The O Circuit Torres del Paine: 2020/2021 Expert Trekking Guide Skip to Content

Everything You Need to Know About Hiking the Torres del Paine O Circuit

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While the W trek may be what brings the hordes to the park, the O Circuit is Torres del Paine National Park’s undisputed gem.

Untouched landscapes of Magallanic forests, a rich array of wildlife and more glaciers per day than is probably your fair ratio, this trek goes above and beyond what the W can offer – and you get to finish with the torres themselves anyway.

What’s more, it’s a far quieter route. Since 2017, the O Circuit has only allowed a daily visitor number of 70, which might seem a lot, but in practice means you are unlikely to bump into too many other until you reach camp at night.

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As a result, there’s more opportunity for catching a glimpse of the native Patagonian fauna, including guanaco and even pumas, and more time for taking photos free of other hikers. Magic.

At the towers at the end of hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Hiking the O Circuit is a nine to 11-day extravaganza of exceptional views ending in dawn at the national park’s star attraction: the granite torres del paine

I’ve visited the national park on a number of occasions and had the fortune to hike both the W and the Circuit.

Therefore, this guide to the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park aims to show you how you to arrive prepared for this trek, with everything from booking campgrounds, to sorting food and planning your equipment list included.

Trust me: you’re about to embark on what will soon rank as one of your favourite hikes in Patagonia.

Three people sit on a tree trunk for lunch while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Every lunch stop is a stunning one when hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

What is the O Circuit?

The O trek, O Circuit or Full Circuit all refer to the 136-kilometre (85-mile) hike that is the second most popular trail in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia*.

The trail begins at the Laguna Amarga entrance to Torres del Paine National Park and completes a full loop of the park, passing anti-clockwise around the back of the Cuernos del Paine, and then up and over the John Gardener Pass and alongside Glacier Grey and the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.

You then join the better-known W trail to end you trek at the torres or towers that give the name to the park.

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Traveled to Chile, December to January 2020
Glaciar Grey and the Southern Patagonian Icefield as seen from Paso John Gardner while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Glacier Grey and the Southern Patagonian Icefield are just some of the stunning glaciers spotted while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

But is the O Circuit really accessible for those without much hiking experience and what’s the ideal number of days to aim for?

*find out more about the shorter and more popular Patagonia hike, the W or read about the best day hikes in Torres del Paine.

Do I need to be really fit and an experienced walker to hike the O Circuit in Torres del Paine?

I go into this further in my article about the 14 essential things to know before embarking on the O, but ultimately, anyone can hike the O Circuit.

Sure, it helps if you’ve broken your boots in, have a decent rucksack that fits and won’t cause you discomfort and know how to cook up a meal with only a stove and a few pots, but realistically, the only barrier to the O Circuit is your own self-belief.

It remains the longest hike I’ve ever done and while I come from a family of walkers (my dad does four-month long-distance hikes around Europe every other year), it was a challenge, but one that could be overcome with preparation.

A hiker stands in front of a glacier at the top of Paso John Gardner while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
I was still smiling, even after summiting Paso John Garnder on the fourth day!

Scroll to the FAQ section of this article for more information about how to prepare for this trek.

What is the distance of the O Circuit?

The O Circuit in Torres del Paine is a 136-kilometre (85-mile) hike*. Depending on your fitness levels and your familiarity with carrying a heavy rucksack, it is possible to hike it in anything from six days to eleven.

When we did it, we hiked it in nine days, which is what I’ll use to illustrate the trek in this post. I’ll also indicate where and how you could shorten or extend the number of days.

While you are not obliged to stay at every refugio (refuge) or campground in the park (and instead can turn two of the days on the O Circuit into one if you’re a fast, fit hiker), you are required to hike the O Circuit anti-clockwise.

*Differences in distant lengths abound across the internet for this trek! The distances quoted in this article were recorded during our hike of the O Circuit and include the hike from Laguna Amarga to Serón (rather than from Hotel las Torres to Serón where most people start) as well as the hike back from Hotel Las Torres to Laguna Amarga at the end of the trek (and which many people instead opt to take the minibus transfer).

Which months can I hike the O Circuit?

The official opening date of the O Circuit entirely depends on when CONAF decide to open the trail. This normally happens in November, with the hiking season continuing until the end of March and sometimes into April.

During the low season (1st of May until 31st of October), the O Circuit is closed, except to guided groups of at least three people. You can organise this with a local tour agency.

Luckily, Chile Nativo in Puerto Natales are able to offer readers a 5% discount on any trek (the Circuit or otherwise) if you mention Worldly Adventurer when booking with them!

Torres del Paine Circuit map

The O Circuit around Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, with recommended campground/refugios marked as numbers. Click the map to zoom.

The cost of hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park

Unfortunately, trekking in Torres del Paine National Park isn’t cheap. This is because you have to pay for every campground that you stay at, in addition to a fairly high national park entrance fee.

Three hikers cross a bridge while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Our packs were large but not overly heavy – and we carried all of our food and camping equipment for the nine-day trek

The cheapest way to hike the O Circuit is to bring all of your own food and camping equipment into the national park with you, leaving you to only pay fees for your bus transport, admission into the national park and campgrounds.

