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The Ultimate Guide to Hiking the ‘W’ Without A Tour

Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park is one of the absolute highlights of a visit to Patagonia – I should know, I’ve done it twice!

Back in March 2016, I walked the Torres del Paine W trek as part of a tour around Patagonia and was so struck by the park that I returned in March 2017 to hike the Full O Circuit.

It’s fair to say that on both occasions I fell head over heels in love with this part of Chilean Patagonia.

The problem is, the first time I hiked the W trek in Patagonia, I did so as part of a guided tour. We were dropped off at the Pudeto ferry port on Lake Pehoé and from that point onwards barely even had to think for ourselves.

Want a free, downloadable packing checklist for Torres del Paine?

We hiked the W during the day led along the one path by our guides and arrived at night to pre-pitched tents and pre-paid food.

However, it didn’t take more than five minutes of being in the park to realise that a tour was utterly unnecessary and that trekking in Torres del Paine solo and self-guided is easy and will also save you a whole stash of money.

At the towers of Torres del Paine National Park after hiking up. The Torres del Paine W hike is easy to organise and arrange without a tour.
The towers themselves: so beautiful in the early morning!

Torres del Paine W Trek FAQs

How long is the W trek in Torres del Paine?

80 kilometres (50 miles)

What is the altitude of Torres del Paine?

The highest point in the park is the John Gardner Pass at an altitude of 1,200 meters (3900 feet) above sea level. However, only those trekking the O Circuit are required to reach this height; all of the W trek is Hat altitudes below this.

How fit do you need to be to hike the W trek?

While previous backpacking experience is not necessary, you do need a reasonable level of fitness to be able to climb up into the Frances Valley and up to the towers themselves. It’s helpful to have done a couple of practice walks, with a backpack weighing around 10 kilograms (22 pounds), in preparation for the trail.

When can you hike the W trek?

The park is open year-round, however, for self-guided trekking, you can only hike between October and the end of April.

If you want to hike during the winter months (May through September), you’ll need to arrange a guide; our local partner, Chile Nativo, lead winter tours of the W trek and offer a 5% discount to Worldly Adventurer readers (make sure you mention us when contacting them!). Find out more here.

Can you do day hikes in Torres del Paine?

If you don’t want to spend four+ days hiking or have only a short period of time in the park, you can still visit for day hikes. The best part is, many sections of the W trek are possible as day hikes (including the trail up to Mirador Las Torres and the towers). We’ve got a complete guide to day hikes in Torres del Paine with all the information you need.


What's in this article:

What you can pay to walk Torres del Paine W trek with a tour: from $1,500 USD

What you pay trekking the W without a tour: $122,000 CLP ($146 USD – check here for the most up to date conversion)

Hikers on the Torres del Paine W trek, Patagonia with views across Glacier Grey
Hikers on the Torres del Paine W trek, Patagonia with views across Glacier Grey

 Camping and Transport cost breakdown*:

  • Return bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park: $15,000 CLP ($21 USD)
  • Adult entrance fee into the park: $35,000 CLP ($42 USD)
  • One-way ferry from Pudeto de Paine Grande Ranger Station: $23,000 CLP ($35 USD) 
  • Grey Campsite: $6,500 CLP (per person) ($9 USD)
  • Paine Grande Campsite: $6,500 CLP (per person) ($9 USD)
  • Francés Campsite: $18,000 CLP (per person) ($21 USD)**
  • El Chileno Campsite: $18,000 CLP (per person) ($21 USD)***

*these figures are all updated for the 2021/2022 season.

**based on two people sharing a tent

**Torres Ranger Station (the free camping closest to the towers) is closed for the 2021/2022 season.

Food breakdown:

And if you want to get your hands on a FREE one-month Patagonia travel itinerary (including tips and tricks for travelling in Patagonia) scroll to the bottom of this post! 

How do you make campsite and refugio bookings for Torres del Paine?

The system for making refugio and camping reservations has changed dramatically over the past couple of years and a lot of the information you find online about the subject is out of date.

I also put together this epic, 5,000-word post about securing camping reservations in Torres del Paine that literally walks you through the process.

If you’re struggling to find spots for the coming season, you should also read my article about alternative ways to hike the W if you can’t get camping reservations.

