One of the best hikes in the world is
Torres del Paine
Hikes here known as:
- Towers of Paine
- the Paine Circuit (El Circuito)
- the "W"
If you could trek only one place in the world, Paine would be a good choice. It is unforgettable!
WHY WE LIKE THIS HIKE
- CHILE is mostly coastline
- the 100km (62mi) Paine Circuit is unique & gorgeous
- circuit the stunning Paine massif if you can
- shorter, easier 5-day alternative called "the W"
- astonishing, jagged mountainscape
- Towers of Paine, spires of pink granite
- Horns of Paine (see photo below)
- fantastic glacier views but no risk of altitude sickness
- accommodates all levels of hiking ability & experience
- easy to hike independently
- no need to speak Spanish, though it helps
- unique Magellenic forest
- wildlife includes condor, guanaco, fox, & nandu (rhea)
- no need to filter water
- it's a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve
- one of National Geographic's 50 places to visit in your lifetime
- even a chance to see a puma
- it's close to the excellent Fitz Roy trek
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- most hikers carry their own heavy packs. Porters and pack animals are not used in Paine except for horse treks.
- Carrying a huge pack for 10 days is what convinces many hikers to do the "W" instead
- tenting is far easier to organize than trying to get a space in the crowded huts (refugios)
- November to April are the best months
- in January & early February first-come, first-served campsites are crowded
- you need to plan for horrible weather
- rain, sleet, even snow
- winds over 100km (62mi) / hour are common
- it can get cold, though hypothermia is not typical during the hiking season
- summer average temperature is 11C (52F)
- summer lows drop to 0C (33F) plus wind chill
- summer highs maximum of 24C (75 F)
- the 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
- Chile is the most expensive country to travel in South America. Budget at least US$30 a day. Closer to US$50 is more likely. Days on the trek will save you money.
- 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.
- many find it difficult to organize an independent hike over the internet. Important websites are down or confusing.
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Those who find Chile overpriced yearn to cross the border into Argentina as quickly as possible.
- Paine is far from Santiago, the capital of Chile
- the park is in Patagonia about 51 degrees south
- many hikers fly into Punta Arenas but the jumping off point for hikers is the small town of Puerto Natales, closer to the park.
- many hikers 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.
- another interesting transport option is to take the Navimag ferry to Patagonia. It disembarks in 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.
- the complete Paine Circuit is 100km (62mi) plus many excellent sidetrips
- we recommend 9 days, 8 nights minimum for the Circuit
- if you do not have that much time, hike the W 5 days, 4 nights. The "W" is far more popular than the Circuit though we like the Circuit better.
- the "W" is the red section of the Circuit
- from PN you travel by bus or mini-van to Torres del Paine National Park
- park entrance fee (US$14) is the same for every visitor, regardless of how long you stay in the Park
- no special trekking permit is required
- shuttles take you to any of a number of trailheads
- start at Hosteria los Torres if you want to do the entire Circuit
- for the "W" the most popular start is Lago Pehoe
For Paine, most hikers need budget:
- bus Puerto Natales - Park return = about US$21
- park entrance fee = 8000 pesos (about US$14)
- tenting = 3500 pesos (about US$7 / person / night) or free
- optional boat tour of Lago Grey
- rental gear, if needed, in Puerto Natales
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Very expensive meals & treats (3-6 times the cost of the same items in Puerto Natales) are available at many of the refugios and are almost impossible to resist. You need carry a substantial wad of cash to do the Paine Circuit.
TENT OR BUNK BEDS?
- on the treks you have only two choices
- we strongly recommend you carry a tent, if you possibly can
- tenting you have complete freedom to do what you want each day. No reservations of any kind are required.
- getting a required reservation to stay in the crowded refugios (cabins) is difficult and relatively expensive. Moreover, there are not enough refugios to easily do the entire Circuit.(It is possible.)
- if you decide on refugios or rental refugio tents you need to reserve them. This can be a hassle in high season. Reserve in Puerto Natales as soon as you arrive at the Andescape or Fantastico Sur offices. So far it seems near impossible to do this on-line or by email.
- if you have any advice, please use the link below. Booking refugios is the biggest single hassle on Paine.
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INDEPENDENT OR GUIDED?
The Paine trails are often rated medium difficulty. We would agree but be aware that there are very difficult sections. The scramble to the Towers of Paine, for example.
The north side of the Circuit is muddy & rough in places. Evacuation by horse would be difficult.
That said, even children & non-hikers will not only survive, they will thrive in this magnificent environment.
If you can carry a pack & tent, there is no reason why you need sign on with a tour. There are plenty of people around. You cannot get lost.
If you do prefer to have a guide, there are no shortage of companies eager to take you.
The easiest way to hike Paine (we think) is to sign on with Pathagone : a "W" 5 day, 4 night trek staying in refugios cost US$330 / person in a quote we got Nov. 2006. Email Path@gone to get a quote for your own adventure.
If you prefer to dayhike independently, consider taking trips out of the Paine Grande Mountain Lodge and campround, managed by Vertice Patagonia . They have an ideal location.
Management of the wonderful Paine resource is convoluted & confusing. Two private companies (Andescape & Fantastico Sur) share responsibilities with the Park & run the Refugios. A third company Vertice Patagonia runs one large Lodge and campground. Pathagone has some role, as well. Some of these websites have been down and / or confusing in the past though they are getting better.
We found it difficult to get accurate, up-to-date information in Puerto Natales, as well. The agents at the Park gates were no help either.
It is best to ask hikers in Puerto Natales who have recently returned.
Looking for trekking partners? Plan an extra day or two in Puerto Natales. Put a note up at your hostel & check at the popular gringo restaurants. It is fairly easy to hook up with others for this trip. And easy to hook up with other hikers on the trail.
BEST TREKKING GUIDEBOOKS
- JLM Mapas Topographical map 1:100,000: Torres del Paine Trekking Map
Browse a number of on-line maps listed on the i-needtoknow Paine maps page
After this site, the best links are
BEST PHOTOS & TRIP REPORTS