If you to backpack the Torres del Paine O Circuit, you can expect to pay $112,500 CLP ($155 USD)*:

  • Return bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)
  • Adult entrance fee into the park: $35,000 CLP ($42 USD)
  • Serón Campsite: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)
  • Dickson Campsite: $5,500 CLP ($9 USD)
  • Los Perros Campsite: $5,500 CLP ($9 USD)
  • Paso Campsite: Free
  • Paine Grande Campsite: $6,500 ($11 USD)
  • Francés or Los Cuernos Campsites: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)
  • El Chileno or Las Torres Campsites: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)

We also spent only $17,000 CLP ($27 USD) per person for food for the entire trek)

*all figures are per person, based on two people sharing a tent and trekking the O Circuit in nine days

If you don’t want to have to bring camping equipment and instead want a tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat set up for you at each campground, you can expect to pay $301,500 CLP ($403 USD)*:

  • Return bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)
  • Adult entrance fee into the park: $35,000 CLP ($42 USD)
  • Serón Campsite:  $36,000 CLP ($49 USD)
  • Dickson Campsite: $35,500 CLP ($48 USD)
  • Los Perros Campsite: $35,500 CLP ($48 USD)
  • Grey Campsite: $35,500 CLP ($48 USD)**
  • Paine Grande Campsite: $37,000 CLP ($49.5 USD)
  • Francés or Los Cuernos Campsites: $36,000 CLP ($49 USD)
  • El Chileno or Las Torres Campsites: $36,000 CLP ($49 USD)

*all figures are per person, based on two people sharing a tent and trekking the O Circuit in nine days

** you cannot stay at the CONAF free campsites without your own equipment

If you want to backpack the O Circuit and not carry any food, you can expect to pay an additional $288,000 CLP ($411 USD)* on top of the above prices:

  • Serón Campsite: $60,000 CLP ($80 USD)
  • Dickson Campsite: $36,000 CLP ($57 USD)
  • Los Perros Campsite: N/A**
  • Grey Campsite: $36,000 CLP ($57 USD)
  • Paine Grande Campsite: $36,000 CLP ($57 USD)
  • Francés or Los Cuernos Campsites: $60,000 CLP ($80 USD)
  • El Chileno or Las Torres Campsites: $60,000 CLP ($80 USD)

* all prices are full-board, including breakfast, a packed lunch and dinner

**you can’t get meals prepared for you at Los Perros. You would have to bring food for this day.

Making camping reservations for the Circuit in Torres del Paine

You can only stay in the official refugios (basic dorm-style accommodation)and campgrounds in the park; wild camping is not permitted and you could well receive a hefty fine for attempting it.

A tent pitched at Campamento Dickson while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Campamento Dickson is particularly picturesque, especially in the early morning

Booking camping pitches or refugio is necessary for hiking the Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park; in fact, you may not be allowed entry into the national park if you cannot show your reservations.

The campground and refuges tend to book up at least four to six months in advance in high season (December through March) and a couple of months in advance for October, November and April.

If you cannot get reservations, it’s sometimes possible to visit the offices in Puerto Natales of Vertice Patagonia, Fantastico Sur and CONAF, who operate the main refugios and campgrounds in the park and see if they have space to accommodate you due to a last-minute cancellation.

While you are not obliged to stay at every refugio or campground in the park (and instead can turn two of the days on the O Circuit into one if you’re a fast, fit hiker), you are required to hike the O Circuit anti-clockwise. Therefore, you need to ensure that you make reservations in this direction – you’ll face problems otherwise!

I’ve gone into a surreal level of details in another post about reservations for Torres del Paine (scroll down for the section about the O Circuit) that should answer all of your questions and give you a sense of prices and facilities available at each of the different overnight stops.

The new website Torres Hike shows you the availability of accommodation and allows you to book it directly through them, rather than having to go via the Vertice Patagonia, Fantastico Sur and CONAF websites. All you need to do is plug in your dates and it’ll show you which campgrounds and refugios are available – saving you LOTS of time.

Equipment for hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine

While you can actually stay at refugios every night along the O Circuit (see below), most people instead choose to camp and self-cater – either for monetary reasons or just for the fun of it. This therefore adds a considerable degree of weight to your rucksack.

However, every hiker is only as fit and athletic as their rucksack is light and refined.

Three hikers in a geodesic dome in Campamento Dickson cook over camping stoves while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Self-catering saves you a lot of money during the O Circuit – and doesn’t have to weigh you down

Regardless of how strong you might be, carrying a four-kilogram tent is going to slow you down dramatically. Ditto overpacking clothing that you never wear and lugging heavy gas bottles and saucepans.

Camping and trekking equipment

My dad does some pretty extreme long-distance hiking across Europe and so he knows a thing or two about packing ultralight. I’ve learned from him that to streamline your pack and your speed, I would highly recommend:

I’ve learned from him that to streamline your pack and your speed, I would highly recommend:

  • A comfortable 60 litre rucksack. I found 60 litres was perfectly big enough for hiking the full O Circuit – any bigger and you can start to overpack to fill the space; I highly recommend Berghaus, which has a fully adjustable back system and is available on Amazon or check out the highly-regarded Osprey rucksacks for women on REI|Osprey|Amazon and for men on REI|Osprey|Amazon.
  • A lightweight backpacking tent. This is likely the heaviest part of your camping equipment and so needs to not weigh you down; I recommend the Big Agnes Copper Spur HVUL 2 Tent (1.4kg/3lb 1oz), which you can find on REI|Backcountry|Amazon. If you’re after a cheaper option and are in the UK, the Wild Country Zephyros 2 is a great alternative. For those on a budget in the US or Canada, check out the North Face Stormbreak 2 (REI|Backcountry|Amazon) or the North Face Stormbreak 3 (REI).
  • A warm, lightweight sleeping bag. It can get cold on the O Circuit, so you want something that will still provide the warmth you need but won’t be too bulky or provide unnecessary additional weight; I recommend the Rab Ascent 700 Women’s. If you’re in the States or Canada, for women, the Marmot Trestles 30 (REI|Backcountry|Amazon); for men, the cheaper Marmot Eco Elite 30 (REI|Backcountry) or Sierra Designs Cloud (Backcountry|Amazon).
  • A lightweight sleeping pad. A decent sleeping pad is the difference between a comfortable sleep and one spent feeling every single one of the stones underneath the tent; Therm-a-Rest ProLite is good (REI|Backcountry|Amazon) or find a more inexpensive sleeping pad on REI|Backcountry|Amazon.
  • A camping stove and fuel. You want something lightweight but powerful that won’t use up too much fuel (because you have to carry it or buy it for elevated prices at the campgrounds!); I can’t stop talking about how wonderful the MSR Dragonfly is because it’s so fuel efficient and powerful (check it out on REI|Backcountry|Amazon) and they also do smaller, cheaper pocket stoves too (find the MSR Pocket Rocket on REI|Backcountry|Amazon.
  • Camping pots. Again, lightweight and non-stick are your mantras here; Head into your local camping store or buy the MSR pots (REI|Backcountry |Amazon).
  • Collapsible bowl. Being able to fold it down saves space and also makes it a slightly less awkward shape to fit in your rucksack. Several companies are now offering these. You can find them on REI|Backcountry|Amazon
  • Camping mug. Go for a durable and lightweight plastic or metal one; Pop into your local supermarket or camping store for a cheap one or buy one on REI|Backcountry|Amazon
  • Spork or similar. You don’t want to bring much cutlery but you do want something that doesn’t snap in your rucksack; Opt for a titanium for more durability such as these ones on REI|Backcountry|Amazon
Two stoves in a campsite in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile
Lightweight stoves are an essential addition to your backpack

