Going to Torres Del Paine and not doing the “W” trek is like going to Rome and not seeing Sistine Chapel. W trek is undoubtedly the most popular multi – day hike of Torres Del Paine and there is a reason for it. Imagine 5 days packed with nature’s every possible twist and turn , an eye- full of varied landscape , glaciers on every corner and a chance to meet some awesome people making life-long friendships. Yes this is what “W” experience is all about. It will bring you so close to the mother nature that its beauty will be stamped in your memory forever. Now I know that not many people like to plan months in advance, but I must say W trek is one thing that will require pre-planning on every front – physically , mentally and economically. So here it is in its entirety – “Torres Del Paine W trek – All you need to know.
But first lets address the most important question :
Why is it called “W” Circuit ?
The “W” route mirrors the shape of the letter, stretching from Refugio Grey to Campamento Torres with the Valle de Frances in the middle. The trek can be done in either direction though most of the people start by taking catamaran across Lago Pehoe to Refugio Paine Grande and start walking from there to Glacier Grey.
When is the Hiking Season ?
Summer in South America is from October to April with the months of January and February considered as the peak season. Keep in mind that during these months all the campsites and Refugios will charge you the “High season”prices , it will be tough to find accommodations and all the trails will be more crowded. To save some money and to have options for accommodations available, I will advise to take advantage of shoulder season from Late March to Mid April.The trails on W trek are relatively quieter during this time frame and you will save considerable amount of money.
How to reach Torres Del Paine?
To reach to Torres Del Paine , the best and most common way is to catch 7:30 am bus from Puerto Natales. I will suggest you to reach Puerto Natales atleast a night before to prepare for the hike. Puerto Natales is probably last main town before Torres Del Paine , so this is your last chance to buy any groceries , camping equipment etc. The tickets for the bus can be bought at the bus stand and there are many bus companies that offer daily trips to the park. In peak season the tickets get sold really quickly. If you do not want last minute surprises , you can book them online here. It costs 15,000 Chilean Pesos round trip.
Where to stay and how much does it cost?
You will have two options – Refugios or Campsites. How to decide which one to opt for? That is simple , ask yourself these questions.
- Do you have prior camping experience ?
- How much weight can you carry for 5 days , remember everything you carry in, you must carry out with you, including trash.
- Will you be cooking or taking meals in Refugios?
- Do you just need a basic bed or will you require sheets ,pillows and blankets.
- Will you carry your own tent and other camping equipment or will you rent this stuff at different campsites.
Depending on your answers to above questions, you will now have a clearer idea as to what you want in an accommodation and your budget constraints. When you will make the bookings for campsites or refugios , there will be a base price which just ensures a dedicated corner for you to sleep , rest everything is an add on. Hence depending on how much you can carry with you or how much add-ons will you buy inside the park , the accomodation cost will differ.
There are two companies that operate campsites and refugios in Torres Del Paine – Fantastico Sur(http://www.fantasticosur.com) and Vertice Patagonia (https://www.verticepatagonia.com/en). All bookings must be made with these companies before your arrival. Visitors are not allowed to camp just anywhere as they may please. You must camp in dedicated campsites only. You can find prices and availability of accommodation for Fantastico Sur – here and for Vertice Patagonia – here .
Since it is absolutely must to pre-book the site in advance if you intend an overnight stay , you have the option to book the campsite for free as well. Visit the Conaf camping website to book your stay in free.
Note: Before you may start the W trek , all trekkers are required to check- in at park entrance. That is a law. During your registration , all your stay bookings will be checked and if you do not have campsites or refugio bookings , you will be not allowed to enter the park.
Camping is the best option if you are on a tight budget. If you are doing 5 D(days) 4 N ( nights) W trek , you will need to book 4 campsites along your way , depending on where do you want to take the night rest and in which direction you trek. It costs about $12 – $18 per night in a campsite assuming that you are cooking yourself. If you don’t want to cook , you can take meals in the Refugios . You can also rent the camping equipment , sleeping bags , food supplies etc from the canteens at campsites if you don’t wish to carry everything. Needless to say , anything beyond your booked camping spot will be charged extra.
Refugios are like shared accommodation ( e.g. hostel) and more comfortable to stay. Depending on the refugio , you will share your room with 2 , 4, or 6 people. I stayed in Refugios and I must say nothing beats the feeling of getting a made – up bed , heated room and a cold beer after 8 hours of trek. A simple bed in a refugio will cost between 55 – 75 USD — blankets , sheets , pillows , meals etc not included.
What to Pack?
I am really not the kinds who travel light. But hiking in Patagonia taught me one thing “ Sometimes less is good”. There are so many things to consider while packing that I will have a separate blogpost for that , but for now , I can advise you one thing – Pack minimal but be ready for every season. The weather in Patagonia is no joke and no one can guarantee that it will be all sunny all the time. I saw a day going from beautiful sunrise to thunderstorms followed by torrential rain in matter of hours. So always have your waterproof gear ready and dress in layers. I stayed in refugios so I did not carry any camping equipment but here are some must haves for the W trek –
- A lightweight waterproof hiking bag.
