Paine’s trail and travels the same trail as the O Trek plus an additional day of hiking along Lake Pehoe. Covering the extra miles is a great way of hiking in solitude as most hikers skip this section. In addition to some solitude, you also get spectacular views.

Summary of Stretches, Distance, Time Required and Closing Time

  • Paine Grande to Campsite Italiano, 4.6 miles, 2 hours 30 minutes, 6.30 pm
  • Campsite Italiano to Mirador Britanico, 3.3 miles, 3 hours, 3 pm
  • Campsite Italiano to Campsite Frances, 1.2 miles, 30 minutes, 7 pm
  • Campsite Italiano to Los Cuernos, 3miles, 2 hours 30 minutes, 5 pm
  • Los Cuernos to Hotel Las Torres, 7.2 miles, 4 hours 30 minutes, Not Specified
  • Hotel Las Torres to Refugio Chileno, 3 miles, 2 hours, Not Specified
  • Refugio Chileno to Campsite Torres, 1.8 miles, 1 hours 30 minutes, 6 pm
  • Campsite Torres to Mirador Las Torres, 0.8 miles, 1 hour, 6 pm
  • Hotel Las Torres to Campsite Seron, 8 miles, 4 hours, Not Specified
  • Campsite Seron to Campsite Dickson, 11 miles, 6 hours, 3 pm
  • Campsite Dickson to Campsite Perros, 7.4 miles, 4 hours 30 minutes, 5 pm
  • Campsite Perros to Campsite Paso, 5 miles, 6 hours, 2 pm
  • Campsite Paso to Refugio Grey, 4.3 miles, 5 hours, 3 pm
  • Refugio Grey to Paine Grande, 6.8 miles, 3 hours 30 minutes, 4 pm

Accommodation

You don’t have to worry about this when traveling in a guided group, but solo hikers need to make sure they have reservations for all campsites in advance. Proof of reservations is needed when entering the national park and you’ll be denied entry if you don’t have them.

Refugios

Refugios are simple mountain lodges and the most expensive option. Bathrooms are often shared, while other facilities usually include a bar/restaurant, shower and heating. It’s a good idea to bring your own sleeping bad as some refugios only provide you with a bottom sheet.

Camping

You can set up your tent in designated campsite areas, which are usually platforms or fields. If your camp happens to be near a refugio, you can also access the bathroom, bar, restaurant and other services. Day hikers who have their own vehicle can opt for Pehoe campsite, which is located at the Pehoe lake.

Designated cooking shelters can be used at campsites, which works great for hikers who like to cook their own food. There are three types of campsites to choose from. Regular campsites are campsites along the way where you can pitch a tent. Platform campsites allow you to set up a tent on a wooden platform that is elevated, but you still need your own gear.

You need to confirm in advance if the campsite includes meals or not because at some campsites full boarding is the only option. Supported campsites cost you extra, but provide you with an installed tent, sleeping bag and a mattress. This is the best solution for hikers who are interested in camping but don’t want to carry too much weight.

Reservations for campsites and refugios are usually made months in advance because of the popularity of the treks. As usual, paid campsites offer a lot more facilities than free campsites, while in the peak season free campsites are overcrowded and you might have to wait in a queue for bathroom or shower. The three agencies through which you can book include:

Fantastico Sur (Paid)

You have many accommodation options to choose from, which many find confusing. The campsites include Seron, Chileno, Frances, Los Cuernos and Las Torres (Central). Cooking is not offered at some campsites, which means you have to pay extra for full board. You can also choose between various refugios, domes and cabanas. It’s the most expensive option, especially if you are hiking alone.

Chileno Campsite: Mirador Las Torres, 50 spots, W-trek, O-circuit, W-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

Frances campsite:, Valle Frances, 50 spots, W-trek, O-circuit, W-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, gear rental, restaurant (no electricity and shop)

Los Cuernos Campsite: Nordenskjold, 50 spots, W-trek, O-circuit, W-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

Central Campsite: Laguna Amarga (Hotel Las Torres), 150 spots, W-trek, O-circuit, W-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

Seron Campsite: Eastern part, 100 spots, O-circuit, Q-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

CONAF (Free)

You can book free campsites (Paso and Italiano) with basic services that include space for tent, simple bathrooms and a shelter to cook (three-walled). It’s difficult to get a reservation because there is a lot of competition for free campsites. Both campsites include a toilet and running water, but no shower, electricity, gear rental, shop or restaurant.

Paso Campsite: O-circuit, Q-trek and Glacier Grey

Italiano Campsite: W-trek, O-circuit, Q-trek, Valle Frances

Vertice Patagonia (Paid)

Offers different options for campsites and refugios, which vary in offerings and service quality. Their website provides details about what is available, including all-guided tours.

Dickson Campsite: Dickson Lake, 50 spots, O-circuit, Q-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

Los Perros Campsite: John Gardner Pass, 80 spots, O-circuit, Q-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, gear rental and restaurant (no electricity and shop)

Grey Campsite: Grey Glacier, 60 spots, W-trek, O-circuit, Q-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

Paine Grande: Pehoe Lake, 200 spots, W-trek, O-circuit, Q-trek, facilities include toilet, shower, running water, electricity, gear rental, shop and restaurant

Ecocamp Patagonia torres del paine

Preparation

We have already covered a multi-day backpacking checklist and how to prepare for the challenges of mountain hiking in detail in dedicated posts. Most of the things covered in these posts also apply to hiking in Torres Del Paine, so we’ll only focus on things more specific to the areaf. When hiking on longer routes such as the O-Circuit and the Q-trek, we recommend investing in ultra-lightweight gear, which cuts weight and makes the journey more comfortable. It’s highly recommended to carry a first aid kit, even if it’s the most basic one.

