How to plan the W Trek

So you’ve seen the incredible photos of the Torre del Paine National park and now you want to experience it for yourself? Well here’s how to get started!

Training

You will require some level of fitness to compete the trek. It would be worthwhile to go on several long-distance day hikes (mininum 10km) in your backpack, especially in a hilly area. Most injuries occur going downhilll with the most common complaint being knee pain, so make sure you practice downhill walking (with or without walking poles depending on your prefernce).

Packing

packing

We carried approximately 7-8kg each in our 23L Lowe Alpine Airzone backpacks.

Essentials

  • Hiking shoes (not trainers)
  • 2 x hiking socks
  • Hiking trousers/tights
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Tshirt
  • Thermal top and bottom
  • Underwear
  • Toiletries
  • Confirmation vouchers for accommodation
  • Passport
  • Cash (pesos) for snacks
  • Sleeping bag
  • Tent (if applicable)
  • Sandals/flip-flops
  • 1L drinking bottle
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Travel towel
  • Gloves
  • Beanie
  • Camera
  • Headtorch
  • Phone and charger

Optional

  • Hiking poles
  • Snacks
  • Camera accessories
  • Waterproof overtrousers
  • Swiss army knife

How to book

vertice

This is the painful part. There are two companies which run the 4 main refugios/campsites; Vertice Patagonia & Fantastico Sur. In order of the journey, the accommodations are:

1. Grey Lodge (Vertice Patagonia)

2. Paine Grande Lodge (Vertice Patagonia)

3. Los Cuernos Lodge (Fantastico Sur)

4. Chileno Lodge (Fantastico Sur)

In all locations you will have the options of refugios (hostels) or campsites. Of course some people prefer to do the W Trek in the opposite site and at other campsites along the way, this guide is discussing the most common option.

The tricky part about booking is noone ever knows what time of year to start booking. If you trawl through travel forums, you will find that people have been told by officials the websites will be open officially for booking anytime from April-July. If the booking system isn’t open, you will find that when you go on either website to book, it will say ‘Sold out’ for all dates, which just means they haven’t reset the website for the new treking season. I started checking the websites daily from April and became frustrated so I sent about 6-7 emails to both companies requesting to book for specific dates I had in mind. All up it took about 3 months for my bookings to be finalized by email. We’ve met some other travellers who had to contact the companies via social media as they didn’t receive email responses. So my recommendation is, if the websites aren’t up by early April, start emailing repeatedly!

Now when it comes to actually booking, you can chose Full Board (breakfast, lunch, dinner included) or to bring your own meals. As for the accommodation, your options are:

– Refugio (bunk beds):

Simple/basic bed = mattress + pillow, you must bring your own sleeping bag

Made-up bed = pillow + blanket + bed sheets included

– Campsite:

Basic – you bring your own tent

Premium – they provide the tent, sleeping and sleep mat

Once you have confirmed your selection, they will send you a voucher with the details of your booking. Make sure your print out the booking confirmation voucher and bring it with you.

A few months before your trek, they will debit the money from your account in US dollars.

Getting there

There is no direct way to get to Torre del Paine. The most common route involves:

– Flying from Santiago to Punta Arenas

– Taking a bus directly from Punta Arenas Airport to Puerta Natales (3 hours) (cannot buy tickets on the bus, must pre-book this online at http://www.ric….)

– Finally taking a bus from Puerta Natales bus terminal to Torre del Paine

Buy a bus ticket from the bus terminal in Puerta Natales to Torre del Paine. Most buses will depart at 7am and will stop at two points: Laguna Amarga and Pudeta (explained further below). It is worthwhile also booking a return ticket also, which is usually an open retun allowing you to take a bus back at any schedule time. The first return time (from Laguna Amarga) for most buses is at 2:30pm except for BusSur which departs at 1:30pm. All bus companies will also have a return time at approximately 7pm or 7:30pm.

1. Laguna Amarga – this is the first stop where you will pay for your entrance fee (21,000 CLP) and also have to register your passport details. You will also watch a short video which outline the rules of the park. Those who are completing the W Trek will get back on the bus and get off at the next stop

2. Pudeta – this is the location where the catamaran departs. Take your luggage off the bus and purchase a ticket for the catamaran (18,000 CLP or 30USD)

The catamaran usually departs at 11am (can vary) and lasts for 35 mins. All backpacks will be compiled in one area in the lower deck so try not to be one of the first ones to hand over your bags otherwise you will wait a while to get your bag back. Sit on the right side of the boat for the best views. Once you arrive you will disembark the catamaran the Paine Grande campsite and can start your trek straight away!

