A day-by-day hiking guide for Torres Del Paine National Park’s W-Trek in Patagonia.
When, where and why:
Hiking in Patagonia. It was something my best friend and I had been craving to do for over a year before it became a reality. It was a recommendation from a waitress at a small brewery in Boquete, Panama. We were only at the brewery because we met the owners by chance while white water rafting and were invited to try their homemade beers. A dream they chased from the states down to Central America. Don’t you love participating in people’s dreams? So this waitress, who was full of life and happiness and stories to share, was going on about what this world has to offer. Every decision she’s made, she said, led her to this place, and she hasn’t forgotten any of the places she’d been prior, and wasn’t likely to forget any of her future destinations either.
Well, she sent us to Patagonia, an area found at the very bottom of South America. And I spent my time there hiking in Torres Del Paine National Park with a group of friends; some brought, some gathered. The outdoors has a way of introducing people, of binding like souls from different corners of the world together to form a friendship that just feels right in your bones. I found the mountains’ secrets carried by the wind. I found the bluest greys and the greyest blues wrapped together where coast meets sky. I relished in feeling so small amidst this great, natural beauty. This undeniable power seeps from the views and immerses you in an out of body experience; a body you’re reminded of only when you stop holding your breath long enough to feel the aching caused by hours of pushing forward. I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of my friends, the old and the new, and our journey together. We conquered mile after mile, uphill and down. We navigated this seemingly unreal place, soaking in its beauty each day, and simply enjoying it.
Down by the edge of the world, I found this feeling of accomplishment. This “I can do anything” mentality that has stayed with me ever since. This trip was unlike anything I’d done previously – backcountry hiking, pack-backing, over 6,000 miles from home. But to this day, it’s still one of my most treasured adventures.
My itinerary and notes for you. Here I’ll provide you with a day by day recap of what I did and how I did it. I’ve included tips, notes, and things I wish I’d done instead, so you can make your trip even better than mine was!
Try This There:
Hiking the W Trek of Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile in 5 days, with time in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
Note 1: It is vital that you prebook all of your Torres Del Paine camping/cabin arrangements months before your trip. They truly do sell out, campsites and refugios (hostel/hotel type accommodations), and you are, under no circumstances, allowed to disperse camp in the park. We were stopped by a ranger before we were even allowed to begin our hike and needed to show them proof of our prearranged accommodations.
Note 2: I took this trip December into January. Peak season for the National Park. We were graced with really great weather for our time in the park. Keep in mind that you’re at the literal edge of South America. Chile’s summer may give you 90°F weather in Santiago, but Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales are going to be cold, more like 50°F.
Day 1: Travel from US (My flights: Washington, DC > Lima > Santiago > Punta Arenas). It took us around 26 hours to reach Chile from DC. We also booked the cheapest flights we could find and had a pretty long layover in Santiago to deal with. You fly into Punta Arenas, as it’s the closest airport to the park.
Day 2: Arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile. Taxi to your accommodations from the airport and negotiate your fair. “Muy caro” (too expensive) and walking away garners great results and airport security can help you navigate to safe taxis. Stay in Punta Arenas tonight. We stayed at Hospedaje Costanera, a hostel which offered 24-hour check in. Convenient as we had arrived at 2 am. The hostel was very homey, had a good crowd and offered us a private 3-bedroom room with shared bathroom. It was conveniently located (walking distance) to both the shore and the cute town center.
Day 3: Spend the day exploring Punta Arenas. It’s very quaint. There are markets and shops to bop into. Tons of tourist stores for excursions and bus arrangements. The city center of Punta Arena’s park displays a monument honoring Ferdinand Magellan. Folklore says if you kiss the bronze foot on the monument you are destined to one day return to Punta Arenas, have good luck, and safe voyages. We obviously kissed his foot. I personally can’t wait to someday return, the weather for our W trek was perfect, and we all made it out alive, hah! We had lunch at this gastropub called La Tabla 21, which wasn’t far off from the main square / Magellan’s foot.
If you’re lucky and get good weather off the coast of Punta Arenas (we didn’t), you should look into visiting the Magdalena Island Penguins. Hospedaje Costanera can help you book a trip, as can any tourist shop in town. The Magdalena tour is 5 hours long, inclusive of a round trip boat ride which takes about two hours each way, allowing you one hour of wandering around on the island with the penguins. Please go, and message me pictures to be jealous of after!
Tip 1: Find some time today to book your bus ticket from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. Anyone in town can point you in the direction of the bus station.
