Off the Grid South America

The Other W Trek: The O Circuit | Chile

Fun Things to do in Chile - Torres del Paine Trekking Routes

Torres del Paine is best known for its jagged mountain range, but the glaciers, fjords, and ancient forests are really what get stuck in your mind. The place is jaw-dropping, awe-striking, and all those other stupid clichés used to describe something extra stunning.

That being said, there is one real problem with Torres del Paine. As far South as it may be, it is amazingly accessible. All of its highlights can be visited on a series of day trips, and with accessibility comes crowds. To have a more backcountry experience, you’ll have to go further still. Most adventure travelers opt for the W Trek, but often ranked as one of the best hiking routes in South America, you’ll still end up lining up for views. The O Circuit, on the other hand, is a more backcountry experience limited by permits. 

Are you seeking an alternative W Trek that will give you a more adventurous experience in Torres del Paine? Here’s everything you need to know about trekking the O Circuit including how to get to Torres del Paine National Park, tips for doing the O Circuit without a guide, and details on the best time to visit Torres del Paine.

The W Trek vs the O Circuit

Why trek the W Trek?

The W Trek is the perfect initiation to trekking in Patagonia. The trek is relatively painless, and over the course of 5 days and around 60km, you will see the icons of Torres del Paine (Glacier Gray, Valle del Frances, and Torres del Paine). You will have access to full-service campsites and refugios that are strategically placed so you can pick a trekking route that matches your fitness level. If you rent or bring your own gear, you can set up camp and complete most of your hikes with just a daypack. If you’d rather travel light, you can rent gear and buy meals along the way.

Sounds pretty excellent, right? The real drawback of hiking the W Trek is that everyone already knows about it. The trails are crowded throughout the year and campsite availability is limited.

Alternative W-Trek: The O Circuit

Start planning your trip: Flights to Chile | Hotels in Puerto Natales | Lonely Planet Guidebook

Why trek the O Circuit?

Sometimes going the alternative route requires that you skip the original. The O Circuit is a stellar alternative W Trek because you still get to experience both; the O Circuit is just the W Trek with a backcountry bonus.

The 8-day route is somewhere around 120km, starting on the quieter trails of the park and joining with the W Trek on day 5. Trekking days are long, but you’ll pass glaciers, grassy meadows, and the John Garner Pass which are completely awesome. The trekking distances are more fixed and the campsites more basic. You won’t have the option to buy food or rent gear at the campsites, and will instead need to travel with food and adequate gear. Of course, you’ll feel like a badass when you finish, which is the real highlight of the O Circuit.

The obvious drawbacks are required self-sufficiency and unpredictable weather. Once you start the O Circuit, you’re kind of locked into at least completing 5 days of it. You don’t want to come underprepared.

Alternative W Trek: The O Circuit

Start planning your trip: Flights to Chile | Hotels in Puerto Natales | Lonely Planet Guidebook

How to Trek the O Circuit

How to get to Torres del Paine National Park: The nearest cities to Torres del Paine National Park are Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. If you’re flying, your best option is to take the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales (3 hours) and stay the night. Buses from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine (2 hours) depart daily at 7:00 am and 2:30 pm and leave the park at 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm. Round trip bus tickets cost $15,000CLP ($23 USD) in 2017.

The O Circuit without a Guide or with a Guide: The O Circuit is an 8-day, backcountry trek so you need to pack in your own food to camping gear. If you can bear the weight and are willing to spend time planning, we’d recommend hiking the O Circuit without a guide. Patagonia is expensive, as are O Circuit tours.

Other reasons to go alone? Torres del Paine only has one rout and the trails are well marked. Getting lost is an impossibility! All you have to do is decide where to camp and plan your route. There are plenty of other trekkers on the trail so you don’t have to worry about safety. Once the trail rejoins with the W Trek, you can buy food and stay in refugios if you want. The O Circuit without a guide is totally manageable for backpackers with some experience.

Torres del Paine - Rental Gear

Best Time to Visit Torres del Paine: Summer in Torres del Paine is December – March. That’s when the weather is warmest and the park is in full color. That being said, this is also when winds can reach their strongest gusts (120km/hr). For lesser crowds and often gorgeous weather, consider trekking Torres del Paine in a shoulder season like spring (October – November) or fall (March – April). While the park is still open, only hikers who are experienced and well-prepared should hike in winter.

Have you trekked the W Trek or the O Circuit? What did you think of the O Circuit as an alternative W Trek? And if you’re traveling in Patagonia…

16 Comments

  • Reply
    Benjamin Kraus
    November 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Great article -I have a few questions for you – I plan on doing this whole trip myself without a guide. I have my own camping equipment and all.. Do I need to make any reservations for the campsites ahead of time? I am reading mixed texts about this. Additionally, if I do need to make a reservation, where do I make the reservations for the O trek?

