One of the highlights of any trip to Patagonia is hiking in one of the many national parks.
If you’re planning on visiting Torres del Paine, the W trek is the perfect hike to show you the best of Patagonia. You get stunning views of mountains, lakes and forests and also have the chance of spotting wildlife along the way.
Unfortunately, hiking the W in Torres del Paine requires some preparation in advance.
Before we went, my friend and I spent a long time browsing through guidebooks, looking at maps and googling information. We even posted on forums and tried to find out as much about the Torres del Paine National Park as we could.
Here, I want to share our knowledge with you so you can experience the beauty of this hike. The W is one of the most impressive treks I’ve ever done on my travels and well worth the effort it takes to plan your trip.
Hiking the W in Torres del Paine
Itinerary for trekking the W in Torres del Paine
Do you know where the W trek got its name from?
If you look at a map of Torres del Paine, you’ll notice a hiking trail that goes all around the national park. On the southern side, you can see two paths (both dead ends) going up into the mountains.
That southern trail is the W hike, named after its shape on the map, and it goes from the entrance at Laguna Amarga in the east to Refugio Grey in the west.
While hiking in Torres del Paine is not extremely difficult (the hike to Laguna de los Tres in El Chalten is much more challenging, for example), you will need to cover almost 80 kilometres. My friend and I covered this distance in four days, but you can do it in three days if you’re extremely fit.
Or you can take your time and enjoy the national park in five days.
Hiking the W in 4 days
The first thing you need to decide is in which direction you want to hike the W in Torres del Paine.
You can either go from east to west or the other way round. If you research, you will find many people arguing why one direction is better than another. To be honest, I don’t think it makes much of a difference. What is important is that you figure out where you want to spend the night.
As we went from east to west, this is what we’ll be focusing on in this post.
Day 1: Start early in the morning and catch the bus to Torres del Paine. Get off at Laguna Amarga. From here, you can either walk or take a shuttle bus to Hotel Las Torres.
Once you’re on the trail, you will hike up to the Mirador Torres, at the base of the towers. Halfway down, you can find El Chileno. It is a good stop for your first day and easy to reach. Leave your luggage here before you climb up to the base of Torres del Paine.
Day 2: The second day is easy. You walk to Refugio Los Cuernos, a nice hike downhill and along the side of a lake. As an alternative, you can also continue to Refugio or Camping Frances. This will give you a headstart on your third day.
Day 3: The third day is the toughest if you’re hiking from east to west. You need to start early in the morning and walk to Campamiento Italiano. If you carry a heavy bag, you can leave it here and hike up to Mirador Britanico.
From Campamiento Italiano, you then continue to Refugio Paine Grande, where you spend your third and last night.
Day 4: On the last day, you walk from Paine Grande to the Grey Glacier and back again. Even though it is 11km one way, it is an easy hike. I was back in the camp by three in the afternoon.
The Refugio Paine Grande can only be reached by boat or foot, so you need to catch a ferry in the afternoon to go back. Boats leave regularly and connect with the buses going back to Puerto Natales.
Hiking the W in 5 days
If you have more time to complete the W trek in Torres del Paine, you can easily modify the above itinerary.
On day 3, leave your luggage at Refugio Los Cuernos and hike up to Mirador Britanico. Afterwards, return to Los Cuernos and enjoy the rest of the day.
The next day, walk to Refugio Grey and stay here overnight. Finally, on day 5, hike to Paine Grande and take the catamaran and bus back to Puerto Natales.
Hiking the W in 3 days
If you have less time for your excursion into Torres del Paine, you either need to be in excellent shape or skip parts of the trek.
Follow the above itinerary for the first day as explained above. The next day, hike to Refugio Los Cuernos and leave your luggage here. Then, hike up to Mirador Britanico and return to the Refugio for the night.
On your last day, you continue to Grey Glacier and then finish your trek at Paine Grande.
As we already mentioned, you need to be very well trained, and you also have to keep an eye on the time. You don’t want to miss the last boat back from Paine Grande. Therefore, try to spend at least four days in the national park if you can.
Best places to stay in Torres del Paine
You can find all kinds of lodging in Torres del Paine.
While hiking the W, you will stay at either campsites or refugios. However, you can also find hotels in Torres del Paine, especially luxury ones. Those can be an option before or at the end of your trip.
When considering whether to go camping or stay in a refugio, you need to keep in mind your budget and how much equipment you want to bring along. Camping is the cheapest, especially if you bring your own tent and sleeping bag.
On the other hand, staying in a refugio means you can leave a lot of equipment at home. Your backpack will be much lighter.
No matter where you want to stay, you need to make your reservation far in advance—all lodging along the W trek books out months ahead. As soon as reservations open, people go on and make their bookings. Therefore, make sure to book everything as soon as you can.
