Zermatt, Switzerland

Things to do in winter in Zermatt:

When in Zermatt you actually feel immersed in all that is Switzerland. Zermatt is a well-kept Alpine village surrounded by majestic mountains with warm, traditional Swiss chalets abound. Narrow, windy roads are easily walkable throughout this relaxed and comfortable community. My experience was in winter (February), and I found Zermatt to be appealing for both outdoor adventurists and for those who would like more of a relaxing/sightseeing trip.

For places to stay check out VRBO, Hotels.com, Booking.com, or Travelocity.com. Budget travelers – check out Hotel Adonis. Perfect location and so much more (additional info below).

I have observed that, unlike in the United States, people at Zermatt will utilize the ski lifts (gondolas and trains) to go up to the summits (Gornergrat or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise) to take in the views, eat in the restaurants or shop and then take the gondola back down the mountain. There are not only skiers and hikers on the gondolas.

How to Get to Zermatt

The Swiss make it super easy to travel within their beautiful, picturesque country. Fly into Zürich and just hop on the train at the airport – easily follow the signs both in Swiss-German and in English. Purchase a ticket at the kiosk (near the train) or use an app on your mobile device for the ~3.5 hour trip to get to Zermatt. The SBB mobile app is my app of choice in Switzerland as it gives the platform (track) number of the train. There will be at least one change of trains going to Zermatt and, on many occasions, there are only 5-6 minutes to change trains, so knowing the platform number in advance is helpful. Purchase a ticket as either a full day pass (no times are on it) or for the exact time of the train you’d like to get on which is a little less expensive. No need to validate the ticket at the station – the conductor will check the ticket on the train. Also it is best to purchase tickets ahead of time as the closer it gets to the date of travel the more expensive the ticket seems to get. 

Tip: The luggage cart (trolley) is free at the Zürich airport and can be pushed right down to the train. I have even seen people take the cart onto the train; although, I’m not sure if this is actually allowed.

Snowshoeing, Hiking, Downhill Skiing or Sightseeing in the Mountains in Zermatt

The Gornergrat train is a beautiful cogwheel mountain train that lifts riders up on a 4,900 foot journey (33 minutes) from Zermatt up to the mountain ridge of Gornergrat to begin skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, gazing from the observation points, dining at the restaurant, shopping or checking into the hotel. Beautiful views, at 10,285′, of the Matterhorn and Gorner Glacier await the passengers at the upper station. To get there take the train from Gornergrat train station (everywhere is walkable in Zermatt) which is right across from Zermatt train station to purchase a ticket on the train up the mountain.

Tip: When on the Gornergrat train – sit on right side, and you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the Matterhorn! You will go through a few other brief stops at other stations – wait to disembark at Gornergrat (last) station.

To downhill ski, start your trek right there when you exit the Gornergrat train.

To hike or snowshoe, stay on the left side of the ski slope/”piste” on the same slope as the skiers. If you are snowshoeing, at this point, you can either stay on the edge of the slopes, or you can go through the deeper snow off to the sides of the slopes. There will soon be deeper snow to traipse through – stay patient. After you get to the Rotenboden tiny station, go under the bridge and stay hard left to follow the pink arrow to Riffelberg. This is a hikers’ trail. (Sign is in photo collage above.)

After the bridge, while you’re on the “hiker only” trail, just go off the trail and trudge through the glorious sparkly snow and up and down the hills with a view of the Matterhorn and gorgeous mountains all around you! (Only go off trail if you are wearing snowshoes – the snow is way too deep for hiking boots only.)

To continue snowshoeing follow the pink poles which will take you through the deep snow but within view of the hiking trail. The Riffelberg station comes too soon. Then you must take the train (gorgeous views again) back to Zermatt. 

Downhill Skiing in Zermatt

Zermatt is a downhill skiers’ paradise. Miles and miles of groomed ski slopes/”pistes” with options for off-piste skiing. Even the gondolas to get you to the pistes are beautiful and include many interconnections to get skiers from one side of the mountain to the other with the option to even ski to Italy. The map of the ski pistes is available pretty much everywhere in the village.

To start your downhill ski day: walk (there are lots of skiers walking the streets in ski boots) or bus to the Matterhorn Glacier Express enclosed lift/gondola. To reach the summit, at 12,740 feet, will take approximately an hour. At the Furi station change lifts to Schwarszee. At the Schwarszee station change lifts to Trockener Steg to the very top of “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” (also called: Klein Matterhorn). At the top you’ll find ski slopes (“pistes”) as well as lookout areas, restaurants, shops and amazing views of the Alps including those in Italy and France! This is where the large wooden cross is located. Then start skiing down while utilizing the map to get to a variety of pistes as well as aprés ski locations! (Alternatively, the gondola also goes back down for those who do not wish to ski.)