Tip 2: Pre-download Google Maps of Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales so you don’t have to worry over directions.
Eat dinner at La Luna (here is their facebook). It’s delicious and I highly recommend carb-ing up as much as possible before your hike! If you’d like to go out tonight, Disco Morena or the Casino are solid options. We ended up staying in at the hostel, meeting new friends, playing drinking games with them, and exchanging hiking game plans.
Day 4: We took an early morning bus ride from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. It’s an approximately three-hour ride and you’ll be dropped off at the bus station that is a bit out of the way from the center of town, but definitely walkable. We walked to our hostel from the bus station – Hostel Last Hope. This place was really cool. It’s got a nice hang out area upstairs and the front desk people were awesome in terms of answering our questions about the park and giving us tips about town. The grocery store is right down the street, as are all the good restaurants!
We had dinner at Mesita Grande. It is delicious. I still remember the melt in your mouth gnocchi and pizza to die for. Surprising find in Chile and totally worth the wait for a spot at the family style sized dining tables. This is your last chance to carbo-load and eat something delicious before your subject yourself to freeze dried and dehydrated meals if you decide to cook your own food and not always buy the expensive food at the refugios along the way.
Tip 3: I found the most affordable freeze dried meals on Back Country. This is one of my favorite websites for everything from my snowboarding gear, to cute work out clothes, to freeze dried meals. They have it all! I always google coupon codes for them, and usually get pretty lucky. Backpacker’s Pantry is one of my favorite brands for freeze dried food. We bought enough meals for three people to have breakfast, lunch and dinner each day of the hike. We split the meals between our three packs. PSA: Some meals say the serving is for two people, but from experience, after a 15-mile day, you’re gonna want the whole thing to yourself. We often supplemented with cookies, nuts, or peanut butter. You can buy snacks at all the refugios.
We went to bed early tonight in order to catch the next day’s 7:00 a.m. bus ride to Pudeto in Torres del Paine National Park. Be prepared to take the earliest bus into the park possible. The hostel will help you figure out which bus to take! The earlier the better because once you’re in the park, you need to wait in line to check in with your passport, buy your trail pass, and watch a mandatory quick safety/rules video. The lines will just get longer as the day goes on.
Tip 4: grab last minute things for your hike from the hostel. My friend found a sleeping mat and we grabbed some gas canisters for our jet boil – all free from the hostel’s “sharing” corner. All hostels in the area have one of these! Take advantage.
Tip 5: We repacked our hiking packs at the hostel and only took what was necessary to carry in our packs on our backs for 5 days and 60+ miles of hiking. We left the rest of the stuff in a locker at Singing Lamb Hostel, because that was the hostel we were going to stay at upon return from the hike. Lockers are decently priced to rent and it was super convenient to lighten our load.
Tip 6: IN MY HIKING PACK:
Clothes: two pairs of work out leggings, one pair of fleece leggings for sleeping, two work out tank tops, two long sleeved work out shirts (one thermal, one not), one long sleeved shirt for sleeping, three pairs of hiking socks (two for hiking, one for sleeping), one fleece pullover, one rain jacket, one puffer coat, gloves, two sports bras, underwear, a pair of shoes to wear at camp, hiking boots, headband (I brought an ear warmer one)
Toiletries: tooth brush and paste, contact case and solution, deodorant, sunscreen, microfiber towel and wash cloth for showers, shampoo, body wash, face moisturizer, razor, chapstick, body lotion, bandaids, hair brush, hair ties
Camping: JetBoil, gas canister, waterproof matches, freeze dried food, Gatorade energy chews, Clif bars, peanut butter, one plate, one cup, one fork, one knife, one spoon, one water bottle, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, headlamp, camp soap, a small daypack, headphones, sunglasses, rain shield for my pack, pack of playing cards
Important: Passport, money, proof of itinerary and booked campsites. Keep all of this sealed in a ziplock bag to protect from rips/tears/water! Cell phone and charger. Camera and extra battery.
Day 5: We woke up early and took a 7:00 a.m. bus ride to Pudeto in Torres Del Paine National Park. On the way, we saw flamingos and guanaco (essentially Andean llamas)! The bus first stops off at the entrance to the park, where as I described in day 4, you check in with your passport. You reboard the same bus and your final destination is the catamaran shop at Pudeto on Lake Pehoé. There is a small shop where you can purchase coffee and wait for the boat to pick you up. We boarded it around noon and left for Paine Grande, which is on the other side of Pehoé. Enjoy the ride. The water is unreal and it’s your first real look at what’s the come. You’ll see your first glaciers and snow capped peaks, along the most vibrant blue water. When you get off the boat, you’ll be dropped off at Paine Grande, but you’re not staying there tonight. You’ll immediately start the first leg of your hike! Upon arrival, we checked in with a ranger and then followed the clearly marked sign to the trail. To note, this was the only part of the trip where we personally were asked to verify our accommodations by a park ranger. We never saw another one during our time in the park, but have heard different experiences from others. Just be prepared! This was also the only time the hiking trail was a bit crowded. For the majority of our time in Torres Del Paine, we had the trail to ourselves. I’d say the two most crowded parts were today and then the hike up to the Torres.
You’ll hike from Paine Grande to Campamento Grey. It took us around 3.5 hours before we made it to camp. After checking in with our passports, we set up our tent in a place that wouldn’t be too shaken by the wind, changed into our warmer clothes, made and ate dinner, and relaxed for the rest of the night.
Note: All the water in the many streams you’ll pass on the entire hike is glacial runoff from the mountains and completely clean and drinkable. There is no need to purify it. Fill your bottle up in the stream and enjoy freezing cold, incredibly delicious water. Nothing like it!
Tip 7: Air out your hiking outfit each night! You’ve only brought two – and you truly only need two for five days of hiking. Excess weight is unnecessary as even the lightest packs get heavy when you’re hiking this many miles in such a short time. We tied our clothes to trees or bushes to air out each night. Make sure to secure your clothes or the wind might blow them away during the night!
DAY 6: We left camp set up at Campomento Grey and took daypacks on the first leg of the W trek. Today, you’re doing the \ of it the W! From Grey you’re going to hike to Paso (or at least hike over the second suspension bridge, and then hike down to Paso if you’re up for it). Everything is clearly marked and there is only one route to take. This is true of the entire trek. You’ll pass over suspension bridges, you’ll hike around glacier lake, through lush woods, and just see the natural beauty of Patagonia every second of the day. This is going to be an out and back for you, as once you hit Paso, you’ll turn around and head back to Grey to pack up your camp. Once we packed up camp, we trekked back to Paine Grande (where the boat dropped us off!).
Tip 8: My daypack always contained the following: an extra layer, my raincoat because Patagonia is unpredictable, my gloves, my water bottle, sunscreen, chapstick, and snacks.
Our night at Paine Grande happened to be New Years Eve. After checking in with our passports, we were able to take hot showers and cook dinner. That night, the stars were incredible. The view from our tent was unbeatable. We rang in NYE on a couch in the Refugio listening to music, playing cards, and drinking wine with the new friends we made. It was a pretty perfect ending to a 14-mile day.
Day 7: Today you’ll hike from Grande to Campamento Frances, with an out and back hike in between to complete the middle of the W. We woke up early and caved by buying a hot breakfast from Refugio Grande. Toast and egg sandwiches with meats and cheese, oatmeal, coffee and juice was just too good to pass up after a 14-mile first day and an even more challenging hike lined up today.
Once we hit the trail, this time going in the opposite direction of yesterday, we hiked until we reached Campamento Italiano. There, we dropped off our big packs (we left them outside with all the other bags, this is very common and everyone does it) and took our daypacks for hike up Britanico. This hike was a steep incline that felt like it would never end, but was pretty amazing nonetheless. It’s a rock scramble to get to the top, but it’s worth it. It’s an out and back and completes the middle of your W trek.
We grabbed our big packs from Italiano and hiked to Frances. You’ll definitely want a good sleeping mat for this place, as you set up your tents on wooden platforms. The camping sites are an uphill walk from the check in and bathrooms, but they had hot showers so we weren’t complaining. We definitely overpaid for Gatorades from the camp’s shop, but after 16 miles, money somehow became no object. All of the refugios have small stores, some better than others. Most sell beer – and have you ever cracked open a cold beer after a 16-mile hike? Cervecería Austral is the oldest brewery in Chile and you’ll find their beer everywhere.
Day 8: It took us around 6.5 hours of hiking to make it from Frances to Norte. We stopped a few times to play in the wind, have lunch, take pictures, and watch guanacos and condors. Instead of a campsite at Chileno, like we would have wanted, we booked beds in Refugio Norte (because the campsites were sold out! Book really early!) Norte is a pretty touristy area, as busses are able to drive in and drop off tourists who only want to climb up to the Mirador Torres rather than doing the W-trek or O-circuit. When you first arrive to the Norte area, you’ll find a cute little trade post and they sell ice cream. The Refugio isn’t too far from that, and it was nice to sleep in a bed. There is a restaurant in a nearby building, so we treated ourselves to pizza and beer.
Tip 9: If you can get a reservation at Chileno, do it. It’s only about 2 hours from the Mirador Torres, and will allow you to do a sunrise hike! I wish we could have stayed there but they were booked up. If you have money to spend, I’d also try to stay here.
Day 9: We woke up at 5:30 a.m. to pack up, make and eat breakfast, and hit the trail with our daypacks. Norte stored our big packs for us. We hiked from Norte to Chileno to Mirador Torres. It is uphill the entire way, but we crushed it in about 3.5 hours, when it’s expected to take 4.5 hours. We hiked through every season. It was cold, it was hot, it was raining, it was snowing. It was insane. When we finally reached the top, we got lucky and the clouds cleared, giving us a perfect view of the Three Towers (Torres del Paine!). Their presence is overwhelming and stunning. You immediately see why they’re the namesake of the park. It’s such an accomplishment to make it up to them!
The towers complete your W-trek. Of course, you must hike back down. We hiked down to grab our things from Norte and hopped on a shuttle bus from Norte to Laguna. From Laguna, we wanted to take a bus back to Puerto Natales. However, our timing was off and the next bus wasn’t due for three hours, so instead of waiting, we hired a van with some other people who were waiting to take us back to the city.
Once we arrived back in Puerto Natales, we had burgers, wings, and beer at this restaurant called Baguales. I’m not sure if it was the 60+ miles we’d hiked in 5 days time or if this place really did have the best burgers, but it’s a 10/10 recommendation from me. Definitely do this.
We were also reunited with the rest of our belongings, which we had originally dropped off at the Singing Lamb hostel. This place is really cool! We enjoyed staying. It was an early night for us – exhausted and happy.
Day 10: After sleeping in and reuniting with clean clothes, we headed to Creperia Café & Te. I enjoyed an apple strudel crepe and a latte spiked with Baileys. We explored the small town all day and hung around the hostel. We went back to Mesita Grande for dinner because it had been so delicious the week before. This day was definitely a lazy day in Puerto Natales. I don’t recommend staying an extra day here, like we did. If I could do it over, I’d head to Santiago instead.
Day 11: We caught an early morning bus to Punta Arenas. We treated ourselves to a fancy night at Rey Don Felipe Hotel, a hotel with comfortable regular sized beds which was the epitome of luxury post hostels and camping. It was our you-just-hiked-over-60-miles-in-5-days-you-deserve-this treat. Notice a treat-yourself pattern? If I could do it again, I wouldn’t come back to Punta Arenas for an extra day here either. I’d instead head to Santiago.
The saving grace of the extra day in Punta Arenas, besides a nice hotel, was dinner at La Marmita. To this day, it’s one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. We enjoyed the most tender, melt in your mouth lamb. Their pumpkin, artichoke, sun-dried tomato, and asparagus stuffed raviolis were amazing. We also had fresh ceviche and scallops. It was absolutely amazing. Definitely go here!
Day 12: We flew from Punta Arenas to Santiago to Texas to Washington, DC. It again took around 26 hours of travel thanks to cheap flights with long layovers.
Day 13: Arrived home. Missed Chile immensely.
*TLDR: Quick breakdown of what I did
Day 1 – travel
Day 2 – travel / Punta Arenas
Day 3 – Punta Arenas
Day 4 – Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
Day 5 – Puerto Natales to Torres Del Paine National Park – hike from Grande to Grey
Day 6 – Grey to Paso to Grey to Grande
Day 7 – Grande to Italiano to Britanico to Italiano to Frances
Day 8 – Frances to Norte
Day 9 – Norte to Mirador Torres to Norte to Puerto Natales
Day 10 – Puerto Natales
Day 11 – Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas
Day 12 – Punta Arenas / travel
Day 13 – Travel / home
Breakdown of what the trip would be if I were to do it again:
Day 1 – travel
Day 2 – travel / Punta Arenas
Day 3 – Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
Day 4 – Puerto Natales to Torres Del Paine National Park – hike from Grande to Grey
Day 5 – Grey to Paso to Grey to Grande
Day 6 – Grande to Italiano to Britanico to Italiano to Frances
Day 7 – Frances to Chileno
Day 8 – Chileno to Mirador Torres to Norte to Puerto Natales
Day 9 – Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas to Santiago (stay here OR go home)
Day 10 – Santiago
Day 11 – Santiago
Day 12 – Santiago / travel
Day 13 – Travel / home