The Route

W Trek Map

Day 1 – Paine Grande to Grey Lodge (3.5-4.5 hours, 11km)

As you get off the catamaran dock you will see the Paine Grande Lodge. Use the toilets there, as there are no other toilets until you reach Grey Lodge. Follow the signs to Refugio Grey. The terraine is a mixture of gravel, soil, mud and rivers and can get steep at two points, however not for long distances. There are incredible viewpoints along the way of Laguna Grey and about 2.5 hours into your walk you will get your first glimpse of Glacier Grey. Once you arrive at Refugio Grey, check-in and leave your bags in your room and tent and take your camera up to the mirador (viewing point) where you can get a great view of the glacier and some icebergs, and if thr terrain is safe, the trail to the beach will also be open. This is only 10 mins from the campsite. You can also take the trail in the direction of Paso (don’t go the whole way) for 1-1.5 hours where you can get closer to the glacier, however it is uphill. Some people chose to this early in the morning on Day 2.

Day 2 – Refugio Grey to Paine Grande (3.5-4.5 hours, 11km)

It is a fairly short day so I suggest you sleep in (unless you plan to walk to Paso) and checkout at 9:30am. You will be walking back in the exact same trail as you did on Day 1, except in Day 2. Expect to arrive at Paine Grande around 2:30pm where you will have plenty of free time to wander to the lake or the lookout. More importantly you will want to use this time to rest as Day 3 is a huge one. So make sure you sleep early for the epic day you have ahead of you.

Day 3 – Paine Grande to Los Cuernos (via the French Valley)

This is by far the longest day on this trek so be prepared for a full day of hiking. Leave the campsite no later than 7.30am. You will start with a relatively easy 2 hour walk to Camparimento Italiano. If you have a large backpack, you can leave it anywhere outside the camp office and just bring your daypack for the next part. Once you are ready, follow the signs to Britanico which is a 3-4 hour strenuous uphill walk. The French Valley is stunning and pictuesque almost the entire day. It becomes very steep as you get closer to the peak, but once you reach the Britanico peak, you will get rewarded with a 360 degree view of the valley and surrounding mountains. This is the perfect spot for lunch. Once you’re ready, make your way down which will take between 2-3 hours. Pick up your bags from Campariemento Italiano and continue your journey to Los Cuernos (2-2.5 hours). This part is not technically very difficult but will feel long, mainly due to your fatigue. Once you reach the point where you are walking on the beach, you are only 10-15 minutes away!

Day 4 – Los Cuernos to Chileno Lodge (5.5-6.5 hours)

Whilst no where near as long as Day 3, don’t think that this is a walk in the park. For some reason this part of the trail is quite poorly marked and requires you to cross through quite a lot of rivers and swamps. So be prepared to get your socks and shoes wet! After about 3.5 hours into the walk, follow the ‘Shortcut to Chileno’ sign. If you reach a point where the path forks and there is marker, do no take the very steep stone scree hill on the left, this is not a path. Once you arrive at Chileno, ask the staff to prepare a breakfast box for you, so you take it with you for the sunrise walk the following morning, as you will not make it in time for breakfast at the lodge if you decide to do this walk. Otherwise get to bed early, for the earliest start on this trek the next morning.

Day 5 – Chileno Lodge to Mirador Las Torres to Las Torres Hotel (7-8hours)

The final day has arrived – congratulations on making it this far. Check-out at the lodge is at 10am for campers and 9:30am for the refugio, so you can leave all your heavy bags behind if you stick to this schedule. Just make sure you grab your breakfast box in the dining room, some snacks, headtorch, camera and a sleeping bag to keep you warm whilst you are up there.

Leave the campsite at 4am. The journey will take you between 2-2.5 hours but will be steep almost the entire way. It will be pretty dark once you leave your campsite so make sure you continue to follow the markets. Once you reach the Torres campsite (1.5-2hours), you will be stick to the left of the admin hut after which you will see the final steep climb ahead (30mins-1hour). When you reach the top, find yourself a cosy spot facing the Torres, pull out your sleeping bag and enjoy your breakfast, you’ve earnt it! It will be pretty cold staying still up there so most people will only stay for about 30 minutes.

Start heading down back to Chileno no later than 8am (if you haven’t checked out yet). From Chileno down to the final stop (Las Torres Hotel) is about 2 hours so you really can take your time here. The first 30 minutes is a steep uphill with the remainder a steep downhill.

Once you reach the hotel (red building), pop into the bar for a drink and to admire the triangular window with the incredible view of the mountain. Once you’re done you will have to walk about 15 minute following the road veering to your right once you see the signs to Puerta Natales. Eventually you will see two oddly shaped glass buildings, the larger one on the left is the Welcome Centre where you can purchase your shuttle tickets (3,000 CLP each). The shuttle will leave at 2pm and will take 20 minutes to reach the Lago Amarga gate where all the busses leaving for Puerta Natales will be waiting. If you don’t want to take the shuttle, the walk to the gate is a 7km journey along the road in complete exposure to the sun with not much to look at. So I urge you to take the shuttle unless you really enjoy walking in the desert.

Well thats a wrap, the W Trek all said and done. Good luck on the adventure that awaits and post an questions you may have in the comments section below.

Til next time

Ann & Jason

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