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My Complete Guide to Torres del Paine

Updated: Aug 5, 2023

Voted the 8th wonder of the world in 2013 and it's not hard to see why...

Torres del Paine Mirador


About Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine is a national park situated in the Patagonia region of Southern Chile. It is incredibly popular among hikers, tourists and locals alike, and it's not hard to see why...! The name 'Paine' (pie-neh, not pain-ee!) means 'Blue' in Tehuelche, an indigenous American language from Patagonia. Torres means 'towers' in Spanish, so together they are known as the 'blue towers'. The park is not only famous for this incredible formation, but also for the Southern Patagonian glaciers, the world's second largest extra-polar ice field!


*Opening Times*

Please note that the park is closed from May to October as Winter in Patagonia can get brutal! You may still be able to hike if you have a special permit and a compulsory guide. See more here:



|| Cash Warning! || There are NO cash machines in Torres del Paine National Park and the nearest ones are in the towns of Puerto Natales and El Calafate, hours away from the park. Not everywhere in the park accepts card so make sure you have enough cash with you to pay for ferries, buses and shuttles, as these are NOT included in the ticket price and can easily add up to at least £50 per person! We took £100 between the two of us and ran out quite quickly. I suggest at least £100 per person, especially if you know you will be buying a beer, chocolate or food, or more if you want souvenirs.


Lake Grey Mirador, Torres del Paine National Park


How to get there

By Car

If you are overlanding or renting a car, be sure to check which borders are open! We made this trip in March 2022 and the closest border, Paso Rio Don Guillermo, was unfortunately closed due to staff shortages. Paso Dorotea and Paso Laurita Casas Viejas south of that were also closed, so we had to make a 700km trip instead to Paso Integracion Austral on the east coast of Argentina and back track west past Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales - nightmare! Whichever way you end up going, the roads are in reasonably good condition apart from one stretch near the park where they were actively doing works. The dirt roads in the park are in good condition.



|| Fuel Warning! || As far as we are aware, the nearest petrol station to Torres del Paine is in Puerto Natales around 130km south, or Esperanza, Argentina, 188km east. So make sure you top up before you head to the park.


Parking

We have to admit, we were very unprepared and came off incredibly lucky for our parking! We accidentally went to Laguna Armaga where you are not allowed to park as buses need all the space. We pleaded with the staff (after our long 700km detour we were pretty emotional) and were able to leave the van on the grass for 4 days. We do not recommend this!! Plan ahead and use one of the recommended parking spots here:

- Torres del Paine Welcome Centre

This car park is near Las Torres Patagonia Hotel and Central Camping. If you do the day hike to Torres, the O trek or W trek going West -> East you will finish nearby. We recommend using this car park.


- Estancia Pudeto Near the Ferry that takes you to Camping Paine Grande. Limited to 10-20 spaces. Good if you are running late, like we were! There is a bus shuttle that goes to this stop so you can pick your car up at the end of your hike. Warning: Someone on iOverlander said they came back and their campervan was on its side, the winds here can be very strong. Check the forecast.


By Public Transport via Chile

Whilst we didn't use public transport, all of the travellers we met had used planes and buses to reach Torres del Paine. The best option is to fly to Puerto Natales, which is the closest airport (availability depends on the day you fly and where you are coming from). Alternatively you can fly to Punta Arenas. Flights from Santiago to Puerto Natales run most days of the week and are fairly cheap (for Chile...). They shouldn't set you back more than £100-200, but this varies on the time of year. You can search for flights below:



*COMING SOON*



Buses only take you to the National Park from Puerto Natales, so if you land in Punta Arenas, you will first need to take a bus there first. There are ONLY two or three buses in the morning (7am-9am) and the same coming back late afternoon (2pm-5pm) so plan your timings carefully. The most common bus company is BusSur. You can search timings and tickets below:

By Public Transport via Chilean Ferry

The last and least desirable option, to avoid hopping across borders or flying, involves getting a ferry from either Puerto Montt or Puerto Yungay to Puerto Natales. We met a lot of backpackers hitch-hiking down the Carretela Austral (famous Ruta 7) hoping to catch the ferry at Yungay, but a lot of them complained that hitching a ride often took hours, sometimes days. There is no public transport along this road, making it a very challenging route. If you're set on avoiding Argentina, then we would recommend going from Puerto Montt.


NOTE! The ferries only run once a week as they take 2-3 days, so check your dates carefully. Don't forget to check your return ferry too. We met a few backpackers who came unstuck as they finished their Torres del Paine hike and had to wait a week for their ferry back...


