2017 Torres del Paine - Patagonia, Chile
What is it:
Patagonia is a huge region towards the southern tip of South America that
is shared by Argentina and Chile. The Torres del Paine is a national park within
Patagonia in Chile. There are two main long hikes in the Torres del Paine area,
the "W Circuit" which is towards the front of the park, and the "O Circuit"
which is a loop that includes the W Circuit but also visits the back side of
Torres area. Here is a
The "W" is the bottom half that looks like a "W" and the "O" is the whole thing
marked in orange. You are only allowed to go around the "O" in a
counter-clockwise direction, and they limit the number of people allowed per
day. The "W" is more accessible.
The main attraction of the trip is the namesake "Torres del Paine" which translates to "Blue
Towers". They are huge stone towers above a bright blue colored lake. You will
also see the Gray Glacier, a massive ice flow that is hard to comprehend until
you see it. The whole area is pretty spectacular. I would rank this as the most
jaw dropping trip that I've been on to date.
We hiked from January 27th to Feb 3rd, 2017. There were also several days of
travel time on either end of hiking, and our whole trip consumed about two weeks
of time. January is the middle of the summer in the southern hemisphere. Because
Patagonia is so far south the weather is mild even in mid summer. We had highs
in the 60's, with nighttime temperatures above freezing (40's) Fahrenheit. We had
a half day of drizzly rain, and a few brief rain storms, however most of the trip was
sunny and pleasantly cool. Patagonia is notorious for ferocious winds and we did
experience some. As with most mountainous regions the weather is unpredictable
and you need to be prepared for anything.
As of the 2017 season you MUST make lodging reservations ahead of time to enter
the park for anything other than day trips, and you must have camping
reservations to enter the back parts of the park. If you wish to do the full "O
circuit" you must have camping reservations for either Refugio Dickson, or the
Los Perros campsite. Reservations fill up fast and if you don't have one they
will not allow you to enter the back part of the park. You also need
reservations ahead of time for every night you intend to be in the park.
You might be thinking you can get away with stealth camping, or that there won't
be much enforcement. In many other popular destinations around the world, and in
the US it is sometimes rare to run into a ranger beyond the park entrance. Not so
here. They have park guards stationed at checkpoints throughout the park, and
they will grill you on your itinerary and make you show your reservations. If
you do not have them they will turn you back or escort you out of the park. If
you show up at the front gate too late in the day and do not have overnight
reservations you don't get in.
We didn't realize how strict the requirements were, and we were not able to make
camping reservations for the back side of the "O" circuit before our trip. I was
able to complete most of the circuit by piecing together camping and Refugio
reservations from Camp Seron in the East, to the top of John Gardner Pass in the
West. The only reason I was able to climb John Gardner pass from the west
(clockwise) is because I started super early and the Camp Paso guard allowed me
to go up and back as a day trip. Totally worth it- looking down on Grey Glacier
from above was the highlight of my trip.
The Torres del Paine park is a tourist destination complete with many lodges,
Refugios (hostels), and camping. The Refugios and lodges offer showers, meals, sometimes a bar, and sometimes Wifi. It is not a wilderness
experience although it is a stunning landscape.
Many of the campsites and Refugios are privately run, and reservations need to
be made with whichever company owns them.
are the main
two and they can be booked online. A few of the campsites are run by the park
service, CONAF, but it is harder to get those spots.
Chile is a Spanish speaking country, but most of the Chileans we met spoke at
least a little bit of English if not fluent English. There were also tons of
other adventurers from around the world, many of whom spoke some English. We didn't
have any issue with the language barrier.
Expect meals and lodging to be similar in price to a touristy destination in the
US. It is a nice area and it is not inexpensive.
We flew to the town of Punta Arenas, Chile, and from there took a bus about 3.5
hours north to
Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales is a small seaside town with many hostels and
restaurants and a laid back atmosphere. It is a great place to spend a day
before and/or after your trip. You'll probably meet some friendly street dogs
which roam free throughout town.
From Puerto Natales you will need to take another bus about 2 more hours north
to the Torres del Paine park entrance. From there it is another short shuttle to
the "Refugio Las Torres Central" area. There are several lodges, camping, a camp
store, and a restaurant in the vicinity. We started and ended our walk there.
If you are doing the "W" instead of the full circuit, there is a ferry that you
can take across Lago Pehoe, and a bus that will take you from there back to the
entrance area. Or you can take a ferry across Lago Grey and catch a bus to the
entrance from there.
Logistics / Resupply
The Torres del Paine park has refugios spaced out
every half day or so. Most of them serve meals and some have snacks or a camp
store. You don't have to carry much food if you are willing to pay for food as
you go, though it is fairly expensive. If you do the back side of the "O"
circuit you'll need to carry food for that couple day section, but there is a
camp store and meals at Refugio Gray.
The biggest challenge is getting there, and making sure you have an itinerary
with reservations for each night.
The trails in the park are well maintained, well marked, and
easy to follow. There are some steep sections, big climbs, and some rocky
sections that might be tricky in wet weather. Overall it is pretty moderate and
you'll probably be too busy looking at all the amazing views to notice the hard
Tour Du Mont Blanc Gear List:
This is the gear list that I would take if I were to do any three-season thru-hike today.