What is the W Trek? It gets its name simply from the shape of the route you take through Torres Del Paine, the massive park in southern Chile that is also a major highlight of the Patagonian region. If you look up a list of the most epic treks in the world, the W is most likely on that list (or the longer O Trek that connects the two points of the W). Iconic views of the Torres, glaciers, lakes, everything that makes Patagonia the go-to destination for outdoor enthusiasts can be found on the W Trek in Torres Del Paine, Patagonia.
While the W Trek Torres Del Paine continues to grow in popularity, there are restrictions on the number of people allowed in the park at once which helps conservation efforts and makes your experience still feel remote. These restrictions, in combination with language barriers, time zones, etc, make planning/booking campsites or Refugios for the W Trek
a bit more very difficult which is why I’ve outlined a comprehensive guide for planning your own trip.
There may have been some arguments, tears, anxiety, while planning my own trip so hopefully this guide can keep you from some of the struggle!
Planning a trip to Patagonia? Start here.
What to Consider
Best Time to Do the W Trek Torres Del Paine, Patagonia
Torres Del Paine is not open to hikers without a guide during the winter months of May through September. October through April, however, is fair game for self-guided backpacking in Torres Del Paine.
October to November is spring time in Patagonia. The park is slowly coming back to life, the weather is getting warmer (40s-50s F), but there are still no mosquitos! This is the best time of year to visit Patagonia, in my opinion.
- Pros: less people, cheaper prices, no bugs
- Cons: even more unpredictable weather
December to February is summer time in Patagonia. This is high season – prices increase, the weather is warmer (may get to the upper 60’s F) though the region experiences intense wind even more so this time of year. This time of year also sees the most crowds and lodging books up fast (book at least 6 months in advance)!
- Pros: best chances for great weather (exceptional winds though)
- Cons: most expensive time, mosquitos start to come out, peak season (more people)
March to April is fall in Patagonia and similar weather to spring time. This is also a best time of year to do The W Trek.
- Pros: less people, cheaper prices
- Cons: colder weather, still some lingering mosquitoes
We did the W trek in November and experienced every kind of weather – a day full of rain, a day of sunshine and warm temps, a day of intense wind, a day of all the above plus a spurt of snow. You truly must be prepared to experience every season in 1 week no matter what time of year you visit Patagonia.
How crowded is Torres Del Paine?
When we did the W Trek in Torres Del Paine in November, the park was pretty full – most lodging/campsites were booked up each night. We shared scenic points with others and passed fellow trekkers both ways on the trail but it never felt over-crowded. I was surprised by how close the tents were at each site but not much worse than typical campsites anywhere else in the world. This also helps minimize the environmental impact of camping which should be top priority anyway.
Choosing The Best Route for The W Trek
There are a few options for W Trek routes depending on preferred lodging and distances to cover in a day. To make matters even more complicated, there are 3 different entities that run the different lodging options: Fantastico Sur, Vertice, and CONAF. The map of Torres Del Paine above shows all the available lodging options for the W trek, numbered from east to west. I’ve outlined the options below.
Following the map above, Campsites vs Refugios vs Eco Domes
- Grand Torre/Central: Fantastico Sur – a great refuge with large dining hall, game room, plugs for charging electronics, bathrooms and showers for campers.
- Chileno: Fantastico Sur – much smaller than Central, the bathrooms looked (and smelled) rough, but the dining area was cozy and the area was tucked away into the mountains. Stay at Chileno if you want to do sunrise at Las Torres
- Los Cuernos: Fantastico Sur – My favorite Refugio even though we didn’t stay there. The dining hall was so warm and large and I could smell pizza when I walked in. The bathrooms seemed decent, the views were pretty nice as well. The cabins looked incredible from far away – I’m sure they’re very rustic but they open up to a beautiful view of the lake.
- Frances: Fantastico Sur – the tents are tucked under trees on steep slopes up above the dining hall. Having to walk back and forth from the dining hall was distressing for me as I was so tired and achey from the hiking, I wanted a casual walk to get food instead of more muscle burn! But I digress, they had hot showers so was I even really “roughing it”??
