Chilean Patagonia's Torres del Paine National Park is known for its jaw-dropping landscapes: turquoise lakes, granite mountains, and mammoth glaciers. With 17-18 hours of daily sunlight during its summer months, travelers will have plenty of time to explore the region regardless of if they are backpacking through the park or simply going on daily excursions from their hotel. In addition to world-class hiking, the park offers activities including kayaking between icebergs, glacier trekking, and wildlife-viewing tours. No matter what activities you engage in, you will leave the park in marvel of how majestic nature can be.

Most backpackers will complete the famous "W" trek, with a few of them continuing further to complete the "O" trek or "Q" trek. These treks are named after the overall shape of their routes. A map of the W trek, from the Swoop Patagonia website, can be seen in the image below. The itinerary below is for anyone interested in completing the W trek, which is usually hiken in 4-5 days.

TORRES DEL PAINE (W TREK) ITINERARY

DAY 1 - SANTIAGO TO PUERTO NATALES

  • Fly from Santiago (SLC) to Punta Arenas (PUQ) on Sky Airlines. The flight time is roughly 3.5 hours long.
  • Take Buz Fernandez from PUQ to Puerto Natales. Be sure to have tickets beforehand. The journey takes 3 hours.
  • Check in at your hotel (we stayed at Hostel Last Hope) and walk around Puerto Natales to get a feel for the town.
  • We grabbed dinner and drinks at Baguales — a casual brewery and restaurant that is pretty popular with tour guides. You can check Yelp for other ideas.

DAY 2 - TDP | LAS TORRES

  • This itinerary is for hiking the W trek from east to west (the most popular route). Take Bus Gomez from the Puerto Natales Bus Terminal to Torres del Paine National Park (Laguna Amarga) @ 7:15am. Be sure to arrive early. We took a private transfer to the bus terminal.
  • Once you reach Laguna Amarga, you can either take the shuttle (paid) or hike to the trailhead/visitors center which is 7km away (1.5 hour hike). When you enter TDP you have to pay ~$35 USD in pesos. There are no ATMs within the park, so be sure to withdraw pesos before leaving Puerto Natales. Many refugios accept credit card.
  • Hike 2.5 hours up to Refugio Chileno. This part of the hike was not as hard as I thought it would be, but it is all uphill. If you didn’t pack food for the day, you can grab lunch at Hotel Las Torres prior to the trek. It is located near the trailhead.
  • Once you reach Refugio Chileno, drop off your main pack and hike up to the Mirador Base Las Torres to see the famous towers. It takes about 2 hours to hike up there from Chileno. The first hour from Chileno to Glacial Moraine is moderate difficulty. There are a couple river crossings (with bridges) and a dense forest to walk through. The second hour is uphill, requiring people to scramble over large boulders of glacial moraine towards the end. This is the most difficult part of the trek — walking poles can be very helpful. Since this part of the trek heads north, the wind is usually head-on which can make it more strenuous but the views are worth it.
  • After enjoying the view, head back down to Refugio Chileno for the night. Most refugios did not have wifi or outlets, so be sure to pack portable battery packs. They did provide towels, soap, and shampoo.

DAY 3 - TDP | LOS CUERNOS

  • Eat breakfast at Refugio Chileno and pack a bag lunch.
  • If you want, you can hike back up to Mirador Base Las Torres and stop back at the refugio so that you don’t have to carry all your stuff.
  • Hike 5 hours to Refugio Los Cuernos. You will head back down the same path you took to reach Chileno the day before. About 25-30 minutes into the hike, keep an eye out for a fork in the trail, and take the path towards the right for a shortcut to Los Cuernos. This is much shorter and less crowded than the main trail — we didn’t see many people for most of the day. If you decide not to take the shortcut, you will hike back down to Hotel Las Torres and take the path along the lake there.
  • This was my favorite day of the trip. The trek passes along the northern shore of the Nordenskjold Lake on the left, with its amazing dark-bluish water, and the breathtaking granite spires of Los Cuernos on the right. The hike is along medium difficulty terrain, with some hills, but every time you reach the top of a hill there is an amazing view. Just before arrival at the refugio, the trail passes through a beech-tree forest. This was the easiest day of hiking. Our group stopped several times to enjoy the view and have a picnic lunch, so we ended up take more time than others.
  • Stay overnight at Refugio Los Cuernos between Las Torres and the French Valley sectors of the park.

