In Parque Nacional de Torres del Paine there are two major treks: The W-trek brings you to some of the nicest viewpoints, the longer O-trek, also called sendero circuito grande, leads you in a circle around the Paine mountains. There are many recommendations how to do either trek in the best way, here's what we did:
Getting into Torres del Paine Nationalpark from Punta Arenas
BusSur leaves Punta Arenas at 10am for Puerto Natales, which probably is the starting point for most. Here you can connect to the 2.30pm bus which brings you into the park.
Tip 1: BusSur offers a roundtrip ticket for CLP 11,000; Pacheco is cheaper, with CLP 9,000; however their bus only leaves at 11am which might not bring you to Puerto Natales on time to connect to the bus into the park.
Tip 2: We bought our roundtrip ticket for the bus regular into the park from our hostel Hospedaje Independencia in Punta Arenas at the discounted price of CLP 12,000 (instead of 15,000).
At 4.30pm we are finally standing in line to pay our entrance fee at the park entrance at Laguna Amarga. There are only 2 daily departures from Puerto Natales into the park: at 7.30am and 2.30pm; however then there are min. 5 busses of different companies doing the same route, all arriving at the same time at the entrance. From here we take the expensive hotel shuttle bus (CLP 2,800) to Hotel las Torres. At 5.30pm we are finally set to start our hike.
Day 1: Arrival and ascent to Campamento Torres | 8km | 3 hours | app. 420 meters ascent
Eduardo from our hostel gave us the good advice to hike directly to Campamento Torres as weather conditions were perfect to enjoy a fantastic sunrise at 'Base de las Torres' the next morning. Who knows what the weather will be like in 1 week time when we are here again after our trek?
At the park entrance there are many signs informing that you can only use the (free) campground Campamento Torres with reservation. However, when arriving on the 2.30pm bus they will tell you that the campground is full and you'll have to stay at the Chileno campground (which is a paid camping appr. 1 hour before Torres campground). Well, we ignored this, went to Campamento Torres, arrived at 8.30pm and were not sent back. The campground was far from being full, so we don't really know what the whole reservation story is about.
Day 2: Sunrise at Mirador Base de las Torres and long hike to Campamento Serón | 23km | 7 hours | app. 220 meters ascent
Sunrise is scheduled for 5.15am. We start from our campground at 4.30am to arrive on time at the Mirador 'Base de las Torres'. We have to wait another hour in the cold before the sun beams actually lighten the torres. Therefore we highly recommend to sleep a little bit longer and start your day later.
After sunrise we pack up our tent, hike back to the Hotel Las Torres and finally start the official 1. leg of the O-trek to Campamento Séron. This day with 21km of hiking (+ ascent to mirador for sunrise) will be the longest of our days and to be honest, the last km were really hard.
Day 3: From Campamento Serón to Refugio Dickson| 18km | 6 hours | app. 180 meters ascent
Another long day: 19km can be done in around 6 hours.
Day 4: From Refugio Dickson to Campamento Perros | 11km | 4.5 hours | app. 400 meters ascent
This is the beginning of the ascent to John Gardner Pass and you feel it: the hike is steadily slightly going up and the landscape changes to more alpine.
Day 5: Crossing the John Gardner Pass | 8km | 6 hours | app. 600 meters ascent
Unfortunately we have to climb up to the pass in cold rain and lots of wind. Therefore we don't actually stay up there a long time but start our descent to Campamento Paso. The views of Grey glacier after the pass are fantastic and we are glad to stay at Campamento Paso in order to walk to the nearby viewpoints in the evening, when also the sun is shining again.
Day 6: Campamento Paso to Refugio Grey | 6km | 4 hours | app. 320 meters descent
The views today of the glacier are still fantastic, so we enjoy this short day and use the evening to walk to yet another nice viewpoint on Lago Grey.
Day 7: Via Refugio Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano | 17.5km | 6 hours | app. 170 meters ascent
We are now on the W-trek and you can tell from the increasing number of hikers. As of here you see many day hikers which are staying at the refugios between here and Hotel Las Torres. Refugio Paine Grande offers a good camping kitchen for lunch break.
Tip: In the camping klitchen at Refugio Paine Grande you'll find many half empty gas bottles left by those hikers that take the boat back from here. Help yourself!
Day 8: Into Valle del Francés and on to Refugio Los Cuernos | 15km | 6 hours | 580 meters ascent
Today we hike up Valle del Francés to Mirador Brítanico. We watch many small avalanches breaking off increadibly loud from the glacier at Cerro Castilo. Back in Campamento Italiano we pack up to continue a short bit on to Los Cuernos (1.5h). This very nice campground is located close to the lake which could easily be confused with a sea shore.
Day 9: Los Cuernos to Hotel Torres and back to Puerto Natales | 12km | 3.5 Stunden | app. 200 meters
This is our last (short) leg and offers last nice views (look back!) of the nature and beautiful Laguna Pehoé.
From the Hotel Las Torres we take the shuttle bus at 1pm back to the park entrance in order to catch the 2.30pm bus back to Puerto Natales.
Total distance app. 108km. Easy trails for everyone that can carry equipment (tent and food) for the time of the trek. The map you get at the entrance is sufficient as the path is clearly marked. The times on the map were mostly true for us, including our breaks. There are several options to do the trek in 7 days, we recommend speeding up at the beginning in order to enjoy all views of the glacier, e.g. 1 long day from Camp. Séron via Dickson to Camp. Perron or 1 day from Refugio Dickson via Camp. Perron to Camp. Paso.
Tips for equipment, cost and the campgrounds in the park are available here (german only): 'Trekking Tipps zu Torres del Paine'.