This post is intended for hikers doing the ‘W’ trek in Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile during high season (October 1st – April 30th).
If you travel to Chile, you will find that the most talked about activities are hiking the ‘W’ or the ‘O’ trek in the Torres del Paine National Park. You will also hear a very common question over and over again “did you make your reservation yet?”
Like most backpackers, I like to show up at a destination and plan things at my leisure. But in southern Chile, this is a bad idea! If you are planning to visit this area to hike in high season, you must make reservations!
Before I left Canada, I read a lot of recent blog posts on walking the ‘W’ trek. From these posts, I understood that even if the Refugios(dorm beds) in the national park were booked up, you could still stay at any campsite providing that you had a tent. And worst case scenario you could use the free campsites anytime. This information is no longer correct!
Summer Of 2016/2017 Changes.
As of this year, things have changed! So be prepared to book this hike a few months in advance! Because planning the ‘W’ trek in the high season has just become a major disaster. One of the biggest headaches of booking this hike is that three different companies own all the campsites. So you must book your trek on two or three different websites. Follow these links to book; Fantastico Sur(East Campsites), Vertice Patagonia(West Campsites) & Parque Torres Del Paine(Free campsites).
The biggest change this year is that you must book the free campsites. Unfortunately, most of the free campsites are now fully booked.
So What Is The ‘W’ / ‘O’?
The ‘W’ is a 4 to 5-day trek in The Torres Del Paine national park that is basically in a w shape. The ‘O’ (The circuit) is a 5 to 6-day trek that includes the ‘W.’ If you look at the ‘W’ trek(red dots) on the map in this link then the following information will make more sense.
You have two options for hiking the ‘W.’ You can start from the East and go West or start West and go East. A lot of people plan it according to the availability of the campsites and refugios. I did it a different way. (Details to follow)
The only thing I will say about the ‘O’ is that you can only do this trek going counter-clockwise because of safety reasons. I did the ‘W’ trek, so the following information will only be for this trekking option.
My Experience Trying to Book Ahead Of Time.
I tried to book my campsites three weeks in advance with no success. I tried a lot of different dates and possibilities. The campsites and refugios on the East side were mostly full. And the free sites were booked up because there is no financial consequence for people that do not turn up for their reservations.
Here Is My Plan B!
I asked a few people in the hostel that I was staying at in Pucon for some help into making this ‘W’ trek happen. Together we came up with a solution. The solution meant walking more and carrying less.
I booked a campsite for three nights(2 nights is sufficient) during mid-December at Rufugio Torres Central with Fantástico Sur(Choose the option for Camping Central when booking this website), based at the start of the Eastern leg of the ‘W.’ And I booked another campsite for three nights at the Paine Grande campsite with Vertice Patagonia, located at the start of the Western side of the ‘W.’
I started my camping/hiking at Camp Central and moved to Paine Grande after a few days(Via bus/Catamaran). However, you can book booth sites the opposite way if you want. It will most likely depend on the availability of accommodation when you plan to go.
The Pros & Cons Of My Choice.
If you do the ‘W’ Trek the way I did it, you will need to do day trips and return on the same path that you started. This option will mean that you will do a lot more walking.
This option will also mean that you will not have to carry your heavy backpack anymore than a few hundred meters.
Both of the campsites that I listed have garbage bins, hot showers(sometimes), and a store where you can buy groceries at inflated prices. The Paine Grande store did accept credit card. (Cash is always better due to possible technical problems)
Since you don’t need to lug your backpack on the trail you can buy as much food as you want in Puerto Natales and just keep it in your tent. The only regret I had was that I didn’t bring a couple of bottles of wine.
Please note that you need to book both the Torres Central Campsite and the Paine Grande Camp in advance! Both sites have options to camp ($15 USD/night Torres Central, $9 USD/night Paine Grande), rent tents, sleeping bags, or sleep in a dorm style bed with food in the Refugios (Check Fantástic Sur, Vertice Patagonia for pricing and availability).
I did the cheapest option. I rented a 4 season tent ($8 USD/night) and a camping stove ($2 USD/night) in Puerta Natales. The total cost of my hike with food, rentals, campsites, transportation, and the park entrance fee was around $300 USD.
My Trip In Detail
I spent a few days in Puerto Natales planning my hiking trip. The best thing that I did during this time was to attend the free information session at Base Camp(ask your hostel for the location) about the Torres Del Paine National Park. I highly recommend attending this! They have these sessions every day at 3 p.m. and go over everything you need to know. How to plan your hike, the booking process, packing, how to dress, and what food to bring.
To get to the park, you need to take a bus from the central bus station in Puerto Natales. Most hostels can sell you a return ticket from Puerto Natales to the National Park. The cost is $25 USD return, and the buses usually leave from Puerto Natales around 7:00 a.m. and there is usually a bus in the afternoon. There are a few companies that run buses to and from the park. Your hostel will be the best resource for current times and prices.
