I’ve just come back from completing the W Trek in Torres del Paine, which was quite simply one of the best treks I’ve ever done. However, there are a number of questions I had before the trek that I wasn’t sure of and a number of things I would like to have known before starting the trek, which I’ve listed below.
We did the trek from West to East, opted only to take a small day pack with us and go fullboard in a tent at each refugio.
Do I Need to Book all of the Campsites in Advance?
Yes, Yes, and Yes!!! If you’ve done a bit of research already you’ll know that campsites in the peak season get booked up 4 – 5 months in advance so give yourself as much chance as possible to choose where you want to stay on the trek by booking early.
We met lots of people who could only do a small chunk of the trail because of this.
Usually Paine Grande and Central have availability so you could feasible go from Paine Grande to Grey and back one day, then up to Britanico and back the next day, then take the ferry back to get over to Central and do Torres on the final day.
Should I go with a Guide, a Tour or Self Hike?
Again this is totally your preference depending or your budget and who you are hiking with.
In general you don’t need a guide and it’s easy to organise the trek yourself, if you spend a litle time researching.
Should I Carry my own Tent / Food Provisions?
Personally I am now officially a lazy man and hate carrying anything more than a day pack for extended distances. I find that it really distracts from my enjoyment of a trek and is not something I’m interested in.
Because we booked into a campsite where we had full board and tents / equipment provided we didn’t need to do this and just carried a small backpack with our clothes in, which was perfect for our needs.
However, this came at a cost of about $125 a day. If you’re on a tigter budget then you can still absolutely do this without a huge problem, if you’re fit and depending on the route you take.
The beauty of the W Trek is that for most of the tough climbs (Glacier Grey, Britanico and Torres) you just leave your main backpack at the bottom of the slope and hike up with a smaller bag. This means you can get away with only carrying your main bag on one of the 4 days, which is relatively flat as well.
If you carry all of your camping kit and food as well, this will hugely reduce the cost for you.
However, if you’ve got a bit more money, and like hiking with others in a group then there are plenty of tour operators who will take the hassle away from you, and can be easily arranged in Puerto Natales.
We also met one lady who hired a guide for 8 days to do the O Circuit, but she was on her own so this wasn’t a bad idea, and of course the guide offers immense value by pointing out all the flora and fauna that you may otherwise not know about.
We did actually meet one girl who didn’t have a reservation for the second night of the trek, so she went to Camping Italiano and asked if there were any cancellations. Somehow she managed to blag her way in a got to stay there for a night, but I’d really advise against this as it’s a long walk out of the park if you have nowhere to stay!
What Clothing Should I Bring with Me?
Well, it’s Patagonia so most likely you’re going to have sunshine, rain, clouds and mind numbing wind to contend with all within the space of an hour.
My main advice would be to make sure you have enough layers that you can easily switch in and out of, including:
- Quick Dry undershirt
- Middle layer
- Good quality fleece
- Waterproof trousers
Personally I hiked with the above as well as an extra lightweight puffer jacket on the day treks and a change of Tshirt/light trousers.
Whatever you do, you’re going to smell at the end of the trek, and the condors aren’t particularly into fashion, so just wear the same clothes for the entire trek and get on with it…
A couple of tips we were given before we went were not to bother with a rain cover for your backpack as the noise it makes flapping in the wind will irritate the hell out of you after a while and it is very unlikely to keep your bag dry in Patagonian conditions anyway.
Instead he recommended placing your kit in bin liners inside of your bag, so that the outside of your bag just gets wet. He also advocated not taking waterproof clothing as he’d just hike in one set of clothes that would get wet and bring a nice dry set to change into at the end of each day, but I’m not sure I could face trekking in wet clothes all day myself if it rained.
Which Direction should I do the W-Trek? East to West or West to East?
On the trek we met a split of about 50/50 going in each direction and all with slightly different routes. A lot of the routes (including ours)
were decided by the availability of campsites rather than the optimal route to take.
To be honest I don’t think there’s a huge amount of difference in the direction you take, however, I always like to have a destination/summit at the end of a trek and the main attraction are the Torres, which is why I’d have a preference for going from West to East and summiting the Torres on the last day.
Walking the W Trek from East to West
If you go this route then you do the tough walk up to the Torres on the first day of your hike and unless you stay an extra night at Chileno you won’t be able to make the sunrise.
