The Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Torres Del Paine

The Ultimate Guide to Hiking in Torres Del Paine

Hiking in Torres del Paine, in complete awe of the beautiful landscape, should be added to every Patagonia trip itinerary. Many travellers backpacking in South America ensure it’s included in their plans and it’s easy to see why. Snow-capped mountain peaks, dense forests, icy glaciers and jaw dropping scenery. Torres del Paine is one of the best places in Patagonia and high on any list of South America highlights.

Once you’ve decided to add a visit to Torres del Paine to your South America itinerary you’ll need to make sure you’re prepared for what’s to come. Backpacking Torres del Paine isn’t just an easy stroll in the park. Whether you’re camping in Torres del Paine, staying in the refugios (mountain huts) or the warmth of the lodges.

After that it’s just the simple task of deciding which route you want to take. Fortunately, there are no shortage of options when it comes to hikes in Torres del Paine.

Torres del Paine W Trek

The most popular hiking trail in the national park, Torres del Paine W circuit is a five-day hike taking you across some of the most beautiful scenery Patagonia has to offer. The W trek moves across the national park in the shape of a ‘big W’, hence the name. There is also the option to add an extra day for the ‘tail’. An 11km stretch from Las Carretas campsite to Paine Grande. You have two choices when it comes to the completing the W trek in Torres del Paine. Either hiking east to west or west to east, with numerous advantages to doing either route.

Hiking in Torres del Paine with mountains in the distance
As soon as you begin hiking in Torres del Paine you’re treated to some amazing scenery

Hiking west to east

This is the most popular choice for one main reason. Rather than starting your trek at the famous towers viewpoint you arrive there at the end. Seeing the sun rise over the towers on the final morning is the perfect way to bring an end to your five-day camping experience. There is more uphill walking towards the end of this route. However, as you’ll have eaten the majority of your food by this point your backpack will be noticeably lighter. This makes it a little easier to get up those inclines with a few days hiking in your tired feet. As the west to east trek finishes at the last bus pick-up point you also have more time. Giving you an extra couple of hours before you have to leave Torres del Paine.

To start the west to east route, catch the bus to Pudeto Catameran (unless adding the ‘tail’ section, in which case stay on until administración) and then take the boat across Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande. Once you arrive hike 11km to Camp Grey where you’ll spend your first night. The second day involves backtracking to Paine Grande before heading east towards Italiano. If Italiano campsite is full continue to either Francés or Cuernos, giving you a little more flexibility in your planning.

After an excursion up the middle of the W circuit to the French Valley on the morning of your third day, you spend the next night at Camp Cuernos. The fourth day involves the longest stretch as you hike all the way to Camp Torres for your last night in the park. The final day begins with an early morning as you try to make it to the famous towers for sunrise before hiking all the way down to the shuttle bus at Hotel Las Torres.

Day 1

  • Bus to Pudeto Catameran (unless adding the ‘tail’ section, see below)
  • Ferry across Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande (CLP$15,000 or £15)
  • Paine Grande to Camp Grey – 11km, 3.5 hours
  • Optional ‘tail’ section:
    • Bus to Administración
    • Administración to Las Carretas – 6km, 2 hours
    • Las Carretas to Paine Grande – 10km, 3 hours

Day 2

  • Optional short hike to viewpoint at Glacier Grey
  • Camp Grey to Paine Grande – 11km, 3.5 hours
  • Paine Grande to Italiano – 7.6km, 2.5 hours
    • If Italiano is full continue to either Francés (3km, 1.5 hours) or Cuernos (5.5km, 3 hours), giving you a little more flexibility in your planning

Day 3

  • Italiano to viewpoint at Británico – 5.5km, 2.5 hours (return journey)
  • Italiano to Cuernos – 5.5km, 3 hours