Essentials you might not think about:

  • Toilet paper. All of the toilets along the W part of the trek have paper, many of those on the O Circuit don’t. Don’t get caught out!
  • A rain cover for your pack. It rains all the time in Torres del Paine National Park and, if your rucksack doesn’t already come with its own rain cover, I suggest buying one. Just make sure it fits securely, as you don’t want it blowing away. This one by Osprey (REI|Osprey|Amazon) should fit your rucksack without letting water in at the top where the bag straps are.
  • A dry sack to be used as a rucksack liner. In case of heavy rain, you also want to make sure that water doesn’t break through into your bag and get all of your clothes wet, which can still happen, even with a rain cover. I suggest a 35 or 40-litre dry bag that can be used as an internal liner for your bag for all items that need to remain dry and closed up inside your rucksack. Check them out on REI|Backcountry|Amazon
  • A book or cards. Some of the days are actually quite short in terms of hiking, so a book or pack of cards are great for periods of downtime.
  • A charger for your phone or camera. You can actually find electricity in many of the campgrounds (see the full list of facilities available in this guide to camping in Torres del Paine), so you’ll want to bring a charger to make use of them and to keep your electronics alive for all the photographs you’ll take!

For clothing, I would also recommend:

  • Hiking boots. You want some that are comfortable and that you’ve broken in (i.e. you’ve worn them on a number of occasions before to loosen up the fabric) so that they don’t give you blisters!; Check out the Salomon hiking boots for women on REI|Backcountry|Amazon or the men’s version on REI|Backcountry|Amazon
  • Base layer hiking socks (x3 pairs). I wear a thin pair of socks underneath a thicker pair of socks as I’ve found this helps me avoid getting blisters. You may just want the thicker pair, but it’s worth trialling with both on a hike to see which is most comfortable; Get socks on REI|Darn Tough|Amazon
  • Outer layer hiking sock (x2 pairs). As above; Get them on REI|Darn Tough|Amazon
  • Gore-Tex waterproof jacket. This is essential for keeping you warm and dry – rain is a very common occurrence in the park, even in summer!; Check them out on REI|Backcountry| Amazon. For men, check out the North Face Apex Flex (REI|Backcountry|Amazon) or the Arc’teryx Beta (REI|Backcountry|Amazon).
  • Waterproof and windproof pants. I bought these last-minute in Puerto Natales and was so thankful I had them to protect me not just from the rain but also from fierce wind; These zip-off rain pants are great for women: available at REI|Amazon; these rain pants are great for men: available at REI|Amazon.
  • Trekking poles. These were essential for the John Gardner Pass, particularly on the way down which was steep and exceedingly muddy. You don’t need to spend loads on them but you do want some that pack down small and light and that are sturdy; Check them out on REI|Amazon.
  • Sandals. We had fairly unusual weather and had to ford a couple of streams that had swollen because of rainfall (something that is very rare but could happen). We found Teva sandals to be the best for this and were also good for evenings, when you could wear them with socks and give your feet a break from your hiking boots; Get them for her on REI|Backcountry|Amazon and for him: REI|Backcountry|Amazon – and they’re great for covering long distances in cities comfortably, too!
  • Basic short-sleeved or strappy top (x2) for hiking
  • Long-sleeved top (x2) for hiking and layering
  • Fleece jumper (x2). These are great for the evenings or morning when it’s cold; Check them out for women: REI|Backcountry| Amazon; for men: on REI|Backcountry|Amazon
  • Insulated down jacket. Again, these are great for the cold weather in the mornings and evenings and tend to pack down very small and not weigh much; I’m no expert on down jackets but  REI|Backcountry|Amazon have a great selection for women, REI has great options for men and a helpful guide to choosing one.
  • Hiking trousers, zip off at the knee (x2) or shorts. Comfortable trousers that don’t chafe anywhere are essential, while zip offs allow you to adapt to the weather; Find them for women on REI|Backcountry|Amazon. For men, check these out on REI|Backcountry|Amazon.
  • Thermal underwear. I found this was necessary at night time because it can get cold, particularly at the Los Perros and Paso campgrounds; for women: top (Under Armour|Amazon) and bottoms (Under Armour|Amazon); for men: top (REI|Under Armour|Amazon) and bottoms (Under Armour|Amazon)
  • Leggings (x1). I use these for either walking or as warm pyjama alternatives. Available from REI|Amazon
  • Warm hat, gloves and scarf or a Buff. Again, you want to stay warm in the evenings when the temperature drops and a buff is good wind protection for your neck and face when you’re hiking; Get a buff from REI|Backcountry|Amazon
Want a free, downloadable packing checklist for Torres del Paine?

