When you look into hiking Torres del Paine you find the names of Fantastico Sur, Vertice and Conaf and notice how messy it is going to be. At first everything seem really complicated as those 3 organizations are ran independently and manage different parts of the park. To book your stay in the park, you therefore have to jump from one website to another and plan accordingly to each one’s availability.
Let’s be honest, it is an absolute mind-boggling nightmare so before you start anything we will explain you the differences and will give you our tips and advice.
As part as our South American tour, we booked our Torres del Paine 3 days before starting our 7-days hike. We also worked for 10 days in the park. Quite enough struggle to understand from the inside how it really works.
Torres del Paine Treks
The “W” trek :
As its name suggests it, the “W” trek will take you on a path of the shape of the letter. It corresponds to the southern part of the park and can be done from East to West and Vice et Versa. The trek takes you either way, from the Grey glacier to the famous Torres via the French Valley and along the lakes Nordenskjöld, Grey and Pehoe. It is the most common option taken by the visitors as it is an easy 3 to 5 days walk that links the most famous parts of the park.
The “O” trek :
The trek is a circuit that can only be done anticlockwise from Torres Central. It’s a 7 to 11 days journey across the north side of the park that continues onto the “W” path for the latest days. You will therefore cross the sites of Serron, Dickson and Los Perros before attacking the Pass John Gardner at 1241 masl with incredible views over the Patagonian ice-field. You will then hike back down to the Grey glacier to start the “W” route. This trek is a bit more challenging because of its length, many muddy parts, bridges, a high pass and the strong Patagonian winds.
The 3 organizations that run Torres del Paine sleeping options
Torres del Paine park is split in two parts : a private and a public land. Both of the treks “O” and “W” go through the two parts. This is therefore impacting the management of the National Park and the booking system.
Fantastico Sur is the company that run the private land of Torres del Paine also known as “La Estancia Cerro Paine”. Belonging to the Kusanovic family since 1979 with the purpose of cattling, the 4400 hectares are now mainly oriented toward tourism. On that matter, they have built refuges, hotels and campsites on their land, along the W and the O treks. Those are Torres Central, Los Cuernos, El Chileno, Torres Norte and Serron.
Vertice is the second company that takes care of the paid campsites and refuges of the park. However they only run those which are located on the public land of the park. Vertice is therefore in charge of Dickson, Los Perros, Grey and Grande Paine. We were once told the company belonged to the Kusanovic family, just like Fantastico Sur, but couldn’t find any proof.
Conaf is a private agency in which the state of Chile is involved to develop and manage the national’s forests. Despite not being a public organization, Conaf is however funded by the Minister of the Agriculture and takes care of all the national parks, reserves and biosphere of Chile. Within the Torres del Paine national park, Conaf manages the entrances fees that are compulsory and offer free campsites.
As for the season 2017-2018, Conaf will only open a couple of free campsites along the W and O treks : El Paso and Italiano. The others (Base Las Torres, Britanico, Las Guardas…) are closed for the season.
The campsites are pretty rustic compare to the other ones (no shower or electricity) and need to be booked at least 6 months in advance. As of today, December 2017, there are no availability until May 2018…
Contrary to the treks of Cerro Castillo and El Chalten, hiking Torres del Paine is a pricey choice. A beautiful one, but one of those you need to plan and budgetise. Indeed, for those going for the cheapest option : camping, Torres del Paine reserves several surprises that you might not like. Let’s drive into it.
While Conaf’s campsites are free but closing one by one as the years go by, the prices of the other campsites option are getting higher and higher. During the season 2017-2018 they have introduced the “pesos extranjeros”, which means that foreigner hikers have to pay more than national. This being already a big pain, those on the search of camping for the great experience but also to save up some money, will need to make sure to check out the different options as Fantastico Sur only offer “Full Board” on most of its campsites (see details below). This means they will automatically include breakfast, lunch and dinner in the price of the camping night… A price that is, as for us, way above our backpacker’s budget.
“Our opinion on this is that they are looking into targeting only high “quality” people who can put up with minimum 110$ per night… Meaning the 1 or 2 weeks “tipping” holidays maker instead of “on the budget young hikers and nature lovers”. While this is not openly advertised by the company as so, let’s be honest and look at what they offer. You will tell us if you don’t feel the same way as we do… It’s a shame and very restrictive to the budget travelers who also want to experience Torres del Paine…”
The types of accommodation
There are 8 refuges : Torres Central, Torres Norte, Los Cuernos, El Chileno, Dickson, El Francès, Grey and Paine Grande. The refuges consist of dorms with bunk-beds. You can choose to bring your own sleeping bag or pay for a made-up bed. All the refuges have separated communal bathrooms with hot showers. They often also offer a cafeteria, restaurant, grocery store and even internet.
The price range goes from $32 to $210 per night per person depending on the refuge and the extras : made up bed, full board, etc.
There is one hotel run by the Kusanovic family, located at Torres Central on the Estancia Cerro Torre. It offers luxury services such as spa, massage and gastronomic meals. The fruit and veg are grown on site in their organic garden. The prices per night for a single start at $1800.
There is one Eco-Camp also located at Torres Central, on private land. It offers sustainable domes and sports activities to the hosts. It is a beautiful place that overlooks the whole Torres Central site and the lake Nordenskjöld. To book you will need to go through the company “Cascada Expediciones” that manages this Eco-Camp for the private Estancia. They mainly offer packages such as Wildlife safari and multisports adventure.
Prices varies from $600 for a 2 days tour to $3500 9-days hike.
There are 11 either free or paid campsites along the “W” and “O” treks. The price range for the paid campsites goes from $8 to $150 per night ! Same story as for the Refuge, it really depends on the camp itself, and the extras. Some campsites will let you come with your own tent and cooking set, while others will oblige you to book a platform with full board included…
All the campsites on Vertice’s side cost between 8 to 10 dollars. You can cook as you wish or order a meal on site. On Fantastico Sur’s side, it’s more complicated, as mentioned earlier, if you wish to camp at El Frances, Los Cuernos or El Chileno, you will only be able to choose from a platform with Full-board or a Premium platform also with Full Board…
The prices range for those 3 campsites for one person from $111 to $150. These campsites are basically the whole “W” trek… That’s mad right ? No worries, we have a solution for you… Check out the part “what we suggest to avoid the Fantastico Sur’s campsites”.
Note : If you decide to hike the “O” you must camp at Serron and Los perros as they do not offer refuge option. If you do not wish to carry a tent with you, you can still rent one.
The other infrastructures
On each sleeping site, there are flushing toilets and hot showers. We were not expecting this and had packed up packs of baby wipes to help on our daily toiletery… No need ! Just bring a towel and soap, and hop in a hot shower after a long day of trekking. Torres del Paine is a “grand luxe” hike…
You will also be able to buy your dinners, breakfast and packed lunches or even buy beers and snacks at the grocery stores. Of course, be prepared to pay an outrageous price. And do not forget you are in Chile, in Patagonia… so whatever price you are thinking of right now, multiply it by 2 ! Well, this being said, we would suggest you to pack up on chocolate bars, and prepare yourself on an alcohol free diet, except if you decide to carry beers and bottle of wine. That’s your choice !
What we suggest to avoid the Fantastico Sur’s campsites
What we did…
If you have read our article about our 7-days hike in Torres de Paine you will already know we booked our trek 3 days before starting it. Knowing that everything is booked out months in advance, you might wondered how we did so ? And no, we did not cheat, we booked all our nights of stay. We also find a way to avoid the expensive campsites of Fantastico Sur while still visiting the Torres and the Grey glacier, two places we wanted to see.
We decided to only hike the back side of the “O” and take a day tour to Las Torres and another one to the French Valley. Now, this has not worked out very well for us because of terrible rain falls and a knee injury but it was the best and luckiest option 3 days ahead… we didn’t manage to go to the french valley or hike to Los Cuernos (our friend did, he walked under the rain and was a young 21 y-old guy without knee issues !). To read about our experience, have a look at our article “7-days hike in Torres del Paine”. Now, see below what we think is the best of the best option to make Torres Del Paine cheap… and if you book in advance of course.
The best option
If you book in advance and there are still spaces available at the Conaf’s campsites, you do not need to hike to Los Cuernos on day 2, and can start the “O” via Serron on day 1. See below the itinerary that will make your trek in Torres del Paine the most affordable :
- 1st day : Take a bus from Puerto Natales to the park entrance and then to Torres Central. Hike to Serron where you will spend the night.
- 2nd day : Hike to Dickson where you will spend the night.
- 3rd day : Hike to Los Perros where you will spend the night.
- 4th day : Hike to El Paso where you will spend the night.
- 5th day : Hike to Paine Grande where you will spend the night.
- 6th day : Hike to Italiano, set up your tent and go onto the french valley and back. Sleep at Italiano’s campsite.
- 7th day (and 8) : Hike to Torres Central. You can either spend the night or hike to the Torres in the afternoon. We would have recommended to sleep at the Base Torres Campsite to make sure to wake up for the sunrise at the towers but Conaf has now closed this site… If you really wish to see the Towers at sunrise you will need to stay at El Chileno (pay the price that goes with it) and hike on day 8 to the towers (they recommend to leave around 4 am).
Hiking from Torres Central would be irresponsible. Read Conaf’s security advises before entering the park.
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