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An Outlandish Guide: The O Circuit in Torres del Paine | Chile

Bus from Hotel Las Torres to Laguna Amarga

The O Circuit in Torres del Paine is about exploring the remote, ever-changing landscapes of the Patagonian backcountry.

Climbing a scree field up to the John Garner Pass to reveal the 6km expanse of Glacier Grey. The shameless self-regard on the day where the trail finally joins up with the day hikers on the W Trek. Cruising in Valle de Frances, finally liberated from the weight of a backpack. And of course, the foggy, cool mornings that might magically end the very day you arrive at the base of Las Torres. Just the awareness that you’re near the southernmost point of the earth was bewildering.

Who knows whether my version of the O Circuit was one of those special travel experiences where everything played out just right or whether it’s consistently so awesome. But I guess the only way to figure that out is to go for yourself.

Here’s everything you need to know about trekking the O Circuit including suggested itineraries, how to book campsites, how to get to Torres del Paine National Park, info on trekking without a guide, and other good to knows. Updated October 2019.

AT A GLANCE: THE O CIRCUIT

// Location: Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes y la Antártica Chilena Region
// Nearest City: Puerto Natales, Chile
// Difficulty: Moderate
// Duration: 6-8 days
// Distance: 120km
// Highest Elevation: 1200m

The O Circuit in Torres del Paine

The O Circuit – a 120km one-way backpacking loop in Torres del Paine National Park – is regarded as one of the most exclusive backpacking routes in South America.

Like all of the hikes in Torres del Paine, it is named for its letter-like shape; it’s a circle looping through the backcountry. And you can do it without having to skip the W Trek! The O Circuit starts out in the rugged backcountry and joins up with W so you don’t have to miss highlights like Glacier Grey, Valle del Frances, and [obviously] Las Torres. You can learn more about the trekking routes in Torres del Paine in more detailhere.

Entrance to Torres del Paine in 2019 cost $21,000CLP ($29) per adult (foreign) or $6,000CLP ($9) per adult (Chilean). Admission must be paid in CLP.

BEFORE YOU GO

GET A TORRES DEL PAINE MAP & GUIDEBOOK

The campsite map is easy to get ahold of, but you’ll also want to get a topographical map before you head into the backcountry. Here are some of the Torres del Paine maps and books I’d recommend.

Need it now? Here’s the official Torres del Paine Trekking Map. Click the preview below to zoom in on the details, view the legend, or review distances.

Official Campsite Map from Parque Torres del Paine

CHOOSING YOUR ROUTE

There’s just one main trail through the backcountry. While the W Trek can be hiked in either direction, the O can only be hiked counterclockwise. That said, there are a few variations of the O Circuit based on which campsites you choose. Keep in mind that hiking the O Circuit usually takes 8 days, but you can knock it out in more or fewer days depending on your fitness level, and [perhaps more significantly] which campsite reservations you can land.

There are twelve designated camping areas on the O Circuit. Some are clustered together while others are the only site available for several kilometers. Before you book, make sure you’re aware how long your hiking days will be. There are no easy ways to exit the backcountry once you’ve started. Below are a few O Circuit itineraries with suggested campsites. 

Option 1: Serón > Dickson > Los Perros > Paso > Paine Grande > Italiano > Central

Option 2: Serón > Dickson > Los Perros > Gray > Paine Grande > Frances > Chileno

Option 3: Paine Grande > Frances > Torres Serón > Dickson > Los Perros > Gray

READ MORE: 5 Trekking Routes in Torres del Paine

Hiking Boots in Valle del Frances in Torres del Paine National Park

MAKE YOUR CAMPSITE RESERVATIONS IN TORRES DEL PAINE

Due to a surge in popularity, you’ll need to make reservations for the O Circuit months in advance. But actually booking campsites in Torres del Paine is unexpectedly tough. In order to complete the O Circuit, you’ll need to have seperate campsite reservations for every night of your 8 day trip. And because these bookings are handled across three agencies with often faulty websites, this is not an easy task.

Before booking anything, list out the dates and sites. Come up with a backup route if your preferred campsites are full. And keep a close eye on your dates to make sure you don’t mess anything up.

