When heading to Patagonia, hiking the W in Torres Del Paine National Park is a must do. We jumped on the bandwagon and hit the trails for a few days of adventure. Oh my, what an adventure it was! The Patagonia weather tested us in ways we didn’t expect… but I guess that’s what makes it the incredible adventure it is!
There are two popular hikes, the “W” & the “O”. The W is the shorter of the two taking 4-5 days to complete, while the O takes about 9 days. We chose the W for a number a reasons, but mostly because carrying 9 days of food just seemed like too much preparation.
Here’s what you need to know about hiking the W:
BEFORE YOU GO
There are daily info sessions (11am & 3pm at the time of writing) at Erratic Rock Hostel, near the centre of town. These are worth attending and super informative. They get busy in high season… arrive early.
Unless you’re doing A LOT of hiking on your trip or particularly enjoy lugging around a tent and sleeping bag (erm, no thanks), you’ll need to hire gear. Erratic Rock do rentals and also have a very handy “free” bin where other travellers can leave their unwanted gear. We got some free gas canisters and sleeping mats (yay!). Most other hostels also rent gear – just be sure to check it thoroughly before heading to the mountains (no one likes a leaky tent, no one!). Here’s what we spent on our hire (daily rates):
- Tent: 4500 pesos
- Sleeping Bag: 3000 pesos
- Sleeping Mat: 1000 pesos (we scored ours free, but this was the rate advertised)
- Stove: 1300 pesos
- Cooking Kit: 800 pesos
Getting to & from the park
There are daily buses which cost 15,000 pesos return. Most hostels will sell tickets, however they can also be purchased from the bus terminal on the edge of town. Park entrance costs 21,000 pesos.
YES, YOU NEED THESE. And yes, you need booked well in advance, especially for high season. Without a booking, you won’t be allowed to enter the park. There are free sites run by Conaf & privately owned ones run by FantisticoSur. Both can be booked online.
There is a big supermarket in town that stocks everything you’ll need. There are also some smaller local places which have cheaper options (for fruit etc). Here is what we took for 5 days (for 2 people):
- BREAKFAST: 1 x pack of instant oats / 1 x pack of powered milk / 2 x pack of raisins / instant coffee
- LUNCH: 2 x bread rolls / 2 x sticks of salami / 1 x 8 pack of tortillas / 1 x pack of cheese slices / 2 x cans of tuna
- SNACKS: 4 x nectarines / 1 x block of chocolate / 4 x bananas / 1 x pack of biscuits / 6 x boiled eggs
- DINNER: 2 x packs of thin pasta / 4 x powered soup
Day 1. PAINE GRANDE → GREY
We caught the bus from Puerto Natales to Pudeto (stopping at Laguna Amarga to sign into the park). We then got the catamaran (18,000 pesos) from Pudeto across Lake Pehoe to Paine Grande. From there, we started our first hike to the Grey Glacier campsite.
The hike itself is about 8km, and a lot of it is downhill. We were actually pleasantly surprised (and a little relieved) by how easy we found it. If the weather permits, go for a walk to the Grey Glacier lookout for sunset… It was so incredible watching the afternoon sun sparkling off the glacier while icebergs floated by.
Day 2. GREY → ITALIANO
We woke up early, ate, packed up our tent and set off back to Paine Grande. Obviously, being the reverse of yesterday it was mostly uphill, but again we surprised ourselves and managed the hills OK. The views are just as impressive the second time around!
From Paine Grande we continued onto Campamento Italiano. It was a beautiful walk. The jaggared, snow-capped mountains and impossibly blue lakes took our breath away. It was truly stunning. We arrived at camp mid-afternoon and spent the remaining hours of daylight sitting by the river and just staring in awe at the mountains and glaciers above us.
Day 3. ITALIANO → FRANCES
The weather had definitely turned on day 3. I woke up to the unsettling “splash” as I rolled over in my tent & realised it was flooding. We packed up our soaking gear in the pouring rain (sigh). Luckily we could leave our bags at Italiano while we hiked to the Britanico lookout. It felt incredible to hike without the heavy packs!
Despite the drizzle and the fog, the hike was beautiful. In between the clouds, we caught glimpses of the mountains. They are truly epic. The rumbles of the glaciers and the howl of the wind made it feel all the more wild. The weather also kept a lot of others in their tents, so we had the path to ourselves.
Once back at Italiano, we picked up our packs and headed to Campamento Frances. The drizzle eased off in the afternoon, and we had some time to try and dry out our gear ahead of the big hike tomorrow.
TIP: Definitely stay at Frances, not Los Cuernos. Although Los Cuernos breaks up the distances more evenly, you will need to sell your first born to afford a campsite here!
Day 4. FRANCES → BASE DE LAS TORRES
The rain that had cleared yesterday afternoon had come back with a vengeance. We woke early to the sound of big droplets pummelling our tent. Resigned to the fact is was going to be another wet day, we ate our porridge, donned our headlamps, packed our soaking gear, and headed out into the wilderness.
The hike was long and challenging. Glacial creeks had now turned into fast-flowing, thigh-deep rivers, which made crossing the freezing water all the more tricky. Jase had hurt his knee and I had to make hiking poles out of fallen branches to help him out. We got bogged in mud and slipped on rocks – all the while the torrential rain continued. Despite being very cold and very wet, we were still determined when we reached the Chileno campground.
After hour of walking we stumbled across a small sign saying “trailed closed”. We stared blankly and thought “what do you mean, CLOSED?!”. Eventually one of the staff explained there was a swollen river that was chest high and too dangerous to cross up ahead.
We were gutted. Our campsite we had booked was another 1.5hrs hike along that trail! Luckily, we were the first of MANY hikers to arrive at Chileno with no place to sleep, so we managed to negotiate ourselves a campsite. Lots of others weren’t so lucky! After a hot shower and a cup of tea, we sat around and tried to see the funny side of what had been a very challenging day.
DAY 5. TORRES.
Despite the weather, we were still hopeful that perhaps we’d be able to see the Torres. Cold, tired and little demoralised, we hiked (or limped, in Jase’s case) up toward the summit. Through the drizzle and low fog, I remained ever hopeful I would catch a glimpse of the famous mountain. Unfortunately, there was a snowstorm at the top, and we couldn’t see even a few meters ahead. So, watching the sunrise over the Torres wasn’t meant to be for us!
We grabbed out gear and hiked all the way back down the muddy trail to the Torres hotel. We were VERY much looking forward to a well earned beer when we arrived at the 5 star hotel. Sadly, on this particular day the hotel had decided they didn’t want dirty trekkers in their bar (ouch!). Since the shuttle to Laguna Amarga wasn’t leaving for another couple of hours, we decided to save our money and do the extra 7.5km hike out of the park (in hindsight, I wouldn’t do this again!).
As we waited for the bus, the clouds started clearing. We sat watching the beautiful mountains appear as a condor flew overhead. We stared in awe at the mountains that we had spent the last five days hiking and although they hadn’t always been kind to us, it was hard to stay mad. In a way, we feel like to see Torres Del Paine so wild, windswept and brutal really was an”authentic” experience. We definitely learnt a lot!
So there you have it… It wasn’t all smooth sailing, but it was a truly incredible (and character building) experience that we won’t soon forget. And you know what, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat!