Planning & Tips Torres del Paine

Nine questions that will help you plan your W Trek hike in Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park in Chile is one of Patagonia’s great banner destinations, and its breathtaking granite towers offer up one of the region’s most iconic views. There are many ways to experience the park, its mountains and glaciers, but the classic way is to hike the multi-day W Trek, 

At Swoop Patagonia, many of our team are former guides in Torres del Paine. In this blog, we’ll bring you the inside knowledge on the W Trek, by tackling all the key questions you’ll need answered to help you plan your own hike in this incredible region. 

What is the W Trek?

The W Trek is the most celebrated hiking route in Patagonia, and across South America is only surpassed in fame by the Inca Trail in Peru. 

It takes its name from the route it follows up three valleys, forming a ‘W’ shaped when marked out on a map. The route can be done in four to five days, staying en route in refugios (a type of mountain hostel), campsites or even luxury lodges as a series of dy hikes.

The route takes in three iconic sites of Torres del Paine National Park: the sheer granite peaks of the Towers that give the national park its name, beautiful French Valley with its splendid vistas and hanging glaciers, and the mighty Glacier Grey that stretches like a giant frozen tongue across an immense mountain lake. 

The W Trek is the perfect introduction to multi-day trekking, and easily forms the centrepiece of time spent in Torres del Paine exploring other parts of the national park with a host of other activities, including kayaking, horse riding, mountain biking and even tracking wild pumas

Do I need a guide for the W Trek?

It’s possible to do the W Trek entirely self-guided. However, every season people encounter orientation difficulties with this option, as well as struggling to navigate the logistics of taking transport and boats in and out of the W Trek trailheads, so going with a guide is usually the best option for most walkers.

Typically, guides take groups of up to eight walkers, but can also be arranged privately. The guides are very passionate and highly trained outdoor enthusiasts, with a wealth of knowledge about the national park and its history as well as its wildlife and plants. They’re experts at spotting weather fronts that are about to blow in, as well as knowing all the best spots to stop for lunch or scenic rests. When you’re in a busy refugio, they’re also experts at getting you to the front of the line for food, packed lunches and more. 

 whilst it is possible to do self-guided we do not recommend this as every season some people encounter orientation difficulties with this option, as well as struggling to navigate the logistics of taking transport and boats in/out of the W-trek trailhead

Which direction should I walk the W Trek?

The W Trek can be walked in either direction, from east to west or vice versa. Most people do it walking from west to east, tackling Glacier Grey on the first day. Choosing this option is popular because the timing of the trail in this direction is optimised to get a classic sunrise view over the Towers on the final day of the hike. 

The epic landscape of Torres del Paine

On the other hand, walking in the opposite direction gives you the warming sun on your back every day which can be a real bonus in mixed weather. This is also known as the reverse direction as you start the trek by visiting the Towers on the first day, and you can also have more of a sense of forging your own path by walking against the flow of most of the hikers. 

It’s important to remember however that whichever direction you choose to walk the W Trek however, you’ll still enjoy the same dramatic views. 

Should I join a group or walk solo?

Walking in a group is the most sociable way of hiking the W Trek: you’ve got instant friends from different backgrounds and nationalities to share the experience with, as well as people to take photos of you at the most scenic viewpoints. At Swoop we have scheduled group departures and regularly put like-minded hikers together to create more flexible itineraries. Trekking in a group with a guide is a great way to understand the history, wildlife and geography of what you are seeing, as well as keeping you safe and informed about the rigours of the trail.

A group hiking to Glacier Grey

If you’ve never walked in a group before, be aware that not everyone may have the same ability – this is where your guide plays a key role in managing the pace of the group to suit all hikers. 

Alternatively, if you want to be a little more independent you may want to consider a private or self-guided trip. 

Where will I stay on the W Trek?

There are a variety of different accommodation options for the W Trek. The classic hiker’s choice is to stay in a refugio, or mountain shelter. These perennially popular places offer simple but cosy dorm places and hot showers as well as full board. 

