What is the “W” trail? How much does it cost to visit? How do I get there? Here's all the information you need when camping in Torres del Paine, Chile.
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**This info is fully updated and valid for the 2016/17
season** (All prices are in Chilean Pesos)
If you're lucky enough to find yourself in South America, and you're thinking of hiking in Patagonia, then you simply cannot miss out on the Torres del Paine national Park.
Though this place has got incredibly popular in recent years, it's by no means an easy destination to trek. Instead, you need to go prepared and equipped, so here's a guide on camping Torres del Paine and how to get the most out of your stay.
How to get to Torres del Paine?
To visit the Torres National Park most people stay in Puerto Natales, and then get a coach transfer to the park. There are many hostels available and the town is pretty small so it’s hard to find one that’s in a bad location.
We stayed at Hostel San Agostin as it was the cheapest one around, and was a good distance from both town and the Rodoviario (bus station).
There are 3 bus companies that offer transfers to the park. These are Buses Gomez, Buses Juan Ojeda and Maria Jose (Pictured below). They are all next to each other in the rodoviario and all have identical fares.
It costs 15,000 pesos for an open return journey to the park (though our hostel offered it for 14,000 pesos with Juan Ojeda). Each bus leaves at either 07:30 or 14:30 from the rodoviario.
To come back from the Torres del Paine national park, the buses also leave twice a day (I’ll explain that shortly). The journey time from Puerto Natales to the Park is about an hour and a half.
What is the “W” trail?
The Torres del Paine w trek is the most famous walk in the park. If you're looking to go camping in Torres del Paine, then this is what most people will attempt to do, and it can be accomplished normally in 5 days, though some do it in 4.
There are campsites scattered throughout the park and this gives you the option to tailor your own journey based on your level of experience; though do be aware it is still quite challenging to complete many of the sections, so don’t underestimate the mountains!
What is a Refugio?
When camping in Torres del Paine, you can stay in either camp sites or refugios. Some camp sites are paid and some are free; refugios are like fancy chalets that you need to pay for to stay in.
Note: they can be quite expensive, but I have provided links to check these out later on in the post.
You can travel either from East to West to complete the “W” trail or from West to East. We spoke to a lot of people during our time here and also some seasoned veterans of the park and so will give below what we surmise to be the route that makes the most sense and gives you the most from your time there.
This is the West to East Route.
Day 1: (15,000 pesos +
21,000 pesos + 18,000 pesos)
Pay your 15,000 peso bus fare from Puerto Natales and leave at 07:30 in the morning. The bus will first stop at the entrance to the park where you will have to pay the 21,000 pesos entrance fee (this price is regardless of your length of stay).
Once everyone is done you will hop back on the bus and stay on until you get to the 2nd stop, Pudeto.
You then need to get the Catamaran across the water to Paine Grande. Departure times for this ferry vary depending on the time of year, so here’s a timetable pictured below. This will cost you 18,000 pesos.
You may have realised by now that visiting the park isn’t cheap and from speaking to people, the prices go up and up every year. Although, the views from the catamaran are pretty impressive.
This takes around 30 minutes to reach the other side (Paine Grande). Once you land you need to get off and set off north all the way up to Campsite Grey. (link to site to book) Here you will get to see the spectacular Glacier Grey.
The first few hours of this walk are easy in comparison and so it’s a great way to ease yourself into your trip. You can leave your bags at camp and walk up a bit further in order to get better views of the glacier.
Set off South from camp and head around to Campamento
Italiano. This day isn’t too demanding and best of all you get to spend the
night in a free camp site and don’t have to pay for any expensive transfers.
Day 3: (Possibly pay for camp site)
Head up the Villa del Frances (French Valley) and take in
the breathtaking scenery. You can go as far as you feel fit to do and then just
simply retrace your steps back down to camp.
You then have a choice: to either
spend the night again camping for free in Campamento Italiano, or get a head start on
tomorow’s walking by taking the 2-2.5 hour walk to Los Quernos camp site, where
you can either camp or stay in a Refugio. (These are both paid).
Day 4: (Possibly pay for camp site)
This is the biggest day of walking you’ll face, but by this point, you should be well worn into the hiking life and ready for anything the mountains can throw at you!
I’d recommend, if you can, walking all the way around the trail and up the Torres mountain to Campamento Torres, where reservations are free. It's also much closer to the summit (more on that to come).
You can, if you want, book to stay at the Refugio or campsite Chileno. You do again have to pay, but takes a bit of time spent walking off your day.
Though to be honest, the walk up to that refugio is the hardest part, and the walk after that to the free campsite is relatively much easier and if you think you can do it then do it. Get a good night’s sleep because you’ll be up early the next day:
Day 5: (3,000 pesos)
This is what we were recommended to do and it was by far the highlight of our trip. We woke early and set off from camp about an hour before sunrise (times below and on your park map).
Pack your bag with your roll mat and sleeping mat before you leave. It’s about a 45 – 60-minute climb to the base of the Three Torres and it will be pitch black so have a torch ready (ideally a headlamp that you can rent).