It also isn't clear on the booking system if you get a cabin or bed, so be prepared to sleep on the floor! If anyone has experienced these ferries, please get in touch as we'd love to hear your stories.


By Public Transport via Argentina

It's not possible to fly directly from Buenos Aires to Puerto Natales, so if you're coming from this area, you'll need to fly to El Calafate and then grab a bus or hitchhike (safely, of course) to Puerto Natales. Interestingly (we didn't know this was possible) we saw coaches take people across the border, which isn't often done. Bus-Sur again offer this service.


Note that you cannot bring any raw animal products or plants across the border, so try to avoid bringing fruit or dairy with you as snacks, or eat them early on, as they will be taken away!


Where to Stay in Puerto Natales

Before and after your hike, you'll find no shortage of accommodation in Puerto Natales, each one well-versed in looking after tourists visiting the park. If you are overlanding, feel free to ask hostels if you can use their showers - they are often very satisfying and cost only 1000CLP (£1).


You can search for accommodation using the map below:


The links above are affiliated. This means that any purchases made via these earn us a small commission. This does not affect the price you pay! But does support our work, so thank you.


Buses to Torres del Paine National Park

The buses leave from Rodoviario Terminal in Puerto Natales and will call at all main stops in Torres del Paine but you will need to pay careful attention to ensure you get off at the right place! See the handy map below to see where the campsites and bus stops are:


You can download a PDF of the map here:


1. Hotel Lago Grey - stop for the West-East W trek if you are camping at Refugio Grey, or day treks to Mirador Lago Grey (you can't miss this!). We would have loved to start here but it was unfortunately sold out, so we camped at Paine Grande and hiked up to Grey instead.

2. Administracion - bus stop for the offices and administration centre

3. Camping Pehoe - a stop for some smaller hikes, including lagoons and waterfalls. Great for people that may not be up for the multiday hikes.


4. Pudito - stop for the West-East W trek if you are camping at Paine Grande, where you get the catamaran ferry. Also near smaller hikes and a short walk from the Cuernos (horns) mirador.


5. Laguna Armaga - the closest bus stop for Las Torres hotel, parking, East-West W trek and start of the O trek. There are shuttles from the hotel to this bus stop, which we cannot find a timetable for, but seemed to be regular morning and afternoon. These are an extra cost, we don't remember how much, around 5,000 Chilean pesos (£5).


Cuernos Mirador (the horns), Torres del Paine National Park


How to Book

This bit can get a little interesting, have patience...! You must book accommodation before you buy your park entry ticket, unless you are doing a day hike. Our biggest tip: book in advance! At least 2-4 weeks in peak season. We were incredibly lucky (and stupid) and only looked a few days beforehand, in March, managing to snag the last spaces available. If you are also lucky (and stupid), you might be able to email the camping companies last minute like us, as they sometimes have availability that doesn't show up on the website. But, please don't.


1. Decide which trek/trip and packages you want

There are three main ways you can experience Torres del Paine; day trips, the W-trek (east to west, or west to east) and the O-trek. You can either organise these yourself, or pay A LOT extra and do one with a guide. If you camp, at each campsite you can choose to either:

  • Bring your own tent and camping equipment (these spaces ran out very far in advance)

  • Rent a tent and bring your own camping equipment

  • Rent a tent and camping equipment

  • Stay in other accommodation (e.g. hostel / dorm depending on site)

  • Bring your own food OR

  • Pre-book individual meals (breakfast / lunch / dinner) (At some camps, there is the option to buy snacks, meals and drinks if, like us, you are too tired at the end of the day and fancy a beer and pizza! Just bare in mind that they usually only open for a few hours in the afternoon and can be expensive. Most accept card or CLP)

For context, we are very much first-time, beginner hikers. Lewis has a pretty good level of fitness as he does a lot of karate but Jo has hyperthyroidism and really struggles to control her heart rate and temperature, so physical exercise doesn't come easily. We chose to do the W-trek and carry our own equipment, tent and food. It definitely challenged us, even Lew at some points. Carrying our backpacks was something we didn't anticipate to make such a big difference but boy, it made it so much harder...


We were rookies and packed wayyy too much. The quality of your equipment will impact the weight of your backpack and overall enjoyment. Pack as little as you can (don't be afraid to wear the same t-shirt for 3 days and rinse the armpits in between!) and be sensible. More on this below.


So if you are nervous about your fitness level, we would strongly recommend considering the day trips or renting equipment to make your hike more enjoyable. Equally, I'm of the opinion that if I (Jo) can manage the W-trek, the average desk-dweller can too!! Feel free to contact us if you want some advice on which trek to go for.


