You have decided to trek the famous W in Torres del Paine in Chile. Great! Now what? Now you go online to try to organize yourself and you realize that well… it seems pretty complicated to set your trip up. To be honest it feels like everybody has built a different itinerary, slept in different places and have very different opinions on what to be carrying around. So I will try to answer the questions I have asked myself to see if I can help you organizing this amazing adventure. Please note that I will not talk about the O (Full itinerary of 8 days) or the Q (add another day to the O).
First things first: is it worth doing the W in Torres del Paine? Without a second of hesitation: YES! It has been one of the most amazing parts of our trip around the world. The landscapes are grand, you meet amazing and inspiring people on the road, you challenge yourself physically and mentally in what could be one of the most beautiful gyms ever, and you come back thinking: WOW I have walked over 76 km! Me!
A little video of our adventures!
DIFFICULTY: how challenging are the hikes?
The hikes in Torres del Paine are challenging of course. This is not the place to go if you hike 10 km only once a year. This trip is for people who have been hiking regularly or who feel their are fit enough for the task. Per se, the hikes are not overly hard: they are well indicated (very tough to get lost here), you will never be alone (trust me!), there is a good balance between ascent and descent. The difficulty lies in the long distances, the weight to carry on your back and some tricky parts such as the ascension to Mirador Torres (Day 1 from East to West, usually Day 4 from West to East) and the Valle del Francés (most difficult bit for me).
EAST TO WEST (our pick) or WEST TO EAST: What is the best way to trek the W?
Now that is THE big question right? After talking to different people the result is the following.
Which way is more beautiful?
In terms of panoramas both are amazing. East to West is more beautiful from Refugio Chileno to Refugio Cuernos because you see a turquoise lake with snow capped mountains on the background. West to East is more beautiful from Refugio Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano because you will be hiking towards the mountains.
Which way is more challenging?
It seems, and I want to emphasize the SEEMS, that the East to West is more challenging because you start your first day with a demanding ascent to Mirador Torres and you close your itinerary with 2 long days. While from West to East you can warm up the first day with a long day but not too difficult before starting up the challenging Valle del Francés.
Which way have we chosen?
We have decided to go from East to West because we wanted to try a more challenging physical route, our accommodation reservations worked better that way and our friends Lars and Marjolaine inspired us with that itinerary when we met in Bolivia.
NUMBER OF DAYS: how many days do I need to complete the W?
Option 1: 4 days (our pick)
If you choose this option you will get more intense hike days with a minimum of 13,5km and a maximum of 24km.
Option 2: 5 days
Here, you will get shorter days but you will be able to hike a little bit more if you want to go beyond the Refugio Grey.
Option 3: 3 days
This is a rock’n’roll version that I wouldn’t suggest except for very hardcore hikers.
ITINERARY: which itinerary for the W?
From East to West – Main itineraries
Option 1 (our pick) – 4 days
Day 1 arrive at Laguna Amarga with the bus from Puerto Natales, buy your ticket to the National Park then take the shuttle to Refugio Torres. Start your hike towards Mirador Torres (if you are carrying a heavy backpack leave your stuff at the Refugio you will be sleeping at), take your pictures and head back down to sleep at Refugio Chileno (total hike of 13,5km or add 2 additional hours and sleep in Refugio Torres). If you want to see the sunrise at the Torres either you wake super early from the Refugios Torres or Chileno or you can camp at the public Campamento Torres (but you have to have your own camping gear).
Day 2 start from where you slept and head for a nice and easy hike towards Refugio Cuernos (total hike of 16,5 km or add 2 additional hours and sleep at Domo Francés) you can also push the walk towards Campamento Italiano if you want a public camping but it might get a bit far.
Day 3 from where you slept head towards Campamento Italiano (leave your stuff here if you want) go into Valle del Francés and head towards Mirador Británico. After that, head back to Campamento Italiano and walk towards Lago Pehoé to go to Refugio Paine Grande to sleep (total hike approximately 24km).
