The Torres del Paine W Trek is the classic. We believe that most trekkers can do it a day less than the the traditional 5 days and still have plenty of time to take photos and fully enjoy the views. Day 2 of the three-day version this trek is a long day, and most suited to fit hikers with light packs. Many may consider breaking Day 2 into two days for a total of four days for a more leisurely W Trek. Our recommendation is to start at Refugio Paine Grande (the west) and work your way back to Hotel Torres (the east).
Lead Photo: The Torres Del Paine, the gem of the Trek. Paine means “blue” in the native Tehuelche (Aonikenk) language and torres is tower in Spanish. So Towers of Blue.
Note this is a companion piece to an overall guide to Trekking the Torres de Paine. The main post: Torres del Paine Trekking – Quick and Easy Guide to Essential Trip Planning has gear lists, food lists, information on campsite reservations, busses and ferries, park maps, GPX files, and other essential information to plan your trip.
January 2017: New requirements for reservations and route quotas for both the W Trek and Circuit Trek
Until I manage to update all the TdP Guide Pages, this information supersedes what’s written in them.
1. Advance Reservations are Required for All Your Campsites (W and Circuit)
You need to have all your campsite reservations in place before you enter the park. “You need to show reservations at each campsite in order to stay. This is being enforced. There are limited campsites so making your reservation is essential. (Overcrowding last year caused camp latrines to collapse and many people got sick. Due to this, multiple campsites are now permanently closed.)”
2. There is an 80 Person Per Day Limit on the Circuit Trek (and it can only be done counterclockwise).
There is a 80 person per day limit for the “Backside” (non-W portion) of the Circuit Trek. This is passively regulated by the campsite reservation system (that is, if you have all your campsite reservations you are part of the 80 people per day allowed). This is being strictly enforced! There is a guard house (Gaurdería Coirón) on the backside operated by CONAF and and you’ll be asked to show proof of your reservations to proceed. Note: We have received reports of trekkers without reservations being sent back. [see Official 2017 Park Trekking Map]
3. Reservations for the free Park (CONAF) Campsites are Filling up Well in Advance
Per CONAF: “If you are unable to book in all the camps you want to visit, you must adapt your itinerary according to the camps you could get. Consider that there are two other camping and shelter providers where you can book:Fantastico Sur* and Vertice*. We remind you that if you do not have the corresponding reservations you will not be able to access the mountain trails and you should plan other visit options, as there will be control points where you must show the voucher or confirmation email of your reservation.“
*Note: Can’t get a site on Vertice/Fantastico? Switch to ‘book in chilean pesos‘ – yes it switches to Spanish, but google translate can help you out.
4. There are now cutoff/closing times for most trails
The back page of the Official 2017 Park Trekking Map now has cutoff times listed for many trails—that is you need to start hiking before that time to reach your destination. This is now strictly enforced.
5. The Park now accepts credit cards for the entry fee
Paying by cash is much faster, but unless you are in a car, you’ll need to wait for the rest of your bus to pay before it leaves. We have reports of trekkers waiting almost two hours at the park entry station for their bus of hikers to pay credit card, get their pass and get back on the bus.
Torres del Paine W Trek Itinerary for 3-4 Days
Day 0 – Prep day before the trek
- Check the bus and ferry schedules to get the most current info (see Transportation).
- It makes sense to stay overnight in Puerto Natales so you can easily catch the morning’s
7:30 am Bus Gomez7:00am Bus Sur (or whichever) to the Park. (Make your bus reservation and buy a round-trip ticket to the Park the night before. This is easiest to do when you get off the bus from Punta Arenas. Note: you will be taking the bus to the Pudeto Ferry on the way out but taking the bus back from the Laguna Amarga Entrance) When you get to P. Natales go directly to CONAF (Park) office (Closed Sat & Sunday) and make campsite reservations for free campamentos (Italiano and Torres fill quickly). Update, Aug, 2016: Book your campsite reservations ahead of time for all campsites. If you are unable to book the free campsites, then try the CONAF office or try to book when you arrive at the Park.
- Check in at Basecamp/Erratic Rock for 3:00 talk. (Worth listening to!) You can rent gear at Basecamp and they make a decent pizza.
- Provision food at the Unimarc in Puerto Natales. Long lines! (Better to provision in Punta Arenas if you have the chance. Way more options including a natural foods store, Patachmama, with lots of nuts & dried fruit.)
- Outdoors stores, hardware stores are well supplied with hiking items. Fuel canisters are everywhere in Punta Arenas and P. Natales
- Alcohol fuel is available at Cruz Verde pharmacias in plastic bottles.
Day 1 – Torres del Paine W Trek start (Refugio Paine Grande) via bus, catamaran – Glacier Grey Views, Campamento Italiano
5 to 6 hours* and 18.5 km, 11.8 miles (mostly with a day pack on easy trails) – to first Mirador
Today you’ll do a round trip day hike from Refugio Paine Grande (RPG) as far as you can for a good view of Glacier Grey. Back at RPG you’ll don your full pack and trek over to Campamento Italiano or Refugio Frances (to setup for day hiking up Valle Frances the next morning).