Which Way? Camp Paine Grande


2. Book your Campsites (or Hotel for day trips*)

There are three (again! Things always come in threes...) websites you can book your campsites through. Confusingly, each company only owns a few campsites. These are:

  • Vertice Patagonia For Paine Grande and Grey campsites on the W-Trek And Los Perros and Dickson on the O-Trek Paine Grande can be used for those doing a day trip to Grey Glacier too https://www.vertice.travel/

  • Las Torres (previously known as Fantastico Sur) Frances, Cuernos and Chileno campsites on the W-trek And Central and Seron on the O-Trek Central can be used for those doing a day trip to Torres del Paine You can also book the Las Torres hotel via this website, if you fancy splashing some cash! https://lastorres.com/donde-alojar/camping/

  • CONAF Website Currently (03/2022) all of the free CONAF campsites [Italiano, Torres and Paso] are closed and undergoing repairs due to the pandemic

  • TorresHike We didn't use this website in the end, but apparently you can book all campsites at once instead of using multiple sites, which may make it a little easier. It has all the same options as the other websites. We aren't sure if it adds an extra fee...

3. Book your National Park Entry Ticket

Only once you've booked your accommodation can you then book your national park ticket. Wild camping is NOT permitted and the limited spaces in the campsites help naturally restrict the number of tourists coming through the park. Unfortunately, high foot traffic inevitably damages the environment, so whilst this part seems confusing and doesn't make sense, actually... it does.


You can book your ticket entry here:



Ours was $49 USD per person for 5 days entry to the park on the W-Trek, so we assume it's $9.80 per day, per person (as of March 2022).


Explore Torres del Paine, near Frances Mirador


What to Expect on The W-Trek

As we've mentioned before, we decided to go the West to East W-trek. We opted for this one as we wanted to experience a multiday trek but didn't think we were fit enough to do the O-trek. We chose West to East as you do the Torres del Paine mirador last this way around, and we loved the idea of that to spur us on. When we started the hike, it was obvious that there would have been some really nasty inclines if we did the East to West route! The end point also turned out to be closer to our van, and we knew we would be exhausted at the end and not want to wait around for buses, so it was perfect for us.


Day 1, Paine Grande Campsite


Day 1: Paine Grande - Mirador Grey - Paine Grande (12km, 3 hours round trip)

We got a bus Laguna Armaga to Estancia Pudito, which we think was around £5 per person. We then got the ferry to Paine Grande camping, and the ferry cost us £23 per person (23,000CLP)!! You can't book this in advance and you can only pay with cash. Outrageous when you have already bought a ticket to the park if you ask me... But anyway...


We checked in, set up our tent, made lunch and left our bags behind to hike up to the first Grey Mirador at around 1pm. We didn't have enough time to go all the way up to the second Glacier Grey Mirador but honestly, after speaking to other people, we aren't sure it was worth it. The first mirador is an absolutely stunning view of the still, baby blue lagoon with the glaciers in the background. Glacier Grey Mirador is another 12km (4 hours) there and back, and just takes you closer. We decided not to push ourselves on the first day. If you've already seen Perito Moreno in El Calafate or glaciers elsewhere in the world, you probably aren't missing too much.


The showers in Paine Grande were hot, good pressure and clean, but only open during certain hours. It was a welcome change from travelling so far...


A Spectacular View, Mirador Grey (Glacier Grey Mirador trail continues to the right)


Day 2: Paine Grande - Camp Frances - Glacier Frances - Camp Frances (13.2km, approx 6 hours)

The second day was the hardest for Jo, as she hadn't built up her backpacking muscles and really struggled to carry her bag. As we mentioned before, we had way too much stuff! Jo also struggled to motivate herself as honestly, we didn't think the scenery on this day was spectacular. The hardcore hikers had already been and gone to make it the extra 10km (roundtrip) up to the Britannica Mirador and back. We only got as far as Glacier Frances, an hour round trip from our camp, which felt like flying after we dumped our bags! The Mirador was again, pretty beautiful, but slightly underwhelming after Mirador Grey.


Day 2, Mirador Frances We did however, feel very grateful that we were going from West to East, as there were some very steep downhills that seemed to go on forever. People going past us seemed to be hating the endless incline! Most other hikes left their backpacks under a shelter at Campo Italiano, which was closed at the time, allowing them to hike further without their bags - we actually wish we had done this!


Tired of noodles and ravioli for dinner, we caved and bought burgers from the restaurant, which was thankfully just about to close. We made some new friends over a few beers that we still speak to today, and had a very, very good nights sleep...


In the Forest, Camping Frances


Day 3: Camp Frances - Camp Chileno (TDP basecamp) (16km, approx 8 hours - we were tired!)

