Torres del Paine
If you are one of those who love trekking you cannot miss this destination. This National Park is known worldwide as one of the “meccas” for trekking. As Argentinians, there were two things that surprised us from the beginning: we could hardly find any visitor from Latin America, and the good organization this park has. Credit card payment is accepted everywhere. And that, for people like us coming from Argentina, is surprising.
This park can be visited until April. Afterwards the climate gets very cold and trails are closed because of the snow. March is a good month for visiting. The only disadvantage we saw is that campsites have very little food to sell. So you have to carry most things from Puerto Natales with you.
We flew Buenos Aires – Calafate and took a public bus from Calafate to Puerto Natales. From Puerto Natales there are public buses that can take you to the National Park (they leave only in the morning). Or you can hire a private transfer if you arrive in the afternoon and do not want to spend a night in Puerto Natales. We took the second option.
Inside the Park there are two circuits that can be done: W and O. We did the O circuit. Most people start this circuit at Laguna Amarga –Seron camp and finish at Las Torres. This is because there is a big slope between Grey camp and Paso camp. If you do the circuit like this you walk downhills and it is supposed to be easier. We did the circuit the other way round, starting at Las Torres and finishing at Camp Seron – Laguna Amarga. To tell you the truth, that slope I talked about is not so difficult. And there is an advantage of doing it in our direction: you can see the Grey glacier in front of you during the entire walk from Grey camp to Paso camp. And if you are lucky and have a sunny day the view is marvelous! This was our itinerary:
Day 1: we took a private transfer from Puerto Natales and entered the Park at Portería Laguna Amarga. There we had to pay the entrance fee. The entrance fee allows you to enter the park 3 times so you have to keep the receipt. We camped at Las Torres campsite. This campsite is well organized, toiletts are clean, shower boxes are wide and there is plenty of space to choose for your tent (we camped aside a nice stream).
Day 2: This day we hiked up to Las Torres viewpoint. It took us 3 ½ hours to get there (without backpack).
The first part of the trail between Las Torres camp and Chileno camp runs smoothly. There are no forests so you get wonderful views on the Nordenskjold lake. On the way we passed by Chileno camp. It is a very small campsite located on a steep slope. Because of this there are several wooden platforms on that slope to put the tents on them. It looks quite crowded. Toilettes were very dirty.
We continued our way towards the Torres camp that cannot be seen from the trail but its location is indicated with a sign. The trail run through a forest of “lengas” and “ñires” (typical trees that grow in Patagonia) and it also gets steeper.
The final part of the trail runs through big stones. This part gets a bit tough. But as we had time we walked slowly and got over it without tire out. Finally we arrived to Las Torres viewpoint. It´s very beautiful and similar to mount Fitz Roy in Chalten. If you have already been there you will feel familiar to the views.
After taking lots of pictures and having a nice lunch we walked back to our camp site. We spent this night again at Las Torres camp.
Day 3: we left Las Torres camp and walked towards Italiano camp. It took us 7 ½ hours (with backpack).
It was raining and a strong wind was blowing. Most part of this trail has no forests to shelter you. So the wind felt really strong. The trail runs along the Nordenskjold lake which can be accessed at many places. Because of the wind the lake looked like a rough sea. Only the last part of the trail runs through a forest. The toughest part of the trail was between camps Los Cuernos and Italiano because we had to walk on loose stones, which makes the walk a bit difficult.
Italiano camp is free for camping (no charge for camping there). It only provides some toilettes (brand new!) and a shelter for people to cook and have their meals. It is surrounded by a nice forest of “lengas”. From the camp site you can see the Francés glacier and you can hear the thunder every time some ice falls from its walls. This night it was really cold.
Day 4: hike to Los Cuernos viewpoint. 2h 40min walk.
It was raining in the morning while we started to hike up to Los Cuernos viewpoint. By afternoon the rain had stopped. At first the trail runs along the Francés river through big stones for a short while. Afterwards it climbs up a slope that led us to the viewpoint of Francés glacier. There you can feel a freezing wind blowing from the glacier. We continued walking up the slope until we reached a dead forest (I wonder what could have happened for a forest to die like that.). We left that forest behind us and reached the Británico camp site (abandoned as it is not allowed to camp there). After a while we got to the viewpoint of Los Cuernos. This massif is really beautiful and magnificent! We spent several hours there just enjoying the breathtaking views and having lunch of course! In our opinion this massif is much more beautiful than Las Torres.
In the afternoon we returned to Italiano camp where we spend a second night.
Day 5: From camp Italiano to camp Grey. It took us 6 ½ hours walk (with backpack).
It was raining again in the morning, but in the afternoon it was sunny and quite warm.