Nordic/Cross Country Skiing near Zermatt

Although there are no Nordic ski trails/tracks right in Zermatt, the Swiss make it so easy to hop on the train (12 minutes) to Täsch and rent Nordic skis right in the Täsch train station. The grooved cross country ski tracks, for “classic” Nordic skiing, are right outside the door of the station with pretty views of the surrounding mountains and the Matterhorn in the distance. The soundtrack to the cross country ski experience is the babbling river near the train tracks. The area is mostly flat, so it’s suitable for beginner Nordic classic skiers. There are also trails alongside the tracks for skate skiers. 

To get there from the Zermatt train station take the “Zermatt Shuttle” train to Täsch. It’s the train on the far left track. You can buy a ticket at the kiosk or at the manned booth. Again, it’s just one quick 12 minute station away. The ski rental store is located within the train station with reasonable rates for boots, skis and poles. There are lockers (2 CHF) within the station if you need to store your stuff.

Hiking from Zermatt to Z’mutt

The scenic ~5 mile round-trip hike to the hamlet of Z’Mutt is well worth every step. The path wanders through forests and meadows with Swiss huts sprinkled in while majestic mountains surround you. The Matterhorn grows larger in your view as you hike closer to the hamlet of Z’Mutt. Bonus: When reaching Z’Mutt you are transported back in time into a quiet, tiny village with sturdy huts huddled close together and a central church. The adorable mountain restaurant/cafe at Z’Mutt has rave reviews; however, it’s closed one day – Monday (the day that I went). 🙁 Even so, their patio was a fabulous place to sit and soak in the views.

Begin your hike from Schwarzsee cable car station in Zermatt. Walk directly across the street from the station and take the set of stairs going down to cross the pedestrian bridge over the river. (It took me 10 minutes to find the stairs, but they are right there – in plain sight!) Once you are at the road, turn left then stay to the right side of the median through the bus stop lot. The path will soon turn into a hiking path with a gradual ascent all the way up to Z’Mutt. There is one Y with a pink signage (photo above) – just stay to the right. I took this same trail back. An alternative route is to take the road.

Budget Accommodations in Zermatt

Hotel Adonis is where I stayed on my Zermatt adventure. Although it is a budget hotel, it is in a perfect location to both the main strip and ski lifts (walkable in ski boots to Schwarzsee cable car station), super clean, full of amenities with beautiful Swiss architecture. I can’t say enough good things about it. The lobby area included a reasonably priced and well-stocked bar with tables, chairs, and couches to hang out in. There is a ski room downstairs with a separate entrance to store skis and hang boots on a heater overnight. A delicious buffet breakfast was served every morning (pay for it when booking hotel – it’s less than paying each day). There is also a microwave, tea kettle and tableware available if you’d like to eat in your room. 

Transportation in Zermatt:

Zermatt is car free but has many electric taxis to cart you from the train station to the hotel (if you packed heavy items like skis) or if you’d just like a ride. Although most of the town is pretty much accessible by foot. There are also a few electric buses. A note of caution – the electric taxis seem to have the right of way. It is shocking how fast they zip no matter who is on the side of the narrow streets – kids, families with strollers, no exceptions. When you hear that electric buzz – seriously get out of the road. 

Eating in Zermatt:

If you are a budget traveler then you can most likely get away with breakfast at the hotel, an appetizer during your après ski time, and dinner. If you love pizza then the North Wall Bar Pizza is exceptional. They’re tossing the dough right there in the seating area which stirs the appetite and the taste is worth the short wait. The raclette (a yummy native Swiss dish consisting of gooey cheese and such (photo on right in block above) was delicious at Weisshorn Restaurant. Hotel Adonis’s sister hotel, Hotel Jägerhof, offers a ton of food for reasonable prices.

Traveling from Zermatt to Zürich

If traveling back to Zürich for the flight out the next day, staying at the Holiday Inn Express near the Zürich airport is your best bet. The hotel rate is extremely reasonable, it’s exceptionally clean with a restaurant and bar, and there’s a frequent and free shuttle from the airport. It’s also just a 10 minute walk to the Rümlang train station for an afternoon trip into downtown Zürich.

An afternoon in Downtown Zürich, Switzerland:

From Rümlang station take the train to Zürich HB station and head in the direction of the water (Limmat River). Cross the river and head south toward Zürich old town where there’s culture and history as well as restaurants and shops right along the river’s edge and up through the alleyways. That area of Zürich has a very safe feel, even on weeknights in the dead of winter, there were a lot of people out dining and enjoying the night. 

An afternoon in Bern, Switzerland:

A different option is to stop in the historic and beautiful city of Bern on your way back to Zürich. The train will pass through this city – just get off. There are lockers at the train station to store your luggage for a small fee. I hadn’t planned this stop, so I just got off the train and started walking. The city had a lovely, warm feel to it. I passed the Medieval Clock Tower, cruised over to the Bear Pit, strolled along the river and filled up my water bottle in the fountains lining the street.

