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  • Writer's pictureDave and Becca

Torres Del Paine, O Circuit in Patagonia | A complete guide (2022/23 season)

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

In December 2022 we took on the infamous O Circuit in Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile Patagonia. It was the most amazing 8 days; epic scenery, incredible landscape and a lot of fun. If you are considering the challenge this blog should tell you everything there is to know to help you prepare and plan your journey.

Great views from Britanico lookout
Great views from Britanico lookout

 

Table of contents


 

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What is the O Circuit?


The O circuit is typically a 7-9 day, 136 km (85 mile) hike through the magnificent Torres Del Paine National Park. It is a one way route that can be started in a couple of places. The hike will take you across lush meadow, along hillside paths with stunning lake views, over an epic mountain pass, alongside the biggest, most impressive glacier you have ever seen and challenge you with steep climbs up to the most rewarding miradors. The O circuit is not for the faint hearted or novice walker but if you are up for the challenge, my goodness it is worth it!


Best time of year to hike the O Circuit


The Torres del Paine has a relatively short hiking window, with the O Circuit side of the park completely closed during the winter months. If your trip to Patagonia is already planned for during the winter season it may be possible to complete the W trek instead (see Torres del Paine in winter for more info), but only on a fully guided tour as the trails are closed to independent hikers. For the O Circuit, the' back side' of the park is only open between the beginning of November & the end of March. The summer is from December - February, has the highest temperatures, longest daylight hours to enjoy the scenery & lowest rainfall. The main drawback of visiting in summer is that is correlates with the time of year with the most wind. The summer offers the best hiking conditions so as you can imagine attracts the most visitors, this means the trails will be at their busiest & camp sites book up quicker so it's best to book early!!

Whether you visit in peak season or the shoulders be prepared for everything, Patagonia is known for throwing 4 seasons in a day at you & we can testify to this!


Below is a graph showing the weather trends at different times of year in the Torres del Paine national park.

Weather graph showing average temperature, rainfall, windspeed & daylight hours in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

For those of you who prefer raw data, see below.

Precipitation monthly average (mm)

Average tempurature max (°c)

Average temperature min (°c)

Daylight hours

Wind speed ave Km/h

January

6

20

9

16

18

February

4

19

8

13

14

March

8

17

7

12

11

April

14

12

2

11

7

May

19

9

0

10

7

June

18

5

-3

9

4

July

16

5

-2

10

4

August

16

8

-1

11

7

September

6

10

0

12

11

October

9

14

3

15

14

November

3

17

5

16

18

December

4

18

8

17

18

O versus W


You may have already read our O versus W post and decided the O Circuit is the one for you. If not, you will most definitely have stumbled across the W trek when reading about the Torres del Paine National Park. This is a more popular alternative to the O Circuit. Being only 80km (50 miles) and usually completed over 5 days, it is more accessible to a wider audience.


We decided to go with the O Circuit mainly because we wanted the challenge of an 8 day hike and liked the sound of the ‘back side’ of the park (the O Circuit only section) being quieter. Also completing the O Circuit you are effectively hiking the W trek as well so you won't miss anything out!


If you don’t like the sound of multi-day hiking and camping, there are options to do day-hikes. The most popular of which is to walk to the Mirador Las Torres in a day; not an easy hike but very impressive and rewarding.


View of Grey Glacier with mountains behind, just before Paso
View of Grey Glacier with mountains behind, just before Paso

Booking onto a tour versus self-arranged and self-guided


There are three options when it comes to organising your trek:

1. Book on a fully arranged, guided tour

2. Make your arrangements i.e. your campsite bookings, transport in and out of the park through a tour company but complete the actual trek on your own, unguided.

3. Make your reservations and arrangements yourself and complete the trek on your own, unguided.


We didn’t speak to anyone who went for the first option (we saw a couple during our 8 days but not many) and to be honest it isn’t one I would recommend. Not because the tour companies are bad, but because it is totally feasible to arrange it all alone and save the extra money you would end up paying the tour company. Booking your campsites is the trickiest part and this needs to be done up to 6 months in advance, but once that is done the rest of the organising is easy. The route itself is well signposted and clear, you would struggle to get lost and as the trek is completely pre-booked the rangers know exactly who is on each section in the park and use check points to monitor your progress and make sure everyone has checked into camp safely.


