How to organize your own trekking in Torres del Paine Park

My experience in Torres del Paine W Trek

As soon as I say this name, I think of the four days of walking, the 80km, the sun, the wind, the rain, the snow, the tiredness and the happiness. I have seen such different landscapes and climates, I could have been in front of a cougar, at dawn, alone, and it didn’t happen. But it happened that I met travelers from all over the world, and everyone had their own valid reason for walking. It went that when I finished the trek I shed tears. A mix of physical and mental fatigue. The fact of having completed a long and arduous journey.

El Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, is one of the most famous places in the world for trekking. It is located in Patagonia, specifically in Chile. This is a huge national park that offers two circuits: the 80-km W Trek to be done in 4 days, and the 120-km O Trek to be done in a week.

Now one says, I go to Torres del Paine National Park, pay the entrance fee and walk. Eh no. You have to have already arranged everything, months in advance, in some cases, even knowing whether you want breakfast on Tuesday or not. Without a reservation, no entry.

Photo by Paulius Dragunas on Unsplash

How to book in Torres del Paine Chile

There are several options: your tent, their tent, shelter. And then there is your food or their food. Of course you have to bring your own tent and food for the whole trek, and also garbage, because you can’t leave any maps, even in the shelter. I chose shelter and food them. For convenience. And laziness. In fact, I am one of the few who has the tiny backpack with 4 panties and 4 t-shirts. A great exercise in minimalism.

Photo by Olga Iacovlenco on Unsplash

There are three sites where to make reservations. Everything is always sold-out and you have to make deadly fits and starts to make your own path. The problem is that if you want to do 4 days and 5 nights as I did, maybe you don’t find room for one night and you have to go by trial and error until you find all 4 available nights that you book, some from one site and some from another. In short, maddening.

And everything is so expensive. For a 5-day trek, you spend about 500-800 euros to 1500-1700 euros. Again out of laziness, at one point I gave up and a friend of a friend, of a friend passed me the number of a Chilean agency, who booked for me, taking commission from the facilities and I spent the same, than if I had done it myself. I told her, I want this, that, this other. And she did it all. Fill out the contact form or contact me on Instagram if you want her contact information.

Before the trek

The Torres Del Paine W trek can be done from East to West or from West to East. Now there are a variety of theories about what is best and why. Basically it’s a matter of what you want to see first and what you want to see next. Many choose to end the route at Mirador Torres Del Paine because it is the most scenic landscape.

But in my opinion, it really doesn’t make much difference, it’s all good. So better to choose how it is most comfortable in terms of accommodation, time available and travel. Also because the truth is that you cannot choose much, because only as many people enter the park as the shelters can accommodate.

Torres del Paine Park
Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

I recommend sleeping one or two nights in Puerto Natales, a quiet Patagonian town on the bluest lake in the world, before setting off on the long trek. I decided to stop two nights before and two nights after, this is because the first and last nights are always technical stops to arrive and depart. Also, the day you finish the trek you are really broken and need to rest. Puerto Natales is also the last town where you will find ATMs, supermarkets, pharmacies, stores, in a word: civilization.

Practical info

In Patagonia, the sun sets at 10 p.m., so you can start your trek at a leisurely pace. And you can afford to take lots of breaks, walk at your own pace. There are also many flat and easy stretches. I am not really sure to say that it is a trek for everyone. Because there are some pretty challenging points, such as Mirador Base Torres and Mirador Britannico. However, one can also modify the route, skipping Mirador Britannico, for example, and devoting oneself to a fantastic flat walk. It is absolutely essential to bring trekking poles.

The route is well marked and you occasionally meet other travelers. Because the park is so big and there are so many hours in a day to make your trek, I felt that there were not that many people around. Perhaps the only really crowded spot is Base Torres, because who gets it done in the day, waking up at 4 am. Which I never understood, I always prefer to sleep until the attraction, to the mountain on duty, instead of getting these early risers, hours and hours of public transportation in one day, that is you enjoy it more.

Photo by Paulius Dragunas on Unsplash

I would always wake up around 6 a.m. to leave at 7 a.m. In my opinion this is one of the best times to walk because there is really no one around, hoping not to encounter the cougar.

Bring some cash, you will need it for the park entrance, for the mini-van and for the catamaran on the way back. In the shelters pos works, but in short you never know.

For example, I offered a catamaran ticket to a girl who was desperate and did not know how to withdraw cash, because the only ATM in Paine Grande was not working and so she would have to walk six hours, to the administration office to pay by credit card, for the catamaran. Madness. I gave it to her as a gift and she very much wanted my bank details to make the transfer once I got home. I told her that it was not necessary, since so many times in my travels, I met generous people who offered me something. And that was the time for me to reciprocate and not break the chain of traveler solidarity.

I’ll put below the day trip options to Torres del Paine Park if you want to do a day trip or if you can’t find room to do the whole circuit or maybe you don’t have time. It is absolutely worth it.

Where to sleep

I chose the route based on the aesthetics of the shelters. I know it doesn’t make much sense, however, I had to start somewhere. And I, after hours spent walking, like to sleep in a nice place. Even if they are actually very simple places with bunk beds. So if you make the trek alone, you’d better sleep in the dormitory. Another, perhaps more viable option is to choose refuges, based on the miles you want to travel per day. As well as availability.

Photo by Frank Holleman on Unsplash

I chose the shelter option, which costs more than a campground, which may be more or less equipped. For two reasons: the main one for not having to bring my tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad, and the second one for the climate. In Patagonia the climate changes constantly and very quickly. In five days, I saw: sun, rain, snow, hail, wind, clouds. Mostly a lot of wind, so I recommend a windbreaker and waterproof jacket.

Going back to sleeping in the shelter, I found that if you’ve been walking all day and then you find yourself sleeping in a damp tent because it’s raining outside that someone sent it, it’s not the best. And so I have seen travelers wake up wiped out and cold from a night in a tent. Here if I can avoid it, better. Especially in places where the weather is really unpredictable and four walls are ideal at the end of the day. In addition, all shelters have a stove where you can quickly dry your hair and clothes if, like me, you have brought very few changes.

Photo by Jonas Dücker on Unsplash

What to eat

In addition to booking my bed in the dormitory for 4 nights, I also booked breakfast and dinner. Half board. For each lunch instead, I brought two high-protein bars. Looking back later, I might as well have brought dinner for the first night and maybe a packet of oats and coffee for breakfasts. Since there are communal kitchens in the shelters you can use.

Meal prices are really very high and the quality is not great. That is, it is not bad, it gets eaten. Then you starve every day anyway. So everything looks so good to you. Meals should be purchased together with the shelter, so for example you have to think like this: first day dinner plus overnight stay and breakfast, second day the same, and so on.

Photo by Alain Bonnardeaux on Unsplash

Day 1 – Puerto Natales – Chileno

We leave at 7 a.m. from Puerto Natales. When you get to the bus station, you will see that there are a lot of people heading to Torres Del Paine. Don’t worry, because many are day hikers. And so you can walk for hours by yourself, knowing that sooner or later you will meet someone. Or a cougar. They say to be safe if you encounter a cougar. And to back away slowly, without losing sight of the cougar, so that it can escape. Eh sure look. If I see the cougar, I stay quiet and back away slowly.

The bus, after an hour or so, drops you off at Laguna Amarga, where you pay the entrance fee to the National Park (so bring cash) and board a mini-van. Going from East to West, consider that you will find a café and gift store at the entrance, where you can drink the last decent coffee and buy a map for $1. It is called the Welcome Center. And finally your adventure begins and you will be inside the infamous Torres del Paine Park for five days.

Photo by Snowscat on Unsplash

The Chileno shelter, where I slept the first night and which I found very nice is two hours away from the entrance, so if all goes according to plan you will get there by lunchtime. Once you arrive, leave everything you don’t need and continue to Mirador Base Torres. It is two hours one way and two hours return. The last hour uphill is quite tiring because you are walking on huge stones.

The spectacle at the top (weather permitting) is what has made the trek famous. As all guidebooks indicate, always carry: water, waterproof windbreaker, warm clothes and a snack. I say this because the first day I left in short sleeves and found myself wearing gloves at high altitude because it was snowing.

Kilometers traveled: 15 km
Refuge: Cuernos

Day 2 – Chileno – Cuernos

This was the best day for me because it is a five-hour hike, all on the plains, with breathtaking scenery. This is the moment when you begin to understand the immensity of Patagonia, you skirt Lake Nordeskoll, you pass by Cuernos Mountain.

And you see all these colors together: the white of the snow, the blue of the lakes, the green of the mountains and the yellow of the fields. This second day, it really excited me at every step.

Photo by Snowscat on Unsplash

It is also about a day when you walk relatively little. If you want to add a splurge, you can also climb back up to Mirador Base Torres to see the sunrise, adding another four hours to the day. It’s worth the thought only if it’s good weather, otherwise you don’t see much and redo a route, made a few hours earlier. Then for goodness sake, all beautiful.

Otherwise, another option is to arrive at Cuernos Refuge and relax along the lake. Day three will be really busy anyway.