Helpful links to book your travel here

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

A step-by-step guide on how to travel to Patagonia and hike the W-trek

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 this terrain in 5 glorious days.

How to Hike the W Trek, Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Are you ready to hike the W Trek at Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile? If you are up for an adventure at the bottom of the world with interesting and new landscapes at every turn, then the W trek 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, and the three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range. Total of about 50 miles of beautiful hiking.

October through April is the ideal time frame to visit this beautiful region and hike the W trek.

Ahead of time: You must make reservations at the campsites (even for tent camping and free camps) and book way in advance. Bring a printed confirmation with you. (Note that there are several refugios in the park, which are similar to hostels, if you’d like a bed and a real roof over your head.)

For the W trek, I reserved at the following campsites in this order:

Camp Grey (paid campsite)

Camp Italiano (free) [update: closed in 2023+] Good alternative: Camp Frances

Camp at Los Cuernos (paid campsite which offers meals – recommended!- and has showers and free 5 minutes of internet)

Camp Torres (free) [update: closed]. Good alternative: Camp Chileno

(2023 update: A good tip is to book campsites at: Camp Gray, Camp Los Cuernos and Camp Chileno first – then you can adapt on first and last days as needed – spending another night at one of the camps if needed.)

*The camp availability changes often with each season. Some have been closed for repairs.

The entrance fee to Torres de Paine national park should be paid in advance.

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 – keep it!!) 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.

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.

How to get to Torres del Paine

Options for getting there:

Flight(s): I flew to Santiago, Chile, and then took a ~3 hour flight to Punta Arenas.

Taxi/Shuttle to downtown Puerto Natales: 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).

Bus to Puerto Natales: 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.

Puerto Natales Bus Depot: 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. Secure a reservation. There are typically 2 buses per day – one in the early morning and one in the afternoon. Then walk to your local hotel (book ahead of time).

Hotel in Puerto Natales: 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.

Equipment Rental: Erratic Rock is a store/hostel right in Puerto Natales and offers rentals for all the hiking stuff 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.

up to date map here

Day by day Hiking and Camping on the W Trek, Torres del Paine Chile

Day 1:

Bus to Laguna Amarga:

The next morning start off on the first bus 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 and show your paid entrance. Entrance fee should be paid in advance (CLP 39,000/US$49 – as of 2023). (No advance booking needed for buses or catamaran.) Buses are timed with the catamaran departures at Pudeto.

Catamaran at Pudeto to Refugio Paine Grande

The 45-minute catamaran at Pudeto brings passengers across the spectacular Lago Pehoé (a 45 minute ride) to start the trek. Reservations are not available. The boat drops off at Refugio Paine Grande (where you can book ahead to stay in their hostel and/or dine at their restaurant).

Hike to Refugio/Camp Grey:

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. 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/Camp Grey.

Day 2:

Hike to Campamento Italiano: [closed]. Hike to Camp Frances

This trek is a backtrack toward Refugio Paine Grande. 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 Camp Frances (~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 Camp Frances, set up camp.

Hike to Valle Francés/Mirador Británico:

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:

Hike to Los Cuernos

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:

Hike to Campamento Torres [closed] Hike to Camp Chileno

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 is about a 5 hour hike to Camp Chileno.

Day 5:

3 peaks of Torres del Paine

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.)

Shuttle at Hotel Las Torres to Laguna Amarga

Afterward, pack up camp (be sure to note checkout time) and head toward the Hotel Las Torres to take the shuttle bus to Laguna Amarga for a nominal fee. (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
blow up pillow
phone charger & backup charger
electric adapter 
rain poncho
quick drying towel
plastic bags for wet stuff
water purifier
1st aid: moleskin, band-aids, ibuprofen, cold meds
small shampoo & conditioner
toothbrush & toothpaste
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

PASSPORT (plus migration paper from airport)
hiking boots
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

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

Suggested quicktripadventures Itinerary to Hike the W Trek Torres del Paine Chile:

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)

*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 Camp Frances

Set up camp: Camp Frances

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 Frances 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 Frances and gather backpack.

Hike to Los Cuernos.
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 Camp Chileno (~4-5 hours)

Set up camp:
Camp 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. 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

My travel guide in a nutshell

Hi, I’m Patty.

I love to travel and to plan travel!

On this site I’m sharing 3-5 day budget-conscious itineraries for adventures in exciting places around the globe. My intention is to make it easier for you to see all the good stuff. I’ve planned it (again, planning is my jam) and traveled there and hope to make it effortless for you! No more hours spent researching yourself. All the highlights of the destination, including cities/towns and outdoor activities, are on this site.

On this blog I'm sharing 3-5 day budget-conscious itineraries for adventures in exciting places around the globe. My intention is to make it easier for you to see all the good stuff.

Check out my destinations link to help you decide where you’re headed in this beautiful world of ours.

Check out my itineraries link to help you plan each day to hit all the must-dos of each destination.

I hope my experiences will help you enjoy your quick trip adventures as much as I do!