If you’re completely baffled by the process and just want someone else to deal with it, you can book with our partner in the region, Chile Nativo, who organise, guided, self-guided and fast-track (three-day) W treks. They give a 5% discount to Worldly Adventurer readers (make sure you mention us when contacting them!).

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What equipment do you need to hike the W without a tour?

To pay as little as possible trekking Torres del Paine solo, it does require that you have the following pieces of equipment:

Torres del Paine Patagonia W trek at Cuernos campground with views across Los Cuernos
At Los Cuernos campground with views across the Los Cuernos mountains

I’ve detailed exactly the items that I packed for the O Circuit in Torres del Paine (and which are still relevant to the W trek) and also what I pack in my rucksack on a trip to Patagonia in this packing checklist. Both have a free packing checklist download, too. 

I recommend you take a look if you’re thinking of investing in camping equipment before you head over to Patagonia (something I would strongly advise if you plan on doing any other hikes or wild camping or if you’re looking at exploring the Carretera Austria). 

If you’re already traveling around Patagonia, what can you do to get your hands on this camping equipment for Torres del Paine?

You have three options:

Buy equipment in Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales

There are a wide range of hiking and camping equipment shops in these two towns. Punta Arenas is a tax-free zone so prices here are cheaper than you will find in Puerto Natales, although Calle Manuel Bulnes in the latter has some gear shops.

I actually found a pair of waterproof trousers for only $15,000 CLP ($18 USD) in one of the shops there, which is a lot cheaper than I thought they would be.

If you’re looking to buy equipment for camping and hiking in Torres del Paine National Park, you should be able to find everything that you need in these shops, but you will pay an elevated price for good-quality gear.

Estimated additional cost: $200,000 CLP+ ($239 USD+) per person

Rent equipment from Puerto Natales

Your second option is to rent all of your camping and cooking equipment from either Rental Natales (you can book online) or at Erratic Rock (Baquedano 955) in Puerto Natales.

For the latter, they don’t do reservations of gear, so you have to turn up and hope they’ve got everything you need. You can see the full list of what they rent out here and their prices are significantly cheaper than the next options.

There are other places in Puerto Natales to rent equipment too, so I suggest having a wander around and looking out for signs for rental equipment. Yaghan House (O’Higgins 584) and Lili Patagonico’s (Arturo Prat 479) also have cheap, good quality rental gear.

Remember to check the equipment thoroughly before committing as it does get a lot of wear and tear on the trail and you want something without holes and with zips that close to keep you warm and dry!

Estimated additional cost: $37,500 CLP ($45 USD) per person for five days’ rental

Rent equipment at each campsite in Torres del Paine National Park

Your final option is by the far the most expensive. Each of the main camping grounds in Torres del Paine rent out tents, sleeping bags and sleeping mats at a premium.

For example, in Grey, you can hire a two-man tent for $20,000 CLP ($29 USD), a sleeping bag for $15,000 CLP ($22 USD) and a sleeping mat for $5,000 CLP ($7 USD), bringing up your overnight cost (including cost of the camping site) to $34,000 CLP ($48 USD) per person per night.

Estimated additional cost: $110,500 CLP ($131 USD) per person for five days hiking the W circuit

How do you get from Torres del Paine National Park to Puerto Natales?

It’s easy enough to get to Torres del Paine National Park with public transport.

Four companies travel from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine each morning and all cost around $15,000 CLP ($21 USD) for a return ticket (which can be used on any of the company’s buses back from the park).

You must buy tickets from the companies’ offices, which are inside the Terminal Rodoviario (Av. España 1455) in Puerto Natales.

If there are a few of you, consider negotiating a group price like we did, which got us a few thousand pesos off per ticket.

It’s advisable to book your bus ticket at least a day in advance when visiting the park in high season (December through February).

Timetables for buses from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine (Laguna Amarga, Pudeto and Administración)*

Conventionally, buses have departed from Puerto Natales and entered the park via the northeastern entrance at Laguna Amarga (for the minibus to the eastern starting point for the W), before continuing to Pudeto (for the catamaran to the western starting point for the W) and finally to Administración (not a destination along the W trek).