If you have a big pack then the toughest day will be the next day where you’ll be carrying your big bag for the longest amount of time to get to either Frances or Italiano, which is a 6 – 7 hour hike along the lake.
You’ll also have 2 more tough days on Day 3 and 4 where you hike up to Britanico and Glacier Grey (both about 6-7 hours there and back) although most of this will just be with your day pack unless you’re staying an extra night at Glacier Grey.
Walking the W Trek from West to East
The walk up to the Grey Glacier and back on the first day was actually quite a long day, although totally worth it.
For me the best views and highlight of the trip was going up to the Glacier and seing the crazy colours on the lake. Because we left at midday we had to get a move on and didn’t have as much time as I’d have wanted at the Glacier. It also meant we couldn’t walk to the hanging bridges, which were meant to be awesome. One option would be to book a night at the Grey Refugio, but this is very popular, so you’ll need to book in advance.
Day 2 involves the walk from Paine Grande all the way up to Britanico and down to Italiano or Frances. This is another pretty tough day and whilst the views at the top of Britanico give you a 360 panaroma of the Torres and mountains, you can get a very similar view from the valley below.
Day 3 involves walking to Paine Grande, which was meant to be a lot easier as it is flat and along the lake. However, don’t be fooled as this is quite a long day as well.
Getting up to the summit on the final day is really an experience as well as you are rewarded with a great view of the Torres (weather permitting) poking up out of the lake.
What is the Terrain like?
Be prepared for lots of ascents and descents throughout the hike. Only one stretch of the hike along the lake is ‘relatively’ flat.
Most of the time you’ll need to be watching your feet as you’ll be walking on paths with stones/tree roots sticking out of them, small boulders and tiny streams to walk in.
It’s going to be pretty hard going so make sure you have a hardy pair of shoes/walking boots and find yourself a good stick.
Are the Walking Times Accurate?
We walked with a small backpack and stopped to take lots of photos and the times were pretty accurate for us.
Remember you want to leave yourself enough time to take breaks, enjoy the views and take a few snaps so always allow for a bit more than the allocated times.
Should I Take Hiking Poles?
I’ve never been a big fan of hiking poles in the past but after twisting my knee at the end of the first day, they would have been a massive benefit and I think essential if you’re carrying a big pack.
There are lots of steep descents and they will really save you a lot of discomfort on your knees if you have them. In the end I found a great stick that was my saviour and got me around the last 3 days of the trek, but a pair of hiking poles would have really come in handy too!
Are the Paths Clearly Marked?
Most of the time we found the paths to be really easy to follow and there are plenty of maps around.
We made a couple of wrong turns but generally you will see either a post or a splash of paint on a rock / tree which indicates you’re on the right path.
The rules are simple, if you don’t see one of these markings for a while then retrace your steps until you do.
That being said, there were people attempting to hike in the dark in order to see sunrise, which isn’t allowed, and personally I wouldn’t have liked to have done the trek in the dark as the paths would be a lot harder to find.
How Crowded will it be?
We went at the start of March, which is still just about high season and to be honest it wasn’t as bad as I had heard about.
Yes, you will get annoyed by people not letting you get passed them and yes, you will get annoyed with people trying to get passed you but if you start with the mind that you’re not going to be out there on your own then you should be ok.
The only part for me where it felt too overcrowded and touristy was when we were up at the Torres where people were queieing (myself included) to get selfies and photos from the best spots, but I guess that’s kind of unavoidable as well.
How do I get to the Park?
There are 2 entrances to the park. If you start in the West you will need to get a bus to Pudeto and in the East to Laguna Amarga.
Tickets cost $15000 CLP return, however, you should try and book your tickets a few days in advance if you can especially in the high season.
There are 2 or 3 different companies running, so make sure you plan your trip so that you can leave at the time you want.
For example we booked via our hostel onto a company called Gomez who don’t have an early morning bus back, which meant we had to pay an extra transfer on the way out. It was only a few dollars, but could be a bit of a pain if you can’t get onto another bus at the time that you want.
Another tip is if you have a few hours to kill at Laguna Amarga there is a nice flora and fauna trail you can do, where you’ll see loads of Guanaco and maybe a Puma.
