So you are planning to hike the W in Torres del Paine? Not sure?
Then read the post What makes the W in Torres del Paine a must do hike first.
It’s an overview of what to expect including all the highlights during this trek.
However if you are convinced on hiking this trail, but still have some questions about preparation and planning: Read on! In this blogpost I’ll be covering answers to questions such as:
– How many days and nights do I need?
– Should I hike West to East or East to West?
– Should I go camping or stay at refugio?
– What are the refugio like?
– How’s the food at the refugios?
– What should I pack?
– How much does it cost?
and : The recommended route to take
How many days and nights do I need?
This one depends on your physique. Most people (even 60+ year olds) walk it in 4 to 5 days. I would recommend you to take 5 days, even if you are a fast hiker. It will allow you to hike up to Torres again if you get bad weather on your first attempt.
Also, allow yourself 1 or 2 additional days in Puerto Natales to prepare for the hike.
Should I hike West to east or East to West?
It’s a question often asked but truth is, it doesn’t matter. Both ways offer equally amazing views. And since you’ll have to retrace your steps on the 3 legs (Grey glacier and back, Británico and back, Mirador Torres and back), don’t spend too much time figuring out which way is better. Just remember to turn around once in a while to admire the view.
Should I go camping or stay at refugios?
I’m a sissy with a bad back. So camping was not an option for me. But there are several options.
1) Camping and bringing your own gear.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. for all people who do this. It is the cheapest and most adventurous option but you need some experience camping if you opt for this one. You might need to pitch your tent in the rain, cook in the rain and sleep while it’s still raining.
2) Camping and renting a tent.
If you choose this option you won’t have to carry your own tent nor pitch it yourself. It makes it a little easier. But you’ll still have to endure rainy nights in a tent. If this doesn’t bring your mood down, go for it!
3) Sleep at the refugios.
This one is for sissies like me. Expect a good night sleep, meeting a lot of cool people by the fire, hot meals and the occasional Pisco Sour. Life can be sweet if you are willing to pay some extra.
4) Mix it up a little
If you need a decent bed and some huddling by a fire, but you still want to cut down on the expenses, it might be a good idea to combine camping with a few nights at the refugios.
What are the refugios like?
Refugio Torres (Point A)
Refugio Torres is a very modern refugio with comfortable 6 person dorms. Most of the rooms have a magnificent view on the Torres peaks. The common room which has a stove and a hammock provides for a relaxed atmosphere. I really enjoyed this refugio as well as the served food.
Refugio Chileno (Point B)
Refugio Chileno was one of my favorite refugios. It’s a very small refugio with a homey feeling. There are 8 person dorms with beds stacked up 3 levels. The common rooms are a bit too small but it has a great location by the river. There are also camping decks close to the refugio.
Refugio Cuernos (Point C)
Refugio Cuernos is slightly bigger than refugio Chileno but has the same set-up. There are 8 person dorms and the beds are again stacked up to 3 levels. There are a lot of hikers who arrive here for the evening meal, so it can get quite crowded.
Refugio Paine Grande (Point D)
Refugio Paine Grande is a big refugio by Lago Pehoé. I liked this refugio the least. It has a big bar and a huge kitchen but lacks a great atmosphere. There is also a lack of bathrooms and shower facilities.
How’s the food at the refugios?
The meals at the refugios are actually quite good. They also provide for good vegetarian food and cater for people with a diverse range of allergies.
Breakfast includes toasted bread, oatmeal, marmalade, juice, eggs or coffee, milk and orange juice. It’s the perfect start for your day.
The lunchbox includes a sandwich (usually with meat but you can ask for a vegetarian), cookies or granola bars, chocolate, a bag of nuts and raisins, a piece of fruit and a bottle of water. It’s filled with enough energizers for a day of hiking.
Dinner is a three course meal which usually starts with soup, a simple main course (rice with meat and sauce) and a desert ( often quite good).
If you are going to cook yourself, make sure you bring food that can be prepared in super quick (think about the rain and wind) and that will keep you going (think pasta, oatmeal and soup).
What do I need to pack?
Pack light! The list below is a packing list for hikers traveling in the high season (March) when the weather is quite stable.
- Water: It’s safe to drink from the streams so only bring a water container.
- Hiking Poles. I know, I used to laugh at people with hiking poles. But in Patagonia they can save you from an ugly fall when the wind comes gushing at you from out of nowhere.
- Your international passport + entry card to Chile. It will save you from paying additional tourist taxes for every campground or refugio.
- A pair of hiking boots that you have used before.
- One towel
- Underwear: 4 undies, 4 pairs of socks
- 1 short (yes I used this one on a day we got 20 degrees).
- 1 long sleeve thermal t-shirt + 2 short sleeve t-shirts + 1 warm sweater
- 2 hiking trousers (something that dries quickly. so no jeans). + 1 pair of light comfortable trousers for in the evening
- A windbreaker jacket
- A raincoat
- A petzl. It get’s really really dark at night.
- A buff scarf. A lot of wind + sensitive ears. Need I say more?
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, small piece of soap, small tube of shampoo)
- Put all of it in a small backpack that has a raincover system that can be attached to your bag (they tend to catch a lot of wind so think this through)
As for camping gear: I’m not an expert on this but the staff at the Erratic Rock in Puerto Natales are. They give information sessions every day at 3PM so check that out.
How much does it cost?
