Already in the beginning of November 2017 we tried booking campgrounds for doing the “Circuit” (also called the “O”) in Torres del Paine National Park (NP), but at that time it was already impossible to book the campground, because no sites were available. Without the reservations for the campgrounds, you are not allowed to start the multi-day hike (6-9 nights). Instead we focused on day hikes in Torres del Paine NP. We visited the 21st to the 24th of February 2018. We arrived on the 21th of February, because the shortest and the main road into the Park from Puerto Natales was closed we had to take a detour, and enter at the Amarga Ranger Station. Everybody who have a campervan, motorhome etc. are allowed to camp overnight for free at the four Ranger Stations (Amarga, Lago Toro, Grey and Sarmiento), that have public restrooms. If you are camping in a tent, you have to stay at an official campground.
The Torres del Paine
During the four days we did these day hikes:
Mirador de las Torres 21,5 km (6-7 hours of walking)
The Guanaco trail (From the Amarga Ranger Station to Lago Sarmiento and back) 15 km (3-4 hours of walking)
Mirador Cuernos 6,5 km (1,5-2 hours of walking)
Mirador Condor 3 km (1 hours of walking)
Lago Grey 6 km (1,5-2 hours of walking)
Mirador Ferrier 6 km (2,5-3 hours of walking)
Mirador de las Torres 21,5 km ascent/descent 1200 meters
This is a full day hike. Officially the trail is 8 km up and 8 km back, but because of all the visitors in the park, we had to park way before getting to Hotel Las Torres, where the trail starts officially. This add the last extra kilometers. Start early in the morning to beat the crowd, but also the angle of the sun shinning on the Towers are best in the morning. We started too late for my opinion, and the sun was starting to disappear behind the Towers.
This is also the most famous hike in the National Park, and it is the “Towers of paine”, that made the park famous. The towers are a part of the Cordillera Paine mountain group in National Park in Chilean Patagonia. The highest summit of the range is Cerro Paine Grande (2884 meters), but the three peaks you see in the picture is (from the left): The South Tower of Paine (about 2,500 meters is now thought to be the highest of the three, although this has not been definitely established, the Central Tower of Paine (about 2,460 meters) and the North Tower of Paine (about 2,260 meters). I know that the Central Tower of Paine looks to be the highest one, but the South Tower of Paine is located further away and combined with the angle of the picture the Central Tower of Paine just looks bigger (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordillera_Paine). One way or the other they are beautiful. The hike is hard, but not very difficult – you can do it!
In 2013, the park measured approximately 181,414 hectares, that is located in the southernmost and largest region of Chile called Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica. It is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile. The park has over 252,000 visitors per year, of which 54% are foreign tourists, who come from many countries all over the world. The park was established in 1959 as Parque Nacional de Turismo Lago Grey (Grey Lake National Tourism Park) and was given its present name in 1970 (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torres_del_Paine_National_Park).
The downside is all the other tourist, that were also on the trail
The Guanaco trail (From the Amarga Ranger Station to Lago Sarmiento and back) 15 km ascent/descent 600 meters
This is a very easy trail, only steep ascent/descent from the Amarga Ranger Station. I don’t know the official trail name, but I named it “The Guanaco Trail”, because I met a huge herd of Guanaco after hiking 2,5-3 km.
I was amazing how close I could get, without bothering the Guanacos
About half way you can take a small detour to a few cave paintings (“pinturas”). So I started the hike at the Amarga Ranger Station, and after seeing the “pinturas”, there is not much to see on the rest of the trail, so I would suggest to turn around at this point (about 4-5 km, shorting the total length of the trail to 9-10 km). I haven’t been able to find information about how old the “pinturas” are, but natural origin dates from 12,000 years ago, when the first settlers arrived in the “Austral” Patagonia (southernmost), followed by Tehuelches (“People of the South” in Mapudungun), who inhabited a big area of the park (Source: http://www.lastorres.com/en/torres-del-paine/).