These bus timetables are below:

*COVID-19 update: These bus timetables were correct for the 2019/2020 season. For the 2021/2022 season, Bus Sur is running a bus departing Puerto Natales at 7am that arrives as follows: 9am Laguna Amarga; 10am Pudeto; 10.15am Camping Pehoe; 11am Administración; 11.30am Hotel Lago Grey. There is a further bus that departs Puerto Natales at 12pm and arrives as follows: 2pm Laguna Amarga; 3pm Pudeto; 3.30pm Camping Pehoe; 4pm Administración; 4.30pm Hotel Lago Grey. There are potentially other services operated by the companies listed below still running, but Bus Sur is the only provider you can book online and in advance.

  Leaves Puerto Natales Arrives Laguna Amarga (for minibus to Las Torres and W trek from east to west) Arrives Pudeto (for catamaran to Paine Grande and the W trek from west to east) Arrives Administración
Transport Maria José (tel. 61/2410 951)   7am 9am 10am (connects with catamaran at 11am)  
  2.30pm 4.30pm 5.30pm (connects with catamaran at 6pm)  
         
Buses Gómez (tel. 61/2415700)   7am 9am 10am (connects with catamaran at 11am)  
  2.30pm 4.30pm 5.30pm (connects with catamaran at 6pm)  
         
Bus Sur (tel. 61/2410 784) 7am 9am 10am (connects with catamaran at 11am)  
  12.00pm* 2pm 3pm (connects with catamaran at 4.15pm (between December 1 and March 31)) 4pm
         
JB Buses Patagonia (tel. 61/2410 242)   Bus timings unknown (but probably the same as the above)      
Buses Juan Ojeda (tel. 9/8943 7808)   Bus timings unknown (but probably the same as the above)      

*Service available November through April

Timetables for buses from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine (Administración, Pudeto and Laguna Amarga)*

*Note: These are not currently operating in the 2021/2022 season.

As of 2020, Bus Sur have started running buses that enter via the southern entrance at Administración (not a stop on the W), stopping at Pudeto (for the catamaran to the western starting point for the W) and ending at Laguna Amarga (for the minibus to the eastern starting point for the W).

The bonus with this bus is that you get to Pudeto in time for the first catamaran ferry of the day at 9am. As a result, this gives you enough time to walk to the viewpoints for Glaciar Grey and back to Paine Grande for the night in one day.

If you take the later buses above, you connect with the catamaran ferry at 11am, which means you only have time to hike to the viewpoints for Glaciar Grey but not enough time to hike back again. Therefore, you need to stay overnight at Grey Camping and Refugio and hike back to Paine Grande on day two.

This is clearer in the hiking itineraries below.

Bus timetables for buses that go to Pudeto earlier are as follows:

  Leaves Puerto Natales Arrives Administración Arrives Pudeto (for catamaran to Paine Grande and W trek west to east) Arrives Laguna Amarga (for minibus to Las Torres and W trek from east to west)
Bus Sur (tel. 61/2410 784) 6.40am* 8.15am 8.45am (connects with catamaran at 9am) 11am
  4.30pm** 6.30pm 8.30pm 9pm
         

*Available October 14 through March 31

**Available November 15 through February 29

Timetables for buses from Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales (Administración, Pudeto, Laguna Amarga)*

*COVID-19 update: Bus Sur’s has services from Torres del Paine as follows: bus leaves at 1pm from Hotel Lago Grey; 1.30pm Administración; 13.45pm Camping Pehoe; 2pm Pudeto; 2.30pm Laguna Amarga; 4.30pm Puerto Natales. The second afternoon service leaves at 5pm from Hotel Lago Grey; 5.30pm Administración; 5.45pm Camping Pehoe; 6pm Pudeto; 7.30pm Laguna Amarga; 9.pm Puerto Natales. There are potentially other services operated by the companies listed below still running, but Bus Sur is the only provider you can book online and in advance.

The following timetables are when buses can return you to Puerto Natales from the three different stops in the park.

Note that you have to return with the same bus company you entered the park with – you won’t be allowed on a different company’s buses.