For further details and advice, check out this article dedicated to helping you decide what is essential to pack for Torres del Paine (i.e. lightweight gear is your friend). And this one about packing for a trip to Patagonia is pretty damn useful too.

Food for the O Circuit

Long-distance hiking requires you to strike the right balance between food that’s light-weight enough that you can physically carry it and meals that provide enough nourishment for you to wake up in the morning.

It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that’s certainly not impossible. Our rule was to pack out our meals with plenty of carbs while including ingredients and condiments that would provide the flavour and make it more than edible.

A pot of porridge
Breakfast on the O Circuit: quick-cook porridge to boost your energy levels for the day!

Additionally, we wanted meals that cooked quickly so that we weren’t gnawing our arms off at the end of a long day of hiking and ones that didn’t use up all of our fuel for the camping stove too quickly.

Staple dishes that are both lightweight and easy to cook include:

  • Quick-cook porridge made using powdered milk and with added sultanas for flavour and additional energy
  • “Sandwiches” made from two biscuits with a wedge of cheese between them
  • Dried soup in a cup for a quick energy fix
  • Bacon and courgette rice – both flavoursome and packed with carbohydrates!
  • Chorizo and tomato pasta – also tasty and really quick to cook

If you don’t have time to organise food when you get to Puerto Natales or you’d prefer to do less cooking, Mountain House have a great selection of pre-prepared trekking food available on REI and Amazon, which just needs you to add water. Bear in mind they are fiendishly expensive and home-cooked food is always tastier – but they’re a good option in a pinch!

For a complete list of the food we carried (on a budget of only $17,000 CLP ($27 USD) per person for the entire trek), check out this article on your Torres del Paine menu.

It also lists where you can find additional food and drinks (i.e. beer) at the various campsites and lodges around the park.

If you’re already traveling around Patagonia, where can you get camping equipment for Torres del Paine?

If you are travelling to Patagonia just to hike the O Circuit or are planning on doing a number of different hikes while you’re there (there are some great national parks along the Carretera Austral, for example), I would recommend bringing your own camping and trekking equipment.

Prices for buying this type of gear in Chile are elevated and you’ll likely pay significantly more than you would buying the same items at home.

However, if you are travelling long-term across South America or don’t want to have to carry all of your camping equipment during the rest of your trip, you have three different options available to you:

Buy equipment in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales

There are a number of hiking and camping equipment shops in these two towns. Punta Arenas is a tax-free zone so prices here are cheaper than you will find in Puerto Natales, although Calle Manuel Bulnes in the latter has some gear shops.

I actually found a pair of waterproof trousers for only $15,000 CLP ($21 USD) in one of the shops there, which is a lot cheaper than I thought they would be.

If you’re looking to buy equipment for camping and hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, you should be able to find everything that you need in these shops, but you will pay an elevated price for good-quality gear.

Estimated additional cost: $200,000 CLP+ ($300 USD+) per person

Rent equipment from Puerto Natales

Your second option is to rent all of your camping and cooking equipment from either Rental Natales (you can book online) or at Erratic Rock (Baquedano 955) in Puerto Natales. For the latter, they don’t do reservations of gear, so you have to turn up and hope they’ve got everything you need.

You can see the full list of what they rent out here and their prices are significantly cheaper than the following options.

There are other places in Puerto Natales to rent equipment too, so I suggest having a wander around and looking out for signs for rental equipment. Yaghan House (O’Higgins 584) and Lili Patagonico’s (Arturo Prat 479) also have cheap, good quality rental gear.

Remember to check the equipment thoroughly before committing as it does get a lot of wear and tear on the trail and you want something without holes and with zips that close to keep you warm and dry!

Estimated additional cost: $21,000 CLP ($27 USD) per person per day*

*based on two people sharing a tent

Rent equipment at each campsite in Torres del Paine National Park

Your final option is by the far the most expensive. Each of the main camping grounds in Torres del Paine rent out tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats at a premium.

Tents between the trees at El Chileno in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia
You can rent tents such as these ones in Campamento El Chileno

For example, in Grey, you can hire a two-person tent for $20,000 CLP ($30 USD), a sleeping bag for $15,000 CLP ($22 USD) and a sleeping mat for $5,000 CLP ($8 USD), bringing up your overnight cost (including cost of the camping site) to $35,500 CLP ($48 USD) per person per night*

Estimated additional cost: $217,620 CLP ($292.5 USD) per person for eight days hiking the O Circuit

*based on two people sharing a tent

How to get from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park

There is plenty of public transport to get you from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park.

Four companies travel from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine each morning and all cost around $15,000 CLP ($21 USD) for a return ticket. The return ticket must be used to return with the same company, but can be used on any day or time of bus.

You must buy tickets either online or from the companies’ offices, which are inside the Terminal Rodoviario (Av. España 1455) in Puerto Natales.

If there are a few of you, consider negotiating a group price. We did this and it got us a few thousand pesos off per ticket. It’s advisable to book your bus ticket at least a few days in advance when visiting the park in high season (December through March).

The main bus companies are:

  • JB Buses Patagonia (tel. 61/2410 242)
  • Transport Maria José (tel. 61/2410 951)
  • Buses Juan Ojeda (tel. 9/8943 7808)
  • Buses Gómez (tel. 61/2415700)
  • Bus Sur (tel. 61/2410 784) – you can book these online and in advance

Between September and April, the buses you want leave at 7am and 7.15am or 7:30am from the bus terminal in Puerto Natales. The buses arrive at Laguna Amarga, where you get off the bus, pay your entrance fee and start the trek, at 9am and 9.15am/9.30am.

Try and pick an earlier bus; queues can be long for later departures and for those when multiple buses are leaving (and arriving at Laguna Amarga) at the same time.

