We hiked for 9 days, staying at campsites, and hiking the entire circuit. The scenery is undoubtably beautiful. Some campsites are free, and the paid ones are quite expensive. Everything is expensive, but think about it: you're at easily the most famous tourist attraction in Chile and one of the most recognizable mountain massifs in the world. Plus most of the refugios are remote: so of course it's expensive. Even for us–independent lightweight backpackers– it still amounted to quite a lot for the entrance fee, campsite fees, the bus rides in and out, the catamaran, and the one meal we had prepared for us. But all that is to be expected.
What Torres del Paine gets points knocked off for are the campsites, staff, and straight up number of people.
If you're coming here for tranquility and solitude, you'll not find it here. The campsites are crowded. On the "W" you're always stepping off the trail for traffic.
The staff at the campsites and refuigios leave some to be desired. They range from somewhat adequate and helpful to downright useless.
Most campsites had an inadequate number of bathrooms which were not maintained or cleaned often enough.
Most campsites require you to cook in a disgusting, reeking, filthy shelter. But I can see why, there are so many careless people who do not dispose of their food properly and so they try to keep the mess all in one place.
The back of the circuit, which has far less people on it, is therefore far more pleasant, plus it's beautiful. The people who do it are more likely to be serious hikers (but not always) and the campsites were somewhat quieter as people went to bed earlier.
Overall, the problem is too many visitors to this precious place, (of which I'm one!). But since many of the refugios are privately owned, they attract people who have no idea how to behave in the wilderness: playing music out loud on their iPods, leaving toilet paper on the ground, acting like it's just another place to party. The horses on the "W" are badly eroding it, and in my opinion should be banned, or reduced only to carry supplies for the campsites and refugios. If you can't hike your way in and carry your own load, then maybe you don't belong there.
There are so many places in Chile and Argentina that have stunning granite massifs, and to which you can visit cheaply and in peace and solitude.
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