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A Beginners Guide to Hiking Torres del Paine (W Trek)

With it’s jagged, unique mountain passes, giant glaciers, lakes of various blue hues and forever changing weather, TdP is no walk in the park (I mean technically it is a walk in a park… but you get my point). And whilst the trek was definitely challenging for this first time hiker, booking accommodation and trying to organise my time there was a feat in itself.

The Who, What, When, Where, How and Why?

Where is TdP?

Torres del Paine is in the southern Patagonian region in Chile. The town which acts as the gateway to the park and where everyone will need to stay for a night or two before and after the trek is Puerto Natales.

How can you get there?

You can fly direct to PNT airport from Santiago but only one airline (LATAM) services the route 2-4 times a week during the summer months of mid-November to mid-March. Prices start at around $120USD (usually without baggage) but you can expect to pay anywhere up to $500USD if booking last minute in peak season.

Alternatively the closest major Chilean airport is Punta Arenas which is just over 3 hours away by bus. Three airlines operate this route from Santiago (LATAM, Sky Airline and JetSmart) with several daily departures. Prices start from only $39USD with new budget airline JetSmart, but you will need to book directly through their website which is entirely in Spanish. Google translate to the rescue! Buses between Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are around $15USD each way.

If coming from Argentina or Buenos Aires is a better destination for your international flights, you can also fly into El Calafate (FTE) and get a 4.5 hour bus over the border to Puerto Natales.

What is the W Trek?

The W trek is a beautiful 5 day trek through TdP national park, shaped in a W as seen on the below map. You can also complete the longer ‘O Circuit’ which loops around the back of the mountain ranges and takes around 8 days.

Who can do the trek?

Anyone with a reasonably good fitness level can complete this trek, although if you are inexperienced in hiking I would recommend completing some smaller hikes in your area to practice. The first 22km day was pretty tricky for this in-experienced hiker.

When can you visit?

TdP’s high season starts on the 1st of October and runs until the 30th of April although the park is open year round. However, in low season most campsites and refugios are closed and trails are not maintained.

If you are an experienced hiker and wish to come in winter you will need to contact CONAF directly and consider hiring a guide as trails are harder to recognise under significant snowfall.

How long does it take to trek the W?

The most common time to complete the W Trek is in 5 days/4 nights, but if you’re willing and able you can do it in 4 days/3 nights or alternatively, take your time.

You can trek from east to west or west to east with varying opinions on which way is better.

lunch stops in TdP

How much does it cost?

The cost of trekking can be anywhere from $200 for 4 days to $2,000 depending on how you go about it. Bringing your own gear, camping and cooking your own food will cut your costs significantly, but bear in mind you will be carrying all of that on your back making the trek harder so I would only recommend this to experienced hikers.

There are free campsites available, such as the one at Camp Italiano, but no matter where you intend to stay you must have reservations for each night.

Here is a rough example of costs for your different options if booking with the paid campsites/refugios:

High Season ratesLodging, no mealsFull board + lodging
Camping$20USD per night$90USD per night
Set-up Campsite$42USD per night$115USD per night
Single bed in dorm$110USD per night$180USD per night
Hut/private rooms$180USD per night$250USD per night

*rates based on double occupancy for campsites/private accommodation, extra charge for single occupancy.

Bearing in mind that even if you attempted to do the trek in 3 nights, you would need to pay in 2/3 of those sites. This means the whole W Trek could cost only $40USD per person in campsite fees.

Rental costs for equipment in Puerto Natales will cost around $22-25 a day (based on sharing a tent, stove etc. with one other) and food shouldn’t cost you much more than $10 a day per person. But just remember how much that will all weigh!

Entry into the park is around $30USD per adult, a return bus ticket from Puerto Natales to TdP is around $22USD and the Catamaran was about $26USD one way.

How to book accommodation/campsites?

You need to have reservations for every night you intend to stay in the park, whether they are free campsites or paid lodges. The only way to book the campsites and accommodation within TdP is directly through the parks website or with the companies that run each lodging. These will be:

A good guide to explaining which website you will need to book each campsite.
*Reservas en = Reserve with

What tour companies can I go through?

You can also opt for a tour, with many big names such as G Adventures, Dragoman (as part of a bigger trip) and Intrepid (also including Argentina and internal flights) offering their services. Although they do offer a professional guide, all meals and a group atmosphere, you will usually be camping and carrying your own equipment but paying as much as those staying in the warmth of the refugios.

There are also companies who offer personal guided treks or packages such as Blue Green Adventures. In all honesty, you don’t need a guide to do this trek and you could book everything yourself for a fraction of the cost, but you pay for the convenience of having everything organised for you. 

You can also do the trek completely solo. I did! The paths are very obvious with significant signage and foot traffic. There are also many ranger stations along the way, with friendly rangers who are always willing to help (as they did when my backpack split and they saved me by tying it together with rope and plastic). The O Trek is said to be less crowded but still very easy and obvious trails.

What to bring?

Layers are very important as the weather can change drastically

  • Thermals (long sleeve top and bottoms)
  • T-shirt and shorts
  • Wind and waterproof jacket and pants
  • Sun hat and winter hat
  • Sunglasses, suncreen
  • 1 x wool jumper
  • 1 x pair of leggings/trekking trousers
  • Trekking shoes and thick socks
  • 1 x pair of thongs/flip flops/sandals
  • Waterbottle (fresh water streams are aplenty)

What is available inside the park?