*Note 1: Hours (hiking times between points) is just that—hiking/moving time only. Our hiking times include only short stopped tasks like tying a shoelace, snapping a quick photo, putting on a rain jacket, or filling a water bottle. They do not include stoppage or breaks longer than 2 minutes.
Note 2: don’t forget that it doesn’t get dark until almost 23:00, 11:00 pm in peak hiking season. You have almost 18 hours of daylight!
- Get to the bus station early for the
7:30 am7:00am bus. First come, first serve and the bus fills quickly. [Late comers for our bus did not get on the exact bus they had reserved. e.g. a ticket and reservation does not guarantee you a seat. No worries tho. They will put you on the next bus.]
- Be first off the bus at Laguna Amarga Entrance stop (around 9:30 am). Pay entrance fee & get permit. If you didn’t make campsite reservations for free campamentos do it now. The free campsites on the W — Campamento Italiano & Torres fill fast. If you can’t get a reservation at C. Italiano, for a small fee camping at the nearby R. Frances is quieter and nicer.
- Get back on bus and arrive approx. 10:30a at the Pudeto ferry dock (Catamaran on Lago Pehoé). Ferry leaves at 12:00 or 6:00 for Paine Grande. (Realistically in high season it may be going back and forth almost hourly). We got a “10:45” ferry and got to R. Paine Grande around 11:15 am. You pay your fee on the ferry–no advance reservations taken.
- Hike to one of the viewpoints for Glacier Grey: Drop your pack at Refugio Paine Grande (RPG) and setup your day-hiking kit to do a round trip hike to one of the many miradors (viewpoints) for Glacier Grey. Essentially you’ll hike as far as you have time or energy. The closer you get to the Glacier the better the views, but rest assured there are no bad views!
- First mirador (Mirador-Grey-01 on my map), is on a high bluff overlooking Lago Grey. One way stats: approx. 5.5 km, 3.5 miles and 1.5 to 2.0 hours from RPG.
- Second mirador (Mirador-Grey-02 on my map) is the mirador for the classic ‘W.’ It is at Refugio Grey, on the shore of Lago Grey looking up at the Glacier. There are many food options at the Refugio. One way stats: approx. 11 km, 6.9 miles and 2.5 to 3.5 hours from RPG.
- If you hike quite fast you can go to the Third mirador (Mirador-Grey-03 on my map). It is above the end of Glacier Grey and you can look down and see the glacier calving icebergs into Lago Grey. One way stats (additional from Refugio Grey): approx. 3.6 km, 2.3 miles and 1.0 to 1.5 hours (from Refugio Grey!)
- Hike back to Refugio Paine Grande from whatever mirador you stopped at.
- Pickup your pack and head off to the free camping at Campamento Italiano (if you have a reservation) or possibly camping at Refugio Frances. One way stats to C. Italiano: approx. 7.5 km, 4.8 miles and 2.0 hours from RPG.
- The new and very nice R Frances about ½ hour down the trail from C. Italiano has nice camping and good tent platforms. Best hot showers and bathrooms of the trip by far. Small store and they serve meals if you have reservations.
- If you have extra time and the mountains are clear, you might consider hiking up to one of the miradors for views of Glacier Frances.
Day 2 – C. Italiano to Mirador Frances to Campamento Torres (possibly an evening peek at the Torres themselves)
8 to 10.5 hours* and 30 km, 18.5 miles (good trails, some hiking with just a daypack to M Frances)
This is a long day and one might consider an early start (or breaking it into two days – see 4-day itinerary below). An early start has the added benefit of getting to Mirador Frances with the clearest views since the mountains tend to cloud in as the day progresses, and possibly allowing you time at the end of the day to hike up to see the Torres del Paine.
- Leave your pack in camp and day hike to at least Mirador Frances for a stunning view of the hanging Glacier Frances. We were less inspired by the hike up Valle Frances to the Mirador Britanico which is a lot more trekking for a nice view of a high cirque. If you are short on time and energy, Mirador Frances is the bigger bang for the buck. Round trip stats for M. Frances: approx. 4 km, 2.6 miles and 2.0 to 2.5 hours.
- Back at camp, grab your pack and take a very pleasant alpine walk along the shore of Lago Nordenskjöld to Refugio Los Cuernos. One way stats from C. Italiano to R. Cuernos: approx. 5 km, 3.1 miles and 1.5 to 2.0 hours.
- From R. Cuernos take the cutoff trail to Refugio Chileno (well marked at around 8 km, 5 miles from R Cueros). Refugio Chileno has a very nice store! One way stats from R Cuernos to R Chileno: approx. 18 km, 11.3 miles and 4.0 to 5.0 hours to R. Chileno.