Reservations for the season open between July and September each year, but there’s no precise date or time. If you’re booking before CONAF reservations live, go ahead with your FantasticoSur and Vertice reservations. You should be able to fill in the gaps with the free CONAF sites later. If you’re looking more last minute, check availability across all three sites before you start making bookings. If most of your sites are available, start by booking the CONAF sites (so you can cancel if you need to) before requesting the more expensive FantasticoSur and Vertice reservations.

READ MORE: How to Book Campsites in Torres del PaineLooking down at Dickson Campsite in Torres del Paine

GEARING UP

The elements in Patagonia are no joke; you’ll want to be sure that you have adequate gear come rain, snow, or very serious wind. This means layers and 3-season equipment. You can opt to buy your stuff ahead of time or rent it in Puerto Natales.

Get started: What You Need for Patagonia: A Packing List

O CIRCUIT ROUTE

As I mentioned above, there are a few different O Circuit trekking routes but below is a sample 8-day itinerary starting and finishing from the Laguna Amarga Entrance. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: Itinerary and suggested campsites are based on my own experience in 2017. Be sure to reference a park map before finalizing your bookings.

DAY 1: LAGUNA AMARGA TO SERÓN // HIKING DISTANCE: 13 KM

Catch the early bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. You’ll arrive at Laguna Amarga Entrance around 9am where you have to pay your entrance fee and watch the park film. From there, hop on your second bus to Hotel Las Torres where the trail begins.

The hike is mostly gentle and the scenery nice-but-unspectacular. But not to fret! It’s just your first day and you’ll be hauling a very heavy bag. Set up camp at in a meadow for your first night at Serón.

DAY 1: LAGUNA AMARGA TO SERÓN

DAY 2: SERÓN TO DICKSON // HIKING DISTANCE: 18 KM

The second day is all about water. You’ll get to enjoy the walk along Rio Paine in the morning come upon the massive Lago Paine and Lago Dickson later in the day. Just after Lago Paine, you’ll come to Guardería Coirón where you’ll have to show proof of reservation to travel onward. From there, it’s another 3 or so hours until you get to Dickson. It’s one of the prettiest campsites in the park, in my opinion!

A lake on the hike from Serón to Dickson

DAY 3: DICKSON TO LOS PERROS // HIKING DISTANCE: 11.8 KM

While the next two days might seem short compared to the first, there’s a good reason for that. You’ll need the energy to cross John Gardner Pass on day 4.

As you hike the trail from Dickson to Los Perros, be sure to stop at Mirador Valle de Los Perros and Glaciar Los Perros. You can expect to be hiking for about 4.5 hours before you set up camp at Los Perros for the night.

Climbing through forest from Dickson to Los Perros on day 3 of the O Circuit

DAY 4: LOS PERROS TO PASO // HIKING DISTANCE: 8 KM

Today is the big one! You’ll have to cross John Gardner Pass at 1,200m which is the literal and figurative high point of the trek. Go early, both for weather and because the trail from Los Perros and Paso closes at 14:00.

It’s a tough hike, and from what I remember, much of it is through a scree field. Keep your eye out for the trail markers! If the fog rolls in or you lose sight of where you’re headed, this is a dangerous place to get lost. 

But the hike to John Gardner isn’t all a slog. You’ll be able to see snow-covered peaks along the way like Paine Chico Norte, Cóndor, and Amistad. And coming through the pass for your first look at Glacier Grey is one of those never-forget-it moments. Really. 

After the pass, you’ll walk beside the glacier for a bit before losing sight of it and coming to Paso.Crossing the John Gardner Pass from Los Perros to Paso on day 4 of the O Circuit

DAY 5: PASO TO PAINE GRANDE // HIKING DISTANCE: 18 KM

Day 5 is the day where the O Circuit meets up with the W-Trek. On one hand, this is where the real marvels of Torres del Paine start. On the other hand, there will be all kinds of crowds that your backcountry-self will balk at. 

It’s about 5 hours from Paso to Grey and you’ll have to cross a few suspension bridges along the way. At Grey, you’ll see a campsite, Refugio, and the mirador where you can get the second-best look you’ll get at Glacier Grey.

