Most people book their W trek well in advance but if your travelling in the shoulder season then there’s no need to. We flew to Chile in mid September 2019 without anything arranged, at the end of September we booked a flight south to Punta Arenas and just 5 days before our arrival to Torres Del Paine we booked our campgrounds. This meant we could get a rough idea of what the weather was doing (although in Patagonia this is tough to predict, it at least told us if a bad front was expected). With sunshine predicted for the first two days we opted to hike the trail against the grain and go East to West. The guy we rented our camping gear from said this was the best direction to go, starting with the toughest and most impressive section of the park. It also gives you two opportunities to hike up to the Towers, the afternoon you arrive and the following day for sunrise.
When we booked in the shoulder season some of the campgrounds were only just opening and all of the free Conaf ones were still closed. If you do manage to get a free Conaf campsite bare in mind you will not get any facilities, just a dirty pit-toilet. You can’t have campfires and there’s no log fire heated refugio’s to stay warm in before bed time.
You can either access the area by flying into Punta Arenas and catching a 3 hour bus to Puerto Natales or a bus from El Calafate, Argentina to Puerto Natales. For us we caught a plane from Puerto Montt, Chile to Punta Arenas for $110. Sky Airlines has some bargain flights.
Below you will find the
– What to pack
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
(Prices per person unless stated otherwise)
Transport and Entry
Torres Del Paine entrance fee: 21,000 | $29
Bus return Puerto Natales to park: 15,000| $20
Shuttle from park entrance to Welcome Centre: 3000 | $4
Catamaran Paine Grande to Pudeto:23,000 | $32
Two person tent 5 days: 25,000 | $35
Sleeping bag 5 days: 12,500 | $17
Sleeping mat 5 days: 2500 | $3.50
We bought all our cooking equipment with us but I believe it was around $10 per day to rent.
Campgrounds: (all double occupancy)
Chileno Fully Equipped: $74
Los Cuernos: $30
Paine Grande: $22
Food: for two people 4 nights/5days: 27,500 | $48
It’s hard to total up the price per person as the camping fees, tent and food were all for two people so I will add everything up and this is the total price we paid for two people: $438
ITINERARY | EAST TO WEST | 5 DAYS 4 NIGHTS
– Bus Puerto Natales to park entrance
– Shuttle bus entrance to Welcome Centre
– Hike Welcome Centre to Chileno Camp | 5.7km 2.5 hours
– Day hike to The Towers | 8.5km 2 hours
– Sunrise hike to The Towers | 8.5km 2 hours
– Hike Chileno Camp to Los Cuernos Camp | 12km 5 hours
– Hike Los Cuernos to Italiano Ranger Station (leave backpack here) | 5km 2 hours
– Day hike from Italiano up the Frances Valley (it’s up to you how far you go) | 4 – 10km return 2 – 5 hours
– Hike Italiano to Paine Grande Camp | 7.5km 3 hours
– Hike Paine Grande Camp to Grey Camp | 11km 4 hours
– Day hike up to just beyond the second swing bridge for the best glacier views | 7km return plus 2km return to the lake edge 3 hours
– Hike Grey Camp to Paine Grande | 11km 4 hours
– Catch the catamaran from Paine Grande to Pudeto
– Your return bus will be waiting at Pudeto to take you to Puerto Natales.
WHAT TO PACK
Food for 4 nights 5 days for two people
1kg instant porridge oats
Small bag of desicated coconut
Powdered fruit drinks which you can add to water
1kg Cheese (no shame)
Loaf of bread
Three packs of biscuits (wouldn’t recommend the biscuits due to weight and they’re not filling)
Trail mix – we made our own by buying a big bag of salted peanuts, raisins, banana chips and chocolate drops
Packet mash with peas and gravy
Couscous with boil in bag curry
Packet rice meal served in tortilla wraps
Packet taco rice with cheese in tortilla wraps
Chorizo for Craig the meat eater
Waterproof/wind proof coat
x2 Thermal top and leggings (one for hiking one for bed)
T-shirt incase it’s hot
Four pairs of hiking socks
5 pairs knickers
Hat, gloves, balaclava style neck tube
Charger for camera batteries/phone
Power banks are handy but some of the refugio’s offer power sockets.