- Eco Domes
- Italiano: CONAF – we spent the least amount of time here, only dropping our packs with the guard while passing through but it looked very bare – no dining hall, only camp spots available and rooouugghh camp bathrooms. No running water if you don’t count the glorious river filled with clean glacier water you can drink from!
- Paine Grande: Vertice – very similar to Camp Central, large dining hall and upstairs bar with Pizza! The camping area is pretty cramped. You’re likely to experience the most wind on this night, too, since it’s in a valley. Side note – the sleeping pads they provided were thin, flat mats. I was spoiled by the other campsites that provided thick, cushiony mattress-like pads to sleep on.
- Grey: Vertice – we never made it to Grey so no insider scoop.
The Refugios and camping vary from site to site but I was impressed, overall, with how comfortable you could make your W Trek experience even with it being so remote (depending on how much you were willing to spend, too). There was always plenty of food, drinks, and even hot showers in some cases.
Booking Campsites and Refugios for the W Trek Torres Del Paine
***important note: Torres Del Paine is only growing in popularity. If you want to do the W Trek you should start booking your route first (even before flights) and build your trip around the booked campsites. The more flexible you are, the better options you’ll have.
Booking W Trek through 3rd Party:
I would recommend using a travel company that coordinates logistics for ease and peace of mind especially if you’re booking late in the game but obviously this adds to the expense. If you choose this route, I’d recommend Flashpacker (which we used and had no issues) or Venture Patagonia. Preferably Venture Patagonia: they are based in Puerto Natales, work with local staff, and can be of more help if something comes up and plans change last minute (they also do custom Patagonia itineraries based on your interests).
Self Booking W Trek Lodging
If not booking through a 3rd party, you will need to plan your route and go to the appropriate owner to book your lodging. This will require emailing or using the websites for Fantastico Sur or Vertice which are not for the faint of heart. I started this process and after phone calls, multiple emails, and back and forth opted for the 3rd party.
We also opted to do the camping option that would have our campsite setup for us and include food; this meant we didn’t need to bring tents, sleeping pads, sleeping bags, or camp food (another lifesaver as we were newbie backpackers).
Our Route: W Trek Torres Del Paine East to West
Day 1 take the 2:30pm bus from Puerto Natales to Torres Del Paine National Park and arrive at (#1)Camp Central about 2.5 hours later. Explore the area, enjoy the sunny weather, get a drink at the fancy hotel near camp and Pisco Sours with dinner at the Refugio. Settle in for the night filled with excitement and naïveté.
Day 2 Hike to Mirador Las Torres stopping at Chileno(#2) on the way up for some Hot Chocolate and snacks. This will fuel you for the climb through the lenga beech forest up to La Morrena where your legs will burn as you cover the rock trail to the look out. Afterwards, eat dinner with new friends, drink more Pisco sours, and take all of the Ibuprofen for achey muscles. Camp at (#1)Camp Central.
- Distance: 11.2 miles
- Elevation Gain: 3,000 ft
Day 3 Hike to (#4)Camp Frances. Get pelted with wind and rain the entire hike but take in the blue Nordenskjold Lake. Stop at (#3)Los Cuernos to warm up briefly, smell the delicious smells of pizza and blazing fireplaces, tell yourself not to indulge because you’re almost at (#4)Camp Frances. Arrive at (#4)Camp Frances and immediately regret your decision not to stay and enjoy (#3)Los Cuernos while you could. Eat dinner with new friends, cheer up as you share stories from the day, and even take a hot shower (!!!).
- Distance: 9 miles
- Elevation Gain: not much
Day 4 Hike from (#4)Frances to (#5)Italiano, drop packs, then head to Mirador Britanico. Cry happy tears while eating lunch with 360 views of majestic mountaintops in the warm sun. Continue down to pick up packs while it snows (??) and head to (#6)Paine Grande camp in freezing rain (!?!). Devour large portions of rice, meat, caramel cake, and make more new friends.