Queuing hikers at the Laguna Amarga entrance and trailhead for hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Queues can be long at the Laguna Amarga trailhead if you arrive at the same time as all the other hikers

For the return journey from Laguna Amarga, they pick up at 11.30am, 1.30pm/2pm/2.30pm, 6.30pm, and 7.45pm each day. The exact times depend on the specific bus company; Bus Sur has the most frequent departures.

From Laguna Amarga, you have two options:

  • In the itinerary below, I talk you through exactly how you can hike from Laguna Amarga to Serón campsite, a 14.3-kilometre (8.9-mile) route.
  • Alternatively, you can take a minibus shuttle service to Torres Central Campsite ($3,000 CLP/$4 USD pp) from where it’s a nine-kilometre (5.6-mile) hike to reach the Serón campground. The minibus shuttle service is operated by the Centro de Bienvenida, a new Welcome Centre located around one kilometre (0.6 miles) before you reach Torres Central. They operated these continuously from 9am until 7pm but I believe you need to reserve in advance; you can find more information on their website. At Torres Central, there are signposts directing you to the O Circuit.

Where do you buy your Torres del Paine national park entrance ticket?

The entrance ticket to Torres del Paine National Park costs $25,000 CLP ($34 USD) for an adult. This grants you either as many days within the park as you wish (i.e. you stay in the park and hike the O) or three days of consecutive entry (leaving at the end of each night).

It’s possible to buy your ticket at the Laguna Amarga entrance to the national park (where you get off the bus). Bear in mind you must pay in cash (Chilean pesos) and you may need to show a copy of your passport to prove you do not live in Chile.

However, I would recommend that, if you want to skip the queues that do form when everyone gets off the bus at the same time, you can reserve your ticket either online via the CONAF portal*or in person at their office on the second floor of the bus terminal in Puerto Natales.

*as of April 2020, it appears the CONAF booking portal isn’t working. I will update when this changes.

Hiking the O Circuit in Nine Days

The following day-by-day route description indicates how you can hike the O Circuit in nine days. There are ways that you can adapt the itinerary, either reducing the number of days or lengthening them. I indicate where the best places to do this are.

Remember, you are only able to camp in the official campgrounds across the national park, which explains why some of the hiking days are very short – but unless you want to combine two days into one, there’s very little you can do to get around this.

A hiker admires Lago Nordenskjold while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Prepare for beautiful scenery at every turn

The data and hiking times were compiled from my last trip around the O Circuit. For context, our party consisted of my brother and I (both in our early 30s and reasonably fit) and two mid-60-year olds (again, reasonably fit). We carried food for all but one day as well as lightweight camping equipment.

Total Distance of the O Circuit: 136 km (85 mi)

Day One: Laguna Amarga to Serón

Distance hiked: 17.17 km/10.73 mi

Hiking duration: Five hours and 30 minutes (including around an hours’ worth of stops).

Average pace: 3.9kph/2.5 mph.

7:00am/7:15am Take the bus from Puerto Natales bus terminal. The early bus you take, the less likely you are to queue behind other hikers to buy tickets when you reach the national park.

9am Arrive at the Laguna Amarga Rangers’ Station and either pay for your entrance ticket or show your ticket to the park rangers. This can take up to an hour, depending on queues.

A hiker takes the trail alongside Rio Paine while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Day one takes you along the Rio Paine with a gentle, mostly flat gradient

Today is an easy introduction to Torres del Paine National Park. From the ranger’s station at Laguna Amarga, the path follows the road heading north. Cross the two bridges over the Río Paine and take the path that peels off northwards around 500 metres after the second bridge. This follows the route of the Río Paine.

When we visited, the official map indicated that you should instead hike all the way to Torres Central and take the O Circuit trailhead from there, however the route that we did saved us at least an hour’s hiking and joins up with the “official” Circuit pathway.  

From here, the path is fairly flat, winding through trees and alongside the Río Paine – a tumbling mass of water – for the vast majority of the day.

A signpost at the entrance to Campamento Seron while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Seron: a welcome first campground while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

4pm Arrive at the Serón campsite. Find a pitch with a little wind protection (there aren’t very many like this!), enjoy a hot shower if you need it (!) and make use of their covered shelter for cooking dinner.

Day Two: Serón to Dickson

Distance hiked: 18.61 km/11.5 mi

Hiking duration: Six hours 15 mins (including one hours’ worth of stops)

Average pace: 3.63 kph/2.25 mph

Elevation change: Up 534 m, down 495 m

8am Rise early for breakfast and a decent morning start to the day’s hiking.

Lago Dickson and Campamento Dickson on a flat plain
Campamento Dickson is probably the most beautiful campground on the entire O Circuit

9am Leave camp and begin your trek towards Dickson. The first part of the day is flat as you follow the route of the Río Paine up to Lago Paine. You’ll climb up a number of steep headlands for great mountain views, before continuing along the side of Río Paine towards one of its sources: Lago Dickson.

The views of Lago Dickson and the campground nested on a grassy flat beside are magnificent. 

4pm Arrive at Dickson campground and pitch up. There’s a geodesic dome where you’re required to cook all food and various picnic tables dotted around the site for eating. Don’t forget to head to the edge of the river through the woods on the northern side of the campsite to see the hanging glaciers perched vertiginously above Lago Dickson.

Hiking the O Circuit in fewer days: You can combine the trail from Laguna Amarga to Serón and from Serón to Dickson into one long day of hiking. This comes in at 35.8 km (22.3 miles) in total.