 

There’s another viewpoint as you continue on to Paine Grande, but the hike will take around 3.5 more hours. Once you get to Paine Grande, set up camp or check into the Refugio. There are spectacular views of Cerro Paine Grande and the lakes all around you.Suspension route between Paso and Paine Grande on day 5 of the O Circuit

DAY 6: PAINE GRANDE TO ITALIANO // HIKING DISTANCE: 7.5 KM (OPTIONAL 5.4KM TO MIRADOR BRITANICO)

The reason for this short hiking day is that the splinter hike to Mirador Britanico is unmissable. 

It’s only about 2.5 hours onto Italiano where you can setup camp for the night and drop your bags. Instead, you can undertake the hike up the middle of the “W” with just a daypack. It’s around 2.5 hours up to Britanico and another 30 minutes to the Mirador Britanico. There are more than a dozen peaks surrounding this point, and it’s a view that will even rival Las Torres.

Once you’ve taken it all in, hike back down to Italiano for the night. 

Looking at the peaks from Mirador Britanico on day 6 of the O Circuit

DAY 7: ITALIANO TO CHILENO // HIKING DISTANCE: ~21 KM

This day is officially a slog. It’s a long, upward sloping walk along Lago Nordenskjöld. After about 4.5 hours, the trail forks and you can either go right towards Hotel Las Torres and Central camping area or stay left and shortcut towards Chileno. 

While you’ll be wiped, it’s a more pleasant 2 hours into the valley. At Chileno, you can stay in the refugio or camp out for the night.Stopping at Los Cuernos on day 7 of the O Circuit

DAY 8: CHILENO TO HOTEL LAS TORRES// HIKING DISTANCE: 13.8 KM

On the very last day, you’ll see Las Torres that the park is named for. The three spires towering 2850m with the lake and glacier in view are iconic and worth the early wake-up.

It’s best to get there in time for sunrise, which means you’ll need to set out at least 3 hours before sunrise. It will still be dark, so you definitely need a headlamp. But an uncloudy sunrise at Las Torres more than makes up for the early wakeup time.

Tip: Bring your sleeping bag! It can be pretty cold before the sun comes up, and you’ll enjoy the wait a lot more if you’re cozy.

Once you’ve had your views, its a mostly downhill hike to Hotel Las Torres where you can catch your bus back to the park entrance.

Hiking to Torres del Paine before sunrise on day 8 of the O CircuitPhotos of Chile - Torres del Paine

Read More: Photostory from Torres del Paine

HOW TO GET TO TORRES DEL PAINE

GETTING TO TORRES DEL PAINE

The nearest major airport to Torres del Paine is Presidente Carlos Ibáñez del Campo International Airport (PUQ) in Punta Arenas.  It’s also possible to fly directly into Teniente Julio Gallardo Airport (PNT) in Puerto Natales, though flights are significantly more expensive.

From Punta Arenas to Torres del Paine, you first need to catch the shuttle to Puerto Natales. Bus-Sur has regular service from both the airport or the bus terminal in Punta Arenas, and tickets cost $7500CLP ($10).

From Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine, there are once or twice daily busses run by Buses Juan Ojeda, Buses Gomez, or JB Patagonia. The bus ride takes 2-3 hours and costs around $15000CLP ($20) round trip. All buses depart before 2:30pm, and can fill up days in advance, so contact them via email or stop by one of the hostels in town to secure your spot. 

Bus from Hotel Las Torres to Laguna Amarga

GETTING TO THE TRAILHEAD

The bus makes two drop-offs: one at Laguna Amarga if you’re starting the trek from Hotel Las Torres and one at Pudeto if you’re overnighting at Paine Grande.

Once you’ve paid your entrance fee at Laguna Amarga, hop on another bus that goes to Hotel Las Torres. It’s only 10 minutes and costs $3,000CLP ($4) , but it will save you a 7km walk to the trailhead.

If you’re continuing onto Pudeto, you can take the Catamarán Hielos Patagónicos to Paine Grande. The catamaran departs 1-4 times per day (depending on the season), costs $30,000CLP (~$41), and takes about 30 minutes. You can find more information on current schedules on the HipSur website.

