Torres del Paine
The Torres del Paine National Park is one of the most famous places in Chile, in addition to being well-known worldwide. And there is no wonder why! The amazing views and sights of this place are a delight for the senses. Turquoise colored lakes, glaciers, forests and the unmistakable silhouette of the Paine towers make this destination a must-visit for any backpacker. Here we will cover the route commonly known as the "O" route, which includes all the points of the most traveled route in the park, the "W" route, so if you plan to do the latter, you can find useful information in this article.Share this destination:
Duration: 8-10 days
Distance: 118 km
Physical Difficulty: Medium/High
Technical Difficulty: Low
AccessThis adventure has its starting point in Puerto Natales, a small city close to the park. To get to Puerto Natales you can take a bus from the city of Punta Arenas. The round-trip ticket has a cost of CLP 11.000, and the trip takes around 3 hrs. Once in Puerto Natales, you can take another bus to the park. Buses go to the park and return on a daily basis, with a cost of CLP 5.000 (one-way ticket). It is worth noting that the last bus leaves Puerto Natales (to the park) at 14:30 between December and February, in which case if one plans to do the trip Punta Arenas-Puerto Natales-Torres del Paine on a single day one must take the bus in Punta Arenas early in the morning. It is also worth noting here that an airport is being constructed in Puerto Natales, so additional access options to the city will be available in the near future. Buses heading to the park will leave us in the Laguna Amarga gatehouse, which is a 1 hour walk away from Las Torres inn, starting point of the route. You will also have the option to take a minibus from the gatehouse to the inn. The entrance fee in high season is CLP 18.000 for adult foreigners and CLP 500 for children. For more information on the park's fees you can check its website, www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl.The RouteThis route has an expected time of 8 days, duration that can vary in case you decide to do additional sections or remove sections from the circuit. For instance, you may add the trek to the Dickson glacier (1 day), or if you are short of time remove the Valle del Frances section (1 day). The main obstacle of this route is that it is physically demanding and, if you are unlucky, the weather may factor in as well. The challenge of doing an ascent (and descent) of over 600 mts in a single day with a heavy backpack on our shoulders should not be underestimated. Other obstacles of this route, for backpackers with a short budget, are the costs of doing it; campsites are relatively expensive for Chilean standards, added to the costs of getting to and from the park, among others. The costs of each of the campsites are detailed below in this article.The effort has nonetheless its reward: one of the most beautiful places that can be found on earth. It is not for nothing that Torres del Paine receives thousands of travelers and backpackers from around the world each year. During this journey you will walk through forests, hills and mountain passes, in addition to seeing beautiful lakes and glaciers. The challenge of walking along emblematic sections like the John Gardner mountain pass promise to be an unforgettable experience.This route has 8 sections:1.- Las Torres inn - Campsite Chileno
2.- Campsite Chileno - Campsite Seron
3.- Campsite Seron - Campsite Dickson
4.- Campsite Dickson - Campsite Los Perros
5.- Campsite Los Perros - Grey glacier
6.- Grey glacier - Campsite Paine Grande
7.- Campsite Paine Grande - Campsite Italiano
8.- Campsite Italiano - Las Torres inn
Section N°1The first section of this route has a distance of 11 km and an expected time of 5 hrs. It is in this section where you will do the ascent to the base of the towers, after walking along a steep trail. This is an ascent of over 1.000 mts. Luckily, it is not necessary to carry your backpack with you all the way to the top, since you can leave it in the Chileno campsite, which is located in the way to the base. However, you still have to do a 500 mts ascent to this campsite, therefore it is important to be mentally prepared for a relatively tough first day. Once you reach the base of the towers you will be able to enjoy an outstanding view to the lagoon and the 3 imposing towers behind it. This section ends with the descent to the Chileno campsite, where you can make camp and spend the night. This campsite has a cost of CLP 4.000 per person. As an alternative, you can camp in the Las Torres campsite, which is free of cost and is located closer to the base of the towers. However, staying in this campsite implicates a greater distance to be covered the next day, which already has an expected time of 6 hrs.This is by far the most traveled trail of the park, therefore it is likely to encounter other people along the way. In order to have a good view of the lagoon and towers one must do the ascent in a clear day. Given that the weather in this region is unpredictable, it is recommended to do this section the first day if it happens to be clear, or leave it to the last day in case it is too cloudy.Section N°2This section has a distance of 18 km and an expected time of 6 hrs, starting with the descent from the Chileno campsite back to Las Torres inn. From this point you will walk through wide open areas, forests, water streams and areas where the effect of a relatively recent fire are evident, particularly the opposite bank of the Paine river. Although this section may seem simple and easy on paper, it might surprise many backpackers as one of the toughest sections of the route. Our shoulders, unaccustomed to bear heavy weight, start to resent our backpacks and the previous day walk. This section ends in the Seron campsite, where you can have a good rest and make camp. This campsite has a cost of CLP 7.000 per person.Section N°3This section covers a distance of 18 km and has an expected time of 6 hrs. Ascents and descents will accompany you along the trail, less regular than the previous one. You will be able to see the Paine lagoon, Los Perros glacier and the northern view of the Torres del Paine massif. The section ends in the Dickson campsite, which has a cost of CLP 4.300 per person.