Day Three: Dickson to Los Perros

Distance hiked: 12.65 km/7.9 mi

Hiking duration: Five hours 30 mins (one hour 15 minutes of stops)

Average pace: 3 kph/2 mph

Elevation change: Up 575 m, down 208 m

8:30am Wake up and have breakfast

Views of the Paine Massif enshrined in cloud from Campamento Dickson, seen while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
The morning views across the Paine Massif are spectacular from Dickson

9:30am Leave the camp. The path climbs up into the forest in the south behind the campground, with the trail emerging out of the woods for spectacular views back across the lake in the north and towards John Gardner Pass in the west.

From now on, you can see glaciers in the mountain cliffs ahead, and you’ll pass just before the camp alongside the beautiful Laguna Los Perros, with its namesake glacier hanging above the water.  

Three hikers look at the path out of Campamento Dickson while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Taking stock of the views (and path!) from Dickson

3:30pm Arrive at Los Perros and find a sheltered spot in and among the trees to pitch up. There’s a hut for cooking and eating at the centre of the site, which provides good protection from the weather.

Day Four: Los Perros to Paso

Distance hiked: 8.35 km/5.19 mi

Hiking duration: Five hours 30 mins (two hours of stopping)

Average pace: 2.3 kph/1.43 mph

Elevation change: Up 690m, down 783m

6:30am Wake up and have a good breakfast – you’re going to need it for today’s climb!

7:30am Leave camp. The weather is better and the wind lower in the early morning, so the quicker you make it over Paso John Gardner the better your chances of sensational views across the Southern Patagonian Icefield.

Hikers climbing the screen path up to Paso John Gardner while trekking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Almost at the top of Paso John Gardner and looking back the way we’ve come towards Los Perros

The trail climbs up through scree and boulders, passing hanging glaciers on each side of the narrowing valley.

It’ll take you around three hours to summit the 1,180-metre (3,871-foot) John Gardner Pass John Gardner, from where, on a clear day, you can expect truly astonishing views across the Southern Patagonian Icefield and Glacier Grey. The latter measures around six kilometres wide at this point and is truly incredible.

Hikers descending the path from Paso John Gardner with Glacier Grey and the Southern Patagonian Icefield beyond while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Descending from Paso John Gardner, with Glacier Grey and the Southern Patagonian Icefield below

The wind can be fierce, so take things carefully as you begin the climb down, which descends via a series of switchbacks and is generally a bit of a muddy and rocky bog.

The path passes alongside Glacier Grey, which you can see through the trees at regular intervals.

1pm Arrive and pitch up at Paso campsite, the smallest and most basic campground along the trail. If the weather’s good, hike further along the trail towards Paine Grande enjoy the different viewpoints of Glacier Grey. There’s a three-walled shelter for cooking and only a very basic (quite unpleasant) toilet on site.

Four hikers in front of Glacier Grey while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Perfect point for a group photography: in front of Glacier Grey!

Alternatively, if there is no space to book at Paso (which has only 15-20 pitches), continue to the Grey campsite and stay there overnight; this is an additional 10 kilometres (six miles) from here and an additional 3.5 hours’ walk.

Day Five: Paso to Paine Grande

Distance hiked: 18.25 km/11.03 mi

Hiking duration: Eight hours (one hour 30 minutes of stopping)

Average pace: 2.8 kph/1.75 mph

Elevation change: Up 614 m, down 1,049 m

8am: Today is a long day, so get up early and have a good breakfast.  

9am: Take the trail heading south from the campground that skirts the edge of Glacier Grey. The path goes up and down gently for a while, often with fantastic views of the glacier, before passing into a series of different gullies, some of which you must climb out again with the aid of a metal ladder drilled into the rock.

A wooden bridge over a river gully as seen while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
The wooden bridges along the O Circuit aren’t for the faint of heart!

After around 3.6 kilometres (2.3 miles), you reach the first of two wooden bridges perched across two steep river gullies, which can be a trial for anyone with vertigo. Around two kilometres (1.2 miles) after the second, a small pathway leads off the main trail and back to the right; this is Mirador Grey and is the closest viewpoint that you can get of the glacier face on.

Hike through Grey campground, which is shortly after the mirador, and at which point you join the W trek. From here, it’s a further 11 kilometres (seven miles) to reach Paine Grande, with a couple of further viewpoints of the glacier thrown in for good measure. The trail is mostly downhill.

A snowy mountain above the trail while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Always make sure you look up while hiking: you never know what you might see above you!

5pm: Arrive at Paine Grande. Pitch up as close to the side of the hill as possible to avoid the wind. There’s a huge shelter with plenty of space for cooking and loads of benches for you to sit and eat. You’ll also find a number of power sockets here.

There are hot showers (four per gender) which open at in the early evening (timings are written on the doors to the toilet block). The queue for the women’s starts early.

Hiking the O Circuit in fewer days: I know of people hiking from Los Perros all the way to Paine Grande. Again, this would be a very long day of hiking and would come in at 26.6 km (16.2 miles) in total.

Day Six: Paine Grande to Francés

Distance hiked: 13 km/8 mi (+ 9 km/5.6 mi for the extension to Mirador Británico), 4 hours hiking

Hiking duration: Five hours 15 mins (one hour 15 mins of stopping) + three hours for extension to Mirador Británico

Average pace: 3.25 kph/2 mph

Elevation change: Up 555 m, down 495 m*

8am: Wake up and eat breakfast. Today will either be long or painfully short – all depending on the weather. Both times I’ve walked Torres del Paine W hike I’ve experienced dreadful weather in the Francés Valley.

9am: Hike to the ranger station and campsite, Campamento Italiano (around two hours), where you leave your rucksack with the ranger. You’ll pick it up on your way back down from the Francés Valley.

A sign on a bridge in Torres del Paine National Park
Keep an eye on those bridges…

This part of the hike marks the central section of the W and it’s all uphill. After an hour’s steep gradient up a rocky, slippery trail to Mirador Francés, look for Glaciar Francés as it clings to the mountainside in the west.