The weather was clearing, and on the way back I could enjoy the view of the “Towers of Pain”
Mirador Cuernos 6,5 km Ascent/descent 150 meters
A very easy trail that end at the viewpoint at Lago Nordenskjöld. In the upper picture to the left you see the mountain “Cuernos del Paine” and to the right you see “Monte Almirante Nieto”. Close up of the “Cuernos del Paine”. In the left picture you see burned trees. In late December 2011 through January 2012, a fire started by an Israeli backpacker burned about 176 km2 (68 sq-miles) of the reserve, destroying about 36 km² of native forest and affecting most of the areas around Lake Pehoé and the western areas around Lake Sarmiento. The Israeli government sent reforestation experts to the zone, and has committed to donate trees to replant the affected areas (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torres_del_Paine_National_Park).
“Monte Almirante Nieto”
On the way you pass Salto Grande, which is a waterfall on the Paine River, after the Nordenskjöld Lake
Mirador Condor 3 km scent/descent 290 meters
This hike is quite easy, and end at the Condor viewpoint, where you get panoramic view of Lago Pehoé with the mountains “Cuernos del Paine” and “Monte Almirante Nieto” in the background. It easily get very windy at the top!
The mountains “Cuernos del Paine” (to the left) and “Monte Almirante Nieto” (to the right)
Lago Grey 6 km ascent/descent 200 meters
Grey Glacier (270 km2) is a glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (world’s second largest continuous ice field outside of the poles), just west of the Cordillera del Paine. With 28 kilometers (17 miles) in lenght, Grey Glacier is a massive natural ice formation. It flows southward into the lake of the same name (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Glacier). The water temperature Lake Grey is only 2-5 Celsius and the depth reaches 600 meters though the lake is only 30 km2.
It is an easy walk following a peninsula that reaches a small island, where you follow a trail that goes around in a loop. From the island you get the view of Lago Grey with the Glacier Grey in the background (upper picture). The Glacier Grey is still really far away, so if clouds are gathering the view of the glacier can easily disappear. The peninsula is amazing to walk on, but it is also hard work, because it consists of loose gravel. On top of that the wind was blowing quite hard, so we got hit several time by small flying rocks.
Mirador Ferrier 6 km ascent/descent 650 meters
Another hike to a viewpoint, but because of the 650 meters ascent in elevation is was very steep and tough going up. You also have to watch your step on the way down, because of loose rocks. Esben definitely had it harder than me .
When we got to the top (the viewpoint) the clouds had covered the mountains and it was windy
Staying at the Amarga Ranger Station – every morning 5-8 big busses arrived with tourists
Staying at the Grey Ranger Station where we met our friend Alberto from Santiago de Chile, spending his vacation in Patagonia. We also met other travelers (this couple were from Columbia, and had traveled in their car for 1,5 year), which we love .
Leaving Torres del Paine National Park
All the roads in Torres del Paine National Park is gravel, and maintenance of the road is really bad. It took us two hours to drive from the Grey Ranger Station to the Amarga Ranger Station (about 50 km), because of the roads condition.
Enjoying the wildlife on the way
Our final evaluation of Torres del Paine
We really like that we were allowed to camp for free at the Ranger Stations, where there were public restrooms. The entry fee is 21,000 pesos per person (35 USD per person) and include a good map over the park with all the hiking trails. We find the entry fee expensive, compared to how few day hikes you can do in the park. Our wish was to do the multi-day hike “The circuit”, but the booking of the campgrounds which are required, is not working well. You have to book at three different websites, and try to coordinate the dates was just impossible. At the same time the National Park had closed one big campground for maintenance during the season 2017/2018, without compensation for the lacking campsites.
If you only can do day hikes in the park your options are very limited – for our opinion to limited. The only way really to see the park is by doing “the Circuit” or alternatively the shorter “W”. I hope that the park in the future will make a different booking system for the campground, that will make it easier to book the campgrounds for the multi-day hikes.
The conclusion: Torres del Paine National Park is worth a visit, but we would recommend to visit “Los Glaciares National Park” in El Chaltén, Argentina instead (if you don’t have time to visit both). This is where you find Mont Fitz Roy, there is no entry fee, the visitor center have good information about hiking. A bigger part of the park is accessible by day hikes and 2-4 multi-day hikes. Also here you can do the Huemul Trail (4 days), which gives you views over several glaciers, zipline over rivers, walk on a glacier, Paso del Viento, panoramic view over the huge glacier Viedma and camping by Lake Viedma watching the icebergs. Read this post: “4-days on the Huemul Trail (El Chaltén)”. What kind of food to bring, read this post: “Get inspired – how to eat right when hiking”.