Dubbed the “8th Wonder of the World,” Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine was Chile’s first National Park (created in 1959) and is also its most visited attracting more than 100 thousand visitors a year. Because of this, I thought it would be a good idea to write a guide to hiking in the park based on my personal experience.
- It’s a unique hiking experience where you can do an 8-day “hardcore” backpacking trek or stay in lodges and not have to carry much.
- Amazing scenery. Glaciers, condors, jagged pillars, green lakes, gigantic flat rock faces, not to mention a look at the world’s third largest ice field.
- Torres del Paine is very far south.
- Experience 4 seasons of Patagonian weather in 1 day.
- Everyone can do it: from the veteran mountaineer to the first time backpacker to the day tripper, the park has something for every level.
To begin the guide, here is a map for all you planners so you can locate the points I reference in my post. This is the same map you will receive as you enter the park. There are many out there, but I found this one to be the most helpful – plus it was free.
Before you go:
- Summer is High Season. That means that from December through February, the park is very busy. November & March are a little colder, but have less people.
- Make it a priority to go to the briefing talk at Basecamp (next door to Erratic Rock Hostel) which happens everyday at 3pm. It lasts for about 1.5 hours, and they are very real with you. They give you some of the most valuable information you will recieve and go over everything from the different routes (W, O, Q), getting to and from the park, what clothes you should wear, what food to bring, what to expect about the weather, and answer any questions you might have.
- Make a plan. Though things might change depending on the weather or other circumstances, it is best to start with a well thought out plan of where you will stay each night, even you do not follow it.
- Make a grocery list to plan your food.
- Renting equipment can be expensive, especially if you are planning on doing the whole circuit, but it is better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.
- Stay at Erratic Rock Hostel the night before you leave for the park because they cook you an amazing breakfast (omelette, homemade bread, peanut butter, cereal, yoghurt, real coffee).
- The best way to enter the park if you are looking to do a multi-day trek is to take a bus. You can buy your bus tickets for between $10,000-$15,000 Chilean Pesos (CLP) from the bus terminal.
- Most buses leave at 7:30am or 7:50am. There are also a few buses that leave in the afternoon during the high season.
- All forms of transportation in the park (bus, micros, catamaran) are synced so one will not leave until all the others get there.
- Upon entering the park, EVERYONE is required to watch a safety video and pay the park entrance fee ($18,000 CLP for foreigners).
- After you watch the video, you have three options on where to begin. Use the map above for reference.
- Your first option is to transfer from the big bus that took you to the park entrance and hop on a microbus that will take you from where you pay the entrance fee (1st bus stop) to Hotel Las Torres for $2,500 pesos each way.
- Your second option is to stay on the big bus for another 30 minutes and get off to take the catamaran at Pudeto. This is the most popular option in summer, but also the most expensive. The catamaran cost $12,000 pesos each way unless you buy a round trip ticket ($19,000) right away. The 20-minute catamaran ride takes you from Cafe Pudeto to Refugio Paine Grande. Some people like this option for the return trip to relax, but it offers many of the same views as from inside the park.
- The third option is to take the big bus to the third and final stop, the Visitors Center & Administration. From here, you can do the tail of the “Q”. This is the cheapest option because it entails a 3-5 hour hike across the flat plains in towards the park instead of taking transportation. It is cool to walk in and see the whole park in front of you. This is the route we took.
The “W” (~4 days) “The W” is by far the most popular route. It is named that way because of the rough shape the route takes on the map. The trek takes you to see the highlights of the park. The “O” (6-10 days) “The O” or the Circuit, is “The W” plus the backside of the park. Many people say that the backside is the more beautiful part, and there is also less people. The “Q” (7-11 days) “The Q” is the Circuit plus an extra 3-5 hour hike from the Administration office (third and last stop on the bus) to Refugio Paine Grande. What we did: The “Q” in 8 days/7 nights Day 1: Puerto Natales – Administration – Refugio Paine Grande (16km, 3.5 hrs) Day 2: Refugio Paine Grande – Refugio Grey (10km, 3.25 hrs) Day 3: Refugio Grey – Campamento Paso (6km, 3.5hrs) Day 4: Campamento Paso – John Gardner Pass – Refugio Los Perros – Refugio Dickson (20km, 8.5 hrs) Day 5: Refugio Dickson – Refugio Seron (18km, 5 hrs) Day 6: Refugio Seron – Hotel Las Torres – Campamento Las Torres (21km, 5 hrs + 1hr break at Hotel Las Torres) Day 7: Campamento Las Torres – Refugio Cuernos – Campamento Italiano (24km, 4.5 hrs) Day 8: Campamento Italiano – Refugio Paine Grande – Puerto Natales (7.5km, 1.25 hrs running/walking in rain)
- Backpack. Duh! If you are doing the Circuit, I recommend at least 60L so you can carry everything and share the weight of community gear and food.
- Two pairs of shoes. I hiked in tennis shoes, but many people wear hiking boots. Regardless, they will get wet even if they are waterproof. Some comfortable sandals are recommended for camp.
- ONLY two (2) changes of clothes – One “stink suit” that you will hike in EVERY day & one clean/dry outfit to be worn only once you have reached camp.
- Trekking Poles are optional. Winds can be strong, hills can be steep, but not everyone likes carrying the extra weight. I did not bring them.
Our Costs (per person)*:
$10,000 CLP – Transportation to and from the park
$18,000 – Park entrance fee
$4,800 – Camping fee for Refugio Paine Grande
$4,000 – Camping fee for Refugio Grey
$4,000 – Camping fee for Refugio Dickson
$4,000 – Camping fee for Refugio Seron
$12,000 – Catamaran from Refugio Paine Grande to Pudeto
Total: $56,800 CLP (~$114 USD / 8 days = $14.25 USD per day) + food & gear
*Prices in low season (March 2014)
My Recommendations & Tips:
- The “W” is the highlights trail which means there is always a lot of people. The back side of the Circuit is much less crowded.
- In my opinion, the catamaran is way too expensive and not worth the price.
- The free campsites are: Campamento Italiano, Campamento Las Torres, Campamento Paso, & Campamento Las Carretas. All others are paid sites.
- If you can, bring all your own gear. Renting gear can get expensive. Depending on your length of stay, you might be able to save money by buying the item instead of renting (sleeping pad, rain gear).
- The park is beautiful, but I never felt like I was in unexplored wilderness.
- If you want to get up before sunrise to see the Torres del Paine turn red, it is better to camp at Campamento Las Torres than Refugio Chileno. First of all, because it is a much shorter hike from Campamento Las Torres, and second, Las Torres is free and Chileno is paid.
- If you need to skip a campsite on the circuit, I recommend doing it on a different day then the day you go over Paso John Gardner. For example, skip Refugio Dickson and go from Los Perros to Seron if you need to make up for lost ground.
- As a safety net, try to plan an extra day into your trip (this means food too) in case the weather conditions are terrible, a section of the trail is closed, you get sick, etc.
- Be prepared to encounter 4 seasons of weather in the same day. I’m serious!
- Useful Websites: National Park’s Website, WikiTravel, WikiVoyage, WindGuru