  Leaves Administración Leaves Pudeto Leaves Laguna Amarga Arrives Puerto Natales
Transport Maria José (tel. 61/2410 951)     1pm 2.30pm 4.30pm
    7pm 7.45pm 9.45pm
         
Buses Gómez (tel. 61/2415700)     1.30pm 2.30pm 4.30pm
    7pm 7.45pm 9.45pm
         
Bus Sur (tel. 61/2410 784)   12.30pm 1.30pm 3.30pm
    7pm 7.45pm 9.45pm
  8.15am10.30am 11.30am 1.30pm
8pm8.30pm9pm10.30pm
JB Buses Patagonia (tel. 61/2410 242)   Bus timings unknown (but probably the same as the above)      
Buses Juan Ojeda (tel. 9/8943 7808)   Bus timings unknown (but probably the same as the above)      

Where do you buy your Torres del Paine entrance ticket?

The entrance ticket to Torres del Paine National Park costs $21,000 CLP ($30 USD) for an adult. This grants you either as many days within the park as you wish (i.e. you stay in the park and hike the W or the O) or5three days of consecutive entry (leaving at the end of each night).

It’s possible to buy your ticket at the Laguna Amarga entrance to the national park (the first stop on the bus if entering via that entrance) or at the Administración entrance (if entering via that entrance).

Bear in mind you must pay in cash (Chilean pesos) and you may need to show a copy of your passport to prove you do not live in Chile.

However, if you want to skip the queues (this is particularly helpful if you’re hiking the O Circuit), you can reserve your ticket either online via the CONAF portal* or in person at their office on the second floor of the bus terminal in Puerto Natales.

W Trek Map

When you enter the park and pay your fee, you will be provided with a Torres del Paine W trek map to be used when you’re walking.

Unfortunately, the map that you get from CONAF doesn’t include distances. I would strongly recommend you download Maps.me, a free app that has all the trails marked on and you can use it to work out distances if required.

Map of Torres del Paine W Trek
The route of the W trek, with the different available campsites labelled. Click image to zoom in.

Torres del Paine W trek itineraries

Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park is significantly cheaper if you go self-guided.

There is also absolutely no chance that you’ll get lost. Believe me, the W trek is now so busy that (unfortunately) you see people all the time.

If you want to trek Torres del Paine solo, here are the two routes that I would suggest for hiking the W:

The signposts indicting the start of the Torres del Paine W hike Patagonia at the Paine Grande campground
The W hike Patagonia begins!

Itinerary for W trek Torres del Paine in five days

Want to know how to book the campsites mentioned in this itinerary? Head over to this comprehensive article about booking Torres del Paine camping or hostel accommodation

Day One: Puerto Natales to Grey

Distance: 11km, 3-4 hours hiking

7:00am Take a bus from Puerto Natales to the Pudeto (the catamaran ferry stop). You will stop at the park entrance when you first get into Torres del Paine to pay your entrance fee.

Make sure you’ve got the $25,000 CLP in cash; they don’t accept cards. You may need to prove you’re a foreigner so bring a photocopy of your passport just in case.

10:00am Arrive at Pudeto. Queue up for the catamaran ferry across the lake.

10:30am Take the ferry across to Paine Grande*. This service is operated by Hielos Patagonicos ($23,000 ($35 USD) single, cash only). Tickets cannot be reserved in advance; you buy them at the ferry port.

Ferry schedules do sometimes change; you can check up-to-date ones here.

11:40am Arrive at Paine Grande and trek to Grey. The trail starts to go uphill but soon levels off and has great views of Lago Grey to keep your spirits up!

16:00pm The hike from Paine Grande takes between three and four hours so expect to arrive late afternoon to Grey to pitch your tent, meet some other hikers and cook dinner.

*Note: At present, this boat is only departing Monday to Friday.

Day Two: Grey to Paine Grande

Distance: 18 km, 6-7 hours hiking

8:00am Wake up and have breakfast.

9:00am Leave your stuff at the campsite and return a few hours later to pack everything up. From the campsite, an additional one kilometre north through the forest brings you go two viewpoints lying over a kilometre from the glacier’s snout. From here, look out for enormous chunks of ice in the water.

Continue a further 2.5 kilometres (around a one-hour hike) along the path along the edge of the glacier to reach a series of two rope bridges hanging over ravines. From here you get the best views of the glacier and, if you’re lucky and it’s a clear day, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field beyond.

Return to Grey along the same path and back to Paine Grande.

16:00pm You’ll arrive at Paine Grande at around 4pm, which is where you’ll spend the night. The facilities are great here, with a covered dining area for campers.

