W Trek is one of the most popular multi-day treks in the world and gets its name from the shape of the trail. The beauty and ruggedness of Patagonia attracts visitors from all over the world. Due to its popularity, booking accommodations has become harder and harder.
5-Day W Trek in Torres del Paine can be hiked in East to West or West to East direction. It is a well-marked trail where a guide is not necessary but using a tour company to book the accommodations and all the meals may be worth the investment.
Where is Torres del Paine National Park?
Torres del Paine is a national park in Chile, Patagonia. It is accessible by bus or car from either Puerto Natales, Chile or El Calafate, Argentina.
To get to Puerto Natales you can either fly directly from Santiago or fly to Punta Arenas and take a 3-hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. The main reason to fly to Punta Arenas is there are more flight options from Santiago, and if you have an extra day to spare you can take an excursion out of Punta Arenas to see the penguins. From Santiago, there is only one flight to Puerto Natales at 5:55 am.
To get to El Calafate take a flight from Buenos Aires. From El Calafate, it is approximately a 3-hour drive to Torres del Paine.
There is public and private transportation from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. However, from El Calafate, all the transportation to the park is private and must be scheduled beforehand.
When to do W Trek In Torres del Paine National Park?
Torres del Paine National Park is open year-long. However, the refugios, their services, ferries, and other park services are only available from September to April.
Using a Tour Company Vs Booking Yourself
If you are a person who likes to plan and book a trip like this a year in advance and are ok with carrying your tent, sleeping bag, and backup food it is probably better and cheaper if you book everything yourself for the W Trek. The refugios are operated by two different companies Las Torres Patagonia (Fantastico Sur) and Vertices Travel.
If you are more like us and don’t plan too far in advance and like to minimize the number of things to carry with you, then using a tour company to book everything for you is probably a better choice. We used Chile Tour Patagonia. It worked well for us without any issues but some other people in the group had a few minor hiccups.
The Classic W Trek option with Chile Tour Patagonia offers accommodations the night before the trek and the night after with dinner on both nights. It follows the East to West trail, and it includes refugio accommodations every night, hot breakfast and dinner and boxed lunch for every day, and ferry and bus tickets.
With the tour, guides hike with you on the first day to the towers and after that, you hike at your own pace on your schedule. We had a large group with a large age span and it was fun to hang out together in the evenings and share our experiences of the day.
East to West vs. West to East
W Trek can be done either East to West or West to East. It really is a personal choice of how you’d like to do it.
Going East to West, the hardest day is on the first day, the hike to the towers. It is also the most iconic view of the hike.
Going West to East you start at Glacier Grey and the last day is the hardest day of the hike. I also felt, like going East to West you are hiking with the best views in front of you whereas the other way around those views would be behind you.
How hard is W Trek in Torres del Paine
I would consider W Trek as a moderate hike. It has some difficult parts but also very easy parts. The weather conditions play a big part here and can impact difficulty significantly, mainly high winds. But if you are in good condition and frequently hike W Trek would not be that difficult for you.
W Trek Day 1 – Hike to the Towers
The day starts with the shuttle transfer to the park. The drive is about 1.5 hours and you will most likely see Guanacos, Red Foxes, Ostriches, and other wildlife during this drive (same if using a public bus). You need to purchase a park entrance ticket online before the start of the trek and present the QR code at the park entrance. The park entrance is also where you can use bathroom facilities before starting the hike.
The trailhead is by the Las Torres Hotel, another location where they may allow you to use the restroom. We were able to leave our stuff in the shuttle and only carry a day pack on today’s hike.
After a short walk, the trail starts going uphill, with minimal tree coverage and on a sunny day it can get really hot. It takes about 3 miles to arrive at Chileno Refugio. At Chileno, you can take a break, grab a snack, refill the water, and use the restroom. From Chileno, the trail goes through the forest for approximately 2 miles. Once out of the forest, the hardest part starts.
It is a steep climb, with switchbacks and scrambling over the rocks all the way to the towers. The last part is over 1200 ft, elevation gain in less than a mile. Once on top, on a clear day, you will be rewarded with one of the most iconic views in the world. Expect crowds on this hike.
The way down is exactly the same.
