Category Archives: Tours & Trips

Torres del Paine Full Circuit (9 days)

amazing views of Grey Glacier

Grey Glacier from the John Garner Pass

During the end of January/beginning of February ORP took a tour to trek the Torres del Paine Full Circuit (often called the “O”).  We had an amazing time, were led by (mostly) incredible weather, laughed constantly, and kicked some serios trekking butt.  Below are the notes from the trip, to give you an idea about what this whole “O” thing is all about (and why it is the ABSOLUTE best way to see the entire Torres del Paine park!)

Day 1: Seron

This day should be called “The Margarita meadows,” in honor of the endless fields of white and yellow margarita meadows that spread in every direction, all waving in the breeze that had picked up. We passed a group of several dozen horses as we walked to where we ate lunch by a  beautiful river that ran down an open wooded area perfect for a picnic.   As we stood to leave, suddenly appeared all of the horses, who followed us to the river where we had been not 30 seconds prior, and watched us start down the trail. Seron has a small cabin it uses as a refugio for meals (serves breakfast, lunch and dinner), and a nice campsite on the edge of a giant wildflower meadow which sits between camping and the river Paine.

Day 2: seron to Dickson

We woke to intense rain in the morning, with a rainbow over the campsite promising sun. By the time we headed out, the rain had subsided and the sun was breaking through. First we rounded the corner at the river Paine, then started the uphill march to reach the windy pass, about 30 minutes or so from seron. Out of breath but enjoying the view, we turned the mountain pass to views of the lake Paine, and started a descent along the side of the mountain with views of condors swirling above our heads. The descent starts out exposed to wind and elements until it dips down at the western shore of lago Paine and into wooded conaf lands. You will walk upon a conaf station called coiron, with domes for CONAF staff and 2 toilets. The trail evens out from here, taking you through margarita meadows until you reach ‘the dead marshes’ (for those Lord of the Ring fans). Wooden planks and walkways span parts of the trail, other parts you must navigate through mud and swamp, killing Mosquitos as they swarm. About 45 minutes of walking through the marshes and the trail opens up to a view of lago Dickson and the Refugio on its shore. To finish you must climb up then down a steep cliff until you reach the open grassy fields of refugio Dickson. The Refugio is small and cozy, with 2 long tables and a small sitting area. Immediately after arriving the rain storm came, and threat of continuous rain haunted us through the night.

Day 3: Dickson to Perros

The day was threatening rain from the beginning, so we decided to take it easy and leave around 11:00am. The hike immediately starts climbing a muddy forest for about 30 minutes, then continues to climb more gradually up a forested valley. We were lucky with the weather, because although it was apparently super cold and stormy, we were protected under the canopy of the Lenga forests we were walking under.  Closer to Perros we hit the open rocky area, which we followed around a glacier lake at the bottom of Perros Glacier, just in front of the campsite and before you have to cross the pass. Two of us decided to get a better view of the glacier, and scampered on the loose boulders until we reached the end… however by this point the blizzard was upon us.  We returned to camp soaked through all our layers, which happened to be all of our dry clothes 🙂 Dinner of mashed potatoes, peas, and chorizo and off to bed with a blizzard on and off throughout the night, just before we are to summit el paso.

Day 4: Perros to paso

What luck! We woke to a sunny, beautiful day as we prepared to cross el paso! It was t he perfect day to summit the John Garner pass, with sun and few clouds, light wind and clear visibility. Leaving the campsite at Perros we immediately started the uphill scramble, trying to keep our shoes clean as we hopped on fallen branches and sunken rocks along a mud filled trail. In rainy weather the trail would have been a slippery disaster. About an hour later, we broke out onto an open rock slope.  Behind us the valley we had just climbed up and in front of us loomed the mountains that held our beloved pass, gently dusted on top with a layer of fresh snow from the previous day’s blizzard. The climb was constant but not strenuous, and as we reached the summit the view of the grey glacier opened up in all directions. This magnificent, awesome 300km glacier stretches as far to the left and right as you can see, set with striking mountains and forest above its monstrous path. This is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap, home to the world’s 3rd largest source of fresh water, and my favorite part of the circuit.  After crossing the pass we started the steep downhill descent to arrive at Paso campsite (simple and cute campsite set under the trees).