Small bar of soap
Sponge for cleaning dishes
Black bin bags for your clothes, electricals etc if it rains.
Water purifying pills (most of the water is drinkable but we saw someone wee in a river so we played it safe and treated our stream water)
* The refugio’s all provide hot water so we saved on gas by using this for our tea/coffee/porridge
* You cannot cook at Chileno Campground. But (at least in the shoulder season) the staff were happy to provide hot water and even cook people’s meals AND wash our dishes as there was no sink. But I wonder if this will change at busy times. Bring a meal where you only need hot water to cook it if you stay here.
* Hike East to West, you will start with the toughest section and it means you can hike to the Towers twice to optimise your chances of seeing them in good weather. If you go west to east you will have a long day hiking from Los Cuernos or Frances and only have the opportunity for a sunrise Tower hike or staying an additional night at Chileno.
* Bring your cooking equipment with you to save some money. We bought a camping stove in Santiago, plus a pan, plastic bowls, a cup and cutlery from Canada. When we finished our trip we sold it all to an English couple in Argentina. The rental charges for these little things like pans and plates really add up.
* When you book into a campground you are entitled to use the refugio facilities – therefore you can sit by the fire, have a hot shower and use the indoor toilets. Some even had soap and shampoo!
* Pack light – I wore the same clothes every day and just had a clean set for after my shower. I found hiking in thermal leggings to be perfect as they were so flexible. If I got hot I rolled them up and if I was cold I put my waterproof pants on top.
* Take a good sleeping bag. I was in a -26° one and Craig in a -15° and albeit they took up a lot of room in our backpacks it was worth it to be super cozy at night. Many people we met had brought bags from back home, around the 0° comfort zone and they were extremely cold, even with a fleece liner inside. They actually had to rent a sleeping bag every night at the refugio’s which cost up to $25 per night!!
* Take a decent sleep mat. We rented the egg-box looking ones that fold into a rectangle block. They will keep you warm, we met a couple that tried to camp without a mat and they barely slept a wink as they were so cold.
* Chileno and Los Cuernos had wooden platforms for your tents so you can’t use your pegs, instead you need hook screws which you can handscrew into the wood. If you have your own tent or rent from a company who doesn’t provide these then buy some from a hardware store in Puerto Natales.
* Food is expensive in Puerto Natales. We bought all of ours in Puerto Montt (carrying it on the flight and bus). The variety and prices were so much better. Many people buy their food in Punta Arenas as it’s also better than Natales.
* There are no toilets on the trail except for at the refugio’s and the odd ranger station. So once you leave your camp you basically won’t have a toilet until you arrive at your next camp. You can obviously go for a wee on the hike but make sure it’s 100m away from any water source. Remember people drink water straight from the streams and we need to keep them pure. Do not leave toilet paper, pack it out with you in a sealed bag (along with all rubbish). As for needing an unfortunate poop on the hike, dig a deep cat hole, bury the waste and pack out your toilet paper – and it’s even more important to be away from a water source!
* Campgrounds must be booked online, you cannot hike the W trek without campground or refugio bookings. It’s not the easiest process as there are three companies with different campgrounds: Fantastico Sur (Chileno, Central and Los Cuernos campgrounds), Vertice (Paine Grande, Grey campground) and Conaf (Italiano and Towers but I believe the latter is closed for 2019/20). There are many blogs online with information about booking the campgrounds.
* Make sure when you got to Grey Camp that you give yourself time to hike to the second suspension bridge for a great view of the glacier and then go to the lakes edge to see the icebergs near camp. The whole route will be 9km and about 3 hours. Some people didn’t leave time, trying to hike there and back in one day from Paine Grande (31km!!) so they would just reach Grey where the views weren’t that impressive and then they’d leave.
I hope this information helps some of you to plan a visit to this incredible area of the world. If you have spare time after the trek make sure you visit El Chalten in Argentina for more impressive Patagonian scenery.