Stories we @EcoCampPatagonia love most

Torres del Paine Circuit: A Journey through the Immensity

Torres del Paine Circuit: A Journey through the Immensity

Torres del Paine National Park Map

Click to see full Circuit Trek map

Have you seen the spectacular, untouched landscapes of movies such as Into the Wild (Sean Penn, 2007) and, more recently, Wild (2014, Jean-Marc Vallée)? Do you imagine the emotion of the hero as he hikes along magnificent snow capped mountains and silent forests, as relentless as the sun in the desert (and the wind in Patagonia)? That emotion, that feeling of remoteness, is precious. It is precious mainly because places stunning enough to get you feel it are rare.Luckily, such places exist. Somewhere in Southern Chile, in a place called Torres del Paine National Park, you can feel the winds of freedom in your hair, sleep in a tent under the shadow of huge trees and hike along 138km/83mi of pristine valleys, forests and ice fields.

Paine CIrcuit Elevations

Click to see full Paine Trek elevations charts

Let me introduce you to the famous Paine Circuit (also called “O”, due to its shape on the map) with EcoCamp Patagonia! Get ready for hike of a lifetime in one of the most striking trekking routes in the world. Yes, you need to be in good physical condition. Yes, you need to accept the risk of extreme weathers. But don’t worry: with no altitude issues (the trek is under 1500m/4921ft) and the option to stay three of the eight nights in a comfy dome, the trek is a great compromise between adventure and rest! So, dear reader, get ready to read about the ultimate challenge in the 8th wonder of the world… even more exciting when it starts on New Year’s Eve!

DAY 1 – The journey starts: Wednesday 31st of December. The trip from Santiago to EcoCamp was said to be long. Let’s admit it: eight hours of travel is indeed a long trip. However, after we reached Punta Arenas, my fear of becoming bored disappeared even though I knew we had still 373km/232mi (about five hours) to go before seeing EcoCamp. The van made its way through enormous flat lands, with almost no human life in the horizon and only the pampa as far as our eyes could see. We were in Patagonia! After three hours we broke our journey in Puerto Natales, where we were introduced to the friendly EcoCamp office staff and to our guide, Roberto Carlos. Roberto is a local guide with a great passion for Patagonian fauna, flora and culture. I immediately knew we would learn a lot thanks to him!

After we completed the necessary paperwork, we were taken to “Aldea”, a nearby restaurant where we enjoyed delicious Chilean food. It was the perfect opportunity to get to know the four adventurers that had crossed the world to hike the Paine Circuit by my side!  Jonathan Waugh (Great Britain) and Hilde Suude (Norway) seemed well-prepared for the adventure, as they had already hiked in remote mountains of Ecuador, China and Siberia. Their travel stories left me speechless! Marty Papazian and Marina Benedict (USA) had left the studios of Los Angeles to take a well-deserved Patagonian break. They are both actors, who would forget about movies and TV shows for nine days of hike in the end of the world.

We got back in the van to head north again. En route, we stopped for a short yet welcome surprise: the Milodon’s Cave (La Cueva del Milodon)! This 200m cave once housed a creature called Milodon, which inhabited the area 10,000 years ago.  What an astonishing geological formation!

The milodon cave, close to Puerto Natales

A 30-minute walk through a mysterious cave: nice warm-up before the trek!

After two hours of driving, we finally entered Torres del Paine. The sun was shining on the giant mountain range, and as we stopped at the Sarmiento Lookout we could not believe the beauty of the place. The famous towers overlooked the biggest lake in the national park (Sarmiento Lake) and dozens of guanacos and ñandus (rhear) gave us a warm welcome as we reached EcoCamp Patagonia. We were finally there!

After settling in our cozy domes at the foot of the towers, we met Roberto in the Community Domes to review the itinerary for the next few days. We raised questions and got to know the National Park’s map over a tasty Pisco Sour, before the music led us outside. All the travelers were gathered in the terrace for New Year’s Eve and we got to know people from around the world with a common spirit of adventure.

Sarmiento Lake, the first lookout before reaching the national park

Pristine lakes and snowcapped mountains: welcome to Torres del Paine!

New Year's eve in the community domes

Nice place for a New Year’s Day countdown, isn’t it?

Standard dome in Torres del Paine

A standard dome: probably the best place to fall asleep in Torres del Paine!

A delicious buffet allowed us to taste great Patagonian fusion food washed down with a full bodied organic Chilean wine. Soon before midnight, we mixed with the EcoCamp staff and all started the countdown to New Year 2015. 3, 2, 1…Happy New Year! We hugged and blessed each other in English and Spanish. We could have danced for hours to the sound of the cheerful Latin music. But despite the beauty of the moment, time was flying. I gazed at the star-filled sky from my Standard dome. We would wake up at 7.00am on the next day – and hike 32km/19mi.