Day 5: Campamiento Paso to Refugio Grey

It rained all night, relentlessly pounding on the tent and dripping from the trees.  By the time we woke and rose, the rain had subsided and we began to eat breakfast and get our packs ready. We started walking along the ridge above the giant grey glacier through dense forests. After about an hour of wooded climbing we hit open fields. For the next 2 hours we walking was up and down, rounding the mountain, and climbing metal ladders. We stopped at several lookouts to views of the side of the glacier, getting closer to grey with every step. The forest starts wet and green, and finishes open and warm, less dense with tall trees making soft light on the canopy below. We arrived at grey on a beautiful, sunny day.

Day 6: grey to Paine grande 3.25hr


Rainbow at Paine Grande

This is a short, 3.5 hour hike around Paine massif to the shore of lake Pehoe. A storm chased us the entire way, rain flicking our faces until we sped our pace up to feel the warm sun on our backs. We arrived early at Paine grande, ate lunch, and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon off. The wind blows strong at Paine grande, but fortunately our trusty porter arrived early to reserve a protected camp site.

Day 7: Paine grande to Cuernos


Los Cuernos

We started the day early in order to take the time to hike to the French valley. At 8:00am we were on the road, a slower pace at day 7 of hiking. The path is relatively flat and uneventful reaching Italiano, but the wind was up and the weather cool. By the time we ditched our bags and we’re heading up the French valley, it was overcast and cloudy. We made it to the first lookout after an hour, then headed back down again as visibility was poor.  The trail to Cuernos has been rerouted in order to advertise the new Refugio Frances that Fantastico Sur is building.  Once at cuernos, we rested throughout the afternoon underneath the mighty stone mountain.

Day 8 and 9: Cuernos to Chileno, Los Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales


Sunrise from the base of the Towers

We started our last full day to rain, which followed us to el Chileno. For the first 2.5km we climbed uphill from the Refugio, then dropped down for 2 km before branching off to take the trail up to el chileno. We left at 9:40 and arrived around 2:30pm, with a lunch break but otherwise very little stopping. We decided to hike up to see the Towers as sunrise, so rested throughout the afternoon and went to bed early.  In the morning we woke at 3:30am, dressed and started the steep climb to see the towers in the dark. Headlamps ready, we climbed throughout the early morning, sweating and out of breath for 1.5 hours until we reached the Torres (45m chileno to camp, 50min camp to Torres). It was cold and the clouds rolled in covering the towers, but the sunrise was beautiful and illuminated the sky with orange.  We arrived at the base to catch the transfer to Puerto Natales, incredibly happy with our adventure.

Lesson 1: How to pack a hiking backpack

DSC05050 - Version 2

I just returned from guiding a 9-day backpacking trip through the Torres del Paine Circuit (see trip post!), and can’t help but write a post about the backpackers most symbolic piece of equipment (and the one I saw constantly in need of some serious help): the backpack.  We saw big packs, small ones, lopsided ones and backpacks so full of random gear hanging off the back that it was questionable how the people were able to finish the trek with all their gear! (not to mention people carrying duffel bags, bringing electric water heaters, and carrying entire bottles of shampoo and conditioner).  So here is lesson #1: How to pack a hiking backpack, and other useful packing tips.


My beautiful drawing of ‘how to pack a hiking backpack’. I am better at trekking than I am at drawing, apparently.