The third day was the most challenging for Lew, and I think most people would agree. It's a long hike with some rough, long inclines, especially toward the end when you feel most tired! We had a small patter of rain and then the sun came out - by the end we were sweating!


Motivation ran high though as we knew Torres was so close. We enjoyed a beautiful beach by the lake, river crossings, our first sight of the Cuernos (horns) formations, condors soaring overhead and some glorious soft marshland which was heaven on our sore feet. The last 2km seemed to go on forever and probably took 1-2 hours for us, but we played a fun game of trying to spot the people visiting Torres on the day hike (they usually wore jeans, had clean hair and smelled good!)


Chileno was a beautiful campsite again, with hot showers. They try to make you pay (in case you are a day hiker I guess) but if you can prove that you have camping on site, the showers are free. It is worth noting that there is no kitchen here and you're not allowed open flames for cooking. There is a tap at the bar in the main dining area where you can get yourself some boiling water for those sweet instant ramen noodles you've been carrying for days. Otherwise, you'll have to dinner while you're booking this campsite. After our long day of hiking, we had a few more beers, several chocolate bars and then an early night to catch Torres at sunrise...



Day 3, Chileno Campsite Almost there... Views Near Chileno


Cake by the Lake, Start of Day 3 It's All Downhill, Right? Start of Day 3


Day 4: Chileno - Torres Mirador - Las Torres Hotel - Bus to Laguna Armaga (4.5km to Torres, approx. 2 hours for a slow hiker, then 10km back down, approx. 3 hours)

The day we had been waiting for, the hike to the Torres Mirador! We had heard how spectacular it was as sunrise and honestly, we weren't sure if it would be worth the early start and the hike in the dark... but it was. Going to Torres del Paine and not seeing Torres at sunrise is like going to Disneyland and not meeting Mickey Mouse!


Sunrise for us was around 7:30am and we knew we were slow walkers, so we left around 5:30am to give us plenty of time. The incline toward the end was pretty hard work so we were glad we left so early and didn't have to rush! After being forecast heavy downpours of rain all day, we were all so grateful to see clear skies and sunshine at sunrise. The towers started to turn red within 15 minutes and after 30 minutes, the sun was almost touching the lagoon. We would definitely recommend staying until at least this point, as the colour changes are incredible.


Torres del Paine, around 15 minutes before sunrise


Torres del Paine, around 10 minutes after sunrise


Torres del Paine, around 15 minutes after sunrise

Torres del Paine, around 30 minutes after sunrise


Top tips:

  • Bring a head torch. If you don't have one, buy one, it will make you life so much easier

  • If you are into photography, try leaving a little earlier and capture the starry sky.

  • If you have a spare phone, try taking a time-lapse to show the colour changes over time!

  • Bring a sleeping bag, hot drinks and wear everything you own. It was SO unbelievably cold at the mirador and like a wind tunnel, so we soon got too cold and had to leave!

  • Consider bringing a beer for sunrise... it sounds ridiculous but a few of ours friends bought them and beer has never tasted sweeter.

  • Technically the Chileno camp says you must check out by 9:00am or face a fine. This is so cruel as they know people will be watching the sunrise at the Mirador! We packed up early and hid our stuff under one of the platforms. When we returned at around 10am, no one got fined. Do at your own risk... OR...

  • Consider buying accommodation with a tent included for the last day. We did this as it was the only thing available but in hindsight, it was great. We didn't have to pack our tent down at 5:30am in the morning and could quickly grab our things and leave on the way down.

Overall, we would recommend this trek in a heartbeat. It was a fantastic challenge, but just the right amount for us. Looking back, I (Jo) would have almost have been tempted to just to the day trips to Mirador Grey and Torres del Paine, as the walks in between weren't spectacular to me and I really struggled with my health, but the experience certainly made the end result even sweeter, and is a memory I will never forget.



View from the Ferry to Paine Grande and Grey


What to Expect on The O-Trek

Unfortunately we haven't experienced the O-Trek yet (maybe one day...) but we don't want you to miss out! So here are some things we love that can help you prepare:




Thank you


We hope that you found our guide to Torres del Paine useful for planning your next trip, and would love to hear about your adventures! Feel free to get in touch via our social media channels or email us at tothemoonandbackpackers@gmail.com if you have a story to share, questions or tips to add.

This guide took 15 hours to put together, and it's free! To help support our work, please click the 'heart' on this blog, add a comment or follow us on our social media channels (links all at the top of the page). We look forward to meeting you and saying hello!


Happy travels,


Jo and Lewis

@tothemoonandbackpackers


 

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