OPTIONS: There are three accommodation options for this part of the hike. Las Torres Hotel and Refugio Torre Central are close to the trailhead, and you can leave your 5-day pack there and just carry your day bag with you to the base of the Tower. Or if staying at Refugio Chileno, you can leave your pack thereafter a 3-mile hike up.
TIP: From Chileno, the trail to the towers usually closes at 5 pm, but because we did this hike on Christmas Eve it closed at 2 pm and a lot of people got left out. I’d recommend checking in at the welcome center before starting the hike.
W Trek Day 1 Stats
Distance: 11.33 mi
Elevation: 4015 ft
Facilities: Park Entrance, Chileno Refugio and WC on the Trail
Accommodations: Refugio Torre Central, Refugio Chileno, Hotel Las Torres
W Trek Day 2 – Cuernos Sector
Today is the first day you will carry your full pack with you, and it makes a difference.
From Refugio Torre Central the trail to the Torres and Cuernos sector starts together and after about a mile in it parts ways. Once on the Cuernos sector the crowds disappear and it becomes a much quieter walk.
It is an easy hike to the first pass where you get a first glimpse of Nordenskjöld Lake and snowcapped mountains in the distance. From this point on the views never stop.
Maybe because we had a cloudless day of hiking, this was the most scenic hike on the W Trek. The hike is mainly walking by the lake with breathtaking beauty all around you and views of Cuernos and Glacier Frances. Yes, the view of the Towers steals the best view but during the hike, there is not that much to see going up, on Day 2 the views never stop.
Be aware that Glacier Frances breaks off frequently which sounds like thunder.
We stayed at the Domos Frances.
W Trek Day 2 Stats
Distance: 10.76 mi
Elevation: 1932 ft
Facilities: Refugio Torre Central, Refugio Cuernos & Refugio Frances
Accommodations: Refugio Cuernos, Domos Frances and Refugio Italiano and campsites
W Trek Day 3 – Paine Grande Sector
Day 3 hike can be as hard or as easy as you would like it to be. The main objective is to make your way to Paine Grande Refugio. You have the option to hike via viewpoint Frances and then Viewpoint Britanico while leaving your stuff at Refugio Italiano.
For us, the weather turned overnight. The clouds rolled in, it started raining and the wind picked up. We decided that we will go up to Frances viewpoint and then decide if we want to continue to Britanico. Left our stuff at Italiano and hiked up but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so we turned around a little after we passed Frances viewpoint.
By the time we returned to Italiano, the park ranger closed the trail to go to Frances or Britanico due to unfavorable conditions. The trail is steep and rocky and it got slick with the rain.
From Italiano it is 4.6 miles to Paine Grande. Luckily rain eventually stopped but the wind kept picking up. We spotted a few little tornados in the Skottsberg Lake while hiking next to it.
The only accommodations here are at Paine Grande, either the refugio or the campsite. This is where the Lago Pehoe ferry runs to and from to take you back to the bus stop.
PRO TIP: The Lago Pehoe ferry is a lot more reliable and operates in unfavorable conditions where the ferry on Lago Grey gets canceled more frequently. Which turned out to be the exact case when we were returning.
We stayed the night at the Paine Grande Refugio.
W Trek Day 3 Stats
Distance: 8.95 mi
Elevation: 2615 ft
Facilities: Frances, Italiano & Paine Grande
Accommodations: Paine Grande Refugio and Campsites
Day 4 – Grey Sector
This is the windiest part of the hike and winds in Patagonia are no joke. The hike starts from Paine Grande valley up to the pass and then back down to Refugio Gray.
Coming across the pass we experienced extreme winds, rain, and hail. The weather conditions are what makes this hike hard. The hike from Paine Grande to Gray Refugio is approximately 7 miles with little over 2000 ft elevation gain. On paper, an easy hike. But add over 50 km/h winds and hail and it becomes a different ball game.
Once at Refugio Gray, you can call it a day or continue hiking to 2nd hanging bridge (another 4 miles), go kayaking by the glacier, or ice trekking on the glacier. We took a short break and then hiked up to a 2nd hanging bridge to get better views of the glacier.
Big Foot is an operator that organizes kayaking and ice trekking if interested.
If you are too tired for any of these activities or if the weather is not cooperating, you can do these activities the following day as the hike on Day 5 is hiking back to Paine Grande and taking the Lago Pehoe ferry.