Kilometers traveled: 12 km
Refuge: Cuernos

Day 3 Cuernos – Paine Grande

You start from Cuernos and walk along the lake, which is really beautiful, to get to the Italian Camp. Of all of them, I thought it was the saddest and if you want to stay in a campground, I recommend Cuernos which offers several options and not just the shelter, including some very nice bungalows so if there are two of you you can save money, or you can sleep at Frances campground which is an hour or so from Cuernos.

Photo by Tilo Mitra on Unsplash

Returning to the trek, once you get to the Italian Camp, you can leave everything you don’t need and in an open-air storage area to make the two-hour trek uphill to the British Mirador, where you will most likely find snow and ice.

It is two and a half hours uphill and the same amount of time downhill. After that, another two hours to get to the Paine Grande refuge, which is immense, as the name implies. There are a lot of people, partly because it is one of the exit points from the Park, directly with the Catamaran.

Kilometers traveled: 23 km
Refuge: Paine Grande

Day 4 – Paine Grande – Grey

Last day of trekking, today is Grey Glacier day, which if you’ve seen Perito Moreno before, you kind of ruined the surprise. Because nothing can hold a candle to the world’s most active glacier. Today we start from Paine Grande, around 7 a.m. to arrive at the glacier around 11 a.m. I booked an excursion and went kayaking on the lake.

The activity starts at 11 o’clock sharp, so if you want to include it in your itinerary, I recommend it, it is absolutely worth it. As always, everything is well-marked and the Bigfoot Patagonia company provides you with equipment, so kayaks, wetsuit, gloves, shoes and even tea, hot chocolate and cookies. Consider that it’s cold and the water in the lake is frozen, so you might want to cover yourself well.

Photo by Snowscat on Unsplash

The excursion takes one hour, the kayak accommodates two people, and the concept is to approach the glacier from the lake. Once the activity is over, you can check in and relax in the Grey hut and do some hiking in the surrounding area to see the Grey from the Mirador.

Kilometers traveled: 22 km
Shelter: Grey

Day 5 Grey – Puerto Natales

On the fifth day you can leave at a leisurely pace, you only have to do the four-hour hike back to Paine Grande anyway. Beware that the last ferry to return to Laguna Amarga, where we then take the bus to Puerto Natales, is at 6 p.m. If you have a chance to leave a little earlier, do it, because then on the last day you are really wiped out and it is also nice to get back to “base” at a decent time and have dinner in a typical restaurant in Puerto Natales after so many days of walking. It makes a bit of a return to civilization. I also give you another piece of advice.

Photo by Tilo Mitra on Unsplash

The trek can be safely concluded on day 4. After kayaking ends at 1 p.m., you return to the Paine Grande hut and are in time to catch the last ferry and also to have a beer while waiting. This saves you a night, dinner and breakfast. Given the prices inside the park and since you have now finished the trail.

What to bring

First of all, I recommend that you leave insured, ideally you have taken out a policy before your departure to South America, because in the event that you need medical assistance in the middle of the park and hopefully not, the arrival of the vehicles is quite expensive. Inside the park there are rangers, health personnel, who can provide you with first aid. In any case I wouldn’t risk it and below I’ll put you the travel insurance that I use, if you sign up from this link you are entitled to 10% discount. If you want to learn more before you sign up for your policy, read this article on travel and health insurance .

As for your backpack, it will seem like a trivial piece of advice, but carry as little as possible. Every extra item will be felt on your shoulders. If you want to make the trek with your own tent, that’s another matter, but if like me you sleep in shelters, you can enjoy the experience with a tiny backpack.

By the way, all shelters have wood stoves and fireplaces, so you can safely wash a T-shirt and underwear and it dries in 10 minutes. If you want to bring a book or a Kindle, I recommend it because in the evening even if you are tired sometimes you can’t sleep and the Internet is charged. You can buy packages to use WI-FI. Generally speaking, you spend about $10 for 8 hours.

Other note with respect to this list below, I always carry my passport. This is because I’ve found that in some places in the world, they won’t let you in without it, and also because sometimes you can get a stamp in your passport from the place you’ve been. In Torres Del Paine, there were no stamps unfortunately, but the document was necessary.

  • 5 Panties
  • 4 T-shirts,
  • Thermal leggings
  • Thermal T-shirt as pajamas
  • Hiking poles
  • Front light
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • 2 pairs of socks
  • Folding quilt
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Soap
  • Shampoo
  • Comb
  • Sun cap
  • Cold weather cap
  • Power bank
  • Charger
  • Earphones
  • E-book
  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Cocoa butter
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Dehumidified wipes
  • Disinfectant spray
  • Everything in the Decathlon vacuum bag.

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