1. The Boring but Essential Bit – DO NOT SKIP
This is tedious but you’ll gain a lot from spending a couple of minutes looking at the W Trek map (above). It is a bit out of date but is useful to look at while you are reading this post. It also has useful approximate walking distances.
The red line is the “W” trek. Have a look at locating the following legs of the “W” (left to right of the “W”):
a. Refugio Grey to Refugio Paine Grande (which make up the left or the west side of the “W”);
b. Refugio Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano, along Glaciar del Frances (also called Valle Francais) up to Campamento Britanico and back to Campamento Los Cuernos (which make up the middle bit of the “W”); and then
c. Los Cuernos up to Hosteria Las Torres, to El Chileno and Mirador de Las Torres (which make up the right or the east side of the “W”).
The brown line at the top of the “W” represents the full circuit trek called the “O”. The additional legs are:
d. Hosteria Las Torres to Camp Seron;
e. Camp Seron to Refugio Dickson; and
f. Refugio Dickson to Campamento Las Guardas; and
g. Campamento Las Guardas to Refugio Grey.
Finally, there is the “Q” which is basically a tail walk on top of the “O” south from Paine Grande to the CONAF Administracion office where the buses to Puerto Natales starts/stops.
2. Which route to take
There are several variations on the “W”. There is no right or wrong, and no way that is easier or more difficult.
Even if the weather looks like it’s going to be okay one day and worse at the end of your trip or vice versa, chances are that the forecast will be wrong. The weather is extremely unpredictable and changes rapidly, so be weary about making decisions about your itinerary based on the weather.
Some people prefer walking west to east – if you’re camping this might be a good idea as you’ll have less food and less weight to carry on the steeper eastern section.
Others prefer walking east to west so that the sun is behind them and they can see the mountains in front of them, (rather than walking away from them).
i. If you are staying in Refugios
If you want to stay in refugio accommodation and minimise the amount of going back on yourself then consider the following itinerary:
Arrive in the park, get the bus to Guarderia Pudeto and do the walk to Mirador Cuernos. Get back to Pudeto by 1.30pm in time to catch the bus back to Laguna Amarga where you can catch a mini van to Hosteria Las Torres. From here walk up to Refugio El Chileno if you’ve managed to get a reservation there. If not stay at Refugio Norte or Refugio Central near Hosteria Las Torres instead and walk some of the way to Camp Seron to get a taste of the “O”.
Walk up to Mirador Las Torres with a day bag only, and return to spend the night in Refugio Central or Refugio Norte near Hosteria Las Torres.
Walk the relatively short way to Refugio Los Cuernos
A long but rewarding day. Walk up to Campamento Italiano and get there early around 10.30-11am. Remember you want to get to the top in plenty of time before it gets “closed”. Enjo the views and walk all the way down Vallais Francais, back to Italiano to pick up your bag, and head on to Paine Grande.
Walk up to Refugio Grey. If you can get to Refugio Grey by around 12.30pm then you can potentially get the expensive boat that picks passengers up from the Big Foot kayaking office about a 20 minute walk from Refugio Grey. The boat will pick you up, take you closer to Refugio Grey and you’ll get a pisco sour with a piece of ice from the glacier. The problem with this, is that the boat can be cancelled and is only confirmed when it actually leaves Hosteria Grey around 11am. It is also expensive, at around $90 each. (See Part 1 on whether we think this is worth it or not).
The other option is to do the return walk up to Refugio Grey and back to Paine Grande in the same day. You can either stay an additional night in Paine Grande or get the late catamaran back at 6.30pm (if it’s running – it doesn’t in winter) to catch the last bus to Puerto Natales from Pudeto at 7pm.
Optional Day 6
Alternatively, you can stay in Refugio Grey for one night and then try and get the catamaran back out the next day, or just walk back to Paine Grande in the morning and get the early afternoon catamaran from Paine Grande at 12.30pm to get the afternoon 1.30pm bus from Pudeto back to Puerto Natales.
ii. Refugios In Reverse
If you’re walking the “tail”, do that in the morning and spend your first night at Paine Grande. Or, if you’re up for it hike, all the way to Refugio Grey after walking the tail and stay there.
If you’re staying at Paine Grande, do a return walk to Glacier Grey or walk down to Paine Grande;
Long day walking up from Paine Grande to Campo Italiano, then on to Campamento Britanico and back, and then on to stay at Refugio Los Cuernos.
Walk up to Refugio El Chileno (if you’ve managed to get accommodation there) or go on to Hosteria Las Torres where you can stay at Refugio Norte or Refugio Central.
Walk up to the base of the towers and back, finishing in Las Torres where you can either stay another night or get the late bus back to Puerto Natales. It might be possible to get Mirador Las Torres for sunrise from El Chileno if you don’t mind trekking for about an 1.5 hours in the dark very early in the morning.
There are lots of benefits with camping. You get the whole experience, you save a fortune, you have a lot more flexibility, you can walk the “W” in less time, and you maximise your chances of seeing a good sun rise or sunset at the towers.
The downside is that you are carrying a heavy rucksack which will make a lot of the walking difficult and less comfortable. Having said that, you will not have to carry your big rucksack on two of the steepest sections.
Get the bus to the CONAF Administration office, and walk the tail to Paine Grande, and on to Refugio Grey. It’s a long walk but a great way to spend the first day of your trip and the tail is a relatively gentle walk with great views of the mountains. Alternatively, get the bus to Guardaria Pudeto, and take the catamaran to Paine Grande from where you walk up to Refugio Grey. Refugio Grey has one of the nicest camp sites, and start using the heavy food that you’ve brought with you along with any fresh stuff like mince etc.
Walk down to Paine Grande and then on to Campamento Italiano, which has less facilities but still has flushing toilets.
Long day, walking up Valais Francais and back, before walking up to the campsite at the base of the towers. If you still have some energy left, walk up to see the sunset over the towers.
Get up super early, and hike the steep 45 minute climb to the towers to watch the sun rise, get back, strike camp, and walk back to Las Torres where you can get the bus back to civilisation and hot showers at Puerto Natales.
You can also do the walk in reverse although people we spoke to generally said that they wouldn’t want to be carrying their big heavy camping rucksack at its heaviest up to the camp at the base of the towers.
iv. Tips on Seeing the Sunrise at the Towers
The weather is extremely changeable. Even if it’s raining and windy at 5.30am, chances are that the weather will change several times between then and sun rise. Even if you really don’t want to get out of your tent, do it. You really don’t want to miss a beautiful sun rise and you don’t want to get there when everyone is going on about how beautiful it was.
It will be dark and the walk is hard and not very well sigh posted so take a strong head lamp with you. Make sure you have some spare batteries and maybe a spare headtorch.
It will also be freezing at the base of the towers and you will probably be staying there for a while so take your sleeping bag with you. If you have any food left, take some snacks to eat too.
Getting back to Puerto Natales
Buses leave for Puerto Natales from the main entrance of Torres del Paine at Laguna Amarga around 1.30pm and 7.30pm.
Don’t forget to also check out the following posts on the W Trek: