Hiking the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, Chile

One cannot talk about the Chilean Patagonia region without mentioning the stunning magnetism of Torres del Paine National Park. Being in the heart of this stately place and scanning the horizon only to find vast wilderness and striking vistas is a surreal and humbling experience. While mother nature picks and chooses the weather she throws your way like a finicky passenger selecting a radio station for a road trip, you wind through the W Circuit not knowing what to expect. You look up at any given moment to witness nature playing tricks on you with panoramas so spectacular they stop you in your tracks. Teal lakes in the distance teasingly invite you to test out the frigid waters, glaciers glisten revealing their mystifying hues as the sun ruptures through storm clouds only for a moment and towering peaks envelop you in mystery as you daydream about ascending every last one.

Made it to the Torres lookout

Torres lookout

The five days of pure, unadulterated nature is a rejuvenating feast for the soul. You are thankful every time you reach your shelter and the whipping wind around camp respectfully decides to wait at the threshold to lend you a good night’s rest. Grateful for recuperating the vast amount of energy needed to take on another day, you rise with the sun restored and willing. You hike for hours on end, seemingly countless miles and are rewarded by the satisfying taste of victory and that of your own sweat and tears as you reach the end of your trek.

Hiking to Cuernos Camp

Hiking towards Cuernos Camp

Torres del Paine’s hypnotizing beauty captivates visitors, seduces them to plunge into the unknown and entices them to discover the mysteries of the land. We too were captured and although it feels like we were there long ago, we have vivid memories and photographs that bring us back to that place every time we reminisce. Ready to plan your own trek? Here’s the full scoop on the W circuit.

Ready to hit the trails? Trail marker at TDP

Ready to hit the trails?

 

Details of the W Circuit

The W circuit can be completed beginning on either the Eastern or Western end. Since we wanted to make sure to see the famous Torres first and leave Glacier Grey for the end, Manu and I decided to do the trek from East to West. During high season camps and refugios will book up completely so be sure to reserve early according to how you want to plan out your trek. Here is a breakdown of how we completed the W trek. Click here for W Circuit Map East to West.

  • Day 1: Refugio Torre Norte → Base de las Torres Lookout → Refugio Torre Norte
    • 18 km roundtrip (11 miles)
    • 8 hrs
    • If you want to see the famous Torres/peaks during sunrise book your stay at Torres Camp or Chileno Camp closer to the lookout.
  • Day 2: Refugio Torre Norte → Los Cuernos Camp
    • 12 km (7.4 miles)
    • 5 Hours
    • Get amazing views of Nordernskjöld Lake.
  • Day 3: Los Cuernos Camp → Francés Camp → Británico Lookout → Francés Camp
    • 17 km (10.5 miles)
    • 11 Hours
    • Hike up the Francés Valley to the Británico Lookout for a 360 degree panorama (the middle part of the W).
  • Day 4: Francés Camp → Grey Camp
    • 18.5 km (11.5 miles)
    • 8.5 hours (break in Paine Grande 1 hr)
    • Don’t miss outstanding views of Glacier Grey on your way up the trail.
  • Day 5: Grey Camp → Paine Grande Camp
    • 11 km (6.8 miles)
    • 3hr 45 min
    • Take a break in this lovely refugio while waiting for the catamaran or before hiking up to Grey Camp.

note: we’re very slow hikers and take our time so the hours are approximate.

↓ Check out our day-by-day gallery recap below! ↓

The Rundown

Getting there

  • Torres del Paine National Park is easily accessed from the nearby city of Puerto Natales by bus. There are a few companies offering buses into the park and you can purchase tickets at the local bus station in town or through your hostel/hotel (in high season book ahead of time!)
  • Take the 7:30 am bus out of Puerto Natales to arrive at the CONAF Admin. in the park before noon.
  • Depending on whether you will start on the West or East end the bus will drop you off accordingly.
  • Check out our destination page on Southamericabackpacker.com to learn all about Puerto Natales.

    Arriving at CONAF station during high season... patience is key

    Arriving at CONAF station during high season… patience is key

 

Getting in/out

  • Make sure to Bring your Passport and tourist card (given to you when entering Chile)
  • Cost- 18.000 Chilean Pesos (for foreigners)
  • If you end on the West side (Glacier Grey) you will need to take the Catamaran from Paine Grande to get out of the park (see schedule here)

    We all made it to the end! Waiting for the catamaran

    We all made it to the end! Waiting for the catamaran

 

When to go

  • High season runs from October 1st – April 30th
  • It is advisable to visit during these months since it’s the spring and summer season in the southern hemisphere. During this time, you will get the least brutal weather and the most hours of daylight to enjoy the hikes.
  • Even during spring/summer the weather can be unpredictable! Be prepared for wind, rain, sun or even an avalanche! (we experienced this, check out our YouTube video HERE)

 

Where to stay

  • Book your refugios or camp sites way ahead of time! To plan the 5-day trek accordingly stopping at shelters overnight you need to make sure you have reserved your space. You’ll have the option to book meals and sheets/sleeping bags as well.
  • To book domes, camping, refugios online:

Save Money

  • Book a tour to hike TDP only if you ABSOLUTELY must (they are way overpriced). I strongly recommend you book and plan everything on your own (the savings are a huge difference).
  • Bring your own food & supplies and purchase/rent them in Puerto Natales. Food inside the refugios will be considerably more expensive. Remember you have to pack everything in and out so think light!
  • Water in the park is potable so no need to bring any. Be sure to fill your bottles upstream from the trails.
Ramen Noodles for dinner to save... We only splurged on our last night after finishing the trek

Ramen Noodles and Jenga … We only splurged on our last night celebrate the end of the trek

 

Final Quick Tip

  • There are no open fires allowed inside the park.

Gallery