I took the 7:15 a.m. bus to the park and arrived at the main entrance and welcome center at Laguna Amarga around 9:45 a.m. The fee to enter the park in high season for a foreigner is $32 USD. You can pay this fee at the welcome center in USD, Chilean Peso’s, or by Visa. After I had paid, I had to attend an information session that lasted approximately 15 minutes. The group I was in watched a video that went over the park rules.(Click the following link for latest entrance prices)
After the information session, I took a shuttle bus to Torres Central where my campsite was. This bus cost $5 USD one way and takes about 20 minutes. I set up my tent then I did a hike up to the Mirador Torres del Paine (approximately 6 hours return). I booked an extra night at Torres Central Camp, so I could have a second chance to do Mirador Torres del Paine just in case the weather was bad. Because if the weather is bad, you won’t see anything besides a lake. The Mirador Torres del Paine is the main attraction of the park.
The next day was rainy, so I hiked from Torres Central Camp to Los Cuernos Refugio and back(this took me approximately 7 hours return). The scenery on this hike does not change much. Although you get a great view of the lake, I feel that it’s not necessary to hike the entire way to Los Cuernos to enjoy everything.
Day 3(Not necessary!)
The third day was my extra day. I had great views of Mirador Torres del Paine on the first day of hiking, but I decided to go back up a second time to get some more great photos, with some new friends that I made at the campground.
I took the 9:00 a.m shuttle bus back to the main park entrance at Laguna Amarga. From here I caught another bus to the Pudeto Jetty to get the 12:00 p.m. Catamaran (20 minutes). The cost of the Catamaran is $35 USD one way / $55 USD return. You need to buy the tickets in Chilean Pesos onboard. (Click for latest prices)
The Catamaran docked right beside the Paine Grande Refugio and campsite. By the time I set my tent up and unpacked everything it was 1:00 p.m. It was raining hard, so I decided to take this day off. Unlike Central Camp, Paine Grande has a building where you can cook, eat and socialize. The cooking area is the perfect place to hang out during a rainy day!
If you do not have much time, you could hike to Mirador Grey(Located shortly after Refugio Grey) and back on this day (Approximately 8 hours return). But I highly recommend starting early 8:00 a.m. the next day and hike from the Paine Grande campsite all the way to a lookout that is 2 hours past Refugio Grey and back to Paine Grande. The viewpoint is located just past the second suspension bridge and has a fantastic view of the top of Glacier Grey.
I did the hike past the second suspension bridge to the viewpoint over Glacier Grey. (This took me approximately 9 hours)
I started hiking around 7 a.m. and walked up to the Mirador Británico. This hike took me about 9 hours return.
I got the 9:00 a.m. Catamaran and headed back to Puerto Natales with the bus. The buses do not leave right away so expect to wait an hour or two. I arrived in Puerto Natales around 3:00 p.m.
Tips On The Trek
When you are hiking, take your time. If it is the high season the sun rises early and set late 10:30-11:00 p.m.
Drink lot’s of water during your hike, even if you are not thirsty. Water is accessible in most parts of the trail, and it is drinkable. It is advised to fill your water bottle from the fast running water. I used purification tablets, but most people did not. Nobody had any complaints about getting sick.
I strongly recommend renting a 4 season tent. It gets very windy in the park. You do not want the wind blowing your tarp around and letting rain in your tent. A wet tent would not be a great experience!
Bring a warm sleeping bag and extra clothes. It gets frigid in the park at night. It got to 3C when I was there in mid-December.
When you leave for your hike in the morning, put your sleeping bag and clothes in a garbage bag, or something waterproof just in case your tent leaks while you are away.
If you are hiking and the weather turns bad do not turn back unless it’s terrible. The weather always changes in the park. I suggest that you bring up a small day pack with an extra jacket and food. Being warm will allow you to stay at the viewpoint for an extra hour or two if the weather is bad. I spent 2 hours at Mirador Torres and saw the weather change several times. The weather was cloudy, rainy, clear, snow(hail), and windy all within this period.
Hiking poles will help you a lot! The poles will help you with your footing, and they will also take some of the pressure off of your knees.
Most hostels have a donation area for hikers to leave the hiking gear that they no longer want. You can most likely get a gas container for your camping stove, hiking poles, and a sleeping mat for free.
When you decide to book, your campsites use Google Chrome or a browser that will allow you to open multiple websites at once. This way you can book everything at once.
I hope this post helps you with planning your hiking trip to Torres del Paine National Park. Please check all the websites that I have links to in this post for current pricing and times. If you have any questions about the park or the hike, please contact me by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment at the bottom of the page and I will get back to you as soon as I can.
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