GUIDE OR NO GUIDE?

Except in winter, you are free to hike the O Circuit without a guide. That’s what I opted for! But before going it alone, here are some of the pros and cons to hiking the O Circuit without a guide.

Why go without a guide? Patagonia is expensive and O Circuit tours are no exception. The trail is super easy to follow. There are plenty of other hikers so it’s safe and far from lonely. And it’s obviously more fun this way! 

Why take a tour? Carrying 8-day’s worth of gear and food is a lot to haul on your own. Booking campsites on your own is a pain in the ass. The weather can be unpredictable and even dangerous if you’re not well prepared. 

Photo of Taylor at Las Torres after hiking the O Circuit without a guide

O CIRCUIT TOURS

Most O Circuit tours include roundtrip transport from Puerto Natales, all your camping/refugio nights, and your meals. And if you notice something missing from that list, that’s because it is possible to book tours with or without a guide. It can be worth paying for an O Circuit tour just to have someone to take care of your logistics.

O Circuit tours cost between $1,100-$2,400. I didn’t personally use these services, but here are a couple of the best-reviewed companies.

  • Rental Natales: Super friendly gear shop in town that also comes recommended for fairly priced O Circuit Tours.
  • FantasticoSur: FantasticoSur manages several of the backcountry sites, and they also run O Circuit tours (with or without a guide). Their prices are HIGH, but could be worth it if you are struggling to make your reservations.

HOW MUCH DOES THE O CIRCUIT COST?

Here’s a general projection of costs for one person on the O Circuit based on the itinerary above (updated for 2019). 

  • Roundtrip Transport from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine ($28)
  • Pre-Accommodation in Puerto Natales ($15 for dorm)
  • Campsite Fees (Free to $25 per night)
  • Hiking Gear & Clothing (varies)
  • Camping Equipment Rental ($200)
  • Food (from Puerto Natales) ($80)
  • Food & Water (purchased) (Varies)
  • Entrance Fee to Torres del Paine ($29)

There are a million factors that affect this price. Costs will vary depending on which sites you book, what gear you rent, what food you buy, whether you’re traveling alone, etc. There are SO MANY VARIABLES to factor in, but I’ll give you my best estimate. If you do the hike independently, stay in the cheapeast sites available, and rent basic gear, expect the O Circuit to cost $500.Campfire Picnic in Torres del Paine

WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO NATALES

You’ll want to set out for the O Circuit first thing in the morning. The best way to do this is to overnight in Puerto Natales and catch the earliest bus into the park. Here are some of the best places to stay in Puerto Natales.

Refugio Hoshken | Budget: Refugio Hoshken inexplicably brings cool people together.  It’s a basic spot but the vibe is right, the staff is super friendly, and they’ll even let you leave your stuff in storage while you undertake your trek! Dorms from $14.

The Singing Lamb | Mid-Range: The Singing Lamb is quite simple but spacious common areas and its location just five blocks from the bus station make it the go-to hostel in Puerto Natales.  Double rooms start from $51.

Hotel Simple Patagonia | Luxury: The Hotel Simple Patagonia is anything but simple. The architecture is sleek and you’ll enjoy stellar views of the Ultima Esperanza Sound, which well warrants its location 4km from the bus station. Double rooms from $158.

GOOD TO KNOW

  • Water: There are freshwater streams every day of the trek where you can fill your water bottle. And since it’s glacial melt, it tastes FANTASTIC.
  • Weather: The elements in Patagonia are extreme. Be sure that you check the forecast ahead of time and come prepared for any type of weather anyway. 
  • When to Go: The best to Visit Torres del Paine is probably the shoulder season. 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 the park is most crowded and winds can reach their strongest gusts (120km/hr). For fewer 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.

Did this guide to the O Circuit help you out? Still have questions about the trek? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for a backcountry experience in Torres del Paine? Here's a comparison of hiking the O Circuit to the W Trek with info on campsites and more. Looking for a backcountry experience in Torres del Paine? Here's a comparison of hiking the O Circuit to the W Trek with info on campsites and more.
 

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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