If you wanted to pay a company to make the arrangements for you in order to remove some of the hassle of booking it yourself you could do but as I said, we opted to save the extra cash and organise it ourselves.


When it comes to the trek, although you may be walking alone; i.e., you haven’t booked to do it with a friend or partner; you will find lots of other people starting their O circuit journey on the same day as you and staying in the same camps each night, so it is easy to make friends on route.


How hard is the O Circuit?


The O circuit is 136km (85miles) long and typically takes 7-9 days to complete. When thinking about the days individually, whilst there are a few challenging days in terms of distance walked (up to 24km), terrain type (muddy, rocky and steep) and elevation gain (up to 770m), with a good level of fitness and determination they can be achieved. A key consideration is the fact you will be carrying a heavy backpack with all of your gear; food, clothing and camping equipment.


With right amount of physical and mental preparation for the O Circuit, it is achievable for most people. You can read our personal account of the O Circuit if you would like further details and reassurance.


Gorgeous views from day 2 of the O Circuit, between Seron & Dickson
Gorgeous views from day 2 of the O Circuit, between Seron & Dickson

How much does it cost to do the O Circuit?


Here is an overview of our costs to help your decision (a more detailed breakdown is provided in the relevant sections):


  • Park entrance fees – US$49 per person

  • Campsite costs – US$116 per person (we stayed on basic pitches everywhere, see campsites costs table below for more detail of prices on more premium budget).

  • Food costs - US$61.50 per person (all bought in advance at shops in Puerto Natales/ in the UK)

  • Meals/drinks bought at camps – US$113.50 (all completely optional/an added luxury that you could do without)

  • Equipment rental costs – US$237 for two people (see 'What camping equipment hire costs in Puerto Natales' for a breakdown).

  • Gas – US$6.50


Torres del Paine campsite costs by pitch type 22/23 season

Camp name(s)

Dickson, Grey

Los Perros

Paine Grande

Central, Chileno, Frances, Seron

Cuernos

Booking company

Vertice

Vertice

Vertice

Fantastico Sur - Las Torres

Fantastico Sur - Las Torres

Campsite

(2 people)

$20

$20

$24

$50

$50

Campsite

(1 person)

$10

$10

$12

$37

$37

Fully set up camp pitch (2 people)

$116

$116

$120

$140

$140

Fully set up camp pitch (1 person)

$74

$74

$76

$82

$82

Premium camp pitch (2 people)

N/A

N/A

N/A

$200

$200

Premium camp pitch (1 person)

N/A

N/A

N/A

$120

$120

Bunkbed/shared room (no sheets or sleeping bag)

$40

N/A

$59

$119

$119

Bunk bed/shared room (fully set up)

$92

N/A

$92

$125

$125

Cabin (2 people)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

$400

Cabin (1 person)

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

$375

How to book your campsites


How far ahead should I start booking campsites?

Okay, so you are up for the challenge and want to start arranging your trip, the first thing to note is that the campsites on the O Circuit in particular get booked up very quickly and quite far in advance. We were watching and waiting for the campsite websites to open for the season and booked as soon as they did. We did our trek in December 22 but booked in June 22, 6 months in advance. We met lots of people who hadn’t booked that far in advance but had had to be more flexible on dates.


The booking process

You are only allowed to camp in designated campsites within the national park and must book in advance. The campsites in the park are owned by two private companies: Vertice Patagonia and Las Torres Patagonia. There used to be a third which offered free camps called CONAF, but these are not currently open, and it is not clear whether they plan to re-open in the future.


The Vertice website is a bit more confusing than Las Torres, but can be translated into English. We had both company’s websites open at the same time and made sure all our dates were available and then tried to complete the booking for each at the same time!


You can book using Bookings Patagonia but they charge a 15% service charge.




View from Paine Grande
View from Paine Grande

The O Circuit route


The O Circuit section of the park must be walked in one direction, from Central to Grey. In terms of where to start you have a couple of options. We, like most others, started at the visitor’s centre near Central and walked the O Circuit section first, joining the W trek at Grey and finishing back at Central. However, there is nothing to stop you starting at Paine Grande on the W side (which you can get a catamaran to) as long as you then walk in the correct direction towards Central (i.e. towards Frances & Cuernos camps) so you are going the right way round the O Circuit section.

The camps we chose along the route worked really well and most of our other fellow O Circuit trekkers did the same, however, there are a couple of changes you could make if you wanted that have pros and cons to them.