Day 4

  • Cuernos to Camp Torres – 18km, 7 to 8 hours

Day 5

  • Camp Torres to Las Torres viewpoint – 1.6km, 1.5 to 2 hours (return journey)
  • Camp Torres to Hotel Las Torres – 9.5km, 4.5 hours
  • Shuttle bus Las Torres to Laguna Amarga (CLP$2,800 or £3)
Snow covered French Valley in Torres del Paine
Even covered in snow Torres del Paine is a beautiful place, as you can see here in the French Valley

Hiking east to west

As I mentioned earlier, the stretch to the towers is a little more challenging due to the greater incline. Whilst there’s no huge difference, tackling this section with fresher legs (albeit with a heavier bag) could be advantageous. You can also attempt this section as a day hike whilst staying at Refugio Torres Central campsite and thereby negating the heavy bag.

With the majority of people who are hiking in Torres del Paine heading in the opposite direction you might feel like you’re going against the current. However, the number of people at the campsites won’t be any different. It just means you’ll have to make new friends at each stop. Although that’s part of the fun of travelling anyway!

Depending how you feel after five days hiking in Torres del Paine, you have the option to complete the ‘tail’ for an extra day. Trekking east to west allows you to make this decision as you reach Paine Grande at the end of your route. Going the other way you don’t have this flexibility.

To begin the east to west trek, as you arrive in the national park get off the bus at the first stop at Laguna Amarga and take the shuttle to Hotel Las Torres. The hiking begins as you trek up to Camp Torres for the first night. After waking up early to catch the sunrise at the towers, it’s a long day as you follow the trail all the way to Cuernos. If Cuernos campsite is full continue to either Francés or Italiano, giving you a little more flexibility in your planning.

The following day to Camp Italiano is relatively short however (especially if you continued on day two). Leave your heavy bag and tent at the campsite before hiking up the French Valley to the viewpoint. The last night in the national park is spent at Camp Grey before backtracking along part of the previous day’s path to Paine Grande and catching the ferry across Lake Pehoé to Pudeto Catameran for the bus out.

Day 1

  • Shuttle bus Laguna Amarga to Hotel Las Torres (CLP$2,800 or £3)
  • Hotel Las Torres to Camp Torres – 9.5km, 3.5 hours

Day 2

  • Camp Torres to Las Torres viewpoint – 1.6km, 1.5 to 2 hours (return journey)
  • Camp Torres to Cuernos – 18km, 7 to 8 hours
    • If Cuernos is full continue to either Francés (2.5km, 1.5 hours) or Italiano (5.5km, 3 hours), giving you a little more flexibility in your planning

Day 3

  • Cuernos to Italiano – 5.5km, 3 hours
  • Italiano to viewpoint at Británico – 5.5km, 2.5 hours (return journey)

Day 4

  • Italiano to Paine Grande – 7.6km, 2.5 hours
  • Paine Grande to Camp Grey – 11km, 3.5 hours

Day 5

  • Optional short hike to viewpoint at Glacier Grey
  • Camp Grey to Paine Grande – 11km, 3.5 hours
  • Ferry across Lake Pehoé to Pudeto Catameran (CLP$15,000 or £15), unless adding the ‘tail’ section (see below)
  • Bus to Laguna Amarga
  • Optional ‘tail’ section:
    • Paine Grande to Las Carretas – 10km, 3 hours
    • Las Carretas to Administración – 6km, 2 hours
    • Bus to Laguna Amarga
Torres del Paine viewpoint at the towers
The viewpoint everybody who visits Torres del Paine wants to see. The famous towers at sunrise

Torres del Paine O Circuit

For a greater challenge the Torres del Paine O trek is a nine-day hike including everything the national park has to offer such as the incredible Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Travelling around the park in a big circular route, this trail is much tougher than the W trek. Not least because of the extra food required and four more days of hiking. The first few days, with your backpack at its heaviest, requires hiking across some of the most difficult sections of the route. But from then on it’s all spectacular scenery combined with tricky, yet ultimately rewarding, hiking. To make things easier it’s a good idea to start at Paine Grande and complete the W trek first. This will lighten your load considerably by the time you have to cross the challenging John Gardner Pass.