Campsites in Torres del Paine
We have already mentioned some of the camping at Torres del Paine in the itinerary above.
All of the campsites along the trek belong to Las Torres Patagonia (formerly called Fantastico Sur), Vertice Patagonia and CONAF, and you can make bookings on their respective websites. Let’s go through the campsites so you can find out where you need to book.
Las Torres Patagonia: Out of the campsites you can find along the W trek, Camping Chileno, Cuernos and Francés belong to Fantastico Sur/Las Torres Patagonia. You can see all of them on a map on their website. In addition, Las Torres Patagonia owns two more campsites, Camping Serón and Camping Central.
Séron is only interesting for you if you want to hike the O, and you won’t come past here on the W. Camping Central is located close to the entrance of the park, and it can be interesting if you want to stay an extra night before or after your hike.
All campsites come with two options. You can book a fully equipped campsite. A tent with two sleeping bags and two mats will be waiting for you when you arrive. Or you can book a platform on which you can pitch your own tent.
In addition, you can choose whether you want to bring your own food, or whether you want to have breakfast and dinner at the campsite. You can also reserve a lunch bag to take on the hike.
For booking your camping in Torres del Paine, you can check availability on the Las Torres Patagonia website.
Vertice Patagonia: Vertice Patagonia owns the campsites in Western Torres del Paine, Camping Paine Grande and Camping Grey. They also own Camping Dickson and Camping Los Perros, both of which are only relevant if you’re planning on hiking the O.
Just like Las Torres Patagonia, Vertice offers the option of renting a tent, sleeping bag and mat. They are a little more flexible than Las Torres, and you can specifically select which equipment you’re missing and need to rent.
They also offer the option of reserving breakfast and dinner, as well as lunch boxes that you can take with you for your hike.
The easiest way to book your campsites is through the Vertice Patagonia website.
CONAF: CONAF only owns one campsite in Torres del Paine, the Camping Italiano. There’s no option of renting tents or sleeping bags, so you need to bring all your equipment.
For the 2021/22 season, the campsite was under renovation. When/if it reopens, it will be available for booking on the CONAF website.
Refugios in Torres del Paine
Besides campsites, you can also stay in refugios along the W trek.
My friend and I did both. We stayed in refugios at Chileno and Los Cuernos and then rented a fully equipped tent at Paine Grande.
Accommodation in the refugios is simple, and you’ll stay in dorms. Just like when booking campsites, you have the option of also including breakfast and dinner, as well as a packed lunch. This is great if you want to hike light and don’t want to bring your own cooking equipment.
Food is not cheap, though, so if you are on a strict budget, you should bring your own.
When booking refugios in Torres del Paine, you need to go through Vertice Patagonia and Las Torres Patagonia, as they own all of them along the W trek.
Las Torres Patagonia: Three refugios along the W trek belong to Las Torres Patagonia (formerly Fantastico Sur). They are Refugio Chileno, Refugio Cuernos and Refugio Frances, and you can reserve them through the Las Torres Patagonia website. Refugios usually book out earlier than campsites, so keep that in mind when booking Torres del Paine.
In addition, Las Torres Patagonia owns the Refugio Torre Central at the park entrance. You can stay here if you want to get a headstart on your first day, or this is an excellent option if you don’t have enough time for the W trek and want to explore Torres del Paine on day hikes.
Vertice Patagonia: Vertice Patagonia owns two refugios along the W trek – Refugio Paine Grande and Refugio Grey. They also own Refugio Dickson, but you’ll only stay here if you decide to hike the O.
You can make bookings through the Vertice Patagonia website.
Hotels in Torres del Paine
You cannot find any hotels along the W trek, so you have to choose refugios or campsites. However, you can stay in a hotel before or after the trek.
Keep in mind that you’ll mostly find luxury hotels in Torres del Paine, so those are not a great option if you’re on a budget.
In addition, many of them have a minimum stay of three nights.
Two options at both ends of the W trek are the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia and the Hotel Explora Patagonia. For both of them, you need to book your stay for at least three days. They are still great options if you want to spend more time in the park but don’t want to do any multi-day hike.
What to pack for hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
What you need to pack depends on where you stay and whether you want to pay for food or cook yourself.
The most comfortable option is to sleep in refugios or rent a tent, sleeping bag and air mattress at the campsite. If you then also pay for full board, you can travel as light as possible.
On the other hand, the cheapest option is to bring your own tent, sleeping bag and air mattress. To save money on food, you will also need to carry a stove, pots, bowls and mugs. These items add considerable weight to your backpack.
If you don’t own any camping equipment, you can buy it or rent it in Puerto Natales. Erratic Rock is the most well-known outfitter that rents equipment, but you can also find other shops where you can borrow everything you need.