DAY 4 - TDP | FRENCH VALLEY

  • Eat breakfast at Refugio Los Cuernos and pick up lunch to take with you.
  • You can either hike directly to Paine Grande in 5 hours, or go via the French Valley in 10-11 hours.
  • From Refugio Los Cuernos, the trail undulates and passes across some streams and into wooded areas, but is not too strenuous. After about 1 hour, you will pass by Domos Frances and then after another hour, you will arrive at Camp Italiano, which is located at the entrance to the French Valley. You can leave your main pack at Camp Italiano so that you only need to carry your day back for the French Valley hike.
  • The French Valley is an out-and-back hike. It is a steady uphill trail reaching an altitude of around 900m at Camp Britanico located about 1 hour before at the “end” of the valley. Here, after traversing rivers and passing a beech-tree forest, the skyline is dwarfed by granite spires and the “Paine Grande” – the highest mountain peak in the Park at 3,050m above sea level. The return trek will involve back-tracking until you reach Camp Italiano to pick up your pack. The hike from Camp Italiano through the French Valley is difficult as it is mostly uphill. Take the trail that veers to the right across a suspension foot bridge to go over the Frances River. The trail is pretty flat until you reach Refugio Paine Grande. It takes about 2.5 hours to reach Paine Grande from Camp Italiano.
  • Stay overnight at Refugio Paine Grande. There is limited ability to charge your phone. They do not have wifi, but you can access the internet by paying for some computer time. They also have a bar.

DAY 5 - TDP | GREY GLACIER

  • Eat breakfast at Refugio Paine Grande and pick up lunch to take with you.
  • The hike to Refugio Grey takes about 4 hours. From Paine Grande the path ascends a hill to an altitude of 485m. This ascent is initially gradual and steady, becoming steeper the closer you get to the top of the hill. Once you reach the top, the path flattens out through a forest and then drops down the other side towards Grey Lake. In some parts, the path is narrow and steep, so be sure to use your hiking poles to alleviate some of the force on your knees. Where the path follows the lake, it is largely level, surrounded by old beech trees and bushes. Once Grey Lake is in full view, you will see glacial icebergs, which, if you have never seen such a sight, is an amazing experience, but when you see Grey Glacier for the first time in the distance, the view is outstanding.
  • If the weather permits, you can sign up for a glacier hike, kayaking, or cruise once you reach the refugio.
  • Spend the night at Refugio Grey.

DAY 6 - TDP TO SANTIAGO

  • Eat breakfast at Refugio Grey and pick up lunch to take with you before hiking back 4 hours to Refugio Paine Grande.
  • Take the 11:30am catamaran to Pudeto. The ride costs 20,000 pesos (~$30) and you pay on board. We then took a private transfer back to the Puerto Natales Bus Terminal.
  • Take the 3:00pm bus operated by Bus Sur back to the Punta Arenas airport, reaching the airport around 6:00pm.
  • Take an evening flight from PUQ back to SCL.

LOGISTICS

TRAVELING TO TORRES DEL PAINE

Traveling between Santiago and Torres del Paine National Park is pretty complicated as there are many flights, buses, and transfers involved. I  included the links to the bus companies above if you wish to make your transportation bookings directly with them. If you wish to go through an agency who will do all of the planning and make all the bookings for you, continue reading for more information. The one thing I would change about our itinerary (aside from being able to spend more time exploring) would be adding on an extra day in either Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas after TDP. We were exhausted by the end of the trek and the journey back to Santiago was pretty rough as it involved a 4-hour hike, boat ride, car ride, bus, and two flights.

As for flights, most people fly into Punta Arenas as there are essentially no flights to Puerto Natales (or they are very expensive). To reach parts of Chilean Patagonia, you will have to fly through Santiago. If you are heading to parts of Argentinian Patagonia, such as El Calafate or El Chalten, then you can take a bus from TDP/Puerto Natales to El Calafate and then fly to Buenos Aires from the Argentinian side.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The best time to visit Torres del Paine, and Chilean Patagonia in general, is from November to March as this period is the southern hemisphere's summertime. The weather is ideal for backpacking during these months, but be aware that it is the peak season in the region.