The O circuit starts at either Hotel Las Torres or Paine Grande and completed anti-clockwise (west to east across the W section), meaning everyone is travelling in the same direction. On the less crowded back circuit of the trek the campsites have a cosier feel to them and you can really get to know your fellow hikers. Bear in mind that the O circuit closes from the 1st of April until the 30th of September due to the severe winter conditions. The trek ends wherever you started, before you catch the bus out of the national park.

The campsites that form the back circuit of the O trek and distances between them are as follows:

  • Las Torres to Serón – 13km, 4 hours
  • Serón to Dickson – 18km, 6 hours
  • Dickson to Los Perros – 12km, 4.5 hours
  • Los Perros to Paso – 8km, 6 hours
  • Paso to Camp Grey – 7km, 5 hours

As with the W trek, you can extend your hike by an extra day to complete the ‘Q circuit’. Simply start at Administración before joining the O trek at Paine Grande and continue from there. See hiking the W trek from west to east above for the steps involved.

Torres del Paine day hikes

If you’re short on time but still want to experience some Torres del Paine hikes, it’s still possible to visit the national park in just a few days. However, unless you have your own car or are joining a tour, it’s recommended to spend at least one night in Torres del Paine to really get the most out of your visit.

Las Torres Viewpoint

The best of the available Torres del Paine day trips. If you want to see the viewpoint at the famous towers and only have one day to do it your best option is to join a tour group. This avoids a reliance on public transport and includes a guide. Not that you need one. The trails are all well marked and it’s difficult to get lost. Make sure to bring snacks and water if they’re not included.

Paine Grande

To get the briefest of glimpses into the natural beauty of Torres del Paine take the bus from the main gate all the way to Pudeto Catameran before catching the boat across Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande. You can grab something to eat at the campsite (depending on the time you arrive) and wander around the area until it’s time to catch the ferry back to meet the return bus. To get a little more out of your visit to Torres del Paine spend the night at Paine Grande (or even Camp Grey) before returning the following day.

The view from the ferry across Lake Pehoe, Torres del Paine National Park
The ferry crossing on Lake Pehoé offers a first look at the stunning Patagonian landscape that you’ll find everywhere in Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine 2-day tour

Las Torres Viewpoint

To reach the famous towers viewpoint spend your one night at Hotel Las Torres, either camping or in the lodge, and hike up before returning for the bus out. The route takes between six to eight hours depending on your hiking experience and fitness levels. Bear in mind the first section between Hotel Las Torres and the next campsite at Chileno is a steep incline. Reaching the viewpoint from Torres campsite is another uphill section that takes 45 minutes to an hour. However, once you’ve finished marvelling in wonder at the sight of the towers it’s all downhill on your return to Hotel Las Torres. Chileno is an alternative option to spend your night in Torres del Paine, which would save you an hour or two the following morning.

Paine Grande to Italiano/Cuernos to Hotel Las Torres

Each extra day spent in Torres del Paine allows you to see more of the wonderful nature that is all around this incredible national park. Follow the guide above to reach Paine Grande and continue east until you reach Camp Italiano to spend the night. Italiano is a free campsite, however there is no lodge option so unless you bring a tent you need to continue on to either Camp Francés or Cuernos. Cuernos is an extra couple of hours from Italiano with Camp Francés in the middle. On the final day, hike across stunning Patagonian landscape to Hotel Las Torres before taking the shuttle bus to the park entrance.

Torres del Paine 3 days

Paine Grande to Italiano/Cuernos to Camp Torres to Hotel Las Torres

To add a stop at the towers viewpoint, follow the steps above between Paine Grande and Italiano/Cuernos before heading up to Camp Torres, where you’ll spend a second night in the national park. Wake up early on the third day to catch sunrise at the towers, a sight not to be missed, and then hike down to Hotel Las Torres for the shuttle home.