EcoCamp in Torres Del Paine
Glamping in Torres del Paine

Camping is also available for all nights on the route, with permanently erected tents in campsites so you won’t need to carry your own. Alternatively, there are three glamping sites, one for each of the three highlights of the W Trek, allowing you to relax in a little more comfort at the end of the day. 

Finally, if you really want pampering, Torres del Paine has three superb luxury lodges. These come with luxury spas and high end gastronomy to match the sublime nature of their surroundings, but they’re a little further from the trail heads so you’ll need to factor in some extra transfer time to your walking day. 

What are the refugios like on the W Trek?

Refugios are by far the most popular accommodation option for those hiking the W Trek. They’re very much like hostels, with clean and comfortable dorm rooms sleeping 6–8 people, communal areas to relax in and plenty of hearty food to sustain you on the trail.

It’s essential to book your spot in the refugios along the W Trek well in advance, as they can get extremely busy, especially in high season.

Torres del Paine refugio
A typical Torres del Paine refugio

Refugios are full board, with simple menus designed to fill you with the calories you’ll need to keep you full of energy while hiking. As well as breakfast and dinner – eaten communally on long benches or tables in the dining room – they’ll also supply you with box lunches to eat during the day. The food on the W Trek is very simple, with menus designed for calories above anything else, and the box lunches can be quite basic, so you’d be well advised to bring a few treats and trail snacks with you from home, or pick them up in Puerto Natales. 

Refugios are incredibly social places to stay, though power points can be in demand for charging devices. Most also offer 24 hour Wi-Fi passes to get you online. 

For more insider tips on refugios, read our detailed blog about them

What is the weather like on the W Trek?

It’s a cliche, but we always use it because it’s true: in Patagonia you should prepare to experience all four seasons in a single day

Highly changeable weather on the W Trek

High season summer typically brings the best weather (as well as the crowds) but can also be notoriously windy. On a typical day, you might start with all your layers on, and regularly remove and put them back on as the day progresses. A windproof and waterproof outer layer is the single most essential piece of kit, with you regulating the layers you need beneath. 

Warm days can extend well into autumn, and the thinner crowds can make this an excellent time for hiking. In winter, it’s cold, snowy and generally a little calmer, but not all accommodations are open and it’s only possible to do the W Trek as part of a guided group. 

How difficult is the W Trek?

The terrain on the W Trek is pretty varied, though the trails themselves are very well laid out and easy to follow.  

The French Valley hike on the W Trek

You’ll be walking between 12-15 miles (20-25 km) per day over a period of days, so it’s strongly recommended to do some back-to-back hikes before you travel to get your body used to the pace. The hike along French Valley and to the base of the Towers are the two most tiring hikes. The final mile to the base of the Towers in particular is quite steep, and you’ll find trekking poles very useful here – it can be quite slippery in the rain, with quite a bit of strain on the knees. 

How busy are the trails on the W Trek?

The W Trek is the most popular hiking trail in one of South America’s most beautiful national parks, so you’ll certainly be sharing the route with plenty of other hikers. 

Christmas and the New Year are the busiest times in Torres del Paine, and accommodation in refugios can get booked up several months in advance. If you would prefer slightly lower numbers, consider travelling in the shoulder months at the beginning or end of the season. 

At the height of high season, you may find yourself queuing sometimes at certain viewpoints for the peaks, or during some points on the different descents. The national park can get busy, and when refugios are fully booked they can have a very lively atmosphere.

Whether or not this is for you is something you’ll have to decide for yourself. It’s also worth reminding yourself that Torres del Paine is more than just the W Trek, and there are plenty of other  off-the-beaten-track treks to be enjoyed in the wilder areas of the park. At Swoop Patagonia we’re experts at the best hikes and treks in the region – get in touch and we can help you find the best W Trek experience that’s right for you


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Paul Clammer

Swoop Guidebook Editor

Paul came to Swoop after spending nearly 20 years researching and writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet.