Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
What is Torres del Paine National Park?
This park is probably one of the most famous in the far south of Chilean Patagonia with mountains, lakes and glaciers among it’s very famous trekking routes. It is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile.
Torres del Paine translates to “Towers of Paine” and “Paine” is apparently the old indigenous name for the colour blue.
How to get there?
We stayed in a hostel in Puerto Natales for a couple of reasons. You can leave your excess luggage there while you trek. You can also stock up on food before trekking. It’s also the closest town to the park at about 2 hours and 110km by bus. Schedules change, so always get local info. In off peak season there’s only 1 bus going to the park and coming back from the park each day. Though this will be multiple companies, but they all leave at the same time. Day 1 for us was off peak on October 31 and a return bus ticket was 12,000 pesos ($20) but increased in November to 15,000 pesos ($25).
Planning for the weather
Most locals use Wind Guru. There are many “locations” so have a look at several to find an average.
What’s all this about W’s, O’s and Q’s?
It sounds confusing at the start but looking beyond the jargon, it’s all very simple. Here is an illustration with thanks to Switch Back Travel.
The W trek: The most common and probably well known of any trek in the park. Typically around 4-6 days, 60km, highlights pack of the park for those short on time. It’s also for people not interested in trekking with a tent and camping gear as you can stay in refugios or rent gear directly at refugios (this must be pre-organised in peak season). See how it forms a “W” shape?
The O trek: Known also as the full circuit. Typically around 6-10 days, 120km, includes all the W plus the tough high pass and quieter trekking and campsites at the back of the park. Again, you can see the “O” shape it forms.
The Q trek: This is the O trek plus a straight line from the park admin office to Paine Grande on the far western edge of the O and W treks. This was the original entry point for hiking in Torres del Paine. Add an extra day or so onto the O trek and 12km per one way direction on the flat trail.
Great! So now what?
There is a lot of information, probably too much information with many conflicting stories. You need to decide for yourself what you want to do. In peak season it might be restricted to whatever is available. You can start at and finish at any of the 3 drop off / pick up bus stops. You can go in any direction. You can go for as long or short as you want. It’s all about your own capabilities. November to March is considered the peak season due to the typically drier (less rainy) climate. Expect and be prepared for rain, snow, wind at any point in time of the year and multiple times a day.
Be careful of who you trust for information
Each year the weather is different. The O circuit opened in mid-October (2013). When we were there it opened semi officially around November 3rd, 2014. We asked the following people for information; our hostel, CONAF (in Puerto Natales), tourism information office in Puerto Natales, Erratic Rock hostel, FantasticoSur (refugio operator), Vertice (refugio operator) and CONAF rangers at virtually every point in the park we saw them. We got a different story on conditions and ability to do the O circuit from everyone. There was not an “official” or consistent story to be found. This was true for every other hiker we met along our trek. It was nothing less than a total nightmare for us in terms of planning what to do and trying to do it safely.
What does it all cost?
This is in Spanish but pretty easy to understand; a run down of costs as at October 2014; USD$1 = 590 pesos.
What to bring for the O circuit?
Rough estimates are 400-500 calories burned per hour of hiking. We covered about 25 hours hiking in 7 days at roughly 12,000 calories estimated per person. Just to be safe we took about 8 nights / 9 days worth of food. You can resupply items at the refugios but this can get extremely expensive. If you have a healthy bank balance, you can supplement and buy some meals at the refugios, but have a look at the bottom right of the above price list photo for prices. USD$1 = 590 pesos. Desayuno = Breakfast; Almuerzo = Lunch; Cena = Dinner. Breakfast starts at $12 per person per day.
We brought the following:
Oatmeal: 150g per person per day (really only needed about 100g each), with powdered milk, sugar and cinnamon for taste as its really bland without this. 350 calories per 100g.
Bread rolls: 2 per person per day for first 3 days with ham and cheese (260 calories per 100g)
Wraps: 2 packets of 12 wraps and 3 small tuna cans for 3 days
Dulce de leche (Manjar in Chile) for the remaining wraps and days (340 calories per 100g)
Rice: 125g per person per day for 4 nights. We brought a soup packet for each night of rice for flavouring. 130 calories per 100g.
Pasta: 200g per person per day for 2 nights (150 calories per 100g). 1 small packet of grated parmesan cheese each night, 1 pasta sauce packet each night.
Instant noodles: 1 packet per person for 2 nights. (375 calories per 85g packet)
Packet of Chicken stock cubes for flavouring.
Instant mash potato: Shared a packet of 125g between 2 people per night with the noodles (this tasted surprisingly good). 360 calories per 100g.
Salami: One 125g vacuum sealed salami (this gave everything flavour and lasted three nights)
1 packet of 8 “Super 8” chocolate bars (1 per day to share)
3 packets of cookies (125g per packet – approx. 600 calories per pack)
1 mini packet of 6 alfajores
2 x 200g packets of peanuts
We recommend pre-packaging each portion into air tight lunch bags to make each serving easier. It should help reduce oversized packaging. Remember you need to take all the rubbish with you for the trek.
Bring warm clothes and lots of layers. Ideally you want a set of clothes to hike in and a set of clothes for when you’re at camp and sleeping. Ideally waterproof and wind proof clothes are going to help a lot here. Expect one pair of clothes will get wet during the day (either from rain or sweat). Every day there was rain, snow and ice and it changed hourly.
For us it was below zero some nights and even though our sleeping bags are rated to negative 7 it was still cold. A down jacket would be perfect.
Other gear to bring
Flashlight: though not overly necessary near December as sunrise is 6am; sunset around 9.30pm or later.
Bug Spray: At some campsites there were pesky bugs; probably gets worse in Summer. You’ve been warned.
Water bottle: We never had to carry large amounts of water as there was always fresh water available from streams (Fresh Glacier water).
Simple first aid kit; especially for blisters and cuts/scratches
Raincover for your pack if you’ve got one
What did we do?
Weighing up our options we packed food for 8 nights / 9 days and headed to the park having been told the O had been unofficially hiked by some but it was truly open and they didn’t know when it would open. It was a bit of risk on our part, simply because we might get stuck carrying way more food than we should have been.
We took the 7.30am bus out to the park and arrived to the first park office around 9.45am. Here we paid our entrance fee (18000 pesos / $30) and tried to get more information on our trek. This is where we got told the O wouldn’t open until November 15th by the CONAF rangers.
ARE YOU SERIOUS?
This was really frustrating. What to do now? We debated amongst ourselves for about 30 minutes. In the end we got on the road from Lake Amarga and walked towards Hotel las Torres. This is a bit boring at 7km of gravel road. You can cheat and take the hotel shuttle for 2500 pesos ($4.25) if you want, but you are here to trek.
2014-10-31 – Day 1 – Puerto Natales to Torres (6 hours – 17.5km)
It took us about 1.5 hours to get to the hotel which you walk past and continue up the valley towards the Towers of Paine. We chose to go here first as the weather was going to be good for a couple of days before changing into wet and rainy. Some people like to leave the highlight to the end, but we wanted to make sure we saw it on a nice day. This is one of the most popular day treks and there was a lot of day hikers on the trail. It would be great if their guides would tell them to be more courteous and give way to people carrying big packs. Instead they aim their hiking sticks at your feet and charge you off the trail almost every single time.
The steep climb up the valley affords some great views if you look back.
When you get into the valley heading towards Camp Chileno, again the views really are breathtaking.
We made a lunch stop at Chileno. Our packs were seriously heavy and were taking an early toll on our bodies. The packs would only get lighter from here and the more we eat, the lighter they get.
We arrived into Camp Torres at 3.15pm to be greeted by a friendly young ranger. This is operated by CONAF and is one of several free campsites. It’s simple, but free is free. We were at an altitude of around 500m and there was some snow and ice on the ground. Clearly this would be a cold night ahead.
We setup camp and caught our breath for a minute before starting the trek up to the viewpoint for the towers. This is listed as 1 km one way and about 45 minutes time with about 300m of elevation gain. The trail is steep and rocky but the reward at the top is more than worth it.
We spent around 1 hour or more up there enjoying the views knowing we probably wouldn’t go up for sunrise the next morning, which is a very popular thing to do. The wind was strong and cold, so we headed back to camp for dinner and sleep.
2014-11-01 – Day 2 – Torres to Italiano (6 hours – 19.7km)
We got on the trail today at around 8.30am as it was going to be a long day with heavy packs. Getting on the trail before many others was a bonus as we spotted a deer having an early morning snack.
We would spend the first hour or two hiking back towards Hotel las Torres. As you start the steep descent, you need to look out for the shortcut on your right heading towards Cuernos and Italiano. This should save several kilometres of hiking and get you off the path of the day hikers coming up from the hotel.
Today would be another treat as we got blue skies to light our way and shine the best colours from the lakes.
We arrived at Los Cuernos around 2pm. Probably a slow pace, but we stopped multiple times to soak in the views and take photos. We stopped for some lunch on an outdoor picnic table where what we think is a Falcon would keep a close eye out for any scraps.
We continued onto Camp Italiano (another 5km) with a couple of not so fun uphill sections. This camp is also run by CONAF and is free. We arrived at 5pm after a truly scenic day of hiking.
2014-11-02 – Day 3 – Italiano to Mirador (3 hours – 11km)
Today was set to be our lazy day. We would stay at Italiano for a second night, meaning we only had a day hike up to the Britanico lookout with no heavy packs. We slept in and ate a late breakfast in an empty cooking area.
We reached our first mirador/lookout after just under 1 hour of hiking. We both think this was some of the best views of the day. With the sun on the glaciers they were a little noisy if you were patient enough. Most people also skip straight past here, so it’s fairly quiet, perfect!
We arrived to the final viewpoint after about 2 hours of hiking. The trail is quiet rough with a lot of rocks, so come with some energy. There were around 15 people at the viewpoint when we arrived, so not exactly the tranquil scene we were hoping for. The views were nice, but it was quite windy on the final viewing rocks even with blasting sun shining down. We stayed up here for over an hour working on our tans as best we could.
2014-11-03 – Day 4 – Italiano to Grey (5 hours – 19km)
The forecast for today was for the weather to close in and get worse so we got on the trail at 7.45am. Dora was also hoping to get to Grey before the weather so she could kayak next to the Glaciar at 1pm. Sadly luck would not be on our side as strong winds and rain would cover us for our last hour heading into Grey.
The first section was walking towards the popular Paine Grande hotel where the catamaran shuttles people in and out of the park. This is roughly 8km and took us 1hr 45 minutes while avoiding sets of day hikers trying to kill us with their poles.
Hikers hint: There is free wifi at Paine Grande. We know you’re meant to be in the wilderness here, but a quick check of the outside world is kind of nice. Plus it was useful to get an up to date weather check for the next couple of days.
The hike to grey would take about 3 hours with the strong wind and rain blowing against us. There was a fire in the area caused by a camper starting an illegal fire a couple of years ago. The evidence was still very clear of the damage it caused.
When we arrived at Grey we made use of the really nice indoor kitchen area to cook a hot lunch and avoid some rain. We then went to the viewpoint of the Glaciar about 10 minutes walk out of camp. There is a bit of trail and then it disappears in the rocks. Lots of people tend to just wander around from what we can tell. We strongly suggest trying to get as close to the Glaciar as you can for the best views, but take care.
There were some large icebergs that had broken off the glaciar just floating in the lake. Even with the super strong winds, they didn’t move an inch.
2014-11-04 – Day 5 – Grey to Los Perros (6.5 hours – 14km) Day of Pain in Paine
Having heard all the stories, we decided we were ready to tackle the O circuit. We weren’t ready to see no other hikers all day and witness such amazing scenery. We got on the trail a little late at about 9am and it would take 3 hours to get to Camp Paso.
Along the way we would stop countless times for photos. At one point we found the CONAF sign showing the trail closure laying down on the side of the trail which we decided to ignore. Rumours along the way of why the trail was closed included mud, snow, broken ladders and closed refugios/campgrounds which we encountered along the way.
Continuing along the trail we’d been told about ladders, but hadn’t quite expected what we found. There were two sets of ladders creating a slightly easier route across a carved out ravine. You wouldn’t want to be overweight climbing on these. The ladders weren’t necessarily stable either and were partly broken.
We continued the steady climb next to the Glacier with magnificent views (the best of the trek). We didn’t realize the enormous size of the glacier until we walked around it.
We then reached Camp Paso. This is where we weren’t sure what was going to happen and if rangers were going to turn us around. The plan was to get here and hope we could go past. We dropped our heavy packs and started eating our lunch when a ranger approached us asking us where we came from. Oh no here we go, we were certain he was going to turn us around. We told him we’d come from Grey and were hoping to do the full circuit. He said to us – I think you should keep going and do the pass today as tomorrow isn’t going to be good weather. We couldn’t believe it! Instead of being turned around and being told it was closed the ranger encouraged us to keep on going. Well we were not going to say no to this since others had been turned back and decided to get going before they changed their mind.
Leaving the camp the marker says 4.5 hours and 12km to Camp Los Perros. The first couple of kilometres are fairly flat and easy and then you start the steep climb. The climb goes from roughly 430m to the peak of the pass at 1,180m across around 2.5km of distance. The path in general is not so easy and in many parts quite slippery. This was the most difficult part of the trek as it was very steep and quite difficult walking with heavy packs on a slant for hours. After 45 minutes we reached a marker saying we were halfway up the hill. Do not believe it as it’s a lie and we were probably only a third of the way. The signs in the park are rarely accurate, so use them as a guide and no more. We came up with the theory whoever was carrying the signs felt tired a third of the way up so just planted it down there thinking it was good enough.
There was even a rope to help us up in one section. Rodora nearly accidentally got tangled up in the rope as she used one to help her get up and then her bag got caught in the other.
This is when we received our first glimpse of the pass we needed to cross and the snow on the ground began. The pass was marked with orange markers. If you can’t see these due to a white out then turn back as you could easily get lost up there.
At first the snow was quite compact so it was easy to hike on and quite fun. But then the fun slowly disappeared as the snow became deeper and deeper and we were seeing footprints almost knee deep.
We reached the top about 2 hours 15 minutes after leaving Camp Paso.
Unfortunately the weather was closing in on us with big black clouds, cold temperatures, increasing wind and even some light snow and ice on our faces. We knew we had to hike fast to not get stuck and lost up there.
The markers seemed to be getting less and less. Some places we had to just follow the footprints in the snow to get to the next marker. Rodora found the easiest way was to run as quick as she could down to the next market so she didn’t sink in and fall waist deep in the snow. Toby had a different approach of following footprints firmly planted in the snow.
At the bottom was a beautiful river still covered in snow.
We were excited that we’d done it, but unfortunately celebrated too early. The trail got worse and worse. We followed what we later found out to be an old marker on a rock that pointed us to the wrong side of the river and an old trail not used for some time. We took this across the river then followed the footprints and very few orange markers we could find. There were many footprints in the mud, snow, swamp and many led to nowhere and were complete circles. We kept going playing a game of find the marker with the mud getting thicker to a point where if you stepped in the wrong place you would instantly sink into the mud and have to grab a branch to pull yourself back out again. This was not a fun game of stuck in the mud. It was not pretty. We were not sure where we were and how this could possibly be the path.
Photo of Toby’s shoes covered in mud (Rodora’s were worse as she fell more than knee deep in places)
After about another hour we finally reached the bottom of the river. Here we had to cross back over. There was a rope that helped us cross. Rodora had trouble reaching this rope and half fell in. Rodora didn’t care though as it was a good way to clean her clothes.
We then went through a forest to reach the campsite. When we arrived we met another hiker Josh who had come from Grey on the same day and followed the same trail as us. The rangers explained to us that we all had taken the old trail and should have never crossed the river. They took some pity on us as they let us put our wet clothes and shoes in their ranger office next to the fire to dry overnight.
The campsite at Los Perros is quite basic. No hot showers and some not so nice toilets. They’d just finished building a kitchen/cooking building which had some potential and nice to get out of the rain.
2014-11-05 – Day 6 – Los Perros to Seron (8 hours – 29.3km)
This would be a long day and with overnight rain we had wet shoes, socks and a wet tent. We hit the trail at 9am after failing to try and dry things. Only 10 minutes out of camp you come across Glaciar Los Perros. It’s quite nice to look at, but nothing compared to the previous day.
At about 2 hours 30 minutes into the hike we reached the mirador looking back into the valley.
We reached Camp Dickson (10km) after about 3 hours 30 minutes of hiking. We debated whether we should stay the night or push onwards to get to Seron. The benefit of Dickson is we could dry our stuff if the weather was nice. The problem is that the next day to hike out of the park would be 36km, or stay an extra night in the park at Seron. We chose to get to Seron so we could hike out the following day. This was a lot of punishment on Toby’s feet. Hiking in wet socks and shoes for such a long distance is really not recommended.
It would take us around 5 hours to get to Seron and finish the remaining 19km. There were a couple of tough hills to climb but for the most part is was quite flat. We even got lucky and got to watch some Condors get really close to us.
Seron is horrifyingly overpriced for what it is. 7,500 pesos ($12.50) for a campsite with no cooking or undercover areas. Apparently the fee is mostly for hot water; but why not charge separately for those wanting it. We were less than 24 hours away from the hostel, clean clothes and hot showers.
2014-11-06 – Day 7 – Seron to Natales (3.5 hours – 16.4km)
This is it; the last dash to get out. This trail has a shortcut to get from Seron to the main entrance and bus stop. We actually almost missed it as we tried to follow a road up a hill. This shortcut saves you climbing some unnecessary hills and shaves off around 3-5 kilometres of walking. There wasn’t anything particularly scenic in the walk and we were keen just to get out of the park.
We got to the ranger station early and sat on some seats waiting for the bus to arrive.
Amazing! We’d done it. The full O circuit in 6 nights / 7 days and around 127km in total of trekking.
What did it cost?
Return bus to the park: 12,000 pesos each
Entrance to the park: 18,000 pesos each
Food: 14,500 pesos each
Gas for stove: 1,500 pesos each
Grey camping: 4,300 pesos each
Los Perros camping: 4,300 pesos each
Seron camping: 7,500 pesos each
Total of 62,100 pesos each (USD$105)
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/