Each refugio has a small convenience store with basic necessities including snacks, some camping accessories and so on. Camp kitchens were quite basic with benches and sinks and didn’t have as much as I was expecting (no kettle even!). 

Also, another thing that surprised me was that they took credit card everywhere! I was really stressing out when I had forgotten to get enough cash out in town but was super relieved to see this.

Tips for first time trekkers:

  • Book refugios or pre set up tents. It’s easier and saves you carrying an extra few kgs for the 70km + journey.
  • Pay for the food. Again, saving you time, energy and kilos off your back. It is expensive but you get 3 course dinners and really filling and nutritious breakfasts and lunches which is vital.
an example of one of the main courses for dinner at Las Torres
standard lunch pack provided by lodging (also a piece of fruit I had already eaten)
  • Wear in your hiking boots. If renting from town, give yourself two days, wear them non stop and do some smaller day hikes before you take on the W or O Trek in them.
  • Get boots with ankle support, the ground is very uneven.
  • STRETCH! Every night for at least half an hour. It really helps.
  • Rent hiking poles – especially if you have been known to have knee trouble
  • Invest in a dry bag to keep your valuables in (especially your passport as you will need this)
  • Bring a pair of thongs/flip flops for the showers!!
  • Don’t stress if you forget anything! The general stores had a lot more than I expected and after I forgot my accommodation vouchers, I was sure I was doomed, but it all worked out just fine.

How I did it?

I arrived in Patagonia early March 2018 and booked accommodation about 2 months prior. My initial plan was to trek east to west, stay in refugios with all food included as it was the start of my trip so I had the funds and wanted to be comfortable/not carry much. When booking though, I was unable to get availability in each place I wanted for my dates. So I had to change my plans and trek west to east, completely missing a night near Glacier Grey and with only one night in a refugio (which ended up being my last night so it was a nice reward at the end).

Day 1: 24km – 7 hours

views from the Catamaran over Lake Pehoe

I caught an early bus from Puerto Natales to Pudeto and caught the Catamaran over Lake Pehoe to Paine Grande where I booked my first night. I chose to camp with a fully set up tent and no meals, as I packed my meals for that first day and was able to drop my backpack off at the camp before hiking to Glacier Grey and back. This was around 24km to the viewing point of the glacier and back and took about 7 hours. I didn’t get as close to the glacier as I would have liked but I needed more time that I just didn’t have. My legs were like jelly after this!

Day 2: 20km – 9 hours

pre-set up tent at Paine Grande

After a windy night at Paine Grande thinking I was about to be whisked away like Dorothy, I hiked to Camp Italiano where everyone leaves their pack to hike up the French Valley. It was an incredibly wet day and the last part of the hike from Mirador Frances to Britanico was closed due to wet weather and high winds. Not that you could see much at these lookouts anyway! It was so wet that a shallow river crossing half way up the valley got extremely flooded by the time I got back to it and a group of us had to join forces to help each other across. I then hiked back through Camp Italiano to Los Cuernos where I spent my second night (you have to include all meals here as there is no camp kitchen).

Day 3: 12km – 5 hours

This day had the best weather by far and it was a pretty casual walk so I took my time and enjoyed the sunshine and amazing views over the lake. I arrived to Las Torres camp with another set up tent, except this time I had an extra large tent with a proper mattress and all instead of the small tents with yoga matts I had my first two nights.  Luxury!

GLAMPING

Day 4: 14km – 7 hours

It had snowed overnight and was an incredibly cold morning, so I geared up for the hike to Refugio Chileno and spotted a puma off in the distance on the way (it was too far to get photos so no one believed I saw it). I left my pack at the refugio and hiked up to the incredible Las Torres viewpoint. It started to snow just as I had finished taking a million photos (what timing!) then hiked back down to Chileno. I had a dorm room this night and the bed was so comfortable and warm with a dryer room for my wet clothes and all! I could have probably hiked back to Las Torres and finished after seeing the Torres but I was eager to see the famous sunrise and do it all again!

Day 5: 14km – 7 hours

Today was really just a repeat of yesterday, except hiking to the Torres at 4am! The refugio got our breakfasts ready early which was amazing and then we were off. Waiting in the cold, I was numb everywhere but as soon as that sun broke over the mountains it was all worth it. 

La Torres at sunrise

Again, we got incredibly lucky and after watching the sunrise completely, a snow storm rolled in and we hiked back down via Refugio Chileno to the information centre near Las Torres and caught the shuttle to the bus stop and then headed back to Puerto Natales. What an adventure!

Why?

We’ve covered the who, what, when, where and how, so now, the why? This trek was incredibly special to me, not only was it easy to navigate as a solo, first time hiker but it was challenging without being impossible and unapologetically beautiful. You can’t see this kind of beauty anywhere else and in such a unique way! If you are a nature lover, hiker or just a traveler wanting to try something different, I would highly recommend it!

Thinking about doing the O Trek?

If time allows and you think you could survive another three days in TdP then here are some benefits to doing the O Trek (from friends/people I met who completed the O).

  • less crowds – restricted to 80 people a day so booking essential. One North Chilean man who was trekking solo also mentioned he encountered a very rare deer sighting because there’s such little foot traffic. Pretty cool!
  • better views of Glacier Grey. For almost a whole day you trek alongside it with a few cool views from suspension bridges which you do not get on the W Trek.
  • Trek the highest pass of the park – bragging rights!

Have you done the W Trek? What did you think?

Leave your comments below 🙂 

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