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Torres del Paine Treks: The Terrific Three

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Massive glaciers, breathtaking mountain ranges, dense forests, churning rivers, and turquoise lakes as far as the eye can see - these are just some of the magic you’ll witness inside Torres del Paine National Park. The sprawling 227,298-hectare of land in Chile; a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a recently declared eighth wonder of the world, is also home to three gigantic rock towers called Los Torres, from which it gets its name.

Located in the Chilean Patagonia, it is home to some of the best hikes and treks in Patagonia. Hikers and trekkers from every corner of the globe come to Torres del Paine National Park to explore the more famous Torres del Paine Treks which includes the 3 following treks:

  1. The W Circuit
  2. The O Circuit, also known as the Full Circuit
  3. The Q Circuit. 

Bring your adventurous spirit and prepare for an extraordinaire Torres Del Paine trekking experience - a must do when in Chile. Below we’re giving you a snapshot overview of each of the 3 treks:

1. The W Circuit

Glacier Grey in Torres del Paine
Glacier Grey and the Grey Lagoon as seen on the W trek in Torres del Paine

The more famous of the three, the W trek gets its name from the shape of the route. This squiggly trail leads to Glacier Grey, Glacier Frances, Valle de Frances, and of course the 3 towers, Los Torres. Accommodations suited for all budget types and travelers are available inside the trail.

Quick Facts

  • Duration: 4-6 days covering 60 km
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Max Altitude: 1100 meters at French Valley
  • Permits required: Yes
  • Accommodation: Camping, shelters/lodges, known as refugios, and luxury hotels
  • Best Season: Spring (September - November) & Summer (November - early March)
  • Accessible during Winter: Yes, but only when accompanied by a guide.

Highlights

  • The trail leads through the heart of the breathtaking Cordillera del Paine mountain range, which includes the famed Los Torres and Cuernos (Horns) del Paine and Glacier Grey.
  • The trekking trail features plenty of refugios, a hostel type shared accommodation shelters. Camping is an option too.

Lowlights

  • The Torres Del Paine W Trek is the most popular and well-known trail. It’s therefore more crowded. The camps and refugios often full during peak season. Reservations are recommended to be made months in advance.
  • You do not see the isolated backside of the park, which is known for its stunningly rugged beauty.

For a more detailed information on this trek route, including itineraries check out our guide to Torres del Paine W Trek!! If the trek entices you, please check out available W Trek tours on our website.

2. The O Circuit

Lake Pehoe in torres del paine
A breathtaking sight of Lake Pehoe during the O trek in Torres del Paine

Also known as the full circuit, the O circuit is physically more challenging than the W circuit and requires athleticism and endurance, making it a lesser journeyed trail. This trek encompasses the entire W circuit creating a full loop, and allowing access to the more remote and wild backside of the park. Accommodations are available along the trail.

Quick Facts

  • Duration: 6-10 days covering 110 km
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Max Altitude: 1200 meters
  • Permits required: Yes
  • Accommodation: Camping, shelters/lodges, known as refugios, and luxury hotels (only in parts that overlap with the W trek). One night of camping is required while at the backside of the park.
  • Best Season: Spring (September - November) & Summer (November - early March)
  • Accessible during Winter: No

Highlights

  • Maximum of 80 people are allowed on the backside of Los Torres each day, allowing trekkers to enjoy the scenic vistas in a less crowded atmosphere.
  • A day hike next to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field is an experience only available in the O trek.

Lowlight

  • Trekkers have to resort to at least one night of camping.

For a more detailed information on this trek route, including itineraries check out our guide to Torres del Paine O Circuit!! If you want to cover this trek on a guided tour, make a pick from our list of Full Circuit treks.

3. The Q Circuit

The lesser known of the three treks, the Q circuit offers a slightly different trail variation and is fit for those who want to push the O circuit envelope. The Q circuit follows the same route as the O, apart from the first day. Day 1 has you starting with a 5-6 hour walk from the Serano Visitors Center in the park to Refugio Paine Grande, which is relatively easy and along mostly flat ground. Day 2 has you following the O Circuit for the rest of the trek.

Quick Facts

  • Duration: 7-11 days covering 127 km
  • Difficulty Level: Hard
  • Max Altitude: 1200 meters
  • Permits required: Yes
  • Accommodation: Camping, shelters/lodges, known as refugios, and luxury hotels (in parts that overlap with the W trek)
  • Best Season: Spring (September – November) & Summer (November – early March)
  • Accessible during Winter: No

Highlights

  • Experience the best of O circuit and then some more.
  • Cordillera Paine and Lake Pehoe, including some wonderful photo opportunities.
  • The first day of trekking is a route less ventured, meaning you don’t have to share the wilderness with many people.