  1. There is a specific order in which to fill your backpack.  The general idea is to put the bulky, heaviest gear at the bottom/middle of the pack and nearest the spine.  Traditionally, the bottom of the backpack is reserved for the sleeping bag.  It not only provides a more protected compartment for that oh-so-crucial piece of gear that you need to keep dry, but also keeps in out of the way and acts as a cushion for your other gear.  Line the sleeping bag stuff sack with (or put it inside of) a heavy-duty garbage bag to ensure that it stays dry.
  2. On top of the sleeping bag or in the middle of your pack you should put your heaviest gear, positioning it as close to the spine as possible and well centered for balance.  This can include food, cooking gear, and extra water if you are carrying it.  Make sure to pack these evenly, so all of the weight is not too much to the left or right of the pack.  Some people recommend putting your clothing below your cooking gear, but this depends on the size and shape of your pack (I put mine below and in front of the cooking gear).
  3. Clothing, lower-weight item, and softer items can then be packed in and around the heavier items.  For example, if you do not have a tent bag, stuff the tent fly and body around the heavy items to fill space and stabilize the items.  I like to keep my clothing in a dry-bag, which I put in front of or around the heavy items.  Other lower-weight items can include the first aide kit, sleeping pad (see below), toiletries, rain jacket, etc.
  4. Frequently used items: These can be put on the top of the gear or in the lid of the backpack.  Items include camera, headlamp, snacks, pack cover, toilet paper, map/compass/GPS, sunglasses, sunblock, etc.
  5. Sleeping pad, tent, and other awkward items: The most important tip is to reduce the amount of gear hanging off the pack, which can throw off your balance, increase the risk of injury to the back, or get lost/broken/wet.
    1. My sleeping pad is very small (NeoAir), so I also put it in my backpack along with the lower-weight items.  However if you are low on space or the sleeping pad is too big to enter, I recommend securing it outside of the pack in front of the sleeping bag compartment (where you can also put the tent if it is in a stuff sack), vertical along the body of the pack, or even underneath the lid of the pack.
    2. If the tent is in a stuff sack, you should put it outside of the backpack in front of the sleeping bag compartment, or vertical along the body of the pack and securely strapped down.  Again, I recommend putting it in a heavy-duty trash bag or dry sack, there is nothing more uncomfortable than a wet tent, wet sleeping bag, or wet gear.  If you just have the poles (i.e. have shared the tent pieces amongst other backpackers), they can be secured firmly to the side of the back vertically, just make sure they won’t slide out! They can also be put inside of the backpack or with the sleeping pad.

Here is an example of what NOT to do (sorry hikers we met in TdP!):

Hehe, some hikers we passed with crazy backpacks

Hehe, some hikers we passed with crazy backpacks


  • LINE YOUR BACKPACK WITH HEAVY PLASTIC BAGS! When the conditions are wet, you want your gear to stay dry.  Also, line your stuff sacks to keep your gear protected from the elements! Use a pack cover, which will help reduce moisture entering your bag and gear.
    • Bring a lot of ziplock bags for your gear, which will help keep it dry and organized.  Books, camera, toiletries, etc: put them into zip-lock bags.
  • If you are carrying a bear canister, then it should be filled with food and cooking gear unit full and placed where you would put the heavy items, along the spine in the middle of the pack.
  • Bring repair-items, for example duct tape (wrap it around a water bottle, trekking pole, cardboard, etc) or a small sewing kit (not super necessary, but I have seen a lot of ripped seams and it can easily fit in the first aid kit).
  • TREKKING POLES are amazing tools that increase your speed while protecting your body from the impacts of trekking, especially the knees. They allow you to more evenly distribute the weight of your backpack between 4 points (arms and legs) instead of just 2, help with balance, and can increase your speed and rhythm.
  • WATER HYDRATION BLADDER (i.e. camelback): Soooo much more convenient than a water bottle.  Hands-free, you don’t have to stop and look for your water bottle, and makes it so you can easily stay hydrated.

Have fun and happy hiking!

January tour in Torres del Paine “W”


On the Road recently returned from a beautiful tour hiking the Torres del Paine “W”. We experienced incredible weather, hiked to the end of the French Valley, and witnessed the magnificence of a giant condor flying only 3-meters over our head as we looked out onto the beautiful Grey Glacier.  Click on the gallery below to see some photos from our trip!


Summer Solstice in the Patagonia


We welcomed the summer solstice on December 22 in the most organic experience for the Patagonia: a bonfire in the woods and watching the sunrise over the Strait of Magellan.  We felt night’s darkness embrace us for 2 hours before the dawn broke and filled the air with the quiet sound of the forest.  Then the birds began to sing.

Tierra del Fuego and the King Penguins

DSC04703 - Version 2We had our first tour to Tierra del Fuego to explore the vast, beautiful and open landscape that sits at the end of the world.  Tierra del Fuego, once inhabited by native Selk’nam and Yaghan people, is now mostly pastoral lands distributed among sheep and agriculture estancias.

We started early in the morning from Punta Arenas and headed North to the Ferry crossing at Punta Delgada.  Once on board, we climbed to the top of the ferry to watch as dolphins jumped in our waves and the sea bird caught the wind drafts.

From here we took a long road past pastoral landscapes filled with sheep, guanacos and migratory birds who have journeyed from the north of the world to the Patagonia to raise their young.  The scenery is beautiful and peaceful, open and immense.