It’s more beneficial to stay at Cuernos than Italiano for your first night as not only do they have indoor lodging but it reduces your hike to Camp Torres by two hours on your second day. Camp Torres is a free campsite however, so has no lodge option.

General trail tips

  • Uphill hikers have priority over anyone coming the other way, so step aside while they pass
  • Take out what you bring into the national park, including your rubbish
  • Make sure to store food carefully at campsites to avoid mice or foxes stealing your stash. Either hang it in a tree or bury it amongst your things (not in the tent pockets). Any campsites with indoor cooking areas will have space for food storage.
  • No open flames anywhere in the national park and only cook at the designated areas in the campsites
  • Stick to the trails. They’re well signposted and it’s difficult to get lost (even for me!)
Patagonia scenery with mountains and lakes
You don’t need to leave the trails to enjoy such beautiful scenery in Torres del Paine National Park

How to get to Torres del Paine

The closest town to Torres del Paine is Puerto Natales. Situated some two and a half hours away, buses run twice daily to the national park and back. Tickets cost CLP$15,000 (around £15) for a return ticket.

Torres del Paine entrance fee

As of this year there is an extra charge for staying more than three days in the national park. For foreign visitors to Torres del Paine entrance is CLP$25,000 (£26) for up to three days and CLP$35,000 (£36) for more than this. Prices may be cheaper in the off-season. The entrance fee is payable at the gate upon arrival.

Torres del Paine accommodation

There are 13 different campsites in Torres del Paine National Park, all run by three separate companies. CONAF run the free campsites and the others are split between Fantastico Sur and Vertice. Depending on your plan and which routes you take you may have to deal with all three of them. This means booking a campsite can be a confusing process. To make matters worse only some Torres del Paine campsites have lodges. Fortunately, there are websites that take some stress out of booking campsites by allowing you to do it all in one place. If you’re hiking in the busy season of January and February then it’s imperative to book campsites before you arrive.

Camp site at Refugio Grey, Torres del Paine National Park
Camp Grey – your first stop on the West to East W trek

Camping Torres del Paine

If you’re prepared for camping in Torres del Paine and have all of your equipment then you’ll have more options open to you regarding where to stay. You can purchase food at each campsite with the exception of Italiano and Torres on the W trek or Paso on the O circuit.

Hotels in Torres del Paine

For anyone wanting to visit Torres del Paine without camping there are lodging options in the national park. However, as mentioned above not every site has this facility and again it’s important to book ahead of time. Torres del Paine lodges range from private cabins to shared rooms with the option of sheets or using your own sleeping bag. Food is served at set times, so you need to be at the site to receive your pre-booked meal.

List of Torres del Paine campsites

W Circuit

  • Paine Grande (Vertice) – lodges, paid camping, equipment rental, restaurant, bar and shop
  • Camp Grey (Vertice) – lodges, paid camping, equipment rental, restaurant, bar and shop
  • Camp Italiano (CONAF) – free camping only
  • Camp Francés (Fantastico Sur) – sleeping domes, shared bedroom, paid camping and meals
  • Camp Los Cuernos (Fantastico Sur) – lodges, paid camping, equipment rental and meals
  • Camp Las Torres (Fantastico Sur) – lodges, paid camping and restaurant
  • Camp El Chileno (Fantastico Sur) – lodges, paid camping, equipment rental and restaurant
  • Camp Torres (CONAF) – free camping only

O Circuit

  • Camp Serón – (Fantastico Sur) – paid camping, equipment rental and meals
  • Camp Dickson (Vertice) – lodges, paid camping, equipment rental, restaurant, bar and shop
  • Camp Los Perros (Vertice) – paid camping and equipment rental
  • Camp Paso (CONAF) – free camping only

Q Circuit (“tail” section)

  • Las Carretas (CONAF) – free camping only

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