Patagonia, Chile – W Trek (at Torres del Paine)

Just a smidge north of Antarctica – Patagonia, Chile, is a remarkable sight with glaciers, lakes, mountains, wilderness and forests. And you can hike through all of this terrain in 5 glorious days.

How to Hike the W Trek

If you are up for an adventure at the bottom of the world with interesting and new landscapes at every turn, then Patagonia, Chile is right for you. Hiking and/or backpacking at Torres del Paine National Park is the adventure. No, you will not be trekking completely alone. There are other adventurers out there as well, but the trails are no where near crowded, and they are well-marked. I did feel comfort in knowing that there were other people doing similar treks. Like-minded people! I opted for the “Classic W Trek” which is a solid 5 days of hiking (quick trip!), an intermediate hike level (~6-8 hours of hiking/day), and is perfect for experiencing all that this region has to offer – magnificent Grey Glacier, Lago (lake) Grey with its turquoise colored water, the bluest of blue icebergs, temperate rainforest, mountains, and pastures. October through April is the ideal time frame to visit this beautiful region.

Ahead of time: You must make reservations at the campsites (even for tent camping) and book way in advance. Bring a printed confirmation with you. For the W trek, I reserved at the following campsites in this order: Camp Grey (paid campsite; https://reservas.verticepatagonia.cl/index.xhtml), Camp Italiano (free), Camp at Los Cuernos (paid campsite which offers meals – recommended!- and has showers and free 5 minutes of internet); https://www.fantasticosur.com/mountain-lodges/cuernos-mountain-lodges-and-camping/ , Camp Torres (free). Packing and renting: The essential packing list is at the bottom of this post. Also know that in Puerto Natales – the only town to stay at before the trek – there are restaurants, ATMs, hotels, hostels, and stores with rental equipment for hiking including good tents, sleeping bags, etc. More on that later.

Money. Don’t forget to get Chilean pesos, at your bank, before you leave for Chile. It may take a couple of weeks for your bank to get them, so plan accordingly. You will need pesos to travel in the smaller towns. Some places are starting to take Paypal, so have that on your phone.

Passport. You will need to show your passport and migration ticket (that you receive at the airport when you enter the country) for entrance to the national park and at each campsite.

Eating. There was a huge forest fire, caused by negligence, in 2012 that destroyed 17,000 acres at Torres del Paine. Therefore, lighting fires within the park is forbidden. Even the use of a camping stove (e.g., Jet Boiler) must be within a structure, which you can easily find at all the campsites. I ordered Mountain House and Backpacker’s Pantry meals and brought them with me to cook in the Jet Boiler. I also brought along oatmeal packets and nuts for breakfast. Lunch was canned salmon and tuna with crackers. Clif and Kind bars, beef jerky and cheese for snacks. Los Cuernos had a nice, heavy dinner and breakfast which was very welcome on day 3. Check with the campsites as many of them have hot water for re-hydrating meals. Although, I did find it easy to use and carry the Jet Boiler.

Water. Water can be found all over the park, and it’s pretty fun to bend down and fill your bottle or hydration bladder. It’s clean water (right from the glacier!) and doesn’t require filtration. However, I don’t like to take chances, so I put a filter on my hydration bladder and never had to worry.

Gear. I opted to carry all that was needed for the 5 day trek including the tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, trekking poles, Jet Boiler, etc. (Scroll down to see packing list.) At the Erratic Rock store (in Puertos Natales) you can rent these things and purchase a small gas canister for the Jet Boil. Alternatively, many of the campsites offer the rental of tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping mats if you’d like to lessen your load.

How to get to Torres del Paine

Options for getting there: I flew to Santiago, Chile, and then took a ~3 hour flight to Punta Arenas. From the airport, you will need to get to downtown Punta Arenas to a bus to get to Puerto Natales. Take a taxi or shuttle downtown – about a 20 minute ride. Use cash (~730 pesos for shuttle; ~6000 pesos for taxi). There are 3 bus company options to take you on the 3 hour ride to Puerto Natales: Buses Fernández, Buses Pacheco or Bus-Sur. Note that there is not a centralized bus station, but the bus companies are all within 8 minutes (walking) of each other. I used Buses Fernández. It’s actually easy peasy to get there – it’s a frequented trek, so people expect that you’ll be going to Torres del Paine.