The O Circuit map

See below a map showing where the campsites feature in the Torres del Paine. The free CONAF camp sites have been left off due to them being currently closed & no sign of when they will reopen.

Number

Camp name

Company

1

Serón

Las Torres

2

Dickson

Vertice

3

Los Perros

Vertice

4

Grey

Vertice

5

Paine Grande

Vertice

6

Francés

Las Torres

7

Cuernos

Las Torres

8

Chileno

Las Torres

9

Central

Las Torres

Torres del Paine campsite facilities

One big question we had before setting off was, how good would the facilities be on the O Circuit? The short answer is a hell of a lot better than we expected. Below is a summary of what you can expect from the camps. The 3 free camps (Torres, Paso & Italiano) are closed for camping as stated above, but are used for check points & do offer toilet facilities on a few of the longer days.


Vertice campsites

Bathroom

Shop

Wifi

Charging facilities

Non restaurant food to purchase

Dickson

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Well equipped

N/A

Shop & restaurant

Burger

Los Perros

Cold showers & flushing toilets

Limited

N/A

Shop & cooking area

No

Grey

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Well equipped

Extra cost

Shop, restaurant & cooking area

Burger & pizza

Paine Grande

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Well equipped

Extra cost

Shop, restaurant & cooking area

Burger & pizza



Las Torres campsites

Bathroom

Shop

WiFi

Charging Facilities

Non restaurant food to purchase

Serón

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Limited

Extra cost

Shop & restaurant

Snacks

Francés

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Limited

Extra cost

Shop & restaurant

Until 5pm

Cuernos

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Limited

Extra cost

At the reception

Snacks

Chileno

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Limited

Extra cost

Restaurant only

Until 5pm

Central

Hot showers & flushing toilets

Limited

Extra cost

At the reception

Snacks



The route we chose

Day 1. Visitors centre near Central to Serón – 14.3km

Day 2. Serón – Dickson - 18.7km

Day 3. Dickson – Los Perros - 13.4km

Day 4. Los Perros – Grey - 16.6km

Day 5. Grey – Paine Grande - 11.1km

Day 6. Paine Grande – Francés - 22.2km

Day 7. Francés – Chileno - 16.4km + 9.8km (towers return)

Day 8. Chileno back to visitors centre to exit the park – 5.6km


Alternative route options:


We followed the "Classic 8 day O Circuit", however there are a few chops & changes that can be made. The O Circuit can actually be walked from 7 days to 9 days depending how long or short you want your days to be. As there are so many alternatives to the Classic route we have put together another post running through itinerary options for the O Circuit & W Trek which is worth a read if you fancy something different.


How to buy your Torres del Paine National Park entrance ticket


This must be done on the CONAF website on the ASPTicket page at least 24 hours before you want to enter the park. We only did ours the day before as we thought you had to pay in cash at the entrance as lots of other blogs inform, but this has all changed and now & you register and pay in USD online.


The price varies depending on how long you require entry to the park for. Up to 3 days is US$35 per person, and for more than 3 days is US$49. Therefore, for both the W and O Circuit you will need to apply for the 3 days + ticket.


Once registered and paid you will receive a QR code that you need to be able to show to the park rangers when you arrive.


Where to stay in Puerto Natales


Most people enter the national park from the town of Puerto Natales which sits about 115km south of the O Circuit start point. We based ourselves here for 2 nights prior to our trek which gave us plenty of time to organise our camping equipment rental, buy our food and carb-load in preparation! We also stayed one night following our trek.


Hostal Lili-Patagonicos

We would highly recommend this hostel, beautiful, comfy rooms, nice common lounge & fabulous breakfast of cereals, fruit, self-cook eggs and waffles. This is the perfect place to prepare for your trek. The hostel also offers camping equipment rental; we didn’t go with them as we found a cheaper option (see Camping equipment & hire options section), but we did see lots of others renting from them and didn’t hear any complaints.


Hostel Last Hope

Not the most encouraging of names and not quite as nice as Hostal Lili-Patagonicos (which is literally next door) but perfectly nice, comfy and clean. Breakfast is also included here, only yoghurt and cereal, toast and cheese but better than nothing.