The prices below are an indication of what you will pay for high season summer 16 (jan-feb).
If you would follow the refugio route below and go for a full board option you’ll be paying about 338.600 CLP. Yes it’s expensive but it’s cheaper than signing up for a program. If you opt for the cheapest option (camping and bringing your own gear + cooking) you’ll be paying around 68.600 CLP (excluding food).
- Park Entry (based on what I paid) : 18.000 CLP
- Transport from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine: 10.000 CLP
- Transport from Entrance to sector Torres or Portería Laguna Amarga 2.800 CLP
Price per person (CLP)
Extra’s (CLP p.p.) – Remarks
32.500 Full board
beds with sheets only
30.000 no sheets
35.500 with sheets
32.500 Full board
4.500 rent sleeping bag
8.000 rent tent for 2
1.500 mat rental
(Meals available at nearby refugios)
With sheets only
30.100 no sheets
44.500 with sheet
26.500 full board
19.200 no sheets
44.500 with sheets
6.000 rent sleeping bag
10.000 rent tent for 2
2.000 rent sleeping bag
The recommended route to take
Don’t follow the Fantastico Sur program like I did. The first day is completely wasted and you’ll need to cover too many kilometers at the last day making it hard to catch catamaran in time. I therefore tweaked their program for you guys. The one below is the one I would use if I would do it again. It is a well-balanced schedule that can be followed by anyone. The schedule only uses refugios as accommodation but you can easily replace them with campings.
Day 1: Mirador Torres (Blue Line)
Route: Refugio Las Torres (Point A) —> Refugio Chileno (Point B) = 5km
Refugio Chileno (Point B)—> Campamento Torres = 3km
Campamento Torres —> Mirador de Las Torres (Point 1) = 1km (1 hour ascend)
Mirador de Las Torres (Point 1) —> Refugio Chileno = 4 km
Sleep at: Refugio Chileno (Point B)
Come to the park early and start hiking from refugio Torres towards Refugio Chileno. Hug the tree on your way up and turn around to enjoy your first panoramic view.
Leave your heavy stuff at Chileno and hike up to Mirador Torres (Point 1). You’ll thank me for telling you to leave your pack behind because the last part of the ascend over rocks is quite steep. When you make it to Mirador Torres, stay put and hope for blue skies. If you get lucky, enjoy the incredible view. Hike back down to Chileno where you will spend your first night.
Day 2: Hike to Cuernos (Yellow Line)
Route: Refugio Chileno (Point B) —> Refugio Cuernos (Point C) = 12km
Sleep at: Refugio Cuernos (Point C)
If day 1 was a disappointment and you didn’t see the Torres, you can still hike back up. You’ll have to walk an additional 8km in this case which will bring the total to 20km. But it’s doable because the hike from Chileno to Cuernos today is easy. You’ll walk through grasslands overlooking Lago Nordernskjöld (Point 2).
Enjoy the view off the Cuernos peaks (Point 3) once you get to Refugio Cuernos where you will spend your second night.
Day 3: Hike to Lago Pehoé (Red Line)
Route: Refugio Cuernos (Point C) —> Camping Francés (1hour from cuernos) —> Campamento Italiano = 5km
Campamento Italiano —> Mirador Británico (Point 5) = 5km
Mirador Británico —> Campamento Italiano = 5km
Campamento Italiano —> Refugio Paine Grande (Point D) = 7,5km
Sleep at: Refugio Paine Grande (Point D)
I’m not going to lie. Today is going to be a tough one. You’ll start by walking through grasslands towards the French Valley. It’s a beautiful and easy walk until you get to Campamento Italiano. Leave your big pack here and start the climb up to Británico. The ascend is less steep than Torres but it will take you longer. Don’t mistake the first vista point, Glaciar Francés (Point 4) where you can admire pieces of ice cracking off a glacier high up in the mountains.
You’ll have to cross a few streams and climb some rocks to make it to Británico. It makes the hike a little more challenging but a lot of fun. When you finally get to Británico (Point 5), take a break and admire the mountain range surrounding the valley below.
Now walk back down to Italiano. From here it’s another 7,5km to Refugio Paine Grande. It’s a fairly easy walk that will take you through the forest that got burned down in 2011.
When you see a deep dark blue lake (not the first milky blue one) you’ll have made it to Lago Pehoé (Point 6). The Refugio is located by the lake. Take a hot shower, head up to the bar and order an outraging overpriced beer. You know you earned it.
Day 4: Hike to Grey Glacier (Green Line)
Route: Refugio Paine Grande —> Refugio Grey = 10km
Sleep at: Refugio Grey (Point E)
The first part of the trail ascends up to vista point Grey (Point 7) from which you can see blue icebergs floating on Lago Grey. You’ll also be able to see Grey Glaciar from a distance as well. Unfortunately, I had to turn back at this point to catch the catamaran. However if you want to get a close-up view you’ll have to a vista point just beyond Refugio Grey. In this case, the refugio will be your fourth sleeping place.
Day 5: Back to Paine Grande (Purple Line)
Route: Refugio Grey —> Refugio Paine Grande = 10km
Today you’ll retrace yesterdays steps. Walk back to Paine Grande and catch the catamaran. The boat trip is a finale that will award you with a last view on the paine massive. You’ll probably replace the pain in your feet with pain in your heart. Because damn, leaving this view behind is simply heartbreaking.