Lowlight

  • This is the longest trek in the Torres del Paine National Park. If you are not physically fit, the extra day may be strenuous.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to trek in Torres del Paine, largely depends on the experience the trekker wants to have.

  • Winter (June – early September) sees a lot of snow, rain and unpredictable weather with the temperatures between -3°to 5° C (27° -  41°F). Besides, only the W circuit is accessible with a guide and most of the refugios and campsites are closed down.
  • Summer (November –  early March) brings sunny weather with temperatures from 12 to 15°C (54 – 58 F). This is also the most popular time to visit, so be prepared for crowds.
  • Spring (September – November) has the park in full bloom, has less crowd and lower prices, but the winds drop the temperatures to 1 to 3° C (34 – 37 F).
  • Fall (March – May) is a special time to witness the fall foliage. Temperatures are typically between 12 to 6°C (55 – 43 F) during the day and it’s usually less windy than spring.

Accommodation Details

Camping in Torres del Paine
Camping is the cheapest accommodation option while trekking in Torres del Paine

 Torres Del Paine has the following accommodation types available in its 3 treks

  • Camping
    • Camping sites are available for free or for a small fee ranging from USD 5 to USD 6 per night, but they must be reserved in advance.
    • Proof of campsite reservation (printed or on smartphones) is mandatory when entering a camp site; free as well as paid.
    • Camping equipment can be rented.
    • Some of these campsites also provide meals for a small fee. Full board, which includes the camp site fee and three meals cost approx. USD 40.
  • Refugios
    • Refugios are more expensive than campsites, and provide a higher level of comfort, offering dorm beds, shared bathrooms, bed gear rental, hot meals, common lounges to relax in, and small supplies stores.
    • Fully-made bed and full board costs around USD 81 - USD 112 per night. A simple bed, costs around USD 30 - USD 57 per night.
    • Reservation in advance is mandatory.
  • Luxury
    • Luxury accommodations offer high-end facilities such as decked out rooms, hot tubs, bar and gourmet meals.
    • Costs around USD 120 - USD 310 per night.
    • Reservation is a must.

The popular W circuit features more diverse accommodation options which includes campsites, refugios, and luxury lodges. The part of the O circuit that doesn’t cover the W Circuit features campsites and only one refugio. The Q circuit accommodation options are the same as the O Circuit.

Note: For the best rates and availability, reservations should be made at least 6 months in advance if you plan to visit during the high season.

What to Pack

trekkers in Torres del Paine
Trekkers hike up a hill on their trek in Torres del Paine

The mantra is to pack light, but efficiently. Below we have some of the must haves for a Torres del Paine trek.

  • breathable under shirt
  • a Dry-Fit t-shirt or long-sleeved shirt (it needs to be able to dry quickly!)
  • waterproof windbreaker or breathable jacket
  • waterproof pants
  • waterproof hiking boots with no slip soles
  • breathable hiking socks
  • hat and gloves
  • sunscreen
  • sunglasses
  • water bottles (bottles can be refilled with water up stream)
  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • trekking backpack/daypack

For those who plan to camp and want to save some money should also pack:

  • tent
  • sleeping bag
  • sleeping mat
  • snacks like nuts, dried fruit, and beef jerky

Entrance Fee

Park entrance fee is paid in cash, in Chilean Peso, at the time of entrance to the park.

High season (1st October – 30th April)

  • Adult = CH $21
  • Child (6 – 16 years old) = CH $6

Low season (1st May - 30th September)

  • Adult = CH $11
  • Child (6 – 16 years old) = CH $1

Note: Prices listed are as per August, 2017.

Transportation

The starting point for the park is typically Puerto Natales, which is 112km from the entrance. Buses are available twice a day shuttling people to the park gates. The journey takes 2.5 hours and a return bus ticket is approx. USD 25.

Once inside the park, there are catamaran boats that can connect you to the Grande Paine Campsite and Refugio from Pudeto Port. This will deliver you directly inside the W Circuit. A two-way journey cost around USD 46.

Tour or Solo

While the well-traveled and clearly marked routes on these treks make them one of those journeys where a guided tour (like this one) isn’t deemed necessary, the routes can be overwhelming for new visitors to the national park or for those who aren’t confident about their navigational skills. Moreover, during unforeseen emergency situations like a man-made forest fire or adverse weather conditions, an experienced guide will definitely come in handy.

Experiencing and conquering any one of these Torres del Paine Treks is most definitely an accomplishment of a lifetime. Torres Del Paine’s beauty is unparalleled and no amount of words can do it justice. The only way to truly know what it’s like is to experience it for yourself!

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