What to pack for the O Circuit

Packing for the O Circuit can feel overwhelming, especially if you have not done multi-day hiking before. We've put together the ultimate packing list which goes into much more detail than the below list & some examples of the perfect gear for you to follow. If you are planning to hire your O Circuit gear, there is information on that further down the page.


Here is an overview for those more practiced hikers to use as a checklist.


What camping equipment you need for the O Circuit


What clothes to pack for the O Circuit


What toiletries to pack for the O Circuit

Other items of kit for the O Circuit



Camping equipment & hire options


If you are travelling to Patagonia on holiday you may choose to bring your own camping equipment with you, however, if like us you are travelling more long term, hiring the equipment is easy and affordable and saves you having to carry camp gear the whole time you are travelling.

Puerto Natales is full of places you can hire camping equipment from, but the equipment will vary in quality and price. We didn’t hear any horror stories from fellow travellers about bad camping equipment so it really comes down to a bit of personal preference, ease and cost. We hired the main items such as tent, sleeping bags and roll mats from Yagan House (another hostel) & the smaller items such as cooking equipment and walking poles from Erratic Rock* The only reason we went to two different places was the due to the cost.


*You may have read about Erratic Rock on other blogs – the owner, a really nice American guy used to give a talk at 3pm every day sharing his knowledge of the National Park and tips for the W & O circuits. This talk no longer takes place but the guy is still there and is more than happy to chat and answer any questions you may have. He does have some camping equipment to hire but is winding up this part of the business. He hasn’t invested in any new stuff since Covid and is really open about how his tents and sleeping bags may not be the best out there now but he is a great back-up option if you are struggling, and cheap to hire walking poles and cooking gear from.


Our camp on the first night at Seron, Torres del Paine National Park, O Circuit, Patagonia, Chile
Our camp on the first night at Seron

What camping equipment hire costs in Puerto Natales

(here is a breakdown of what we paid to hire the items)

Item

Price per day

Three-man tent

8,000 CLP / US$9.50

Sleeping bag

4,000 CLP / US$4.70

Roll mat

1,000 CLP / US$1.20

Stove & cooking equipment

1,500 CLP / US$1.80

Trekking poles (pair)

2000 CLP / US$2.35


Panoramic shot of Grey glacier & Grey lake, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Insano pano of Grey glacier & Grey lake

What food to pack for the O Circuit


Deciding what food to take for the trek can be tricky but it is important you stick to light weight, high calorie choices. You want to make sure you are fuelling your body the best you can without adding unnecessary weight to your backpack.


Tips for what food to pack

  • Consider the time of year you are walking and what temperatures will be like. You probably don't want to be carrying too much perishable food in the height of summer.

  • Try to pack lightweight food as you are going to be carrying it yourselves and you will not thank yourself for a really heavy backpack.

  • Go high calorie and energy rather than quantity of food - apples may taste great but the energy to weight ratio doesn't do them any favours!

  • Your meals will need to be one pot (unless you are going to hire and carry multiple stoves and pans!)

  • Dehydrated meals can be pretty tasty, extremely lightweight and easy to prepare (you just add boiling water) but are not the cheapest option and not as widely available as pasta and rice!

  • It is a good idea to start the day with something filling like porridge, and always nice to end the day with a hot meal.


This is a list of what we packed for two people


Breakfast

- Porridge – enough for 7 breakfasts

- Milo to add to the porridge to make is a bit more exciting

- Dried blueberries and cranberries to have a breakfast for added calories


Lunch

- The first two days we pre-made chicken rolls

- 20 wraps, a chorizo ring, sliced cheese and one camembert round to make wraps for 5 of the days

- One day we had rice cooked the evening before (see dinners below)


Dinner

- 14 cuppa soups – we took one each for each evening to have whilst we were cooking our main. Great if it’s cold or you are extra hungry!

- 8 dehydrated meals for 4 of the evenings – we actually bought these with us from the UK as we had read that the price of dehydrated meals in Chile was around US$20 for a single meal whereas in the UK they are only about US$5. We didn’t hunt around for them but did see some in an outdoor shop in Puerto Natales selling them for less than this (around 14US$ for a double portion).

- Rice, a chorizo ring, an onion & beef stock cubes for three of the evenings – we fried off the chorizo and onion (no oil needed as the chorizo gives off fat and stops the onion from sticking), we removed the chorizo and onion from the pan, cooked the rice with a stock cube for extra flavour and then added the chorizo and onion back into the cooked rice.


