World → South America → Patagonian Andes → Chile → Paine
One of the best hikes in the world
- Towers of Paine
- the Paine Circuit (El Circuito) or Paine Mastiff Circuit
- the “W”
wikiexplora ranks Paine the #1 trek in the world 🙂
March 2017 Update via Will Cebron
- Reserve early. Especially for Dec-Feb.
- Everything in the park is EXPENSIVE
- You can hike the W in only 4 days / 3 nights
- Get on the earliest bus to the Park possible
- Explore the park areas outside the main trails
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).
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.
- 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“
Why We Like This Hike
- 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
- 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:
- Campgrounds offering tenting and (sometimes) bunk beds
- Lodges (refugios)
- Park entry fee
- accommodations run by the 2 private companies range from $10 per person per night for camping to over $75 per person per night for a bed and meals in the refugios. The government (CONAF) camps are free
- some refugios are now requiring people to purchase meals even if you tent (Chileno and Los Cuernos required full board meals in 2017-2018)
- Paine is 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
We talked to about 20 groups who booked for Paine in 2019. Almost everyone told us you are locked into whatever itinerary you can get booked. But two told us that if you have even just one campsite booked for one night … that it’s possible to continue hiking by making last minute requests at each campground as you go. Don’t count on it. If the campsite is full you’ll be turfed.
There are two main multi-day routes:
- Paine Circuit 100km (62mi), recommended 9 days, 8 nights
- the “W”, recommended 5 days, 4 nights
- the “W” (in red) is far more popular than the Circuit though we like the full Circuit better.
Everyone reports that getting their campsites booked independently was difficult and complicated. Nobody is happy with the process.
But we had one strong recommendation for Dittmar Adventures out of Puerto Natales. They can book you for $1,165 W or $2,375 circuit. Or book and guide you for $1,200 W or $2,440 circuit. If you can afford it, this is the easiest way to go.
Those prices are 2019 per person/based on a minimum of 4 people in the group. Ask if you can join one of their groups.
Compare with other companies:
- Erratic Rock – Full Circuit
- G Adventures – Torres del Paine Circuit
- ECOCAMP – Paine Circuit
- Cascada – Paine 9 Day Circuit
- Swoop – Paine Circuit
- Erratic Rock – Torres del Paine ‘W’ trek
- ECOCAMP – Torres del Paine W Trek
- Swoop – Torres del Paine W Trek
- Cascada – W trek
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
- 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.
- many Paine hikers also trek Fitz Roy and / or the Huemul Route 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
- 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
- it is mandatory to book reservations for camping and refugio shelters prior to entering Torres del Paine National Park
- there are free campsites run by the Chilean government (CONAF) and sites run by two different private companies (Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia).
- Conaf – Torres del Paine National Park (Spanish)
- Fantastico Sur is a management partner. Disorganized, in the past.
- Vertice Patagonia is another management partner. (English)
Best Trekking Guidebooks
- Cicerone Torres del Paine: Trekking in Chile’s Premier National Park 2010
- Trekking Torres del Paine by Rudolf Abraham
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Patagonian Andes 2009 … no longer available 😦
- Patagonia Chronicle: On Foot in Torres del Paine 2012 – Susan Alcorn
Best Travel Guidebooks
- Lonely Planet Chile (get the most up-to-date edition)
- Enduring Patagonia – Gregory Crouch
- In Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin
- Baja to Patagonia – Larry Rice
- Nowhere Is a Place: Travels in Patagonia – Bruce Chatwin, Paul Theroux, Jeff Gnass
- Patagonia: Wild Land At The End Of The Earth – Tim Hauf, Conger, Jr. Beasley, Gregory Crouch
- Lonely Planet Trekking in the Central Andes 2003 (out of print)
You are not likely to get lost on the main Paine trails. Maps are most useful for advance route planning.
- official trekking map
- Patagonia Infomap in English 2012
- Torres del Paine Waterproof Trekking Map 2006 (English/Spanish Edition)
Best Web Pages
- Backpacker’s Review – Paine Circuit (2017)
Read the top trip report closely. Especially for booking accommodation.
- 10 Tips for Hiking Torres del Paine’s W Trek in Patagonia (2017)
- Planning your trip to Torres del Paine
- Fantastico Sur – Trekking in Torres del Paine
- Trekking Guide: How to prepare for hiking in Torres del Paine
- Tips for the W Trek in Torres del Paine, Chile
- torresdelpaine.com – accommodation
- GORP Torres del Paine
- wikipedia – Torres del Paine National Park
- wikiexplora – Paine (Spanish)
- ramblin’ boy – A Traveller’s Guide To Punta Arenas: Gateway To Southern Patagonia
- Erratic Rock, recommended hostel in Puerto Natales
- Camping Pehoé
- Navimag ferries
Best Trip Reports
- travel to walk 2015 – trip report: Torres Del Paine
- ramblin’ boy 2012 – The Torres del Paine Circuit: Patagonia’s #1 Hike
- The Big Outside – PATAGONIAN CLASSIC: TREKKING TORRES DEL PAINE
- Mike Howrath – Torres Del Paine: The Full Circuit 2014
- This Makes No Sense At All 2010 – Torres del Paine Circuit
- Without Baggage – Torres del Paine Circuit
- The Big Outside
- Robert Harding (photographer)
- Andrew Gilchrist Sept 2013 – winter hiking in Torres del Paine
- BestHike editor McCharles 2004 – travelogue – Towers of Paine – Chile
- McCharles 2004 photos
Click PLAY or watch a W trek preview on YouTube.
- Sidetracked – Monica Račić – TORRES DEL PAINE W TREK
- María Jesús Rodríguez L. – My Experience in the W Circuit 2011
- Photodiary of a Nomad – Torres del Paine – W+
- Graham James photos
There are plenty of travelogue videos online. Here are a couple of samples.
Click PLAY or watch it Kraig Adams on YouTube. (2020 with much advice)
Click PLAY or watch Backpacker Steve on YouTube.
Click PLAY or watch Yeti Adventure Films describe a 2012 “W” trek on YouTube.