When you arrive in the cute and small town of Puerto Natales – you’ll be let off at the bus depot which is centrally located and a quick walk to most hotels. Check the bus timetable to get the current departure times for Torres del Paine the next day – there are typically 2 buses per day – one in the early morning and one in the afternoon. Then walk to your hotel (book ahead of time). I stayed at the nice, clean, friendly Hotel Hallef (booked through Hotels.com) at Eleuterio Ramirez 604. Most of the hotels will hold your extra luggage for you for when you return from the trek. This helped to store all my traveling clothes and suitcase that I could not take on the hike.

Erratic Rock is a store/hostel right in Puerto Natales and offers rentals for all the hiking stuff that you couldn’t load into your suitcase, such as a sturdy (very wind-proof) tent, sleeping bags, sleeping mat, hiking poles (needed), gas canisters (for your Jet Boil – can’t bring gas on the plane, of course), lighters, and whatever else you may need. All at reasonable prices. They also offer free daily info seminars at 3:00. I arrived too late for this talk, but I’d recommend it, since there are many variables on this trek. Address: Baquedano 719, Puerto Natales, Chile.

This is the W trek. I laminated this map (not really necessary) and brought it with me.

Day by day on the W trek

Day 1:

The next morning start off on the first bus (7:00am) to the CONAF office located in Laguna Amarga. It’s about a 2 hour, comfortable ride (CLP 20,000/US$25) to this welcome center/entrance to the park at “Portería Laguna Amarga.” Bring your passport as you’ll have to check in when you arrive. *2022 update: You must pay your park entrance fee online and in advance. (There is poor internet service at the entrance, so do this ahead of time.) No advance booking needed for buses or catamaran.) Buses are timed with the catamaran/ferry departures at Pudeto to bring passengers across the spectacular Lago Pehoé (a 45 minute ride) to start the trek. *2022 update: the boat now only goes once a day at 10:00 am. The boat costs CLP 20,000/US$26 and drops off at Refugio Paine Grande (where you can book ahead to stay in their hostel and/or dine at their restaurant). I opted to hike 11km (6.83 miles; 4-5 hours) to Refugio Grey to tent camp. Note that one of the lookouts to Glacier Grey is at Mirador Grey (2km/1.24 miles before Refugio Grey. (Mortifyingly, I accidentally left my tent fly at the bathrooms near Refugio Paine Grande. Insert eye roll and embarrassed face here! So I do know that if you get to Refugio Grey and you don’t have a tent or fly, they will happily rent you one! Cash again.) The campsite area has a small structure where you can use your camp stove to make your meal(s) and possibly meet new friends. Options if you’d like to see more: just set up your camp and then hike another 15 minutes north of Refugio Grey – climb rocks and get good view of the eastern side of Glacier Grey. (That’s where I took the photo at the top of this page – the stunning blues of the iceberg looked fake!) Another option: trek forward ~1 hour towards, but before, Los Guardos campsite to view the southern ice field behind Glacier Grey (world’s 3rd largest ice field after Antarctica and Greenland). Another option is to Ice Hike (5 hours) the following day with Bigfoot Patagonia https://bigfootpatagonia.com/services/ice-hike-grey-glacier/. It’s just a short walk from the campsite – ask the park ranger. If you ice hike I’d recommend staying a 2nd night at Refugio Grey.

Day 2:

This trek is a backtrack toward Refugio Gray. Yes, it’s the same route, but it’s a lovely route, so enjoy it twice. Pass the starting point (where the catamaran docks) and continue on to Campamento Italiano (7.5km/4.66miles/~2 hours from Refugio Paine Grande/catamaran drop off). The hiking hits various terrain including rocky areas, wilderness, woodsy, and lakeside (Laguna Scottsberg). There are peaks and valleys and rock strewn trails. At Campamento Italiano, set up camp.

Here it’s recommended to head to Valle Francés/Mirador Británico. However, it takes ~5 hours round-trip to hike this option, so plan it for either late day 2 or early day 3. Climb the loose rock trails (you will need your poles and a daypack with water and snacks) and over and around boulders up through Valle Francés and/or Mirador Británico (~5 hours round trip). Look one way and there’s the glacier and the other way is the turquoise lake or continue on for views of the entire valley. The wind. It was so strong at this location that it was difficult to stand upright at times or make your voice heard. Also, rain/ice pellets. They are prevalent here too. All part of the experience! It was well worth the hike to see this space.