TIP: Instead of walking back to Paine Grande, you can also take Grey Ferry and catch the bus to Puerto Natales. However, due to high winds, this ferry gets canceled very frequently but it is an option on a good day.
PRO TIP: If you are coming back to Paine Grande and taking the ferry Pehoe back, you have the option to leave your big pack here and only carry a day pack with you to Grey. It costs 3000 CLP.
W Trek Day 4 Stats
Distance: 11.4 mi (6.85 miles just to Grey)
Elevation: 3400 ft (2080 ft just to Grey)
Facilities: Paine Grande and Grey Refugio
Accommodations: Refugio Grey and Campsite
W Trek Day 5 – Paine Grande Sector and Ferry
Today’s hike is the same as yesterday’s, it is walking back to Paine Grande. We didn’t think the winds could be worse than the day before, well we were wrong. I strongly recommend using hiking poles here, as they were the only reason helping me stay upright at times.
We started at 6 am to make it back to Paine Grande in time to catch the 9:35 am ferry. There are also 11:05, 17:00 and 18:35 ferries in December. Please look at the end of the post for the ferry schedule by month.
PRO TIP: Lake Pehoe ferry has a limited number of people it can take on (we were told 100) so if you are time-limited, make sure you queue up early enough as the 17:00 and 18:35 ferries get full quickly. The 9:35 am ferry was half empty.
Once on the other side of the lake, you can hop on the bus to Puerto Natales right away (make sure you buy a bus ticket ahead of time BusSur.com) or you can take a short hike to the Mirador Salto Grande (viewpoint of the waterfalls) and viewpoint of Cuernos.
W Trek Day 5 Stats
Distance: 6.85 mi
Elevation: 2080 ft
Facilities: Grey and Paine Grande Refugio
Suggestions For the Best Experience On the W Trek
Patagonia is truly unpredictable, and you can experience four seasons in one day so come prepared.
It is important to invest in good quality waterproof clothing. A lot of people we hiked with thought they had waterproof boots or clothing and ended up soaking wet. At the refugios, there are only a few spots with a fire furnace where you can dry your stuff off.
Hiking poles are very helpful, especially during high winds to maintain your balance. If it wasn’t for them, I would have been knocked down a few times.
Sunscreen and bug spray are a must. On sunny days, the sun is intense in Patagonia and bugs are relentless. I left the bug spray behind, thinking no way the bugs are going to be a problem. Why carry the weight? I was wrong.
Torres del Paine National Park does not have any trashcans. Everything you pack in, you will need to pack out. Practice the same standards you do in the US National Parks with Leave No Trace.
All the refugios have water filling stations to refill water as needed.
It is a good practice to carry toilet paper with you, as not all toilets have toilet paper. And in Torres del Paine, and Patagonia in general, do not flush the toilet paper or any other paper products.
Food is not the greatest at the refugios. It’s usually just rice or mashed potatoes with overcooked protein for dinner. The Central Refugio had the best dinner, it was buffet style with a lot more options than other refugios. They do accommodate dietary restrictions and at times it looked like gluten-free options were better than regular food.
Wi-Fi at the refugios is available for purchase. It was 15,200 CLP for 10 hrs. You can share it with others but only one person can use it at a time.
Refugios book up quickly so plan early or have a little more flexibility with your dates and accommodations.
Refugios are not well stocked with products, it depends on their location and how accessible means of transportation are. Paine Grande and Grey Refugio Mini Markets were the best stocked with different food and drink options. Some refugios also offer to rent the towels or store your stuff for a price, usually around 3000 CLP.
There is a lot of flexibility when trekking the W Trek. You can shorten it down to 4 days if Grey Ferry is running, or you can stay at different parts of the park and do day hikes and cover most of the W that way. That’s the beauty of it, you can make it work for you.
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The overall experience of hiking the W Trek is unforgettable and a dream come true for most hikers. We had all different kinds of weather. From a very overcast first day, that cleared up just as we hiked up to the towers, a really hot and cloudless second day, an overcast, cold, and rainy third day, and rainy and windy fourth and fifth day.
A lot of people were leaving the trail early due to the weather, but we wanted to finish it no matter what and still got to see a lot more of Torres del Paine’s beauty than expected.
Lago Pehoe Ferry Schedule
The ferry is operated by HipSur and the table with the schedule is below.
|DECEMBER TO MARCH
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