Day 4 walk towards Refugio Grey and go to Mirador Grey before heading back to Refugio Paine Grande (total hike 22km) to catch the boat at 14h30 or at 18h30. The bus will be waiting on the other side to bring you back to Puerto Natales.
Option 2 – 5 days to take your time
Day 1 same as Day 1 from Option 1.
Day 2 is the same as Day 2 in Option 1.
Day 3 from where you have slept head towards Campamento Italiano (leave your stuff here if you want) and go into Valle del Francés and head towards Mirador Británico. After that, head back to Campamento Italiano to sleep or get back to Domo Francés.
Day 4 walk towards Refugio Grey and sleep there.
Day 5 go North to see the two miradors with views on the Grey glacier and head back to Refugio Paine Grande before 18h30 to make sure you catch the last boat.
Option 3 – 3 days only for the big big big hiking warriors
Day 1 same as Day 1 from Option 1 but instead of sleeping at Refugio Chileno hike to Refugio Cuernos (as you will be arriving very late make sure that you have a reservation).
Day 2 is the same as Day 3 in Option 1.
Day 3 is the same as Day 4 in Option 1. We have only met 1 guy doing this so be honest with yourself to see if you can take 29km on your last day…
From West to East – Main itineraries
Option 1 – 4 days
Day 1 arrive at Laguna Amarga with the bus from Puerto Natales, buy your ticket to the National Park then continue to Pudeto to take the boat to Refugio Paine Grande. Leave your stuff there and head to Refugio Grey to go to the Mirador Grey and head back to Refugio Paine Grande for the night (total hike 22km).
Day 2 go from Refugio Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, leave your backpack if you want and go to Mirador Británico. Have fun with your camera or GoPro (or both) and head back to Campamento Italiano to camp there if you have camping gear or continue to Domo Francés (total hike 21km) or Refugio Cuernos (2 more hours) to sleep.
Day 3 walk towards Refugio Chileno or Campamento Torres if you are camping with your own gear and want to see the sunrise at the Mirador Torres.
Day 4 good luck to those who decided to see the sunrise, for the others head to the Mirador Torres after breakfast and then back to Refugio Torres to catch the shuttle to take you to the bus. Make sure to be there around 18h30 to catch the last bus to Puerto Natales.
Option 2 – 5 days to take your time
Day 1 arrive at Laguna Amarga with the bus from Puerto Natales, buy your ticket to the National Park then continue to Pudeto to take the boat to Refugio Paine Grande. Head to Refugio Grey to spend the night, leave your stuff there and walk to the north to check out two mirador for views on the Grey Glacier before getting back to Refugio Grey for the night. Day 2 go down from Refugio Grey to Campamento Italiano or Domo Francés.
Day 3 from where you slept head to Mirador Británico in Valle del Francés and sleep at Refugio Cuernos.
Day 4 from Refugio Cuernos head to Refugio Chileno or to Campamento Torres 2 and a half hours ahead.
Day 5 from Refugio Chileno or Camping Torres head to the Mirador Torres and then back to Refugio Torres to catch the shuttle to take you to the bus. Make sure to be there around 18h30 to catch the last bus to Puerto Natales.
Option 3 – 3 days only for the big big big hiking warriors
Day 1 same as Day 1 from Option 1.
Day 2 is the same as Day 2 in Option 1 but make sure to walk up to Refugio Cuernos (as you will be arriving very late after your huge day make sure that you have a reservation).
Day 3 you will have a very long day. Walk up to Refugio Chileno and then up to Mirador Torres before heading back down to Refugio Torres. Bear in mind that you need to be at Refugio Torres by 18h30 top! So you will have to have a very early start as you have a long long winding road ahead.
There are of course many more alternatives but I have tried to list the most popular ones we have seen/heard among the different hikers we met. The more important is that you evaluate what you think you can do without hurting yourself to much. Remember it is not about speed, but about endurance. It is about enjoying and making sure your body can make the whole thing without suffering too much.
SLEEP: where can we sleep?
Option 1: bring your own tent, mattress, sleeping bag
Pros: MUCH CHEAPER! For example: if you camp at Refugio Chileno you will only be paying 30 USD for the campsite and you can sleep in 2 free public campsites.
Cons: MUCH HEAVIER! You will have to carry your backpack for several and several kilometers. Make sure to bring a daypack so you can leave your backpack somewhere for some parts of the trek.
Option 2: rent a tent, mattress or sleeping bag (or all three)
Pros: Much lighter option and with less fuss. When you get the paid option the tent is already set, the mattresses are installed as well as the sleeping bags.
Cons: More expensive than bringing your own tent. You will pay (high season) for one night around 30 USD for the campsite + 16 USD for the tent rent + 10 USD per sleeping bag + 4 USD per mattress. Total for 2 people: 74 USD.
Option 3: sleep in a refuge or in the domes
Pros: well, you sleep in a real bed (make sure you ask to have a “came armada” – meaning a bed with linen and blanket) with a real mattress and you are not annoyed by the strong winds in Torres del Paine (although we have preferred the wind to snoring roommates). And the showers and restrooms are usually much better than the camping ones.
Cons: SUPER EXPENSIVE! A bed with linen in a refugio will cost you around 85USD. A bed with linen in a dome around 65USD.
Option 4: combine option 2 and 3 (our pick)
Pros: it allows to maintain a “decent” budget (keep in mind that lodging is really expensive in Torres del Paine) and to alternate camping nights on the floor and nights in a cozy bed to make sure your back recovers. You don’t have to carry any weight, and trust me, it does make a difference when you are hiking around 76km in 4 days.
Cons: the price, again.
MAKE EARLY RESERVATIONS: If you decide to use the lodging facilities book well in advance! Especially during the high season when everything gets booked well in advance.
BOOKING: how do I make my reservations for lodging?
There are 3 steps to book your lodging. First, decide your itinerary (cf: below). Second, decide if you are camping with your gear or not. Third, chose your accommodation and book online.
Refugio Torre, Refugio Chileno, Refugio Cuernos, Domo Francés are all managed by the company Fantástico Sur. You can go to their website if you have your dates settled and book either a bed in a refugio or dome (a little structure in the form of a ball where 6 people can sleep in), a campsite with tent and sleeping bag with mattress, or simply a campsite for your own tent. Payment via Paypal occurred without a problem. Showers and restrooms are well maintained and pretty clean and the food is really good.
Refugio Paine Grande and Refugio Grey are managed by the company Vértice Patagonia. You can also book online but our payment din’t get through via their platform so we made a booking and negotiated with them to pay at our arrival at Puerto Natales. At Refugio Paine Grande showers were terrible both in camping and refuges facilities. Food was great.
Campamento Torres and Campamento Italiano are managed by the Torres del Paine National Park. You HAVE to book your campsite when you get to the National Park station at your arrival. Both campings are free.
FOOD: should we bring our own food or are there restaurants?
Option 1: bring your own food
Pros: MUCH CHEAPER! As for the lodging nothing can beat the price of bringing your own food as there are restaurants (only in the paid camps, not in the public camps) but they are quite expensive.
Cons: MUCH HEAVIER! The only good news here is that the more you walk, the more you eat, the lighter your backpack gets. So keep walking!
Option 2: get a full-board from the refuges – breakfast + lunch box + dinner (our pick)
Pros: quite obviously you don’t have to carry your food. Apart from that you will be pretty tired after a big day and will be delighted to have a good hot meal. The quality of the food is really good, the breakfasts are awesome and the lunch box surprisingly big.
Cons: it can get reaaaaally expensive to have all the time full-boards. At Refugio Torre Central and Los Cuernos the full-board was 59USD, at Refugio Chileno it was 70USD. So really pricy.
Option 3: combine option 1 and 2
Pros: it allows to maintain a “decent” budget (keep in mind that food is really expensive in Torres del Paine) and to alternate breakfasts and lunchboxes made by yourself and having good warm dinner at the refuges.
Cons: the price much more expensive than bringing your own food and keep in mind that public campsites do not have restaurants.
YOU CAN ONLY COOK IN DESIGNATED AREAS: due to many fires provoked by human mistake (not to say stupidity) that occurred in the years resulting in the destruction of several areas in Torres del Paine, it is strictly forbidden to cook outside of the designated areas within the campsites. Cooking areas are only available in the Refugios camping areas and the public camping areas in designated areas. It is forbidden to smoke in the park except in designated places within the lodging facilities.
WEATHER: how bad is the weather in Torres del Paine?
Saying that the weather is a big mystery here is an understatement. Everybody will tell you that it is almost pointless to ask for the weather as it changes all the time and there is no way you can trust it: from rain, to sun, to wind, to sun… However, be a wise hiker and still ask for the weather before you leave. What is not a mystery in this park is the fact that you will have tough winds. The wind there is part of the game and if you don’t have it, in a way you haven’t lived the full W experience. We were very lucky and got a cloudy/sunny day on day 1, a beautiful cloudless day on day 2, a very windy and rainy day on day 3, and a beautiful windy day on day 4.
VALLE DEL FRANCÉS: can I do it?
Valle del Francés is clearly not an impossible hike but it requires to be fit, with a good cardio. There is a steep ascension in the last 15 minutes to Mirador Británico but the tough part is the whole one from Campamento Italiano to the Mirador Británico because it is a constant ascension of 3 hours. And the descent is tough on the kneecaps. Add tough winds and rain and you have a demanding hike. If you are tired from the previous day and are not feeling too confident you can skip this bit, even if it is really, really beautiful.
GEAR: what should I bring?
Here is our packing list:
For the day
– 1 technical long sleeved shirt for hiking (as it is dry fit you can wash it every night)
– 1 hiking pants
– 1 polar sweater
– 1 ultra-lightweight jacket
– 1 wind and rainproof jacket
– 2 buffs (to cover the face and the head)
– sunscreen minimum SPF50
– hiking (or other) gloves
– water bottle (that you will refill in the park’s rivers)
For the evening/night
– 1 cotton long sleeved comfortable shirt (to wear after shower and to sleep)
– 1 heat-tech legging (to slloveep and to wear if it gets really cold)
– 1 comfortable pair of pants
– 1 short sleeve T-shirt
– 1 warm hat
– small toothpaste
– small comb
– 3 shampoo unidose little bags (easy to find in Chile) per person
– ultra-lightweight fast drying camping towel
– a small pouch of seat covers for the toilets
– lip balm
– smartphone with a previously downloaded book and a game you really like!
– 1 tent that survives very tough winds
– 1 sleeping bag
– 1 mattress
– 1 camping stove
– 1 pot
– 1 spork
– 1 plate (I love the silicon foldable ones)
– food, of course
– other stuff that I am probably not aware of…
WATER: how do I refill my bottle?
The water in the parc is drinkable and it is actually really good. Make sure you refill it every time you see a river. Try to avoid still water from lakes or weak streams. Running water is always a better call.
MONEY: how much money should I bring?
Here is what you will pay in the park per person:
– 18,000 pesos entry to Torres del Paine National Park
– 2,800 pesos shuttle to Refugio Torres
– 15,000 pesos boat from Refugio Paine Grande to Pudeto
– keep in mind that a can of beer is 3,000 pesos and a decent bottle of wine 14,000 pesos (less for a very cheap and bad wine)
– have more cash with you in case you decide to have a treat and have dinner at one of the refugios
Guys, I hope that this post was helpful and that it will help you out organizing this amazing adventure you are about to live. I am not an expert of the W (having done it only this once) but if you have questions write me a comment below and I will do my best to answer you!