During our researches about the Torres del Paine National Park one hike came up more than anything else: the W. The W is called like that because of the shape of the paths you take:
It’s a hike usually completed within 4-6 days and you have multiple accommodation options: your own tent, a rented tent or refugios (like a hostel). As we don’t carry any gear with us and it was freezing cold at night we quickly decided against camping. Unfortunately by the time we digged deeper into the refugio options most places were fully booked and the few left would have cost us around 150$/night. So we decided to only go 3 days and do day trips. In hindsight a good decision considering the weather and closure of multiple paths.
Because one of the first things we were told upon arrival in Puerto Natale was that the biggest part of the Torres del Paine hiking paths was closed due to bad weather. Bummer…
After spending a day in Puerto Natales (quite a nice little seaside town to spend a day or two!) figuring out the different options and weather conditions (the weather in the park can be completely different than in town!), we opted for a tour by bus the first day as the hiking paths were still quite wet and certain waterways high to the knee. We paid 35US$ per person and even though it sure isn’t as exciting as hiking the park, it was a good way to get an overview and to see parts we couldn’t have seen with the little time we had (We lost already a day out of the 3 due to the weather).
The bus picks you up around 7h30, drives about 2h to the park and stops first at a cave (5000 pesos = 6.70US$ entrance, we didn’t go…), then at the administration to pay the park entrance (18000 pesos = 27US$; valid 3 days). After that you stop multiple times to take in the scenery until you make your way to Lago Grey. Here you have about 1.5h to walk around and take in the grandeur of the glacier lake (unfortunately you can’t see the glacier from here, you’d have to take a boat trip). Be sure to dress warmly as the wind was bitter cold!
Would I recommend doing the bus tour? It depends how much time you have. If you’re only in Torres del Paine for 2 days it’s a great way to see a lot. If you have more time and like hiking, definitely try and stay one or two nights in the park and hike some longer distances (if the weather permits). We finished our evening with the one of the best steak and gratin dauphinois we’ve ever had (Don Jorge at Plaza de Armas, try it out if you get the chance!) and treated ourselves with a nice bottle of wine.
The next day we did the most iconic hike of the park, the trek leading you to the base of the “torres”, the horns. The best would be to do it for sunrise but to do that you need to sleep in the park, some campgrounds (like the refugio Chileno are located at the foot of the last ascend).
We booked a 35 USD tour with the same agency. It includes transport and a guide. You can have it a bit cheaper by taking the public bus (only leaving at 7am and 2pm) and then a shuttle to the starting point but the difference wasn’t huge and with the organized transfer at least we didn’t have to wait once we were done. Also we had booked our onward journey to Punta Arenas for the same evening and wouldn’t have managed to catch it with the public bus schedule.
Again It takes 2h to reach the entrance of the park, (we had our entrance tickets from the day prior) and from there about 30 minutes to the starting point at Refugio Torres. The trek starts in fact from the grounds of a huge private property featuring several lodging options.
The hike is a little similar to the Fitzroy trek, through forests, over bridges and open areas from where you can admire the “torres” for most of the trip. A word of warning: I’ve only seen one toilet after the starting point, towards the end at the Refugio Chileno. The ascend was a little steep at the beginning (about 4km), then 5km up and down and, as with Fitzroy, the last km took us about an hour as it was very steep and rocky. Even though the weather wasn’t great we did have a nice view on the horns and were even lucky that it cleared a bit. The site was really stunning as you can see in the pics below. The Torres were impressive to say the least. Another humbling experience. Be aware that it can be really cold and windy up there and I was happy about every layer I took with me. If raining please beware of your backpack raincover which can act like a parachute when it’s windy, so better a wet backpack than a fall over the rocks. We finished the hike first of the group, together with Sina, a nice German girl we met.
The bus was supposed to leave at 5pm which meant that we would have enough time to go back to our hostel and then catch our bus to Punta Arenas. A few people were quite slow though and we grew a bit impatient when nobody else was there yet by 5h30pm. The driver was very kind and helpful though and negotiated with the guards to be able to drive a bit into the property to pick the others up. We made it back in perfect timing!
Even if the weather was relatively bad and altered our plans a bit we did enjoy our stay in Patagonia and it was nice to see the Argentinean and Chilean side. Patagonia is a very spectacular, particular and humbling part of the world, definitely worth a visit.
We took a flight from Punta Arenas, the most Southern town on Earth, to Santiago de Chile and reached a milder climate again 🙂 stay tuned to see the amazing street art from Santiago and Valparaiso!