A drawbridge over a river on the Torres del Paine W hike Patagonia
One of the rickety wooden bridges on the W trek!

Day Three: Paine Grande to Francés

Distance: 11.5 km (+ 9 km for the extension to Mirador Británico), 4 hours hiking (7.5 hours with extension)

8:00am Get up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.

9:00am Today begins with a flattish trek around Lake Nordernskjold to Guardería Italiano and the free, CONAF run Campamento Italiano. You can leave your bags here with the ranger before hiking up into the Francés Valley.

11:00am The hike up the Francés Valley may be long or painfully short – all depending on the weather. Both times I’ve walked Torres del Paine W hike I’ve experienced dreadful weather in the Francés Valley.

This part of the hike marks the central section of the W and it’s all uphill. After an hour’s steep gradient up a rocky, slippery trail to Mirador Francés, look for Glaciar Francés as it clings to the mountainside in the west.

If you’re feeling energetic, and the weather’s playing fair, you can continue climbing to Mirador Británico (an additional 3.5 km each way; around three hours’ return), where you’ll view a ring of toothy granite peaks, including the park’s second most famous landmark, the three-horned Cuernos del Paine.

It’s one of the park’s most stunning viewpoints—when the sky is clear. You may even see an endangered Southern Andean huemul (a type of deer) around here.

Luckily, the hike back is downhill to return to Campamento Italiano, where you pick up your rucksack and hike the 30 minutes to reach Francés.

13:00pm-16:00pm Arrive at Francés*, pitch up and enjoy the views across the lake.

*If there is no availability at Francés when you go to make your refugio or campsite reservations, you can instead book to stay at Los Cuernos, which is a further 3.5 kilometers (one hour) from Francés.

Day Four: Francés to El Chileno*

Distance: 17 km, 4-5 hours hiking

8:00am Get up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.

9:00am Leave the campsite and begin the trek to El Chileno, situated about two hours from the bottom of the towers.

This trek meanders alongside the lake, gaining and losing altitude as it goes, until you reach the start of the valley where it becomes all uphill. The views are incredible but if it’s sunny, it will be hot!

16:00pm Arrive at El Chileno* and pitch your tent. Get everything organised for the morning as you’ll be leaving early. Check with the staff what time sunrise will be the next morning.

*For the 2021-2022 season, Torres Ranger Station is not open to the public. It’s no longer as easy to get to the towers for dawn as the distance is now around four kilometres, rather than one kilometre; however, it is still possible to do it.

If you can’t get a pitch at Chileno, it is possible to hike from Torres Central/Norte ($21 USD camping pitch per person). Although you’re not officially supposed to hike from here up to the towers, you can: leave four hours ahead of sunrise. It’s an additional one-hour 45 minutes if starting from Torres Central/Norte to reach the towers.

Dawn at the towers on the Torres del Paine W trek
Dawn at the Torres on the W trek

Day Five: El Chileno* to Laguna Amarga and Puerto Natales

Distance: 13 km (+8 km for the hike from the Centro de Bienvenida to Laguna Amarga), 6 hours hiking (add an extra 1.5-2 hours for the hike to Laguna Amarga)

4:30am Wake up and take a small bag (including warm clothes and a snack) to see the torres at dawn. Don’t forget your torch as the route is over rocks and can be treacherous.

4:45am Start hiking up to the torres. For us at the very start of March, dawn was at about 7:15am.

8:00am Leave the torres and return to the campsite. Pack up, have breakfast start the long walk down.

12.30pm When you get to Las Torres Hotel car park, there is a shop selling ice creams. To get the shuttle minibus to take you to Laguna Amarga, you need to hike one kilometre down the road towards Torres Central/Norte to reach the Centro de Bienvenida/Welcome Centre.

Shuttles ($3,000 CLP ($5 USD) – you must pay in cash at the shuttle) leave throughout the day to take you to Laguna Amarga.

If you can face the walk, it’s about another one and a half hours to the Laguna Amarga Ranger Station where buses are waiting to pick you up. Hiking there, you can get good views of the towers as they rise out of the Cordillera Paine if the weather is clear.

14:30pm Take the bus from Laguna Amarga back to Puerto Natales.