Do You Need to Buy Park Tickets in Advance?
No, you don’t and the only option is to buy them when you enter the park for $20000 CLP
Do You Need to Take Your Own Water / Water Tablets?
No, the water from the streams on all of the routes is probably the cleanest you’ll get in the whole country as it’s often coming direct from the glaciers.
The campsites also have taps to refill your bottles so no need to spend out on filters/tablets.
Are there any Rubbish Bins on the Trail?
No, the simple rule is that anything you bring into the camp, you need to bring out of the camp as well, apart from toilet paper, which is provided in the campsites.
Where can I find a Reliable Weather Forecast for the W-Trek?
The short answer is that you can’t. Try 5 different weather sites and you will get 5 different weather forecasts.
For example before we went the weather forecast showed that it would be up to -5 at night and raining the whole time, whereas the weather we actually got was 4 days of sunshine and clear skies:
Locals say that the only people asking for weather forecasts are the tourists, because the locals just prepare for all different kinds of weather instead.. it is Patagonia after all.
However, on the trek itself most of the campsites will have a weather / visiblity forecast for the next day, which is probably your best source of information.
What was the Campsite Food Like?
- Breakfast – was a standard South American breakfast of bread, jam, cheese and ham, with some sweetened juice and Nescafe, and usually we got eggs as well.
- Lunch – includes a roll, nuts, a grain bar and a juice or orange.
- Dinner – was a 3 course meal with a soup, meat and rice and a small desert.
If I were doing the Trek again I wouldn’t bother with the packed lunch and would just take lots of nuts, dried fruits and snacks to munch on through the day.
Can I Smoke on the W Trek?
No, absolutely not given the fact that the park was nearly destroyed on 3 occassions by separate fires caused by humans. The only place you can smoke are at designated places on the campsites.
Can I Drink Alcohol at the Campsites?
Yes, there’s no rule against this and each of the campsites we went to had it’s own bar.
A beer cost about $6000 CLP and a glass of wine about $4000 CLP, apart from Central that had an offer of $7000 for a bottle of wine, which we leapt at!
Should I go to the Torres for Sunrise?
Wow, that looks amazing doesn’t it… and if you are lucky enough to get this kind of view then I congratulate you, but you may want to take a few things into consideration first of all…
If you stay at Chileno you will need to get up a couple of hours before sunrise to make it to the top in time.
If you stay at Central, then you shouldn’t even think about this as it will take you 4 hours at least, you’ll be doing it in the dark and it’s going to be dangerous. On top of this it is actually illegal to walk any of the trails when it is dark.
However, we met some people who went up one day before us, saw a glorious sunrise and came home happy.
On the day that we went up we saw lots of people coming down from the summit looking tired, wind-beaten and not particularly happy either as it had been totally cloudy.
When we arrived in the early afternoon it cleared to have a beautiful clear view of the Torres, but they wouldn’t have seen this.
Check the weather conditions at your campsite first to decide whether you want to take the risk or not.
What are the Highlights of the W-Trek?
Most of the Trek is pretty spectacular, but if I had to choose 2 highlights for the trip then it would have to be the amesome Glacier Grey and the view over Lago Grey that you get when you walk down to the Glacier.
Secondly the Torres themselves are absolutely spectacular and well worth the leg bending hike up to see them, even though there will be loads of selfie-taking tourists up there.
3 Pro Tips before Hiking the W-Trek
Attend the 3pm talk
Every day in Puerto Natales at 3 pm there is a talk at Erratic Rock, where an experienced guide will give you a detailed run down on all you need to know about both the Circuit and the W Trek.
It’s free to attend an well worth the time before you head off onto the trail.
Watch out for Rats
If you’re camping and have any food supplies with you then make sure that you hang them from a tree and that they are not accessible at ground level as it’s likely that a mouse/rat will get to them.
We even had a sealed bag of nuts inside of the tent, inside of 2 bags and some animal gnawed through the tent and the bags to get to them! The night before they even decided to eat most of my plastic water bottle, which was really stupid of them, but I guess there’s no counting for taste.
Plan your Route
Particularly if you are taking your own equipment with you you will need to properly plan out what you can feasibly achieve each day.
