How to Visit Torres del Paine: Things to Consider When Planning a Trip to Patagonia
This is part of a three entry series, click here to see the entire collection on Torres Del Paine
Patagonia is the ultimate frontier, the end of the world… and also the logo on all my jackets. I had heard rumors of ridiculously strong winds and the breathtaking views – but my eight days on the O-circuit in Torres del Paine (TDP) exceeded all these expectations in the best of ways. If you’re contemplating going to TDP, this guide will assist you in deciding how you want to see the park, as there are many options!
Torres del Paine is one of the southern most points in South America, and boasts endless natural highlights like giant glacial ice fields, jagered ice-capped mountains, and sepia-colored meadows that require #nofilter. It’s honestly one of the wildest parks I have ever visited, and spending eight days there was a highlight of my South America trip.
when to go
We went in the last week of February and were extremely lucky with the weather. It was blue skies every day, and it only rained a total of one hour on the very last day of the hike! This is totally unheard of, as most people I talked to experienced most of their time in overcast, rainy skies and/or turbulent wind.
For that reason, I would only suggest going in January or February when you have the best chance of good weather. The only downside of this is that it’s high season and the park is flooded with tourists. Maybe consider the first two weeks of March, but the weather gets rapidly more unpredictable after February. I have also heard earlier in the season (late November and December) can be nice, though residual snow is almost certain. The one hour of rain we did get was absolutely MISERABLE, and if our hike had more of that I’m not sure I would feel as positively about the trip.
comparison: o-circuit, w-trek, or day trips?
What you do will depend largely on your goals, so I’ve highlighted the pros and cons of each option.
O-Circuit (the hike we did)
Way less people on the trail (maybe 20 or so at each campsite)
More beautiful scenery than the W-trek
Less wind for the first 4 days
More scenic campsites
Longest hike in TDP at 8+ days (could also be a con depending on the person)
Need to book six months in advance if you want to get the best route and campsites
Need your own camping equipment (tent, camp stove etc.)*
Need to carry all your food for 8 days*
Long hike (8+ days), so you have to be somewhat physically fit
*There are options to purchase food and rent equipment at almost all campsites (excluding CONAF sites), but this is expensive and will significantly increase the cost of your trip. See my logistics post for an easy-to-use camping menu and gear recommendations.
W-Trek (the second half of the O-Circuit)
Don’t need to book campsites that far in advance – you may even get lucky and get last minutes spots a few days before you plan to hike
Shorter trek, suitable for the less experienced hikers
Campsites have more amenities, like hot showers and options to purchase meals
Way too many people, to the point of being unenjoyable
Scenery not as good as the O-circuit
Campsites more fancy, so kind of takes away from the rustic feel of camping
No advance reservations needed
Expensive bus transfers to and from TDP, especially if you're going for more than one day
Time consuming transfers; it’s 1.5 hours to the TDP park entrance from Puerto Natales, and that doesn’t include any internal shuttles or ferries
Limited access to trails, many of which are deeper into the park
how far in advance do you need to reserve campsties?
We reserved our campsites six months in advance, and were able to get all the dates and campsites we wanted. From speaking with other people on the O-circuit, this was somewhat of a feat! Only one other couple had the same reservations as us – everyone else had weird reservations because they were not able to get the right campsites, meaning they had to compensate with longer days of hiking (11hrs+). The hardest campsites to get are the CONAF ones as they are free and in the most logical locations for the O-circuit, so I suggest booking a minimum of six months in advance for high season (Jan-Feb).
I've outlined how much it cost us to do the O-circuit. All costs are per person (unless otherwise indicated), currency in Chilean pesos (CLP) or USD. If you're not doing the O-circuit, you can use the below as a guide as some of the costs will still apply (e.g. park fees, transportation, certain campgrounds).
Torres del Paine park entrance fee: 21,000 CLP
Bus Punta Arenas (airport) to Puerto Natales: 8,000 CLP
Bus Puerto Natales to TDP: 15,000 CLP (round-trip)
Shuttle bus from TDP entrance to trailhead: 6,000 CLP (3,000 each way)
Seron: 13,000 CLP
Dickson: $8 USD
Los Perros: $8 USD
Paine Grande: $10 USD
Centro/Los Torres: 13,000 CLP
For information and links to book campgrounds, see the O-circuit and W-trek logistics post.
76,260 CLP for 2 people for 8 days.
This is made up of food we bought from the grocery store and carried in.
We did not purchase any food inside the park.
TOTAL (8 days): 124,990 CLP (approx: $202 USD)
That’s only $25/day per person to hike one of the most famous national parks in the world!
If you have the vacation time, are of average fitness, and ready for an adventure with some mind-blowing scenery, I strongly recommend you do the O-circuit. What made it so special is that we shared it with so few people. The backcountry is only accessible on the O – not the W or any day hikes – which meant we had it all to ourselves most of the time. When we crossed over into paths shared with the W (the last four days of the O), it became a lot less enjoyable: you always had someone hiking close to you, and sometimes there would be a traffic jam of people on the path. Guided tours are also allowed on the W, which meant there were sometimes groups of 20+ people (usually walking very slowly) along the path.
The scenery on the O-circuit is also much nicer, and the wind was never an issue for us. For the first four days we didn’t get any strong winds, and started to wonder what all the fuss was about… but when we crossed the pass (and joined paths with the W), the wind got so bad that Matt got physically swept off his feet once. Our tent poles also got bent by the wind; a comparatively lucky outcome compared to many other people's tents who were broken beyond repair.
I know what you’re thinking: eight days is SO LONG. I can’t do an eight day hike!
You’re right, eight days is a freaking long hike. Prior to the O, the longest hike I had ever done was four days, and after that I was completely burnt out. But in Torres del Paine you have access to amenities like hot showers and flushing toilets at most campsites, so you aren't roughing it that much. There is also relatively little elevation gain, no altitude to adapt to, and the days of hiking aren’t that long (our days ranged from 5-7 hours). The only hard part was carrying over a week of food in our backpacks, but even this wasn’t so bad because of the amazing camping food menu Matt created.
Questions on planning your trip to Torres? Drop us a comment below or say hello @nutritiontraveller.
explore the complete torres del paine series:
Post updated on August 9, 2018.