Patagonia Hiking The O Circuit
There are 2 main ways to hike Patagonia; the W and the O circuits. The O circuit includes the busier W circuit plus the less accessible route round the back of the famous towers.
Image credit: Patagonia hero
Once you get to the W circuit there are various entrances & exits to the park. This blog is about the route we took, which I would repeat if I went back, with a couple of minor changes (see below).
If you don't like hiking this isn't the park for you. You have to hike reasonable distances to see anything worthwhile. And there are some elevation accents/descents to consider too.
Photo of one of the park signs showing distance & elevations
Many people there had a guide, but its not necessary. We did a self guided tour and booked everything (other than flights & hotels outside the park) through www.bookingpatagonia.travel. (no I'm not getting a kick back from these guys, this is a genuine recommendation). They sorted out bus to/from park, park entrance tickets, camping/refuge, food where available and were very responsive.
We flew into Santiago then a 2nd flight into Puerta Natales, where the bus takes you into the park. If you like dogs, you'll love this town.
Puerta Natales: Video https://youtu.be/uX9PYAbw0BA
Eight day itinerary (once in Puerta Natales)
Day 1: Bus into park (Laguna Amarga entrance). Park shuttle to main area and hike from Camp Las Torres to Seron. 13km Video https://youtu.be/UGgtVKfz9uM
Day 2: Hike from Camp Seron to Dickson. 18km video https://youtu.be/OiM-h4_juyw
Day 3: Hike from Camp Dickson to Los Perros. 11.8km video https://youtu.be/jyZ7wqlpRrY
Day 4: Hike from Camp Los Perros to Grey. 15km video https://youtu.be/Kx1ThIAfoBI
This is one of the longer days. Its not high kms but you hike over the pass. This was actually my favorite day. The views were stunning.
Day 5: Hike from Camp Grey to Frances. 20.5km video https://youtu.be/j7avqEfoIm0
Day 6: Stay at Frances for 2nd night and Hike Miradors Frances & Britanico and back. 14.8km Video https://youtu.be/8Fw6CkWouW4
Day 7: Hike from Camp Frances to Camp Las Torres (or Camp Central as its called once you're there). 14.6km Video https://youtu.be/U6DEo-0q_Ww
Day 8: Stay at Central for a 2nd night and hike Mirador Las Torres and back. 20km Video https://youtu.be/Ke4ApZq_8Mc
Mirador Las Torres
Day 9: Park shuttle to Laguna Amarga entrance and bus out of the park back to Puerta Natales. (see Puerta Natales video above)
What I would change
Day 8: I would leave the park after the Mirador Las Torres hike and save a day. We spent day 9 hanging around waiting for the buses/shuttles to start at 3pm, and there's not much to do. However, had the weather been bad on day 8, having day 9 there gave an extra days option to see the famous Las Torres. We didn't need it, but I would have been upset if it was too cloudy to see the towers. It is the most famous view of the park.
2. Day 7: you could hike Camp Frances to Chileno. Day 8: get up pre dawn to see the sunrise on Las Torres, then hike to central and either stay the night or leave the park. The only down side to this is you're hiking your heavy pack up to Chileno, whereas if you stay at Central its lower elevation and you're just doing an out and back with a lighter day pack.
Bed and food
Book early, we booked 9 months in advance and didn't get everything we wanted. There are only a small number of spaces and it fills quickly.
Where possible we booked food (breakfast, bagged lunch, dinner) so we could carry less food (9 days food, even dehydrated is heavy). We also booked a bed in a refuge where possible so that if the weather was awful we at least had a dry bed. We ended up managing to get half refuge (so camped every 2nd night) and half food, which worked out well.
All W circuit and some O circuit camps/refuges had some sort of restaurant advertising food (if you hadn't already pre booked food). But we found at several camps that even though it says you can "buy a meal", when you actually ask the answer is no..... or more often "come back in a hour" and when you do they say "come back in an hour" and you repeat this loop until it dawns on you that you're not getting any food.
All camps/refuges had a small store where you could buy basic food/supplies. Instant noodles, cookies, etc. so you won't starve but options are limited. Some of the refuges/camps are remote and everything is brought in on horses, which means limited supplies.
I was happy to see each refuge/camp have feminine supplies available. We also found it amusing that several varieties of condoms and razors were deemed worthy of including in the limited supplies. Got to get your priorities right, can't be hooking up with someone and be un-shaven.
We carried our own tents (for when we hadn't managed to book a refuge) but tents were available to pre book. I didn't because I wasn't sure what condition they would be, but once I saw them they were nicer than I expected and I would book them next time and save the weight of the tent too.
Now I've seen it, if I didn't have time to do the full circuit but wanted to see the main highlights I would:
1. Catch the boat into Paine Grande, stay overnight.
2. Hike to John Gardner pass and back to refuge Grey. Stay overnight.
3. Hike refuge Grey to Frances, stay overnight.
4. Hike to mirador Britanico and out to camp Frances. Stay overnight.
5. Hike Frances to refuge Chileno. Stay over night.
6. Up early to catch the sunrise at Los Torres then hike out to Central and catch the bus out to Puerta Natales.
Some of these would be long days, but you can stay at the refuges and don't need a big pack, plus days are out and backs so just need a small day pack.
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