- 2 hiking pants in case one gets wet.
- 1 night dress
- 3-4 t-shirts ( you will get very sweaty)
- Undergarments as needed
- Warm jacket/clothes (preferably in layers)
- Waterproof jacket
- Basic toiletries
- Sunscreen( Buy something with high SPF as UV index in Patagonia is quite high)
- Hiking Shoes
- Floaters/Crocks – you will need something open to relax your feet after a tiring day.
- Light weight and easy to dry towel
- Cameras and iphone(with charger)
- Hiking poles ( they are optional but I found them extremely helpful)
- First aid kit ( must keep some muscle relaxants and blister tapes)
- Zip lock bags to store passport , electronics and essential documents
- Trash bags to compartmentalize my stuff and keep them dry
- Trail mix and some snacks as needed while hiking.
What to expect while hiking?
Sometimes its not about the destination but the journey and trekking in Torres De Paine is exactly about the journey. Right from the point when you embark the catamaran to Paine Grande , you will be mesmerized to see Patagonia with its utmost glory. Everyday will have a highlight starting from Glacier grey to Valley De Frances and finally the Towers. Other than these “IT” points , you will walking along glaciers , with streams of water and view of Lago Norddenskjok along the way.
On an average , you will be hiking 6 – 8 hours every day , almost about 100 km in 5 days. The level of trek is medium to strenuous so I will advise to do some kind of training before thinking to trek. You will have to prepare mentally and physically for W trek. But don’t worry if you ever feel tired or low while hiking , there will be people on the trek to cheer you up and encourage you to keep walking.
How to hike W loop – the direction and some tips :
While there is no right or wrong way to do the W trek , I have my version of preferred way. I started my journey from Refugio at Paine Grande and ended my W trek with the splendid view of the towers on the last day. The reason I did it in this direction was to avoid the uphill from Valley de Frances to Los Cuernos considering that is the longest and the hardest day of the trek. Also I wanted to keep the highlight of Torres De Paine – the towers for the end. Here is a concise itinerary and stops that I made during my W trek.
- Catamaran from Pudeto to Paine Grande. It will cost about 15000 Chileano Pesos one way.
- Started trek from Paine Grande to Grey Glacier. Stayed at Refugio Grey.
- Walked from Refugio Grey to Paine Grande. Stayed at Refugio Paine Grande.
- Started an early trek from Paine Grande to Los Cuernos via Valley de Francais.
- Walked from Los Cuernos to Refugio Torre Central.
- Final day trek to the towers of Torres. Return to Refugio Torre Central and take bus to Puerto Natales.
While I hope by now you have all that you need to prepare your awesome adventure. But here are a few last tips , you never know – what might help
- For a trip in March end which is supposedly a low season, I had done my bookings in December. Hence book in advance , specially if you plan to stay in refugios and if you plan to trek in the high season.
- Before booking on one site , first plan the direction of the W loop you plan to trek , followed by finding the availability of the accommodations.
- Invest in a good hiking bag. Remember that you will be carrying all the weight through out the trek , hence its important to have good waist support and weight distribution on shoulders. It must be waterproof J
- Do not even think of hiking without waterproof hiking boots. Good hiking boots make world of difference.
- While hiking to French Valley and Britanico , leave your luggage at Camp Italiano. There is a dedicated area for hikers to store the luggage but it is in open and hence plan to bring the waterproof cover for your bag
- Its almost impossible to see a sunrise at the towers of Torres De Paine without camping at Campamento Torres. This site does not have any refugio and is purely meant for camping. This campsite in particular gets reserved way sooner , hence plan in advance.
- Don’t push yourself hard and take things at your own pace. You will find some people literally running through the trails making you feel a complete loser . But hey, everyone differs in their fitness level and everyone had different goals.
- Don’t be scared of weather changes . That is one thing that no one can guarantee. You can find the most nearly accurate weather predictions at the refugios.
Total Cost Breakdown :
Bus From Puerto Natales – Torres De Paine ( return) – 15,000 Chilean Pesos (Buy here )
Park Entry Fees to be paid in cash – 18,000 Pesos
Catamaran from lake Pudeto to Paine Grande to be paid in cash – USD 30
Refugio Grey with made bed and full board ( Breakfast +Lunch +Dinner) – USD 110
Refugio Paine Grande with made bed and full board ( Breakfast +Lunch +Dinner) – USD 110
Refugio Los Cuernos with Cabana and full board ( Breakfast +Lunch +Dinner) – USD 150
Refugio Torres Central with made bed and full board ( Breakfast +Lunch +Dinner) – USD 144
I hope I did not miss anything in this travel guide to help you plan your adventure. If you have any questions or need help with reservations or planning, feel free to comment or message me. I will happy to help. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Have you done W trek yet? How was your experience?