Classic Treks: The Paine Circuit

Yesterday we mentioned how amazing Patagonia is for adventure travelers, and in the process referenced the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, which also happens to be home to one of the best long distance treks in the world. This classic hiking trail is known as the Paine Circuit, and backpackers from around the world make the journey to South America each year just to hike through the dramatic Patagonian landscapes.

The Paine Circuit is roughly 65 miles in length and requires about 8 to 10 days to complete. The entire route is lined with amazing scenery that is distinctive to Patagonia, including beautiful valleys filled with glacial lakes, stunning mountain vistas, and the legendary Towers of Paine, three unique rock faces carved out of pink granite.

Trekking the circuit independently is incredibly easy, as a solid infrastructure is in place to assist backpackers in getting on the trail. Shuttles run on a regular basis, and there are a number of trailheads from which to begin the trek, with access near Puerto Natales, and El Calafate. The price of the shuttle is generally about $20 and the park entrance fee is another $14.

The trek can be a bit gear intensive, as you’ll need to carry everything you’ll need along with you. Packs tend to get heavy, and pack animals are not used on the circuit at all, so you’ll need a stove, sleeping bag, clothing for a variety of weather conditions, and possibly a tent as well. On the Paine Circuit, you can choose to stay in your own tent for free, or pay a nominal fee to stay in the assorted cabins, or refugios that are found along the trail.One of the great aspects of hiking this trail is that it gives you the sense of a high alitude, alpine trek, without the severe altitude. There is no fear of alittude sickness on the Paine Circuit, as the highest pass is just 4071 feet. But the hike can still be a challenge, as the legendary Patagonian weather can strike at any time, with high winds and heavy rains making conditions very uncomfortable.

The Paine Circuit has a lot to offer any backpacker, and should easily be on your short list of international treks to complete. The stunning scenery is worth the journey alone, and you’ll be exploring one of the most remote and unique environments on the planet.