The W Trek is an amazing multi-day hiking tour around the famous peaks in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia.
The Hiking route: Most people take the ferry from Refugio Pudeto across Lago Pehoé to Refugio Paine Grande and start the hike from here.
The path leads along Lago Grey towards the magnificent Grey Glacier, with its turquoise ice where you can spend the first night at Refugio Grey. However, the next day you have to walk back the exact way you came.
So we decided to take the ferry from Hotel Lago Grey to the Refugio Grey instead, and started hiking towards Lago Pehoé right away. This way we stayed the first night at Refugio Paine Grande. It’s a big Refugio with simple but nice double rooms and a cozy bar upstairs the dining room.
The next morning we hiked towards Sector Francés and stayed at Campamento Francés. When we arrived we left our big backpacks in the tent, only took water and a camera with us and went back the 20 minute way to Campamento Italiano, where the path up into the Valle Francés begins.
This is the most beautiful section of the entire tour, the path winds its way up the mountain along Glacier Francés, waterfalls, streams and a small, enchanted-looking forest. After the first lookout you absolutely should go on to Mirador Británico! From here you have the most amazing views of the whole mountain range while sun, snow and wind create fantastic natural spectacles. Even though this section can be a bit exhausting – after all it’s an elevation gain of around 600 meters – it’s absolutely worth it. When we returned to the camping area we were served a delicious, fresh dinner together with the guests staying in the more equipped, bigger Domo tents. But our small, rented ready made tent and modern facilities were in very good condition and we had a good night sleep under the sheltering trees.
The following third day held a long tour up to the famous Mirador Base Torres. From the camp we followed the signs towards Refugio Chileno, so the path went straight up into the mountains again. It led us away from the shore of Lago Nordenskjöld over meadows, gravel plains and river Ascensio to the indeed extremely windy Paso de los Vientos, until we finally arrived at Refugio Chileno. After a short rest at this vivid, well-attended Refugio, we once again left our backpacks and headed for the Mirador Base Torres. This ascent is also quite exhausting, but standing in front of these massive granite rocks is amazing and rightly a highlight of the national park. The way back was the same we came via Refugio Chileno until we reached a junction after the Windy Pass, where we went straight down to the Sector Torre Central. We stayed at Refugio Torre Norte from where we could see the famous mountain peaks illuminated at sunrise, the next morning.
If you want to go back to the park entrance Laguna Amarga where you can take a bus to Puerto Natales, you have to walk the street for about an hour or take an expensive shuttle bus from Hotel Las Torres.
Staying here: There are several Refugios and Camping grounds, but it is required to book them in advance via Fantastico Sur or Vertice. The Refugio Paine Grande and Grey can be reserved via Vertice, the others belong to Fantastico Sur. For simple hostels they are pricey, but they are indeed in the middle of nowhere and clean, modern and with lovely, cheerful staff.
Tips: The famous Torre are most stunning in the early sunlight at dawn, so if you have a change to stay at Refugio Chileno you should get up there before sunrise. However, the hike to the Mirador is also very worthwhile in the afternoon.
Each day you’ll have to walk between 11km and 20km with an elevation gain of up to 1050 meters. Because we decided to do the trek in only four days with three overnight stays, the last day was a long (but beautiful) 9 hour hike in total.
The times that are stated on the maps for the distances of the separate parts are generous. If you are a fast hiker you might even need about half the time suggested.
The path and directions are marked very well so you can’t get lost. But some routes close at certain times, depending on the weather conditions and daytime. In April the last ascent to the Torres lookout was at 4pm, for example.
The complete Circutio, or O-Trek takes six days and will lead you around the complete massif of Torres del Paine. However, on this route some camping grounds and Refugios close during winter (May to September), so you need to check the seasonal opening times.
To avoid too many tourists it is nice to come here at the end of summer, in March or early April. When we hiked the trek at the end of the high season we were even relocated to another Refugio because there were so few guest. Refugio Torre Norte also offered a shuttle bus to the Hotel Las Torres close-by to have our pre-booked dinner and breakfast there, because the Refugio itself had already closed its kitchen for the season.
Because of the extreme, ever changing weather conditions you really need the right gear for this trip. Rain and sun protection, quality hiking boots and backpack, flashlight and water bottle are just some of the crucial essentials.
You can absolutely vary your hiking route, overnight stays, and starting direction. The grounds of Refugio Los Cuernos are very nice as well for example, and many people also stay four nights in total or start at Refugio Las Torres in order to go in the western direction. Whatever you choose, this trek is a fantastic adventure to experience the beautiful wild, rough nature of Torres del Paine.
Read about more adventures in Patagonia and Torres del Paine here, and about trips from Puerto Natales here. Or see the post about the northern part of Patagonia, the lake region and Chiloé here.
There is also a city guide for Santiago de Chile. Or find more tips for the southern desert and Andes region of San Pedro de Atacama and the El Tatio Geysers.