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The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Trekking in Patagonia

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect” – Paul Theroux

My feet and ankles throbbed with pain at the end of every day. Those last couple of kilometres were always the worst, and at those moments I lamented persisting with my half broken, fake Salomon hiking shoes that I bought in Nepal over a year ago. The W Trek, known as one of the world’s best multi-day treks, was harder than it probably needed to be, but I made it (and saw some amazing sights along the way). Here are some tips to make your trek a bit easier, as well as a quick look at some of the scenery.

Day 1: Hiking to Mirador Las Torres

After setting up our tent at Campamento Torres, we started the 8 hour round trip hike to Mirador Las Torres (torres means towers by the way), the W Trek’s most iconic viewpoint. The wind was raging and the skies were clear, but there was no guarantee that would last. We walked down the hill towards Refugio El Chileno, where we ate a lunch of plain, dry and completely unappealing bread. It turned out one of us had forgotten the tuna and olives. We continued to walk along the scenic valley, through sheltered forests and eventually to the start of the painful ascent to Mirador Las Torres. It was a tough climb; my shoes weren’t designed to be walking for that long on sharp rocks. I also had a wardrobe malfunction — my pants ripped, which meant I had to tie my girlfriend’s cardigan around my waste, which wasn’t one of my finest fashion moments. As for the view from up there…it’s almost indescribable. The razor sharp peaks, creamy green water and snow covered mountains combine to leave pretty much everyone who visits in silent awe. It was a long and hungry walk back to our tent, and the consistently rocky track was starting to frustrate me and my poor feet.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: On the way to the towersThe W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Mirador Las TorresThe W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: The 4 towers

Day 2: Campamento Torres to Campamento Italiano

One of the tougher aspects of the W Trek is carrying all of your camping equipment, food and clothes between the campsites. You can stay in the various lodges along the way, but that’s only for people with money to burn. Most people will end up carrying around 10kgs on their backs, and the hardest big bag carrying section is the 7-8 hour hike between Campamento Torres and the free Italiano campsite. It was fairly flat, with a few ups and downs, but again it was rocky for most of the way. The scenery was great though — the grey Cuernos peaks provided a distracting backdrop during some of the hardest sections. I was absolutely shattered by the time we reached Campamento Italiano — I don’t think I’ve ever had a more well-earned rest.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Cuernos peaksThe W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Near the French Valley

Day 3: The French Valley

After filling up our water bottles in the freezing river close to camp, we made our way through the French Valley, eventually ending up at a huge opening surrounded by mountains. The walk took us past a glacier, a fast flowing river and a waterfall, eventually leading us into a peaceful forest. The track was rocky and there were plenty of ups and downs, but it was still one of the easier sections of the W Trek. After about 5 hours we made it back to Campamento Italiano. We packed up our tent, strapped on our heavy bags and started the 3 hour walk to Paine Grande, where we would camp for the night before walking to Grey Glacier. It was a tough walk; that 5 hour hike through the French Valley wasn’t the best preparation. I eventually hobbled into camp, relieved that it was the last time I’d have to carry the heavy bag.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Italiano Campsite

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: French ValleyThe W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: The French Valley

Day 4: Grey Glacier

Our final day in Torres del Paine National Park was spent walking to Grey Glacier and back. The sun was shining and the track was a bit easier than the previous ones. All was good, and in less than 4 hours we were admiring the giant glacier while eating the last of our tuna and olives. We couldn’t wait around for too long though, as we needed to be back for the last boat/bus back to Puerto Natales. The walk to Grey Glacier and back took around 7 hours. The last hour was agony, but just when my feet were about to fall off the soothing site of the Paine Grande lodge/campsite came into view. We had finished the mighty W Trek! My terminally ill shoes made it that much harder and I’d never carried such a heavy bag for that long before. It showed me that I can do anything and also that I need to prepare for this sort of thing better. After packing up our tent one last time, we hopped on the catamaran headed to the park entrance, where a bus was waiting to take us back to Puerto Natales.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: On the way to Grey GlacierThe W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Grey GlacierThe W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Grey Glacier close-up

East to west or west to east?

