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timothydhalleine contributor

Hiking the Torres del Paine “O” Trek 1/9

Introduction & Arrival - Part 1 of 9

If you are an avid hiker and love wandering in remote wild places, the Torres del Paine “O” Circuit was made for you. This 9-Day hike in Southern Chile is no joke; it’s a demanding journey along dramatic mountains, giant ice fields, and vast forests. You must be in a good shape to hike through this irregular terrain for 138 kilometers (85 miles), yet these epic landscapes should quickly make you forget how exhausted you really are at the end of the day.

Let’s be honest: I was no professional hiker when I undertook this trek. I wanted to be immersed in nature and the wilds of Patagonia seemed like a fabulous destination. I chose the end of the season (late March) because I wanted to avoid the crowds. The circuit is open from October to March (Spring and Summer in the Southern hemisphere), as some areas may be covered by snow in Autumn and Winter. March was just fine, even though some travelers told me stories of heavy rains (which I didn’t experience, fortunately). I could have chosen to do the famous “W” Trek – Torres del Paine National Park’s most famous trek, two times shorter than the “O” – but I chose the “O” circuit (which includes the “W”) for its more thrilling trails. Now that I’ve finished it, I am convinced I made the right decision.

Follow this guide for my day-by-day experience so you can understand why this trekking circuit is amongst the most beautiful hiking experiences on Earth.

EcoCamp Patagonia, the geodesic hotel in which I stayed EcoCamp Patagonia, the geodesic hotel in which I stayed

Conquering the Torres del Paine “O” Circuit in Patagonia - Part 2 Day 1: Arrival in Patagonia

Getting to Patagonia takes time, yet it is way easier than years ago, as new airports have been built here and there. Punta Arenas airport is the most common way to get to Torres del Paine National Park, but the park is still a 5-hour drive from the airport. I woke up as the plane landed a few meters away from the Magellan Strait, after 3 and a half hours of flying from Santiago de Chile to the world’s end. From the window I could see the sun shining over endless plains. These flat lands - called “pampa” - are Patagonia’s most usual landscape and cover a huge part of Argentina and Chile.

As I left the airport, the first thing I experienced were wind gusts. The infamous winds of Patagonia are no lie and Punta Arenas is well known for its constant gusts that were a nightmare to the first settlers in the region. I entered the van and we started our 3-hour journey to Puerto Natales, the nearest city to Torres del Paine. After another nap, we reached the charming tourist city, a peaceful town surrounded by fjords and mountains. I met the rest of the group. We would be a team of 7 hikers from a variety of countries, and ranging from 28 to 65 years old.

We had a nice lunch in one of Puerto Natales’ many delicious restaurants and then started the last portion of the trip. The landscape quickly changed as the monotonous pampa disappeared to make way for lush green forests and blue lakes. I saw the first herds of guanacos, these funny camelids that are the puma’s favorite prey in this part of the world. Torres del Paine National Park appeared in the distance. It did not take long for me to identify the three granite towers that gave their name to the park. The park was established in 1959 and covers an area of 181.414 hectares (700 sq. miles), hence the dozens of trails for all tastes. We would do a 360° hike of the mountain range that attracts more than 250,000 visitors from around the world every year.

First night in Torres del Paine National Park (what a view!) First night in Torres del Paine National Park (what a view!)

There are different options to stay in the park. The starting point of the circuit is called “Las Torres” sector. There is a refuge, a campsite and two hotels. I chose EcoCamp Patagonia, the first geodesic hotel in the world that cares for its footprint and does all the logistics for the circuit. We would have porters to help us carry less weight and set up the tents at night. A guide would lead the group in the mountains. His name was Pablo “Brujo”, a Chilean native who has spent years hiking through Patagonia’s remote mountains.

Brujo gave us a complete briefing over a generous cocktail - tomorrow was going to be a long day. I did not wait long before heading to my dome, a charming hobbit-like room with a fabulous view of the towers. There could not be a better start to this journey.