We arrived at the King Penguin Park, and found it filled with penguins!  When we visited in December their eggs were incubating, perched delicately on top of the feet their parent, protected by a warm layer of abdominal skin.  After visiting the penguins, we drove to the town of Porvenir to grab lunch and wait for the long ferry ride back to Punta Arenas.  This tour was incredible, a full day of exploring a vast island filled with history and wildlife.

Gastronomic City tour of Punta Arenas!

DSC04572We have created the first ever ‘Gastronomic City Tour of Punta Arenas’! This tour is designed for travelers and food lovers who want to taste their way through the Southern most city on the American continent!

We learned how Punta Arenas’ artesian microbrewery Cerveza Hernando de Magallanes creates their 3 different brews;

DSC04559Ate choriqueso and drank leche con platano;

And explored the diverse uses of calafate.

We finished the tour eating king crab empanadas at the best local seafood restaurant in Punta Arenas.  Along the route, we visited the Plaza de Armas, the Municipal Cemetery, and Cero de la Cruz, for a view of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas, and Tierra del Fuego.

Tours every saturday at 9:00am, 8-people maximum.  Contact us for tour reservations or to inquire for private tours.

New Tour! Bird Watching in San Juan River

We are very excited to bring you Bird Watching in San Juan River!  This new tour, created and guided by our good friend, veterinarian and local wildlife expert Cristofer De la Rivera, takes bird watchers to the end of the continent to seek out regional biodiversity.  San Juan River is located around 60km south of Punta Arenas, and is the launching off site for trips at the end of the continent to see the light house San Isidro (Faro San Isidro) or touch the end of the continent at Cape Horn (Cabo Froward).

This region is host to diverse bird habitats.  Cristofer takes you on a bird watching adventure through Southern coastal zones, along the shores of different lakes, and into protected nesting areas on a one-of-a-kind, truly specialized tour.


La Reserva Magallanes Mid-November

Garganta AltaWe put on our rain jackets, hiking shoes, and a hat and heading into the beautiful Reserva Magallanes.  The Reserva Magallanes, or Magallanes Forest Reserve, is located a mere 7km from Punta Arenas, yet holds 20,878 hectares of protected forest.

There are two main entrances to the Reserve, one is located up in the hills near the entrance to Club Andino while the other is below at Rio de las Minas (River of the Mines).  We took the high road on sunday in order to take in the views of the giant gorge, Garganta Alta (High Throat), and of the Strait of Magellan, Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego.


First we drove to the Garganta Alta trail head and set out to see the gorge.  Remember, when the strong Magallanes winds blow down the valley and out to sea, make sure you hold on to your hat because it might just blow away!

Next we headed back towards the park entrance to meet up with the trail “Mirador Zapador Austral.”  We shed layers as we hiked through the protected Lenga forests, climbing the 2.2kms to the lookout.  At this time of year, spring had arrived: the berries were in blossom and the canopy held a soft, filtered light which descended on the forest floor.

The Reserva Magallanes, like other hidden jewels in the region, intertwine the yin and yang of life in the Patagonia: the softness of a delicate native orchid growing near the twisted, crooked trunk of a native tree, doubled over from the harsh winds.  The land, like its people, have adapted and transformed to combine these soft and harsh realities.  Everyday brings something different, so being prepared for whatever life throws your way makes the Patagonia a hearty soul.  And remember, hold on to your hat!

La Reserva Nacional Laguna Parrillar

DSC04494We took an adventure to check out the start of the season at the Reserva Nacional Laguna Parrillar.  The park is located around 30 km South of Punta Arenas, heading another 20km or so into the mountains at the road junction at Agua Fresca.

About 20 meters from the entrance to the park is the trail head for ‘3 Morros’, an 8-hour hike round-trip through peat marshes (turba) and forests to view the ‘3 Hills.’

The inside of the park is popular among locals for the abundant fishing opportunities in the lake.  There are many camp sites situated throughout the park with beautifully constructed wooden picnic shelters and bonfire pits, a great way to spend a weekend with friends and family.

From the campground you can hike a 1.5 hour loop on a forested hiking trail to views of the lake and surrounding mountains.  This park is a great place to escape to for the day or for a weekend camping trip.

