Torres del Paine: Backpacking in Chilean Patagonia
January 1, 1970
by Nicole Mateu
Backpacking in Torres del Paine, Chile
Torres del Paine is a beautiful National Park located in the south of Chile, in the Chilean Patagonia, between the Andes Cordillera and the Patagonian steppe.
We were planning this trip for long time, we are from Chile, and Torres del Paine is a must-see tourist destination in our country. We had to go visit and see with our own eyes! So we set up our backpacks, we bought the tickets and started this incredible adventure!
To get to Torres del Paine, you should get there by plane from Santiago to the city of Punta Arenas (flight duration is 4:15 hours), the ticket is cheap if you bought it with anticipation (its around $150 dollars). From Punta Arenas you must take a bus towards the city of Puerto Natales.
I recommend you spend a few days in the city of Puerto Natales, there are several hostels where you can stay, and at very affordable prices. Puerto Natales is a small city, but has many touristic attractive, the most impressive and you can not miss is to visit the Milodon Cave. It is a huge cave where they were found remains of milodones, large herbivorous mammals that became extinct, probably, at the end of the Pleistocene. In Puerto Natales you can also visit the historic pier on the waterfront, go to craft fairs, make boat trips on the fjords and horseback riding.
Then, from the city of Puerto Natales you can take a bus that takes you to Torres del Paine National Park, this trip takes about 3 hours and drops you off at the park entrance. This is where the adventure begins.
I’ll write a basic itinerary, approximate days and places I recommend visiting. Everything depends on how long you plan to be in the national park, and your physical performance, not to forget that these are often trekking sometimes hard for people who do not have sufficient training and are carrying the weight of their backpacks.
There are two most important options trekking circuits in Torres de Paine National Park: “W” and “O”. Both circuits start at “Refugio Torres”, so for start your adventure must first get to Refugio Torres and pitch your tent.
W Circuit (71 km – 4 days/4 nights)
This circuit is called “W” in the form of this trekking. This is the circuit that we did. The total distance of this circuit is 71 km, and takes around 5 days and 4 nights. The most important places you will visit are:
– Base Torres del Paine
– Valle del Francés
– Grey Glacier
And of course, a lot of amazing views of the Patagonian nature, and it’s flora y fauna.
Day 1 – From Refugio Torres to Base Torres
This trekking can take a full day (18 km round trip). You must leave everything in Base Torres. I recommend you leave your tent installed and leave your backpack and then prepare a small backpack with essential things like water bottle, food for the day, sunscreen, waterproof (weather in towers varies from one moment to another)
For me this was one of the hardest trails. The day I went it rained a lot and the trail is very steep. Sometimes it was a bit dangerous because you sleep with rocks you must be very careful.
After 4 hours of hard trekking, you get to Base Torres, it is an awesome feeling. You forget everything and just think about how great it is nature. It is very impressive sight and is a postcard that I assure you will never forget. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen.
The return to Refugio Torres is faster because it is just down the slope. It will take approximately 3 hours.
Day 2 – From Refugio Torres to Refugio Cuernos
This trail starts from Refugio Torres hasta Refugio Cuernos. It’s hard, because there are 11 kilometers and you must to do it with your tent and backpack, to reach a new campsite and settle near the training called “Cuernos”. It is named for its shape of horns. It will take about 4 hours, although not as steep as the path to the Base Torres.
On this trail you do the trekking along the lake Nordenskjöld, which has an intense light blue color. It is an indescribable landscape, a mixture of stunning colors against me. I will never forget.
Arriving at the campsite we set up our tent, we prepare a good soup and rest to prepare for the next path that we would do the next day.
Day 3 – From Refugio Cuernos to Valle Francés
We did this trail very early, because the weather can varies, and with bad weather you can not appreciate much the view of the landscapes, and also is important to don’t get too late to camping, you should be there before.
We walked towards the Italian camp, that is where the begins to the Valle Francés. This trekking is along the Francés River, this river originates from the Francés glacier. It is impressive, as you go up the temperature drops and you feel that you’re approaching a large mass of ice. Even ice collapses are heard and sometimes frightening.
This trail is very probable sighting Huemules and Condors, there are typical animals of the area, both endangered. It is certainly a trek that you will love.
Day 4 – From Refugio Cuernos to Glacier Grey
The year we went to the Torres del Paine National Park (2010), a month before there was a huge fire that affected much the park, this was caused by a tourist who burned a paper, and this led to the tremendous fire that lasted weeks and heavily damaged the park and affected much flora and fauna that exists there. For that reason we could not go to Grey Glacier, the path was not available.
But today, this path is enabled, and we recommend you to do this trail, the Gray glacier is one of the most impressive postcards, and certainly well known worldwide. You must get there with your backpack from Refugio Cuernos to Refugio Grey, there is where Glacier Grey is. And is there where you can take boat trips across the Gray lake and the Gray Glacier.
Day 5 – From Glacier Grey to return
This is the last part of the journey. This day will we account for the return, you must come to towers retreat, we will take many hours with your backpack, you must leave early since arriving buses will be waiting to return to Puerto Natales. And you have to take into consideration that these buses have schedules, you should ask in Puerto Natales.
O circuit (10 days)
This takes about 10 days and the trail is 93 km and should take into consideration longer, courage and physical training. “O” circuit begins in the same way that the W circuit, the difference is that after the Grey Glacier do not return it to towers, but follow the path by a form of “O”, which allows you to have new views of Patagonia. This circuit is not as busy as the “W” circuit, but certainly have the chance to see breathtaking scenery.
- It is best to bring in a comfortable and lightweight backpack. Carry only the bare minimum. It is essential a good sleeping bag that support low temperatures, a good tent that supports any rain and strong winds, trekking pole helps a lot, enough food because there no where to buy (try that is not too heavy for you do not carry extra weight), good hiking boots.
- You should not leave trails. The trails in the park are very well marked and if you leave the paths can be very dangerous for you, because you can lose and the park is quite large. Also is very important to get to camping before sunset, because is dangerous to do the trekking in the night, you can get lost.
- You must book the camping before you go, especially if you go in high season dates (January-March). Due to good weather that time, many tourists go.
- We absolutely recommend you do this trip, regardless of whether you do the “W” circuit or “O” circuit. Both will see and feel the beautiful nature. And most important is that when you go take care much the park and this natural reserve, brings you the trash and try not to pollute. Light a fire in any way, because you can cause irreparable damage, as it was in 2010 when we went. It was very sad to see the destruction of nature.
We hope you enjoy long journey to the Chilean Patagonia!