You’ll find many small shops and a grocery store in the town from where you can buy important items, including fuel canisters, trekking grub and food items such as nuts and dried fruits. You can also rent or purchase backpacking gear here, but it’s better to bring important non-bulky gear yourself instead of buying everything from there.

As far as water is concerned, you can drink it directly from various sources along the trails. You’ll come across a water source on the W Trek every 30-40 minutes, so you don’t have to carry a lot of water. When on the O Trek, you can expect to come across water every 40-60 minutes. But you need to follow the guidelines provided by local authorities to prevent water contamination.

It’s recommended to avoid water sources that have livestock near them or run through the trail. It’s better to drink from the next water source than drinking water that might be contaminated. You might also want to consider bringing Chlorine Dioxide tablets for water purification.

Erratic Rock Hostel offers information sessions at 3 PM every day, which cover all the important details you need to know such as weather, food, gear, transportation etc. It’s recommended to pay them a visit prior to the trek, which can be especially helpful people new to the trade. Some important things to remember include:

  • Make sure to do bookings well in advance
  • Bring printed booking confirmations, including campsites bookings
  • Bookings are made on the passport, so make sure to bring it to the national park. Use a waterproof bag or pouch to store the important documents, phone, etc.
  • The cell phone reception is either limited or non-existent, so make sure to keep your loved ones informed whenever you can
  • Make sure to stay on the established trails and never leave the border of the park
  • You can camp only at designated campsites. Wild camping and open fires are not allowed
  • Water available at most water sources inside the park is safe to drink, but it’s better to keep water purifying tablets to be on the safe side
  • Although you can find rubbish bins in some private campsites, you are responsible for carrying all the waste with you when you go outside the park (leave no trace)

Hiker in Torres Del Paine National Park

Hiking Solo vs. Guided Tours

You have the option of either going solo or hiking in a group. The decision comes down to your own experience, preparedness, physical ability and personal preferences. The choice is easy for experienced and well-informed hikers. Well-maintained and marked trails means you are less likely to get lost on the trail, making solo hiking easier.

However, solo hikers should still keep a map and book campsites in advance. Having appropriate gear and clothing is a must. You can also rent most of the important gear or opt for pre-installed gear such as a tent, sleeping bag and mattress at the campsite. The main advantage of solo hiking includes:

  • You can save a lot of money
  • You don’t have to hike on someone else’s schedule
  • You don’t have to deal with group dynamics
  • Gives you an opportunity to be with yourself or only your loved ones

Hiking in a small group saves you from a lot of hassle, including planning and arranging everything yourself. Guided tours are more than just managing logistics. Many find booking campsites difficult and confusing. The agency takes care of these things as well as transportation and food. Local guides can also teach you about the trail in detail and the local culture. You are likely to travel with other hikers belonging to different countries, which gives you a rare opportunity to meet new people and share experiences.

The quality of guided tours can vary based on cost and the travel agency you choose. For reference, the cost (full board, includes accommodation and meals) for W Trek varies from $800 to $3,000/person, while the O Trek can cost anything between $1,500 to $4,000.

The agency is responsible for handling all pre-trip details such as permits and campsites, transportation, lodging, route, food, scheduling and providing information about the local culture and more. You also have to keep your itinerary organized when booking with desired campsites with specific dates. It’s recommended to check availability with all three agencies.

Travel Insurance

Hiking in remote regions can be risky and there is always a possibility of getting injured. It’s recommended to get travel insurance from a specialized vendor such as World Nomads (you can buy their policy online) when hiking in remote destinations, especially in a foreign land. Emergency evacuation can be very expensive, so having insurance can save you from a lot of financial stress if something goes wrong.

Consider Giving Back

We encourage hikers to give back in one way or another when visiting any tourist destination. Funds such as Torres del Paine Legacy Fund strive to improve the infrastructure and ecosystems, and mitigate the impact of so many tourists. Donating to these funds is a great way of giving back and supporting sustainability efforts.

Know and Follow Trail Etiquettes

We have covered trail etiquettes in great detail in a dedicated post. The important thing to remember is not to leave any trace. Knowing how to properly dispose of waste is essential in keeping the trail pristine and beautiful.

Wildlife

You might come across wildlife, which can usually be seen on the W-trek during the day, including pumas. Red fox and Grey are also common on longer routes, while you might be able to spot the local deer called Huemul. Chances are good that you’ll come across other small animals too, including condor, dwarf armadillo, Patagonian Skunk and rabbits.

Guanacos in Patagonia, Chile

Conclusion

Depending on the amount of time you have, cost, your own experience and fitness level, you can choose between day hikes or multi-day hikes. Day hikes save you from having to carry a heavy backpack and allow you to choose when and where to go. But it can take away the real adventure and prevent you from experiencing the remote parts of the park. Most trails have a specified closing time, so make sure to consider that in your schedule otherwise you might not be allowed to hike after that time.

The W Trek offers a great balance between day hikes and hikes that are too long to complete. The trek passes through parts of the park that are comparatively more developed with restaurants and service areas. However, the trek is the busiest and remains crowded in the peak season, while free campsites are also not an option here.

The O Trek is less crowded and remote, which is why you won’t see many day-hikers on the trail. But you might have to carry a heavy backpack for up to 9 days, which can become even more of an issue if you are unlucky with the weather. If you want to skip the crowds and want a real hiking adventure, then the O trek can be a memorable experience. The advantages and disadvantages of the Q trek are similar to the O Trek plus you can see even more places.

 


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