The First W Trek of the new Season

PNTDP 2013-OCTUBRE076In true Patagonico and Magallanico style, our trek in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine was marked by a presence of all four seasons: the crisp air of Spring’s blooming flowers, the bright warm sunshine of Summer, powerful gusting Fall winds through a deciduous forest, and to top off our day- charming snowflakes and the night time chill of winter. 

By Thomas Graham
Photos by Karen Farfán and Thomas Graham

2013-10-19  Dia 1- The Season Begins!” – Puerto Natales > Hotel Torres > Refugio Chileno


Our trip started in Puerto Natales, the launching point to the two-hour bus ride to the park. The bus ride was tranquil and spent gazing out the window at the stunning open fields, farms and mountains of the region. However, all of our excitement was quite visible, and our park arrival was met with sunny weather, herds of guanaco, and a nice Patagonian wind. It was a fabulous morning to make the upward hike alongside the imposing Mount Almirante Nieto, offering great views of the shining blue lakes and open valleys of the park.  After an hour and a half of challenging uphill hiking we rounded the corner of the mountain, where our passenger got to experience her first taste of true Patagonian wind, at approximately 100km/h!

 DSC_0096We battled through the imposing wind and arrived at Refugio Chileno in time to relax and take a well-deserved warm coffee and snack break.  We hiked to the base of mirador las Torres as the ground became blanketed in a pure winter snow, further beautifying an already beautiful land.  Native birds like chingolo, the austral thrush and austral blackbird were abound. 

2013-10-20  Dia 2- Soaring Condors and Yellow Budding Calafate” – Refugio Chileno > Refugio Cuernos

DSC_0158On our second day we were privileged to see numerous pairs of Andean Condors soaring high above our heads.  We were even able to distinguish male condors from the females, as at times the condors flew low above our heads (Males have white collars around their necks flesh crest on his head, while the female has bright red eyes).  Additionally, we saw many Calafate bushes blossoming their bright yellow flowers, and we even enjoyed a Calafate sour cocktail at the end of our hike in Refugio Cuernos.

2013-10-20 Dia 3-The French Valley & Blue of Pehoé – Refugio Cuernos > French Valley > Paine Grande

DSC_0258Though the morning and afternoon of day three was cloudy, the rain held to a slight drizzle and we were able to enjoy a great view of the imposing Glaciar del Francés. We sat and watched rain and snow clouds pass high over the chilling glacier, looking at the highest peak in the park, the Cumbre Principal, at 3,050m.  The Cerro Espada, Cerro Hoja and Cerro Máscara, to our right, completed our amazing view from the French Valley, and we left in awe of this inspiring place of granite peaks and massive sheets of ice and snow.  From the Valley we trekked back to Campamento Italiano and on to Paine Grande, where we saw Lago Pehoé, the brightest blue glacial lake in the park.

2013-10-20  Dia 4- Glaciar Grey, as far as the eye can see” – Paine Grande > Refugio Grey

DSC_0485It is impossible to fully express in words the emotions that wash over a person when they see Glaciar Grey, a part of the Hielo de Campo Sur- the Southern Patagonian Ice Sheet.  It is magical and truthfully breathtaking. Glaciar Grey is immense in size, powerful in scope and brillant in color. We first saw Grey at a mirador an hour and a half after leaving Paine Grande, before walking through scrublands and forests of lenga and coihue trees. The view and grandeur of Grey only increased as we walked to Refugio Grey. Upon arrival to the Refugio we met with friends and enjoyed a coffee and snack, while watching a Tiuque (Falcon) perch outside the cafeteria window and Carpintero Negro (Megallanic Woodpecker) play his tune on a near by lenga tree. It was a magical end to the “W” hike.

2013-10-20  Dia 5- All great things must end” – Refugio Grey > Paine Grande > Catamaran to Pudeto

DSC_0514We left Refugio Grey extremely well-fed and headed back to Paine Grande early to catch the 12:30 Cataraman to Pudeto, and our bus to Puerto Natales. The Cataraman offered an always-incredible view and photo opportunity of the Paine Massive and the famous Cuernos of Torres del Paine, with the piercing blue Lago Pehoé in the foreground.  This opportunity was not lost on us, as we went atop the cataraman deck to take some final pictures of the Cuernos before the end of our trekking experience.

DSC_0116It was a wonderful “W” trip to kick-off the 2013/14 season, and we all left refreshed and excited for our next adventure.