When you get to the top, quickly unroll your mat, take your boots off and get in your sleeping bag; it is cold up there that time of morning and everyone will be shivering standing around (except you!).
Then you just lay back and watch the sun rise and see the Three Torres glow and come to life. This moment makes the whole trip worth it, so if you have the opportunity to experience it, then make use of it!
Admittedly, it was incredibly tough for us that time of the morning but it was so worth it.
Once the sun has risen and you’ve got all your amazing photos, head back to camp. You’ll pass lots of people starting to come up, but you’ll be smug in knowing you had a much better experience!
Once back, have breakfast and set off. It’s then a roughly 3 and a half hour walk back down to Hotel Los Torres where you’ll catch the transfer bus (3,000 pesos) back to the entrance of the park.
This leaves at roughly 2pm, which gives you time to catch the 14:30 coach that leaves the main entrance at Laguna Amarga, where you bought your park entrance tickets.
This coach is the return journey back to Puerto Natales and will be with the same company you came in with. It also leaves that point at 19:30. So you can take it easier on your final day walking back down if you wanted.
But for us, we wanted to get back to town and return our gear that day in order to avoid paying another day equipment rental.
Can I take any other routes?
Yes of course!
This is just an illustration of the infamous “W” trek. But depending on your hiking experience, fitness level, budget and desire to spend nights sleeping in a tent, it’s up to you how long you spend camping in Torres del Paine.
You can be creative with your route, and if you have any worries, then you can query it with more experienced people (more on that to come).
There are tough parts of the trail, but plenty of people who consider themselves “unfit” were able to do it, they pushed themselves but were also respectful of the park and planned ahead sensibly.
There is also another trail that I believe is known as the “O” or “Q” trail which essentially follows a massive loop around the entire park (see the map). This takes up to around 10 days.
I would one day love to come back and do this! And if you have any experience with this trail or intend to do it then let me know in the comments below.
To leave the park you exit through any one of the 3 ways you can come in: Laguna Amarga, Pudeto or Administracion. So again be sure to carefully plan your route.
Where do I make reservations when camping in Torres del Paine?
**This is important and
new as of the 2016/17 season!**
You need to carefully plan your route in the park before you enter because you will need to book all of your campsites ahead of time online.
This was new when we used it and the sites online had some kinks but hopefully, they will be worked out soon.
When we checked into camp you have to give your details and they make sure you have a booking. So don’t turn up to a camp without one or you’ll be turned away and have a real problem on your hands.
It's important you make your Torres del Paine camping reservations in advance, so here’s a list of the different sites where you can book. There are 3 individual booking sites (just to make things more confusing!!!)
Each campsite belongs only to one of these sites so you’ll likely need to make bookings with all 3 overall. Follow the links to see which campsites are on which site.
There are a number of places in Puerto Natales that you can
rent equipment. It’s up to you what you go for exactly but here’s what I would
recommend as pretty crucial:
Good sleeping bag (we took -6 Celsius ones, but the warmer
Stove and cooking equipment (1 gas canister, 1 pan, a mug
and some cutlery is all we had)
2 pairs of gloves (one for walking and one for camp)
Good ankle-supporting walking boots
Sun cream (even though its windy up there, the sun catches
you by surprise)
Day clothes for walking
Set of camp clothes
Plenty of dry food and meat for dinner, ready-made wraps for
lunch and cereal/chocolate bars for breakfast and snacks (just make sure you
take enough food but realise how heavy it would be to take too much).
We got all of rental supplies we needed from a company
called Erratic Rock. Personally, we are so grateful that we stumbled across this company and I’d recommend everyone to go there the day before visiting the park.
At 3pm every day they hold an information talk on the park. This tells you everything you need to know from prices, route information and just general tips. They have free coffee and tea and answer any question you may have, as well as others you would never have thought of.
It’s free as well!
These guys are the ones who gave us the tip to get to the peak of the Three Torres before sunrise and to take our sleeping bags. We spoke to a girl who works there called Ruth, she’s incredibly helpful and friendly and speaks perfect English.
She’s lived there for 6 years now and is a professional guide so knows everything there is to know.
It’s not obligatory that you hire your equipment from there but we did because of how amazingly helpful they were and also that their prices are on par or cheaper than other places we looked.
Definitely, give them a visit!
We then got most of our food from a big supermarket in town
called the Unimarc (you can’t miss it).
This info is valid as of October 2016, however prices and
times do change frequently so double check this info when you are there. We
heard that things are only going to get more expensive in coming years, so if
any of the info on here has changed then please mention in the comments below
and I’ll update accordingly.
If you're wondering where to head after Puerto Natales, then from our experience we would say it's time to head north and catch a bus to El Calafate in Argentina where you can visit the Perito Moreno Glacier; or check out this post on the other things you truly can't miss out on in South America.
If you're trekking Torres del Paine sometime soon, have already been there, or have any questions then let me know below.
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