VISA REQUIREMENTS

US, EU, and Canadian passport holders can visit Chile without a visa for up to 90 days. Citizens of India holding a valid US Visa, with current validity of six months, do not require a Chilean tourist visa (either Simple Tourism or Multiple Tourism or Multiple-Business). Please check your country’s official resources to confirm your visa requirements.

LANGUAGE & CURRENCY

Chile's official and administrative language is Spanish. However, since the Patagonia region sees travelers from all over the world, English is widely spoken in the region. If you head to Santiago before or after, you will find that English is not as common, though you can get away with it if sticking to the tourist heavy areas.

Chile's currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP). As of August 2020, $1 USD is equal to 797.60 CLP. Some hotels in Patagonia give you the option to pay in USD.

ACCOMMODATION & MEALS

Our group booked everything through ExperienceChile which made planning much easier, but we did pay a premium. They gave us a standard itinerary with many options to customize it - i.e. we were given refugio options for some nights, meal preferences, adding on an extra day or activity. We also opted to book all of our transportation through them starting from when we arrived in Punta Arenas until the moment we departed. This included all of the bus reservations and private transfers. Since this was our first backpacking trip, we opted for the full board at each of the refugios which included all meals, bedding, and towels. This made our hike much easier as we had to carry fewer items. All of the meals were pretty filling, including the packed lunches. We brought our own trail mix, protein bars, and other some other snacks.

If you opt not to go with a travel company, you can book accommodations directly with Vertice for the west side of the park and with Fantastico Sur for the east side. Refer to the image below to see which refugios and campsites can be booked with these companies.

In the event that you choose not to backpack through the W trek, you can expand your search to hotels outside of those offered by Vertice and Fantastico Sur including the following:

Some of these hotels, especially the luxury hotels, offer activities including guided hiking, boating, yoga, spa treatments, and horseback riding.

TRAIL DIFFICULTY

Below is a profile of the elevation gain for the W trek from the east to west, taken from the Swoop Patagonia website. 1 meter is equal to roughly 3.3 feet. While each day's hike was definitely doable, we were tired at the end of each day.The hike to the Mirador Base Las Torres and the French Valley were the two difficult days with lots of elevation gain, while the hike from Chileno to Los Cuernos was the easiest. I suggest also reviewing the AllTrails and Pygmy Elephant websites as they include helpful information regarding elevation gain, grade, and hiking difficulty.

PACKING LIST

This packing list is what we used for our trip. It is for anyone doing a full board option where bedding and food are all provided. If you are not staying in the Vertice or Fantastico Sur refugios, or are camping, feel free to use this list as a starting point but be sure to consult other resources to determine what additional gear you should pack. The weather in Patagonia can be quite erratic and you can walk through all four seasons in just one hour. Pack light-weight and waterproof layers that you can quickly put on or take off. You should also prepare for rain and make sure you have a waterproof cover or poncho for your backpack. Within my backpack, I packed everything in large ziploc bags or plastic bags to provide an extra layer of protection.

HIKING GEAR

  • 36-40L backpack with waterproof cover
  • Foldable day pack
  • Water bottle/bladder
  • Hiking poles
  • Hiking boots
  • Technical pants
  • Windproof & waterproof jacket
  • Packable down jacket
  • Waterproof gloves

CLOTHING

  • Wool or synthetic base layers
  • Wool or synthetic hiking socks
  • Mid-layer fleece
  • Flip flops or sneakers to wear in refugios
  • Sunglasses
  • Undergarments
  • Baseball hat
  • Polar/wool hat
  • Buff/bandana
  • Plastic bags for dirty and wet clothes

TOILETRIES & FIRST AID

  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss
  • Soap & shampoo
  • Insect repellent
  • Pain killers
  • Anti-diarrhea medication
  • Band-aids
  • Blister plaster or moleskin

OTHER

  • Passport
  • Cash & credit cards
  • Itinerary & contact numbers
  • Travel insurance information
  • Camera
  • Portable charger
  • Universal adapter

OPTIONAL

  • Playing cards
  • Binoculars
  • Map of the park/region
  • Flashlight
  • Additional snacks (granola bars, trail mix)
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