DAY 2 – Dickson: As we gathered in the community domes for a delectable breakfast, we all realized it would be a long day. We would walk 32km – about 10 hours – from EcoCamp to the Dickson refuge, a place famous for its glaciers and remoteness. No doubt the setting would be pretty different! The weather was uncertain but after all, didn’t Roberto say there are four seasons a day in Patagonia? We stretched for a few minutes, laced up our shoes and strapped on our backpacks. Let’s go!

We made our first steps in the shady Ceron woods where elegant woodpeckers gave us a warm welcome. We did not wait long before experiencing the local wildlife!  We found puma tracks on the trail: no doubt the feline was not far. The trail was rather flat and easy, a gentle yet beautiful start in landscapes rich in trees and white flowers.  We could have lain for hours in the marguerite fields that made the place look like paradise! Here and there we could observe the Paine River, the biggest river in the National Park as we continued on to its source: Dickson. We also saw the magic blueness of Laguna Azul (blue lagoon) in the distance!

Leaving EcoCamp Patagonia

Our first steps in the early morning…

A puma track in the Ceron area

It seems that we followed the puma for a few kilometers…

Hiking along the Paine River

We hiked along the giant Paine river for hours

We reached the Ceron campsite after about 4 hours and took a first break. That was a nice warm up! This tiny, quiet campsite was the last step before heading north and reaching the back part of the Mountain range. The trail became hillier as we reached Laguna Cebolla (“Onion Lagoon”) – a small and peaceful lagoon – and we started to hike the steepest part of the day. However, the hard part did not last long and the view from the top was definitely rewarding. We were facing the Paine Lake and could distinguish tomorrow’s highlight: the Perros glacier. It was a nice spot for a group picture!

We walked downhill for a few kilometers. New mountains started to appear in our left side, always seeming to surpass each other in beauty. We could see the impressive Cerro Cabeza del Indio, a rock formation so dramatic it was almost intimidating! More surprisingly, the famous towers appeared again…from the back side. We had reached the other side of the national park. Millions of flowers were covering the ground. The sun was shining again. We enjoyed our Box Lunch at the edge of the Paine Lake. It would be paradise, if only  the mosquitos were not there to bite us!

Hiking above Laguna Cebolla

Braving the first hill of the circuit overlooking Laguna Cebolla!

Group picture at Lago Paine!

We reached the top…Greetings from the Paine lake!

Walking in a field of margheritas...

We walked through millions of margherita flowers…

Despite the insects, we hiked with strength and happiness. (Who could complain with such scenery?) Our feet were tired, but we kept walking and started whistling to gain strength. 25km, 28km, 30km…we were almost there. Let’s admit it: the last couple of kilometers seemed long. We reached the top of one hill, and then another. Finally Dickson appeared! This impressive, massive glacier gives life to the pristine Dickson Lake. The Dickson campsite seemed to sparkle at the edge of the lake. That was wild!

We could observe the top of the towers in the distance

We could catch sight of the top of the towers from the trail

Dickson campsite

And Dickson finally appeared!

Dickson's kitchen and

Dickson’s kitchen and “restaurant tent” in the background

We reached the campsite after nine hours’ hiking. None of us forgot to stretch after such an intense day. We were warmly welcome in Dickson. We had a refreshing cocktail and lots of food to eat. We were far away from the civilization, but had what we needed: good food, a wide tent and a hot shower.  Servando, the friendly EcoCamp representative at Dickson, cooked a delicious salmon for us which we enjoyed in a spacious restaurant tent. Listening to the sweet melody of Patagonian music, we got to talk about the day’s highlights. We had done it and it was fun! Roberto briefed us for the next day. Outside, only silence. I closed my eyes in peace. It was good to be here, with such amazing people.

About Timothy Dhalleine

Driven by an insatiable wanderlust, I have left my native Hesdin in the north of France in a bid to uncover the tales the soaring peaks of Patagonia and the immensity of the Chilean desert have to tell. I am currently exploring the magic of Torres del Paine National Park, while reaffirming my ideal of a more sustainable world and my passion for nature as Guest Engagement Manager of Ecocamp Patagonia.
  • Marty Papazian

    A one in a lifetime adventure! Thanks to everyone at Eco Camp for helping to make this happen! We’ll be back soon!

  • Jonathan

    Fabulous pictures but lets be honest, they don’t even come close to conveying how unbelievable the scenery and the trip was. Loved your write up (pretty impressive as its only your second/third language), its great to hear someone elses take on the trip and brings back so many fabulous memories. You missed a couple though – lulling us to sleep with your Chiliean backing band (Ay que le pasa, que le pasa a mi camión) and teaching me the finer points of Patagonian beer. I so want to come back.