We didn’t actually end up eating all the rice as we bought food at the refugios.


Snacks

- 16 cereal bars

- Two packets of oaty biscuits

- 24 mini chocolate bars

- 2 packets of salami bites

- Mixed nuts, raisins & dried apricots


We spent £18/US$21.50 per person on the dehydrated meals in the UK but the rest of the food we purchased in Puerto Natales and it cost US$40 per person in total.


Our food supplies for the O Circuit hike, Torres del paine
Our food for the two of us for the O Circuit

Food at the Refugios


When booking your campsites you can also book breakfast, packed lunches and evening meals at each of the refugios, so you could in fact not carry any food for main meals with you at all, and just have some additional snacks. However, this is an expensive option. We didn’t choose to pre-book any meals but we met lots of people who had, some had booked for just a few of the nights to mix things up a bit, rather than every night. The reviews were generally good, food was plentiful and filling, but lacking in fresh vegetables (not a big surprise considering the remoteness of some of the camps). I wouldn’t guarantee it but there is the possibility of booking these meals at the camps themselves, but this relies solely on whether they have availability. We had the three course evening meal at camp Chileno without pre-booking. It cost US$27 each.


What we were surprised about was the availability of other food at the camps; most had a small shop selling things like soup, pasta, instant noodles, chocolate, and some on the W side of the trek even had fresh eggs and hot sandwiches. I wouldn’t want to completely rely on this produce to provide all your meals, but I think it would be very easy to supplement your meals and therefore reduce the amount of weight you carry into the park. Again, it comes at a premium and will cost you more than buying these items in the supermarket in Puerto Natales. We bought some eggs at a couple of the camps & hard boiled them for the following day to make a welcome addition to our lunch wraps, and give our muscles some added protein.


In addition to the shops most camps had a small restaurant/bar selling a couple of pizza options (usually a peperoni & a veggie option) and a beef burger for 14,000 CLP - 16,000 CLP (£14-£16/ 16.50US$/19US$) There was also beer and wine & fizzy drinks available at nearly every camp, which we were really surprised about, but we thoroughly enjoyed having a celebratory beer with our fellow trekkers after a hard days hike!


We enjoyed a pizza and burger at camp Grey after the notoriously difficult John Gardner Pass day.


We ended up spending an additional US$113.50 each on food and drinks at the refugios. It is worth pointing out that all of this was luxury spend and you could avoid it altogether. Unless you are very disciplined, you will probably succumb to a beer and a tube of pringles once or twice on your trek, but approximately US$46 of that total was spent on meals so this can be avoided if you cook for yourself every night.



Breakdown of what food booked in advance costs at the refugios


Full-board

Half-board

Dinner

Lunch

Packed lunch

Breakfast

​Las Torres

$88

$62

$44

$44

$29

$24

​Vertice

$61

N/A

$32

$19

$19

$19


Torres del Paine national park rules


In order to keep yourself and others safe when hiking, as well as protecting this beautiful landscape and the wildlife that lives within it, please familiarise yourself with the national park rules here.


Getting the bus into & out of the Torres del Paine National Park


Assuming you are walking the O Circuit by starting and finishing at the welcome centre, the journey in and out of the park is relatively straight-forward. You can get a bus to Laguna Amarga and a shuttle from there to the welcome centre, and the same in reverse when you finish.


For more detailed information for this route and for alternative options see our separate how to get to and from the park post.


Our O Circuit experience


We chose the classic 8 day O circuit starting and finishing at Central. We hiked in December 22 and were very lucky with the weather; it was cold at night, but we were fine in our sleeping bags, and dry and sunny in the day. We had been very nervous about carrying our backpacks, despite training hard for the trek & having read other people's accounts, were very dubious about the John Gardner pass day. However, I am pleased to report all our worries were unfounded and whilst there were some challenging days, it was all achievable and enjoyable (even the John Gardner pass which was actually a highlight of the trek!) We've written a detailed account of our trek which you can read for more information.

Summary


Hopefully this guide & the more detailed guides linked to it covers everything you need to know to plan and prepare yourself for the O Circuit. However, please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any other questions and concerns. We'd be genuinely pleased to help you.


Visiting Torres del Paine is such an incredible experience, the stunning scenery and being totally immersed in nature will make up for any challenges and discomfort you experience on your journey.


Happy planning & happy trekking!




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