Paine Circuit

World → South AmericaPatagonian Andes → Chile → Paine

One of the best hikes in the world

Paine Circuit

  • Towers of Paine
  • the Paine Circuit (El Circuito)
  • the “W”

wikiexplora ranks Paine the #1 trek in the world 🙂

Jan 2017 URGENT UPDATE via Adventure Alan:

1. Advance Reservations are Required for All Your Campsites (W and Circuit)

You need to have all your campsite reservations in place before you enter the park. “You need to show reservations at each campsite in order to stay. This is being enforced. There are limited campsites so making your reservation is essential. (Overcrowding last year caused camp latrines to collapse and many people got sick. Due to this, multiple campsites are now permanently closed.)”

2. There is an 80 Person Per Day Limit on the Circuit Trek (and it can only be done counterclockwise).

There is a 80 person per day limit for the “Backside” (non-W portion) of the Circuit Trek. This is passively regulated by the campsite reservation system (that is, if you have all your campsite reservations you are part of the 80 people per day allowed). This is being strictly enforced! There is a guard house (Gaurdería Coirón) on the backside operated by CONAF and and you’ll be asked to show proof of your reservations to proceed. Note: We have received reports of trekkers without reservations being sent back. 

3. Reservations for the free Park (CONAF) Campsites are Filling up Well in Advance

Per CONAF: “If you are unable to book in all the camps you want to visit, you must adapt your itinerary according to the camps you could get. Consider that there are two other camping and shelter providers where you can book:Fantastico Sur* and Vertice*. We remind you that if you do not have the corresponding reservations you will not be able to access the mountain trails and you should plan other visit options, as there will be control points where you must show the voucher or confirmation email of your reservation.“

*Note: Can’t get a site on Vertice/Fantastico? Switch to ‘book in chilean pesos‘ – yes it switches to Spanish, but google translate can help you out.

4. There are now cutoff/closing times for most trails

The back page of the Official 2017 Park Trekking Map now has cutoff times listed for many trails—that is you need to start hiking before that time to reach your destination. This is now strictly enforced.

5. The Park now accepts credit cards for the entry fee

Paying by cash is much faster, but unless you are in a car, you’ll need to wait for the rest of your bus to pay before it leaves. We have reports of trekkers waiting almost two hours at the park entry station for their bus of hikers to pay by credit card, get their pass and get back on the bus.

That information supersedes anything you read below. Leave a comment if you have further updates on the changes. 

Note: We were last there in 2004. Things have changed. You can recommend improvements by leaving recommendations or links in the comments on this page. Our editors will consider them. Thanks for your help!

AT A GLANCE

  • close to the southern tip of South America
  • 100km (62mi) Paine Circuit is unique & gorgeous
  • recommended 9 days, 8 nights
  • shorter, easier 5-day alternative called “the W”

PaineWhy We Like This Hike

  • the Paine Circuit is unique & gorgeous
  • National Geographic loves Paine
  • astonishing, jagged mountainscape
  • Towers of Paine, spires of pink granite
  • fantastic glacier views but no risk of altitude sickness
  • easy to hike independently
  • no need to speak Spanish, though it helps
  • wonderful Magellanic subpolar forest
  • wildlife includes condor, guanaco, fox, & nandu (rhea)
  • chance to see a puma … though we just missed seeing one 😦
  • no need to filter water
  • it’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
  • close to the excellent Fitz Roy trek

Considerations

  • book months in advance!
  • forest fires sometimes close the National Park 😦
  • plan for horrible weather. Bring warm, dry clothes.
  • rain, sleet, even snow
  • winds over 100km (62mi) / hour are common
  • tents break due to wind. Backpack covers blow off and are NEVER recovered!
  • summer average temperature is 11C (52F)
  • summer highs maximum of 24C (75 F)
  • summer lows drop to 0C (33F) plus wind chill
  • hypothermia, however, is not a big risk during the summer hiking season
  • days are long in Patagonia during their summer — it is light until at least 10PM
  • hiking is possible any month though you will be considered loco if you go off-season
  • most hikers carry their own heavy packs. Porters and pack animals are not much used in Paine aside from “horse treks”.
  • Carrying a huge pack for up to 10 days is what convinces many hikers to do the “W” instead of the Circuit
  • tenting is far easier to organize than trying to get a space in the crowded huts (refugios). Still, in January & early February first-come, first-served campsites are crowded
  • two main accommodation options in the Park:
    1. Campgrounds offering tenting and (sometimes) bunk beds
    2. Lodges (refugios)