Check for where you can leave your big bags, times that buses arrive and depart and the distances for each day. Due to the rough terrain I wouldn’t recommend much more than 8 hours of the guide time walking each day unless you’re super fit.
You can download a full version of this map here
Our W-Trek Route
There are a myriad of different ways that you can do the W-Trek depending on your bookings, speed and fitness. The route below is the way that we took, and it provided a pretty balanced 4 days of hiking even though our legs were still pretty sore at the end of it!
Day 1 – Grey Glacier and Paine Grande
- 7 am bus from Puerto Natales to the catamaran stop ($15000 CLP return fare)
- 10:45 Catamaran to Paine Grande ($21000 CLP)
- 11:45 Check into Paine Grande and leave smaller items in the tent
- 12:00 Walk up to the Grey Glacier and back – This is approximately 8 hours there and back, with an option to walk onto the hanging bridges, which unfortunately we didn’t do as we didn’t have enough time before sunset.
Day 2 – Paine Grande to Camping Frances
After breakfast at 8am we checked out at about 9.30 and headed on the first leg of the day to Camping Italiano. This took us just over 2 hours to complete, and was fairly easy going around the side of the Lake with a bit of an incline.
During this stretch in particular you can see the full extent of the fire from 2011, which devasted 40% of the park.
For me the dead, spikey, silver trees everywhere added something to the dramatic landscape, and strangely enough gave you a better view of the lake and area around than you would have got if trees were there.
If you’re hiking with a big backpack you can leave it at Italiano and then hike up to Britanico via Valle Frances. This will take you at least 3 hours each way and the path is made up of small rocks, streams and a really steep incline.
On the way up you will hear large explosion sounds and if you look closely enough at the mountainside you will see the mini avalanches that are happening all the time.
If you’re not feeling too fit then you could stop at Mirador Frances where you get a pretty awesome view of the area as well. We walked further on up to the summit at Britanico where you get a 360 view of the back of the Torres and other mountains nearby.
The final part is pretty steep and at the top is a pretty nice place to chill out, eat your lunch and get some great selfies, but the views aren’t that much better than lower down the slope, so don’t feel so bad if you can’t make it all the way to the top.
By the end of this day my legs were really feeling it and the descent would have really been great to have some walking poles, and I really wasn’t happy at Camping Frances when I found out the restaurant was right at the bottom of yet another hill!!!
Day 3 – Camping Frances to Central
This day was meant to be the easiest day along the flat and a little shorter than the other days.
The first part of the trek heads to Camping Los Cuernos, which is a really nice (relatively) flat walk alongside the lake, over a couple of beaches.
You’re accompanied the whole way by sights of crazy dead trees again and the insanely turqouise colour of the water. This part only took us just over 1.5 hours to complete so we stopped at the campsite and had an amazing Shopp (Draft Beer) of Calafate Ale…
The next stretch to Central should have take us just over 4 hours, but we dropped a jacket on the way so had to backtrack a couple of kilometres, which just extended out day!
The highlight of the day was definitely when we dropped into a valley and had a fly pass of about 10 condors, which was just awesome.
The lowlight of the day would have been when we first got a site of Camping Central, it looked like it was only 15 minutes away, but was actually more like an hour and fifteen minutes, which really tested my aching legs!
Camping Central was a lot bigger than Frances as it’s a lot more accessible. The food was ok, but the best news was that wine was on offer for 7000 CLP…
Day 4 – Summiting Las Torres
This day is all about ups and downs again and is going to take you about 8 hours total walking time. There were a lot more people about on this day as it was a Saturday and you also get a lot of day trippers just heading up to the summit.
I found the path for this trek to be a lot better as there were less boulders and stones and you just had the steep inclines to deal with. The most difficult part was the final hour up to the summit, where you think you’ve reached the top but realise you need to scramble up a really steep path, over big boulders and slippery shale.
When we got the top the view was pretty awesome as the final cloud cleared from the third cuerno and we had a completely clear view (apart from the scores of people taking selfies) of the cuernos and the beautiful turqouise lake beneath it.
Take your time at the top, find a nice spot and relax with a wonderful view (weather permitting!) and remember to save yourself some energy for the descent, which is going to take you another 3+ hours.
Ask Me Anything
If you’re about to go on the W Trek and still have some answered questions then ask me anything in the questions below and I’ll try and give you a helping hand!
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