No matter how you’re travelling, you also need your personal equipment:
- Trainers or hiking boots: It is possible to walk the W in trainers, but your feet will get wet. As an alternative, take a good pair of hiking boots.
- Socks: Take at least two or three pairs so you can wash them along the way.
- Long- and short-sleeved tops: Take layers so you can adapt when it gets warmer or colder. Go for quick-drying fabrics so you can wash them along the way.
- Trousers: If you’re going in the middle of summer, consider taking short and long trousers, or invest in a pair of zip-off trousers. At any other time of the year, two pairs of long trousers are usually enough.
- Fleece jacket: Take a fleece jacket that keeps you warm at night.
- Rain jacket and rain cover: It pays off to get a decent rain jacket. The weather can change quickly, and you want to be prepared. In addition, make sure to also take a rain cover for your backpack.
- Thermal underwear: Thermal underwear will protect you when it gets cold. I also like sleeping in mine, so I don’t have to take a pair of pyjamas.
- Toiletries: Only take what you absolutely need. Bring your toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo and shower gel. Leave any make-up at home; you won’t need it on the trail.
- Sunscreen and insect repellent: The weather in Torres del Paine is unreliable, but when it gets sunny, you can burn quickly. Make sure to bring sunscreen and also insect repellent.
- Travel towel: Pack a light microfibre towel, but make sure it’s big enough to dry you after a shower.
- Headlamp: Bring a rechargeable headlamp, so you can walk around the campsite at night.
- Water bottle: Make sure to take a big water bottle (I love my Platypus bottle). You can get clean water at all refugios and campsites. I saw people drinking the water from rivers inside the park but found that in many places, it had a lot of silt in it. If you find clear water, make sure to filter it or treat it with a SteriPen.
- Portable charger and phone charger: You can find outlets in some refugios, or you can use a portable charger to keep your phone and camera charged.
How to get to Torres del Paine
Before you can begin any hike in Torres del Paine, you need to get to the National Park.
The easiest way is to base yourself in Puerto Natales and take a bus to Torres del Paine. Buses leave from terminal Rodovario, and it’s best to book your ticket at least a day in advance. Make sure to catch an early morning departure so you have enough time for hiking.
The bus stops at Laguna Amarga, where you can take a shuttle to Las Torres and at Pudeto, where you can take a catamaran to Paine Grande.
Going back is just as easy. You can catch the catamaran, which connects with the bus, or you can take the shuttle from Las Torres to Laguna Amarga and leave the park by bus.
Make sure to book your entrance ticket online, as you cannot buy it at the park entrance anymore. You can buy it on the CONAF website.
Best time to visit Torres del Paine
The best time for any hikes in Torres del Paine is in summer.
In winter, the temperature in Torres del Paine drops below freezing, and you need to hike through snow. The park closes to individual hikers, but you still have the option of going on a guided tour of the W trek.
In summer, however, the weather is pleasantly warm. Refugios open from October until April (since Patagonia is located in the southern hemisphere), and the most popular months are December, January and February.
The shoulder season, in October/November and March/April, can also be lovely. The paths are more empty, and the park feels quieter. Remember that it can get cold at night, so you need to pack accordingly.
Guided tours of Torres del Paine
All of the information above is useful if you want to hike the W independently.
However, you also have the option of joining a guided tour. Maybe you don’t want to organise everything yourself, or you have never been on any multi-day hikes and don’t feel confident going alone. Or you’re hiking in winter when the park is only open to guided tours.
Before reserving any tours, make sure to double-check a few things. How long is the tour? Where do you stop along the way? What is included? Where does the tour start, and where does it end?
This 6-day tour, for example, includes two nights accommodation in Puerto Natales, transfer to the park and back again, and three nights inside the park. You’ll be trekking for four days and pretty much following our 4-day W trek itinerary above. It also includes all meals, which is a bonus. Click here to see it yourself.
If you want a more relaxed tour, you can also check out this 5-day tour which includes four nights in the park. This gives you a little more time to enjoy yourself and admire the incredible scenery.
If you have less time, you also can spend only one day in Torres del Paine. Multiple tour operators offer to take you there, and you will have to choose between a tour that brings you to all of the scenic viewpoints or one that includes a lot of hiking.
Check out this tour, for example, in which you hike to the base of Las Torres, one of the best day hikes in Torres del Paine. It’ll be a busy day, but you’ll get to see one of the most beautiful areas in the park.
We hope you now have a good overview of everything you need to know for the W trek in Torres del Paine. It is one of the most scenic hikes I have ever done, and I highly recommend it to anyone travelling to Patagonia.
If you are going to Southern Chile and Argentina, make sure to check out our other resources which you’re going to find useful for your trip:
- Best things to do in Southern Patagonia
- Top 10 things to do in Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city
- See penguins and more in Punta Arenas
- The best things to do in El Chalten
Until your next adventure!
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