If you’re feeling energetic, and the weather’s playing fair, you can continue climbing to Mirador Británico (an additional 3.5 km each way; around three hours’ return), where you’ll view a ring of toothy granite peaks, including the park’s second most famous landmark, the three-horned Cuernos del Paine.

It’s one of the park’s most stunning viewpoints—when the sky is clear. You may even see an endangered Southern Andean huemul (a type of deer) around here.

The Paine Massif in the light of sunset seen while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
The Paine Massif looks particularly sublime at sunset

Luckily, the hike back is downhill to return to Italiano, where you pick up your rucksack and hike the 30 minutes to reach Francés.

13:00pm-16:00pm Arrive at Francés**, pitch up (some skill will be required to do this on the wooden platforms. Make sure you bring some string or extra guy ropes to help you) and enjoy the views across the lake.

*because of the weather, we didn’t hike up to the Mirador Británico, so this elevation change doesn’t reflect the 500-metre (1,640-feet) elevation gain to reach the mirador.

*if there is no availability at Francés when you go to make your refugio or campsite reservations, you can instead book to stay at Los Cuernos, which is a further 3.5 kilometres (one hour) from Francés.

Day Seven: Francés to El Chileno

Distance hiked: 17 km/10.5 mi

Hiking duration: Six hours (two hours of stopping)

Average pace: 3.7 kph/2 mph

Elevation change: Up 740m, down 360m

8:00am Get up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.

9:00am Leave the campsite and begin the trek to El Chileno, situated about two hours from the bottom of the towers.

A chaco owl on a tree branch, pictured while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
There’s plenty of wildlife to spot as you hike, including this Chaco owl

This trek meanders alongside the lake, gaining and losing altitude as it goes, until you reach the start of the valley where it becomes all uphill. The views are incredible but if it’s sunny, it will be hot!

The trail through Valle Ascencio to the torres in Torres del Paine National Park
The trail up through Valle Ascencio to El Chileno and then the Torres starts gently but becomes very steep

16:00pm Arrive at El Chileno* and pitch your tent. Get everything organised for the morning as you’ll be leaving early. Check with the staff what time sunrise will be the next morning.

*In the 2019-2020 season, Campamento Torres, the campground just below the towers, was not open to the public. CONAF have not yet confirmed if will remain closed for 2020-2011. It’s no longer as easy to get to the towers for dawn as the distance is now around four kilometres, rather than one kilometre; however, it is still possible to do it.

If you can’t get a pitch at Chileno, it is possible to hike from Torres Central/Norte ($15,000 CLP ($21 USD) camping pitch per person). Although you’re not officially supposed to hike from here up to the towers, you can: leave four hours ahead of sunrise. It’s an additional one-hour 45 minutes if starting from Torres Central/Norte to reach the towers.

Day Eight: El Chileno to the Torres and then back to Laguna Amarga

Distance hiked: El Chileno to the Torres 3.8 km/2.3 mi; the Torres to Laguna Amarga 17 km/10.5 mi

Hiking duration: Four hours 50 minutes (45 minutes stoppage)

Average pace: 4.5kph/2.8mph up to the towers; 8.33kph/5mph from the Torres to Laguna Amarga

Elevation change: Up 450m, down 450m to and from the towers; Up 150m, down 630m from El Chileno to Laguna Amarga

4:30am Wake up and take a small bag (including warm clothes and a snack) to see the torres at dawn. Don’t forget your torch as the route is over rocks and can be treacherous.

The torres of Torres del Paine National Park at dawn
Dawn is probably the best time to see the torres in all their glory

4:45am Start hiking up to the torres. For us at the very start of March, dawn was at about 7:15am.

8:00am Leave the torres and return to the campsite. Pack up, have breakfast start the long walk down.

12.30pm When you get to Las Torres Hotel car park, there is a shop selling ice creams – have one, you deserve it!

The torres in Torres del Paine at the end of hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
The hike back to Laguna Amarga promises more views of the torres

To get the shuttle minibus ($3,000 CLP ($4 USD)) to take you to Laguna Amarga, you need to hike one kilometre down the road towards Torres Central/Norte to reach the Centro de Bienvenida.

These shuttles should be operating continually between 9am and 7pm; you may need to reserve in advance, particularly as in high season, demand exceeds supply. You can find more information on their website.

If you can face the walk, it’s about another one and a half hours to two hours the Laguna Amarga Ranger Station where buses are waiting to pick you up.

14:30pm Take the bus from Laguna Amarga back to Puerto Natales.

17:00pm Arrive in Puerto Natales bus station and go and enjoy a pint at Cerveza Baguales on the Plaza de Armas to celebrate!

*If you can’t get a pitch at El Chileno, it is possible to hike from Torres Central/Norte ($15,000 CLP ($21 USD) camping pitch per person). Although you’re not officially supposed to hike from here up to the towers, you can: leave four hours ahead of sunrise.

Make sure you bring a headtorch for climbing in the dark (it will get lighter as you reach the more difficult stretch of hiking just below the towers), plus warm clothing (even including a sleeping bag) to use at the top and keep you cosy as you enjoy the sunrise.

FAQs and further helpful information about the O Circuit

Can you hike the Torres del Paine Circuit with a tour?

Yes, of course. As with the W hike, I don’t think it’s necessary to pay for a tour, particularly as the trails are well-marked and you can book everything online anyway.

Signposts in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Hiking with a tour can take out the stress of organising the O Circuit – but it’s entirely possible to arrange everything yourself

If you would rather avoid the hassle of organising campgrounds, meals and transport into the park, you can instead take a tour. These cost upwards of $2,400 USD per person.

Luckily, Chile Nativo in Puerto Natales are able to offer readers a 5% discount on any trek (the Circuit or otherwise) if you mention Worldly Adventurer when booking with them!

How can I prepare physically for trekking the O Circuit?