- Hike to Campamento Torres. This has minimal facilities (dirt sites, no showers, basic cooking shelter, no tables). Not so great bathrooms. Your alternative is to camp at R. Chileno but that adds an extra hour each way for the hike to the Mirador las Torres, making it a 3.5 hour round trip hike vs. the 1.5 hours from C. las Torres—a serious consideration if you are getting up early the next morning to see the Torres del Paine at dawn. One way stats from R. Chileno: approx. 3 km, 2 miles and 1.0 hours to C. Torres.
- Optional: If you have time and the Torres are clear of clouds consider hiking the 45 minutes up the steep trail to Mirador las Torres to see the famous Torres del Paine. It is also beneficial to familiarize yourself with the steep trail if you hike it in the dark the next morning to catch the Torres at dawn. Optional round trip stats from C. Torres to the Torres: approx. 2 km, 1.2 miles and 1.5 to 2.0 hours
10 km, 6 miles and 3.5 to 5.0 hours (Campamento Torres to Hotel Las Torres)
A quick hike to see the Torres at dawn. Then an easy downhill hike to Hotel Torres to catch buses back to Puerto Natales.
- For those that want the best photo of Las Torres del Paine: Get up 1.5 to 2.0 hours before sunrise to hike in the dark up to the Mirador to catch the Torres at first light. You want to be there ready at the mirador with your camera positioned at least 30 minutes before sunrise. This is your best chance to get a clear view of the Torres as they often mist/cloud in later in the day. If you are lucky you may see them in the splendid red light of dawn but it’s not a sure thing. Bring warm clothes for the wait in the dark for photos. Some even bring their sleeping bag to snuggle up in. Round trip stats: approx. 2 km, 1.2 miles and 1.5 to 2.0 hours
- Have breakfast pack up and hit the trail at approx. 9:00 am. Hike to Hotel Torres. Be prepared for droves of day hikers heading up from the Hotel. The earlier you get down, the fewer hikers you’ll have to dodge around on you way to the hotel. One way stats from C. Torres to the Hotel: approx. 8 km, 5 miles and 2.0 to 3.0 hours
- From Hotel las Torres take the 2:00 (approx. time) park shuttle bus back to the Laguna Amarga Entrance Station. From there you can catch a 2:30 Bus Gomez back to Puerto Natales.
4 Day Version – Split “Day 2” into two shorter days
This turns Day 2 from a long hard day into two far more leisurely days. It also makes hiking all the way up Valle Frances to Mirador Britanico a far more attractive option.
- Day 1: Same as Day 1 above.
- On Day 1 you also have the option of camping at Refugio Paine Grande since the next day is not a killer day. This a) allows your more time to day hike up to miradors for Glacier Grey, or b) makes Day 1 hiking about 2 hours shorter. If camping at RPG make sure to pitch your tent close to the base of the hill to get some shelter from the strong winds that commonly blow in the area.
- Day 2: Hike as far as you want up Valle Frances (even to Mirador Britanico). Then pickup your pack and hike to camp at Refugio Los Cuernos.
- Day 3: Hike to Campamento Torres and possibly hike up to Mirador Las Torres for an evening view.
- Day 4: Dawn hike to Mirador Las Torres. Hike to Hotel Las Torres and take buses back to Puerto Natales.
Hiking Times and Distances for Torres del Paine W Trek
C= campamento (camp) R= refugio (more facilities, meals and beds in addition to camping)
- This table is a just starting point for planning. You will need to estimate your own hiking pace based on your abilities and pack weight.
- Times in above table are for Alison and I on our recent trek which we averaged about 2 miles per hour (3.4 km/hr). We are reasonably fit and experienced hikers and carried packs under 18 pounds (under 8 kilos). See our gear list in main post for details. But we are both over 50 years old and by no means speed hikers. And during our trek, Alison was recovering from influenza.
- Hours (hiking times between points) is just that—hiking/moving time only. Our hiking times include only short stopped tasks like tying a shoelace, snapping a quick photo, putting on a rain jacket, or filling a water bottle. They do not include stoppage or breaks longer than 2-3 minutes. We averaged 2 miles/hour the entire trek.
- Hiking faster than expected can be just as problematic as slower. See below…
- Hiking times on Park Maps and in most guide books are conservative (based on an “average” hiker traveling with a heavy pack and not intending on setting any speed records). If you are reasonably fit hiker you will likely do better than these times. We believe with an early start and decent to OK weather, most backpackers could probably do two stages in a day. You have 17 hours of daylight in January!
- So chances are that you’ll take less time to get from place to place than their estimates. This is one case where hiking too fast is as problematic as too slow. The major complaint we heard was of people hiking faster than expected and arriving at their reserved campground around noon. e.g. they could have easily hiked another stage that day to the next campamento/refugio.
- We suggest you get an early start and hike far when the weather is good. You may get bad weather later in the trip. There is a lot of daylight in the summer hiking season. The key to making miles is to keep a steady pace and minimize time lost on long stops.