- Distance: 13.5 miles
- Elevation Gain: about 3500 ft
Day 5 Hike from (#6)Paine Grande to (#7)Glacier Grey. Realize this plan is too ambitious for current slow pace while fighting gusts of INSANE wind half knocking you over, stop at Mirador Grey instead, then head back for Austrel Cervezas before getting on the evening boat back to the park entrance. After the boat ride, take the bus back to Puerto Natales for the night, relish the fact that you just completed the W Trek, and begin planning your return!!
- Distance: planned= 6.8miles, actual = 3miles
- Elevation Gain: 1000 ft
W Trek Lessons Learned:
What I would have done different now knowing what I know.
Go West to East
This would have allowed our muscles to warm up before getting to Los Torres and ended on the high note
Hiked to Mirador Las Torres Day 1
We did not fully understand how much the weather would change day to day and had perfect sunny, clear skies on Day 1 which we assumed would continue on Day 2. I wish we took advantage of the weather and hit the trail ASAP. We were unlucky Day 2 and did not get to see the Torres up close which is very common.
Stayed at Los Cuernos instead of Camp Frances (only if I trained more)
Camp Frances was on a major slope and much smaller with no real view of anything. They did have hot steaming showers for a limited amount of time which was a huge redeeming factor.
Los Cuernos was larger, had more food options, warmer, and there was a better view all around.
Doing this switch would make day 3 even longer and more difficult, something to consider if you’re concerned about your physical ability mid-trek.
Stayed at Chileno and did the sunrise hike to Los Torres
Get to the Torres earlier with a better chance for visibility
This hike is brutal so starting from Chileno would save your legs some energy
I didn’t get to see the Refugio at Chileno so I can’t speak to how nice the accommodations are compared to Camp Central but the lodge and bathrooms were definitely a bit more rustic.
- INVESTED IN HIGH QUALITY RAIN GEAR
Biggest lesson learned on this trip – don’t skimp on the important stuff that keeps you dry and warm! I bought “rain proof” pants on amazon and a low quality rain jacket all of which got drenched after an hour of hiking in the rain and never fully dried. Luckily, we only had 1 solid day of rain or I would’ve been in deep trouble.
Now I’ve invested in Gortex rain gear which I’ve tested out on multiple rainy trips with much success! What a different experience the right gear can provide!
Pack half as many trail snacks as I think I need
I am always concerned about having enough food. When we opted for the “full board” option which provides breakfast, packed lunches, and dinner on trail, I was nervous about how much food would be available for such a remote location; this was unnecessary! The Refugios will feed you well with large portions and options to purchase more small snacks at some locations.
Packed lunches consisted of deli meat sandwiches, fruit, cookies, nuts, etc. We never finished the whole meal.
Important note for dietary restrictions – most every meal centered around meat and lunches always involved bread. Definitely something to research if you have restrictions.
Keep going and do the full O Circuit!
We met a few groups who were doing the full O and we were definitely jealous. I would 100% go back and do the full circuit – this time with better gear and determination to see Las Torres up close!
Stayed in a Cabin or Eco-Dome
- Passing the cozy cabins in Los Cuernos sector while on our way to a cold, dark, wet tent at Camp Frances was a bit heartbreaking. Next time, I would splurge and try to book one of the cabins or eco-domes for the experience and for a break from the elements.
Do a practice run before the real thing
Beginner tip: test out your gear before beginning a backpacking trip – I obviously did not take this tip seriously when it came to rain gear.
Train with your pack and boots on. Physically, I felt fine after the W Trek with minimal training before the trip (i.e. I went to the gym maybe once a week). However, we did more hiking in El Chalten after this trek and I was hurting, so training more could’ve helped.
And that’s that, my friends! I hope this guide was helpful for your own planning or perhaps inspired you to visit Torres Del Paine in Patagonia someday soon – it is quite the adventure and certainly lives up to the hype.
Happy Travels xo