You can either hike the W Trek east to west or west to east; the jury is still out on which one is better. We hiked east to west, mainly because the weather was good when we arrived at Torres del Paine National Park, meaning we’d have a better chance of seeing the towers (they are often shrouded in cloud). It worked out well; we got a good view of the towers on the first day, which took the stress of possibly not seeing them away. It also seems like it is easier to complete the W Trek in 4 days if you hike east to west. We had originally planned to do it in 5 days but the lure of nice food and a comfortable bed inspired us to do it in 4.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Cuernos forest

Tips for tackling the W Trek

  • Wear good shoes: You’ll save yourself a lot of pain.
  • Bring lots of snacks: Things like chocolate and biscuits are expensive if you buy them on the trek.
  • Hire good camping gear: We talked to people who didn’t rent good sleeping bags and they said they were freezing and miserable every night. We paid a little extra for ours but we were always warm.
  • Don’t carry much water: We rarely had to walk more than an hour without seeing a stream or river where we could fill up our bottles (the water is really nice too).

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Mirador Grey Glacier

How much does it cost to do the W Trek?

Here’s a quick rundown of what we spent:

  • Torres del Paine National Park entry ticket: 18,000 CLP
  • Round trip bus ticket to/from the national park: 15,000 CLP
  • Bus to Las Torres camp site: 2000 CLP
  • Catamaran from Paine Grande to the national park office: 15,000 CLP
  • Food: 35,000 CLP (for 2 people)
  • Camping equipment (tent, sleeping bags, mats, cooking gear) 65,000 CLP (for 2 people)
  • Camp sites (Las Torres and Paine Grande): 14,500 CLP (for 2 people)
  • Snacks along the way: (we ate all of ours on a boat trip before the trek and didn’t have time to buy more before leaving Puerto Natales) – 15,000 CLP (for 2 people)

All up it cost us about 115,000 pesos each (around $160 USD) — not bad for a 4 day trek in one of the most expensive regions of South America.

The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park: Paine Grande camp site

The W Trek is one of the hardest and most rewarding things I’ve done. Paul Theroux might be right; this is definitely one of those treks you appreciate more when you reflect on it. My terrible shoes were the main reason for my discomfort though, so don’t let me put you off doing the W Trek.

Have you been on a multi-day trek? Where was it, and what challenges did you face? Let me know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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9 Comments

  1. January 10, 2016 at 5:07 pm — Reply

    Hi Jon,
    This looks like a dream trek- I cannot believe that you got to see such an amazing landscape and it only set you back by $160. I’m going to have to add this to my hiking bucketlist.

    • Jon Algie
      January 12, 2016 at 10:21 pm — Reply

      Definitely do it one day Natasha!

  2. January 10, 2016 at 9:04 pm — Reply

    That’s you called Trekking. Looks very motivating to do the same as soon as possible through your photos. Thanks for this, Jon. 🙂

  3. January 11, 2016 at 3:32 am — Reply

    Incredible pictures! Very jealous of your trip to Patagonia it looks absolutely stunning. I know what you mean about needing a good pair of hiking boots as I’ve been caught out with the same problem and regretted it slightly! Well done for finishing

    • Jon Algie
      January 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm — Reply

      Cheers Nic, yeah good shoes make all the difference on this kind of trek — I probably won’t learn my lesson though haha.

  4. January 12, 2016 at 8:02 pm — Reply

    Definitely going to need to do this. The Campamento Torres looks ridiculously gorgeous! Then again so does the view from the whole trek ?

    • Jon Algie
      January 12, 2016 at 10:22 pm — Reply

      Yeah, there aren’t too many average parts!

  5. November 27, 2016 at 7:54 pm — Reply

    Wow, amazing photos! I do hope I’ll have chance to hike there.
    Btw, the mountains in Patagonia look kind of similar to European Alps, especially Dolomites range.

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