Section N°4This section has a distance of 11 km and an expected time of 4,5 hrs, and includes an ascent of 350 mts. From the Dickinson campsite the trail immerses in dense forests in direction to the Los Perros river valley and the campsite of the same name. Beautiful panoramic views to the Los Perros glacier and its lagoon, usually filled with floating ice, are some of the highlights of this section. Once you reach the campsite, you can leave your backpack there and head to the viewpoint of the glacier, which is only 20 min away. The Los Perros campsite is immersed in a beautiful forest of lengas and has a cost of CLP 4.300 per person.Section N°5This section has a distance of 14 km and an expected time of 9 hrs (to the Grey campsite) and is for many the toughest section of the route, including the ascent and crossing of the emblematic John Gardner mountain pass. It is a 600 mts ascent to the pass, and a 1.000 mts descent from it. This section starts in the Los Perros campsite, where the forest trail starts to turn into rocky and steeper terrain as you advance. It is a 3 hr trek from the campsite to the John Gardner pass, at 1.200 masl. At this point, the effort and struggle during the ascent are rewarded with one of the most amazing and breathtaking panoramic views of the circuit: the Grey glacier and the Campos de Hielo Sur ice fields stretching to the horizon. An abrupt descent comes afterwards, walking down a steep trail that starts to get deep into the forest, always with the view of the glacier ahead. The trail continues southwards, parallel to the glacier.In this section you have the alternative to make camp in the El Paso campsite, which is free of cost, or continue to the Grey campsite, which is located 5 hrs away and has a cost of CLP 4.300 per person.Section N°6This section has a distance and expected time of 16 km and 8 hrs in case you made camp in El Paso, and 10 km and 3,5 hrs in case you did it in the Grey campsite. Along the trail you will pass along a series of viewpoints of the glacier and its lagoon, as well as the beautiful emerald-colored Pehoe lake. The Paine Grande campsite is located in the border of the lake, and has a cost of CLP 4.000 per person.
Section N°7This section covers a distance of 18 km and has an expected time of 7,5 hrs, with the trek to Valle del Frances (french valley) as its highlight, being one of the most beautiful places in the park. The trail starts in the Paine Grande campsite heading northeast to the Italiano campsite. Beautiful panoramic views of the Paine Grande massif can be enjoyed along the way. Once you reach the Italiano campsite, which is free of cost, you can leave your backpack and continue your way to the valley and the ascent to the La Piedra viewpoint. The trail passes through beautiful forests of lengas and mountainous terrain, with views of Paine Grande, Frances glacier and the Nordenskjold, Pehoe and Toro lakes. The day ends with the return to the Italiano campsite.Section N°8The last section of the circuit has a distance of 13 km and an expected time of 6 to 7 hrs. The trail advances with the walls of the Paine massif to the left and the Nordenskjold lake to the right. The section ends in the Las Torres inn, starting and ending point of the circuit. If you left the trek to the base of the towers for the last day, you can make camp in the Las Torres campsite (CLP 7.000), right next to the inn, and do the ascent the next day. It is a 1 hr walk from Las Torres inn to the Laguna Amarga gatehouse (or take a minibus), where buses leave to Puerto Natales at 14:30 and 19:45.
Precautions and Recommendations
1. Best Season: Summer. The weather, although improves, remains unpredictable, being normal to have both sunny and rainy days during this season. This is one the most famous trekking routes in the world, therefore is recommended to do the circuit in November or December, when the number of visitors is lower.2. Food: Although there is access to food products in some of the park's campsites, this alternative is attractive for backpackers with no budget restrictions since these products are much more expensive in the park compared to the cities. If you want to save money, the best alternative is to buy food in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales and carry it with you to the park. It is recommended to bring dehydrated food, since it weights less.4. Gear: The weather in the park is variable, therefore one has to be prepared for rainy days. It is recommended to have a good pair of waterproof trekking boots, a raincoat (or waterproof jacket) and a windbreaker. It is ideal to bring separable trekking trousers, which adapt to both hot and cold days.6. Physical Condition: This is a challenging route, being physically demanding with sections of more than 6 hrs of walking in addition to steep ascents and descents. It is also a long circuit, therefore it is ideal to be in good physical condition. It is advisable to prepare yourself for this route doing treks that include ascents and descents over hills or mountains, in order to evaluate your capacity to do the sections described above as well as your capacity to walk during long periods of time.7. Trash and Fire: DON'T leave any kind of trash or garbage in the route, nor make a campfire under any circumstances (for cooking use a portable gas stove). Also don't interfere in any way with the local flora and fauna. Be a responsible backpacker and contribute to make sure nature is well cared for!