Mike Howrath 2

Cost

  • Park entry fee
  • Chile is the most expensive country to travel in South America
  • Paine is shockingly expensive. You might spend US$50 on dinner at a refugio, six times as much as for the same meal outside the Park. Carry either plenty of food … or plenty of Chilean pesos.
  • meals, food, drink and supplies are available in the Park but they are very expensive. Carry as much with you as you can. Buy the rest as you go.
  • closest ATMs are in Puerto Natales. There are no Automatic Teller Machines in Torres del Paine Park.
  • tenting is relatively inexpensive compared with food
  • consider budgeting for an optional boat tour of Lago Grey
  • rental gear, if needed, can be hired in Puerto Natales
  • Stingy Nomads posted a detailed summary of costs in 2016

Routes

There are two main multi-day routes:

  1. Paine Circuit 100km (62mi), recommended 9 days, 8 nights
  2. the “W”, recommended 5 days, 4 nights

w_sm

  • the “W” (in red) is far more popular than the Circuit though we like the full Circuit better.

click for larger version

Trekking Guides

The easiest and safest way to do Paine is with an adventure travel company. Prices vary greatly.

See what’s offered. And what it costs. Then compare that against doing Paine independently. At far lower cost.

Logistics

This section is for those who would like to do Paine independently.

  • Paine is far from Santiago, the capital of Chile. And far from Buenos Aires.
  • the Park is in Patagonia about 51 degrees south

fit_map

Southern-Patagonia-001

  • many hikers fly Lan Chile from Santiago into Punta Arenas, the largest city south of the 46th parallel, but the jumping off point for treks is 247km (153 mi) away – the small town of Puerto Natales
  • Puerto Natales is the final passenger port of call for the Navimag ferry sailing from Puerto Montt. (We took the more expensive, more scenic ferry.)
  • many Paine hikers also trek Fitz Roy in Argentina on the same trip. Access to Fitz Roy is out of El Calafate, Argentina. It is easy to bus between El Calafate and Puerto Natales.
  • many hikers would like to bus directly to Paine from El Calafate. We keep hearing rumours that such a route runs during high season but we’ve never found it.
  • from Puerto Natales you travel by bus or mini-van to Torres del Paine National Park
  • pay your park entrance fee
  • no special trekking permit is required
  • Park shuttles take you to any of a number of trailheads
  •  Hosteria los Torres is a popular starting point for the entire Circuit
  • for the “W” the most popular start is Lago Pehoe

Local Information

Best Trekking Guidebooks

Best Travel Guidebooks

Related Books

Best Maps

You are not likely to get lost on the main Paine trails. Maps are most useful for advance route planning.

Best Web Pages

Best Trip Reports

Circuit:

Mike Howrath

W trek:

site editor Rick McCharles

Movies

There are plenty of travelogue videos online. Here are a couple of samples.

Click PLAY or watch Backpacker Steve start the Circuit on YouTube.

part 2

Click PLAY or watch Yeti Adventure Films describe a 2012 “W” trek on YouTube.

Note: This page is a stub. Questions? Suggestions? Leave a REPLY on this page. Our editors will reply.

8 thoughts on “Paine Circuit

  1. Pingback: travelogue – Towers of Paine – Chile – RickMcCharles.com

  2. Pingback: travelogue – Back to Peru – RickMcCharles.com

  3. This is a great and extremely informative article! My husband and I did some trekking in TDP too and also took the Navimag ferry and really enjoyed it. This brings back good memories, thanks!

  4. Pingback: Patagonia – Torres Del Paine – Explorar/SouthAmerica

  5. Pingback: Torres Del Paine – Jack Bennett

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