Day 3:

This day winds along the rocky, pebbled Lago (lake) Nordenskjöld to the very appreciated Los Cuernos. The hike takes about 2.5 hours (5.5km/3.41m.) and is flat with frequent high winds and rain. As was my experience as well. This is a short day of hiking unless you opt to do the Valle Francés and/or Mirador Británico in the morning. Either way, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the warm reception and wonderful meals (it comes with the campsite reservation) offered at Los Cuernos. Family style seating with hot meals and many interesting stories overheard. 🙂 Overnight, expect strong gusts of wind; therefore, make doubly sure your tent is very secure. Your tent will most certainly sway with the intense gusts.

Day 4:

This lovely day includes breakfast is at Los Cuernos. This day is my favorite kind of hiking: lush, green valleys with tall grasses, mountains with cliffs and rivers cutting through them. Beauty. It was about a 6 hour hike to Campamento Torres which was nestled in a forest. (**this campsite was temporarily closed 2020; another option is Camp El Chileno)

Day 5:

It’s an early wake-up day (4:20am in my case – start the ~45 minute hike an hour before sunrise) to view the 3 peaks of Torres del Paine. Leave the tent as-is and bring breakfast and warm clothing. Many of the campers will be doing the same thing. (Unfortunately for me, it was pouring rain that morning, so no good views.) Afterward, pack up camp (checkout is at 9am) and head toward the Hotel Las Torres to take the shuttle bus to Laguna Amarga which will cost CLP 3000/US$4. (If you want more hiking on this last day, you can walk the 11km/6.8 miles to Laguna Amarga.) At Laguna Amarga there are buses to take campers back to Puerto Natales where you can go back to the hotel where you started.

Day 6:

Day 6 will have your traveling in reverse. Puerto Natales bus to Punta Arenas to a plane to Santiago, Chile.

Packing list for the W trek

This was my packing list and there was nothing clean by the end of the hike:

Bring from home:
Chilean pesos (from bank) - $600
backpack 
blow up pillow
phone
phone charger & backup charger
electric adapter 
rain poncho
quick drying towel
plastic bags for wet stuff
headlamps
Camelback
water purifier
sunscreen
1st aid: moleskin, band-aids, ibuprofen, cold meds
small shampoo & conditioner
toothbrush & toothpaste
wipes
chapstick
toilet paper
hand & foot warmers
food: oatmeal, beef jerky, cheese, peanut butter, crackers, protein bars, nuts, salmon, powdered milk, tea, instant coffee, pre-made meals
Jet Boil
collapsable bowl, spork, KNIFE
map of park

Pack:
PASSPORT (plus migration paper from airport)
sunglasses
hiking boots
socks
gloves
water-proof coat
fleece jacket
knit hat (that covers ears)
neck warmer
baseball cap
2-3 wicking long sleeve shirts
2 yoga and hiking pants
t-shirt

Rent/Purchase in Puerto Natales:
tent
sleeping bag
sleeping mat
trekking poles
gas canister for Jet Boil
fruit

Suggested quicktripadventures W-Trek Patagonia Itinerary:

Day 1Take ferry at Pudeto across Lake Pehoe to Refugio Paine Grande.
Hike (11km/6.83 miles/3-4 hours) to Refugio & Camp Grey. 

Lookout to Glacier Grey is at Mirador Grey (2km/ 1.24m) before Refugio Grey

Set up camp:
Camp Grey (paid)

Options:
*just after Refugio Grey – climb rocks and get good view of eastern side of Glacier Grey
*trek forward ~1 hour towards but before Los Guardos campsite to view the southern ice field behind Glacier Grey (world’s 3rd largest ice field after Antarctica and Greenland)
Breakfast: hotel

Lunch: salmon and crackers, fruit

Snacks: Clif bars and beef jerkey

Dinner: Backpacker’s Pantry pouch

Day 2Option to kayak at 9:00am – need to reserve day before @ Bigfoot Patagonia. If so, stay another day at Camp Grey.

Hike to Refugio Paine Grande (3-4 hours) – backtrack. Then
hike to Campamento Italiano (7.5km/4.66miles/ ~2.5 hours from there.)