The leg from camp Italiano to Paine Grande refuge took us 2 ½ hours. The trail runs through smooth slopes. There were some flooded parts on the way that were avoided on wooden bridges. Paine Grande area offers a camp site, a refuge and a hostel. It looked like it was very good equipped to accommodate lots of tourists. We did not like the location as there was no forest nearby for shelter in that windy area. Fortunately we were just passing by. We only stopped for lunch at the “quincho” there. And bought some snacks at the kiosk.
It took us 4 hours getting from Paine Grande to Grey camp. The slopes at this part were steeper. On our way we passed through a forest that was burned down some time ago. Trees were still black. The view was a bit heartbreaking for me. Finally we arrived at Grey camp. This area offers a wide camp site and a hostel. It is not so big like Paine Grande but services are good. It looks like it has been built anew shortly.
Day 6: this day we left to Paso camp. It took us 5h 15min to get there.
It rained really very much that day. We got very very wet. During the entire walk we had the Grey glacier at our left and in front of us. So we had breathtaking views all the time. Here is when we realized how big this glacier really is. Most visitors end their treks at Grey camp and return by boat. But I think, if you have come so far, it is worth continuing a bit more to experience this glacier. The view you get in front of the glacier is not so astonishing as the view you get while walking beside it.
During this trail we had to cross several deep gorges. Only one of them is sorted out by a catwalk (in very good conditions). The rest of them have a precarious steel ladder to help you getting up the almost vertical walls. If there are many people at the same time it can get a bit blocked. So patience is required at this stage.
Paso camp is free of charge, very small (if was difficult to find a place to put our tent for 2 persons) as it is located inside a forest of “lenga” trees. The toilette is a latrine. I saw no shower. Maybe there is one but I suppose only with cold water. It also has a small refuge where you can cook. Much more basic than the camp sites we had visited the previous days. But it has a viewpoint on the Grey glacier with astonishing views that make it worth to camp there.
Day 7: we continued our way to Los Perros camp. It took us 6 hours to get there.
It was sunny and almost no wind!! (we could only feel the wind at the Gardner pass). Immediately after leaving the Paso camp the trail became steep and run through the forest. Some very steep parts have ropes bound to the trees to help you climb. Because of the rain we had the previous day the ground was muddy and slippery. We had to walk very carefully.
This is the steepest part of the trails and the reason everyone prefers to do the O circuit the other way round. But it is not so bad as it seems! While we got closer to the Gardner pass the forest ended and the ground turned into loose stones. Once we reached the pass we had a wonderful view on the Grey glacier!! It is really worth to walk this far!! There was still some snow that probably fell down the night before.
After descending from the pass we entered another forest with lots of flooded areas. This slowed us down. Services at this part of the circuit are much more basic than at the W part. Trails are not so well marked nor kept. And the camp sites are also more basic.
Los Perros camp site is organized (you have to pay). It has a small grocery but had not much food left to offer. It had showers, but only with cold water. The camp site is very nice as it is located inside the forest.
Day 8: Los Perros camp – Dickson camp. It took us 3 ½ hours to get there.
We liked this trail very much as it runs through a thick forest all the time. It was a very nice walk!.
Dickson area offers a very wide camp site and also a hostel. It also has a grocery but, the same as at Los Perros, there was not much left. The shower booths are very badly placed. They consist of 2 tiny booths located in the middle of the camp site (the strong wind blew the door of one of them away). Toilettes are also very basic. It has no refuge to shelter you while cooking. This would be very helpful as this area is very windy. So it gets a bit uncomfortable while camping.
Day 9: Dickson – Seron camp. It took us 6 hours to get there.
This part of the park has hardly no forest. It is more a “pampa” like, very muddy and with lots of mosquitos!!! And also very windy.
The trail runs along the Paine river and the Paine lake, but there is no access to them because of a steep cliff that surrounds them. So you should carry your water from Dickson. The views are very beautiful.
In the afternoon we arrived to Seron camp. It is very small and looks more like the garden of a ranch. It has no grocery. They only can offer the food other tourist have left behind. Toiletts are in good conditions. And there is also a vehicle track that maybe leads to one of the entrances of the park.
Day 10: Seron camp – Portería Laguna Amarga. It took us 4 ½ hours walk.
It got freezing cold the previous night. That day was the coldest day we had during our entire journey. We had frost that morning. We started our walk but it was difficult to warm my hands and feet.
The trail kept running along the Paine river. But this time we could reach it at several spots. I would describe this part of the trail as very colorful. It led us to the entrance of Laguna Amarga, where we took a public bus to Puerto Natales. Before leaving the park we had to notify the park authorities that we were back.