There is little doubt that hiking the Torres del Paine O Circuit is one of the most stunning hikes you can do in the world. They are both spectacular treks with some of the most awe-inspiring scenery and landscapes imaginable. When we first booked our flights to South America I was so excited to finally be making my dream of seeing Patagonia a reality. And the one thing, I wanted to do more than any other, was to hike the Torres del Paine O Circuit .
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Booking Our O Trek
I had read about the head-ache that the booking system is and the need to book well in advance. But because we weren’t sure of the exact dates we would be in the area, I held off trying to book anything until around three months prior. I ignorantly thought this would be plenty of time to secure a spot. It wasn’t.
After reading lots of blog posts on how to best negotiate the booking system I was totally open to any options that were available. But even willing to skip the more popular campsites didn’t help. I spent way too much time online trying to navigate between the three separate bookings websites in a haze of confusion and frustration. I was feeling pretty disappointed. But after hearing a few stories of people being able to get last minute bookings in town, we continued on with our travels. We decided to just see what would eventuate when we arrived in Puerto Natales. We had plenty of time and were flexible with our itinerary.
Booking A Tour To Hike The Torres Del Paine O Circuit
If you don’t like the uncertainty of waiting around in Puerto Natales with the possibility of missing out. Need to book specific dates or want to avoid the stress of the booking process. There are plenty of travel companies in town and online that can organise everything for you. We used TourRadar for booking other tours in Patagonia and can recommend them. They have a variety of different options to suit every hiker and budget. If this is your first multi-day trek this could also be a great option for the added support and advise they provide along the way.
A Last Minute Booking
When we finally arrived in Puerto Natales, we headed straight to the booking offices to see what possibilities awaited us.
Incredibly, within an hour we had a booking to hike the Torres del Paine O Circuit in four days time. It was such a simple and straight forward process. Josh actually though I was crazy for complaining about how hard it was online.
Even in the middle of the peak season we were able to get bookings at all of the campsites we wanted. With only one small compromise. It didn’t stop us from seeing anything, it just added a few more kilometers onto our route. But remarkably we had managed to book all of the campgrounds with our own tent. We didn’t need to pay for any extra luxuries that we could do without, so we didn’t mind at all.
Hiking The Torres Del Paine O Circuit Vs The W Trek
The O trek starts from the Welcome Center and goes in an anticlockwise direction. It joins up with the W trek at Grey Glacier. The W can be walked in either direction utilizing the ferry service either on the last or first day of the hike.
The W Trek is approximately 80 km / 50 miles long and can be completed in 4 or 5 days. While hiking the Torres del Paine O Circuit generally requires 7 to 9 days, we took 8 and it’s 110 km / 68 miles long.
There are more campsites / refugios available to book than days required to hike the trail. This and the fact that they are run by three separate companies is what makes the booking process so difficult.
When deciding which option is best for you the main consideration is how much time you have or how much time you want to spend out on the trail hiking.
Our Hiking The Torres Del Paine O Circuit Itinerary
Here’s where we stayed each night with the distances we walked and suggest walking times. We took eight days to hike the Torres del Paine O Circuit .
- Welcome Center to Seron | 13km | 3-4 hours
- Seron – Dickson | 18km | 5-6 hours
- Dickson – Los Perros | 12km | 3-4 hours
- Los Perros – Grey | 22km | 9-11 hours
- Grey – Paine Grande | 11km | 3-4 hours
- Paine Grande – Mirador Britanico return | 26km | 8-10 hours
- Paine Grande – Central | 25km | 8-11 hours
- Day hike from Central to Torres return | 19km | 7-8 hours
These are all of the campgrounds / refugios for both the O circuit and W trek.
The Green are campsites run by CONAF and are free but have limited facilities. The red are run by Vertice and most will have options for food / meals, permanent tents, dorm rooms and showers. The blue / turquoise is Fantastico Sur and they are essentially the same as Vertice. Follow the links to head to the reservations pages and for more information directly on their websites.