Set up camp:
Camp Italiano (reserved – free)

Breakfast: oatmeal and tea/instant coffee

Lunch: Backpacker’s Pantry pouch

Snacks: Kind bar, peanut butter & crackers

Dinner: Mountain House pouch
Day 3Early: Keep backpack at Camp Italiano and take daypack and poles. Hike to Valles Del Francés and/or Mirador Británico (11km/6.83miles/~5 hours round trip time) Return to Camp Italiano and gather backpack.

Hike to Los Cuernos. (5.5km/3.41miles/~1 hour) Hike is flat with high winds.

Camp at Los Cuernos (paid – has meals if paid ahead, showers, and
free 5 minutes of internet)
Breakfast: oatmeal and tea/instant coffee

Lunch: Backpacker’s Pantry pouch

Snacks: Clif bar

Dinner: @ Los Cuernos

Day 4Hike to Campamento Las Torres. (~4-5 hours)

Set up camp:
Camp Torres (reserved – free). If not open, use Camp El Chileno.

Hike to Mirador Torres (to see 3 peaks of Torres Del Paine) which is ~45 minutes each way. Dependent on weather forecast, do this hike in afternoon or next morning for sunrise.
Breakfast: @ Los Cuernos

Lunch: Mountain House pouch

Snacks: Kind bar, beef jerky

Dinner: Backpacker’s Pantry pouch
Day 5Hike to Hotel Las Torres for shuttle bus to Laguna Amarga (~3 hours). Or, hike the 11km/6.8 miles to Laguna Amarga to meet the bus to Puerto Natales. Breakfast: oatmeal and tea/instant coffee and whatever’s left in bag.

Lunch: leftovers or quick lunch at Hotel Las Torres

My helpful links to book your travel here

3 thoughts on “Patagonia, Chile – W Trek (at Torres del Paine)

  1. Hi, Patty. Caleb and I just got back from Chile.  What a trip!  Torres del Paine was fabulous.  However, a few things were different from what we expected… The park entrance fee is now supposed to be paid online in advance.  There is bad internet service at the entrance, so it has to be taken care of before hand.  They did not want to accept our cash payments, but Caleb was able to use his Spanish skills and power of persuasion to take care of that issue.  It would have been difficult to manage if you are not fluent in the language! We also found out the hard way, that in spite of what we had read, the ferry from Pudeto to Refugio Paine Grande only goes once a day at 10:00 am.  So, that presents some logistical problems.  You have to spend the night before in Puerto Natales to catch the early morning bus, but getting to Puerto Natales from the US isn’t easy.  Most of the flights from DFW to Santiago are overnighters, so you get to Santiago in the early morning.  Going through customs and covid screening took us 3 hours.  You could book a flight in the afternoon to Punta Arenas, but from there it’s still a 3 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales.  I don’t know if the bus schedule would even allow you to get there at night, but if you could, you would be totally exhausted (and hungry and grumpy) by the time you got there, and then you have to get back to the bus station by 7:00 the next morning.  An easier option might be to just rest and spend the first night at the Holiday Inn on the airport property in Santiago.  It’s less than 100 yards from the terminal.  Rooms are reasonable and they have a nice restaurant. Next day you can fly to Punta Arenas and then get the bus to Puerto Natales. Italiano campsite was closed (which we already knew), so we stayed at Frances.  They do not have a refugio there, but plenty of hot water, showers, restrooms. I would definitely recommend renting tents, mattresses, and sleeping bags at each campsite.  For us it was worth the extra expense to save us from carrying that gear, and it was really nice to arrive and have everything ready.  As you mentioned, you want to have a hard copy of your reservation.  I had to show mine at 2 campsites because their system didn’t show us having reservations. If I go back again, I would seriously consider going without a camp stove and fuel.  Each of the campsites had plenty of really hot water for rehydrating our meals.  You would have to plan your meals carefully, but it’s definitely an option. And last, but definitely not least, you have to plan ahead to get into Chile.  Covid requirements are quite stringent.  At this point, you have to register your vaccinations with the government, and get the pase de movilidad before departure.  I expect things will change in the future, but for now… Hope this information is helpful! Best regards,Blair

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Blair! Thanks so much for the updated info – I’ll modify it in my W Trek post. So sorry that the Covid procedures were so difficult. Sounds like you all had a fantastic trip though! Thanks again! All my best, Patty

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