When I hiked the O Circuit, I wasn’t the fittest of people. However, I have a lot of experience of hiking and I don’t think that your legs every really lose the muscles that allow you to get up and down hills without too much problem.

Therefore, my biggest recommendation for hiking the O Circuit is to ensure that you’ve done a number of hikes in the months and weeks leading up to the trek. These can range from shorter, eight-kilometre (five-mile) wanders to multi-day treks.

A hiker doing a star jump in front of Glacier Grey while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
Having experience of hiking and being mentally prepared to carry a heavy backpack helped me complete the trek!

The two most important things to consider during your preparatory hikes is:

  1. To get used to carrying a rucksack with a heavy load. Our packs weighed in at around 35 pounds (16 kilograms) at the beginning of the trek – although, luckily, they got lighter as we hiked because we ate the food (often the heaviest part of your pack!). Carrying a heavy backpack can hurt your shoulders and it’s essential to know that your rucksack fits properly at the shoulders and the waist so that you carry that weight equally across your back. If you’re not sure how to ensure that your backpack fits properly, check out this article from REI or head into a local outdoor store for advice.
  2. To do some hill climbing. There are three big climbs on the O Circuit: the gain of around 2,260 feet (690 metres) to summit the 3,871-foot (1,180-metre) Paso John Gardner (the highest point on the trek), the elevation gain of 1,640-foot (500-metre) to hike up to Mirador Británico at 2,300 feet (700 meters) and the 2,300-feet (700-metre) elevation gain to reach the base of the torres at 2,952-feet (900 metres) above sea level on the final day. For all three, you’ll want to know psychologically that you can do it because you’ve hiked up a mountain before – a belief system that I’ve learned is often more important than being physically prepared!

Ultimately, you want to know that you’ll be comfortable getting up each morning, shouldering your pack and being ready to hike for nine or eleven days solid.

Do you need a map for the Circuit?

Yes, it’s always a sensible idea to have a map indicating you route. These are provided upon entry to the national park (after you pay your admission fee). Unfortunately, they’re not waterproof, so consider bringing a plastic map case or just keeping them out of the rain.

Hikers on the trail between Paine Grande and Grey while hiking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia
All of the trails are well marked in the national park, but having a back-up map is highly recommended

Be aware that, while it helps to know where you’re going, the hiking trails are so well-marked that a map isn’t really necessary for the vast majority of the hike.

I would also recommend downloading maps.me, an app that can be used offline and that shows you the hiking trails in the national park and with which you can use GPS to know exactly where you are.

Top tip: When using maps.me, you MUST zoom into Patagonia on the app and then download the necessary map while you still have internet connection – maps are only available for regions and countries that you have specifically done this for in advance.

Can you stay in refugios instead of camping for the O Circuit, as you can for the W?

While camping is the most popular way of staying in the park during the O Circuit, if you’re concerned about your ability to carry a heavy pack or just don’t enjoy camping, it is possible to hike the full O Circuit and stay almost each night in a comfortable (if basic!) refugio.

Geodesic domes at Los Cuernos in Torres del Paine National Park
Los Cuernos also has geodesic domes for hire

Bear in mind that these consist of very basic accommodation in six-bed dormitory rooms, which can be shared by both male and female hikers. You will need to bring your own sleeping bag and you will have access to hot showers and toilets (in some cases a separate set to those used by the campers).

You can self-cater if you choose to stay in the refugios, but a lot of people choose to go all in and get meals provided at (almost!) every place.

Your only issue is that day one, Campamento Serón and day three, Campamento Los Perros, only have accommodation in tents. The latter also doesn’t supply meals. You would therefore need to bring food for this day and be prepared to stay overnight in a tent.

You can expect to pay $537,00 CLP ($772 USD)*:

  • Return bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)
  • Adult entrance fee into the park: $25,000 CLP ($34 USD)
  • Serón Campsite: $36,000 CLP ($49 USD) refugio + $60,000 CLP ($80 USD) full-board
  • Dickson Campsite: $22,000 CLP ($37 USD) refugio + $36,000 CLP ($57 USD) full-board
  • Los Perros Campsite: $35,500 CLP ($48 USD) tent
  • Grey Campsite:  $22,000 CLP ($37 USD) refugio + $36,000 CLP ($57 USD) full-board
  • Paine Grande Campsite: $22,000 CLP ($37 USD) refugio + $36,000 CLP ($57 USD) full-board
  • Francés or Los Cuernos Campsites: $36,000 CLP ($49 USD) refugio + $60,000 CLP ($80 USD) full-board
  • El Chileno or Las Torres Campsites: $36,000 CLP ($49 USD) refugio + $60,000 CLP ($80 USD) full-board

*all figures are per person and trekking the O Circuit in nine days

If you plan on staying in the refugios, you can get away with a 40-litre pack and even smaller if you decide to go fully-catered, as all you will only need to pack clothing for the duration of the hike.

  • You still want a 40-litre backpack that provides decent back support and has a hip strap to support the way that the bag sits on your back. I would highly recommend the Osprey Tempest 40-litre rucksack for women (REI|Osprey|Amazon) and the Osprey Talon 44-litre rucksack for men (REI|Osprey|Amazon)

Can you hike the Torres del Paine Circuit clockwise?

It’s no longer possible to hike the O Circuit counter-clockwise, although one way that you can amend the route is by entering at Administración, the ranger station in the south west of the park and instead hiking what is known as the Q Circuit (again for the shape that it makes on the map).

Los Cuernos behind Campamento Paine Grande in Torres del Paine National Park
You get better views of Los Cuernos mountains if entering the park via Administración and hiking the Q Circuit

This route begins at Administración, brings you into the park along a trail that has outstanding views of Los Cuernos as you hike to reach Paine Grande. This will add an extra day to your route and see you joining the circuit – and finishing it – at Paine Grande.

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