* CONAF campgrounds will mostly likely remain closed for the entire 2019/20 season
Because we had a last minute booking there was no availability in the middle section of the W near Mirador Britanico. Instead we stayed 2 nights at Paine Grande and hiked from there to the mirador and back in a day. This wasn’t ideal but we made it work for us. My ideal itinerary would have been to have night six at Francis and seven at Chileno but other than this all of our other campsites were perfect.
The First Few Days
The first couple of days from the Welcome Centre were honestly a little disappointing. With so much hype I was expecting to walk around every corner and have my mind blown. That didn’t really happen until a couple of days in. Looking back now it was still picturesque and added a real contrast to the landscapes we saw further along the trail.
The Torres del Paine O Circuit has three really spectacular days of hiking that are not apart of the W trek. From the start of the third day until joining the W at Grey Glacier. We were lucky enough to have picture perfect weather for this part. This really made the extra effort of hiking the O circuit compared to the W trek worth it for us. The section from Los Perros to Grey is the main highlight of the O circuit. I would strongly suggest not rushing and taking your time on the trail to really enjoy it.
Hiking over John Garner Pass is also the most challenging section of the entire circuit. In bad weather it can be closed to trekkers. It is essential to leave early enough and to allow plenty of time to reach you next destination on this day.
Joining The W Trek
Once you reach Grey Glacier the track starts to becomes a lot busier as this is the start / finish of the W. The ferry systems also allows a lot of day hikers to access the area.
The whole W section of the trek, despite being a lot busier than the O circuit really is very stunning. I guess this is why it is so popular. We were here during the middle of the peak time but I can’t imagine what the weather would be like outside of summer. It was January when we were here and it certainly didn’t feel like summer. Some days I spent the entire day hiking uphill with my beanie, gloves, fleece and raincoat still on.
Hiking The Torres Del Paine O Circuit – Iconic Photos And View Points
The first of the three main viewpoints along the W trek is Grey Glacier. It is an incredible site to see. We got up early and went for sunrise even though this isn’t the perfect time to capture great photos we had the place to ourselves. Having the opportunity to just sit and appreciate the glacier’s astounding beauty in silence was very special.
For us the next few day were really big walks. It was a long day to reach Mirador Britanico and return to Paine Grande. But it was another remarkable lookout that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss. Then the same again, the following day, as we made our way back along the lake to the Welcome Center to camp at Central.
The Torres Towers
We chose to hike the Torres towers on our final day, saving the best until last. This is the iconic photo that you see of Patagonia and the park. We weren’t too sure what to expect here, as we had already seen it in so many pictures. I really wanted to go for sunrise and this meant a 2.30am start to be able to reach the lookout in time. Josh after seven days of hiking wasn’t so keen but he reluctantly agreed. Knowing that if he didn’t I would probably never forgiven him.
It was a typical cloudy Patagonian night but somehow we managed to drag our weary bodies out of bed when the alarm went off. After four hours of hiking by head torch we arrived at the top in the pitch black and freezing cold.
Josh as usual, was extremely under-prepared wearing shorts and a t-shirt with only a rain coat and beanie for warmth. He spent the whole time there freezing and trying to convince me it was time to head back down already. I, on the other hand had every item of clothing I had bought with me layered on and was surprisingly comfortable.
We didn’t get to see the incredible sunrise we were hoping for where the towers glow red. We were so fortunate to have a clear sky though, so we weren’t complaining. On the way back to the Welcome Center it was hard to believe how busy the trail had become. It made all of the effort of getting up so early worth it.
The W Trek
These three lookouts are what make the W trek so popular and rightly so. Each walk on its own would be an amazing day hike but combined together it makes for something that you will never forget. If you don’t have any luck in booking the campsites for hiking the O circuit, the W trek is most definitely still worth doing. And even if you have no luck booking that, all three of these lookouts, with a little effort can be reached on day walks.
There are other hikes in Patagonia that offer more solitude and the remote isolation that the Torres del Paine O Circuit lacks. But there is little doubt that this has to be one of the most stunning hikes I have ever done or will probably ever do.
Lets us know if you are plan on heading to Patagonia and have any questions regarding the hikes in the comments below. If you are going to have a day in Punta Arenas when you are travelling to or from the park, we’d recommend checking out Isla Magdalena and the Penguins there, we loved it!
Ruby & Josh
Two Lost Feet