  • Reply
    Carol Tsoi
    December 23, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    This is super helpful. Thanks so much Taylor! I was wondering at which refugio does the Puerto Natales bus drop you off at? I’d like to start the O Circuit in Seron and end at Torres for the sunrise, but don’t know if it’s possible to go from Paine Grande to Seron on the first day. Thanks in advance for your help!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      December 26, 2017 at 8:25 pm

      Hi Carol. When I was there the bus made 3 stops: the Administration Office, Pudeto, and Laguna Amarga Gate. I also started at Seron and ended at Torres, so I got off the bus at the Administration Office. Is there a reason you’d start at Paine Grande on the first day? The farthest you could realistically make it in a day from Paine Grande is Torres Central, and even that sounds ambitious. Let me know your ideas and I’ll see what other insight I might have for you!

  • Reply
    Marcelo Zapella
    January 23, 2018 at 4:14 pm

    Hi Taylor, you are helping me a lot to plan my trip to TDP (I just found about it yesterday).
    Given the O routes you suggested in the previous post, in which days you would go to “Mirador base de las Torres” and “Mirador Britanico”?
    I am assuming both are a must see.

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      February 2, 2018 at 2:05 pm

      Hi Marcelo! If you’re doing the Classic O Circuit, you’d probably go to Mirador Britanico the day you’re camping at Italiano (leaving your bags behind) and to Mirador Base de las Torres for sunrise on your very last day. Hope this helps!

  • Reply
    Jon
    January 24, 2018 at 12:49 am

    Great post – I just want to share a post I recently wrote that describes my experience hiking the Circuit in December 2017. I included a ton of pictures, several detailed maps, and lots of logistical information. If you think my post would be a nice outside resource for your readers, please consider linking to it somewhere in your article! My post is here: https://backpackersreview.wordpress.com/trip-reports/torres-del-paine-circuit/ Thank you!

  • Reply
    Lam
    February 18, 2018 at 5:30 am

    Hi Taylor, this article is so helpful. Can you offer your insights about hiring a guide to do the O Circuit? I am planning a trip to Patagonia in early October. I did a 5 day trek to Choquequirao in Peru 3 years ago with an outfit that provided meals, tents, and porters. I was wondering if there are similar outfitters in Torres del Paine.

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      February 26, 2018 at 8:36 am

      Hi Lam. Thanks for saying so! There are actually tons of operators that offer amenities included. You can start by looking at the programs offered by Fantastico Sur, but there are probably 50+ operators and local guides in town that can take care of the rest of your logistics. Good luck!

  • Reply
    Rani Afrem
    March 4, 2018 at 11:11 pm

    Hi Taylor, great article!! I’m planning to do the O-trek in late April/early May and I’ve heard the O-trek closes in May, is this true? If so, is it possible to commence the O-trek in April and finish the trek in May? In other words I plan on starting the O-trek 25 April, 5 days in I would join the W trek which would be 29 April and thereby apart of W trek in May…does that make sense?

    Your response is highly appreciated!

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      March 5, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Hi Rani! As this is a new rule, I’m not completely sure. I’d recommend emailing Erratic Rock or one of the other rental places in town to check whether it’s the start date or finish date. Sorry I can’t offer more help!

      • Reply
        Rani Afrem
        March 6, 2018 at 12:36 am

        Thanks for your swift reply Taylor. I will check accordingly. I have another issue that just occured 🙂 I’ve just been informed Camp Seron will be closed from 30th of March. Do you think it is possible to trek directly to Camp Dickson on Day 1? Alternatively stay at Central torres, get up early in the morning and trek to Dickson skipping Seron. I realise it will be a long and hard day (approximately 10 hour hike?) but can’t see any way around it?

        Cheers,
        Rani

  • Reply
    Hannah
    April 3, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    Hey Taylor!
    My husband and I are looking at doing the O Circuit while pregnant. Any tips?

    • Reply
      Taylor Record
      April 9, 2018 at 4:40 pm

      Go girl. I’m super impressed! Probably the best advice would just to be realistic with your walk times so that you’re not rushing just to make it from one camp to the next! The water is drinkable, but maybe carry along some chlorine tablets, just in case? Congrats on your baby and for taking him/her on their first adventure so young!

  • Reply
    Erik Petersen
    January 3, 2019 at 5:54 pm

    Hello, I would like to hike the O circuit in late March-mid-April but it looks like a couple of the camps areas on the back side are closed. Can you still hike the entire circuit and if so, where would you camp if indeed they are closed? Thanks!

    • Reply
      Taylor
      January 4, 2019 at 1:43 pm

      Hey Erik. Last I checked, the backcountry of TdP is closed during winter unless you’re hiking with a guide or tour group. There’s no wild camping, so if you don’t find anything bookable, there won’t be other places to camp. Hope this helps!

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