17:00pm Arrive in Puerto Natales bus station and go and enjoy a pint at Cerveza Baguales on the Plaza de Armas to celebrate!

*If you can’t get a pitch at Chileno, it is possible to hike from Torres Central/Norte ($21 USD camping pitch per person). Although you’re not officially supposed to hike from here up to the towers, you can: leave four hours ahead of sunrise. It’s an additional one-hour 45 minutes if starting from Torres Central/Norte to reach the towers.

Make sure you bring a headtorch for climbing in the dark (it will get lighter as you reach the more difficult stretch of hiking just below the towers), plus warm clothing (even including a sleeping bag) to use at the top and keep you cosy as you enjoy the sunrise.

Itinerary for Torres del Paine W circuit in four days

Want to know how to book the campsites mentioned in this itinerary? Head over to this comprehensive article about booking Torres del Paine camping or hostel accommodation

Tents in the Paine Grande campsite in Torres del Paine, on the W hike Patagonia
Paine Grande campsite in Torres del Paine, Patagonia

Day One – Paine Grande to Paine Grande

COVID-19 update: Because there are currently just one boat from Pudeto to Paine Grande daily, this itinerary will be very difficult as you will be arriving on the first day at 11am, rather at 9.30am.

Distance: 22 km (+7 km if you hike to the last viewpoint), 7-9 hours hiking

7:00am Catch the Bus Sur bus from Puerto Natales*.

You will stop at the park entrance when you first get into Torres del Paine to pay your entrance fee. Make sure you’ve got the $21,000 CLP in cash; they don’t accept cards. You may need to prove you’re a foreigner so bring a photocopy of your passport just in case.

08:45am Arrive at Pudeto take the ferry across to Paine Grande at 9am. This service is operated by Hielos Patagonicos ($23,000 ($35 USD) single, cash only).

Tickets cannot be reserved in advance; you buy them at the ferry port. Ferry schedules and prices do sometimes change; you can check up-to-date ones here and the 9am ferry only runs November through the end of March.

09:30am Arrive at Paine Grande and drop your camping gear at the campsite**.

Take the trail towards Grey; it starts uphill but soon levels off and has great views of Lago Grey to keep your spirits up!

If you’re fit, you can hike an additional one kilometre north through the forest brings you go two viewpoints lying over a kilometre from the glacier’s snout. From here, look out for enormous chunks of ice in the water.

If you’re still feeling full of energy and it’s not too late, continue a further 2.5 kilometres (around a one-hour hike) along the path along the edge of the glacier to reach a series of two rope bridges hanging over ravines. From here you get the best views of the glacier and, if you’re lucky and it’s a clear day, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field beyond.

Turn back and return the way you came, past Grey and then back to Paine Grande.

18:00pm Arrive late afternoon back at Paine Grande to meet some other hikers and cook dinner.

*Because this service offers the easiest way to get to the park early, it’s likely it will get booked out very fast. I would highly recommend reserving tickets as soon as you can; you can make reservations online via Bus Sur’s website.

**This could take an hour or so, depending on how many people are trying to check in or drop baggage. You can confirm with Vertice Patagonia when you make your reservations as to how long this should take and whether they want you to pitch up your tent or just leave your belongings and pitch up later.

Day Two – Paine Grande to Frances

Distance: 11.5 km (+ 9 km for the extension to Mirador Británico), 4 hours hiking (7.5 hours with extension)

8:00am Get up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.

9:00am Hike to the ranger station and campsite, Campamento Italiano (around two hours), where you leave your rucksack with the ranger. You’ll pick it up on your way back down from the Francés Valley.

The hike up the Francés Valley may be long or painfully short – all depending on the weather. Both times I’ve walked Torres del Paine W hike I’ve experienced dreadful weather in the Francés Valley.

This part of the hike marks the central section of the W and it’s all uphill. After an hour’s steep gradient up a rocky, slippery trail to Mirador Francés, look for Glaciar Francés as it clings to the mountainside in the west.

If you’re feeling energetic, and the weather’s playing fair, you can continue climbing to Mirador Británico (an additional 3.5 km each way; around three hours’ return), where you’ll view a ring of toothy granite peaks, including the park’s second most famous landmark, the three-horned Cuernos del Paine.

It’s one of the park’s most stunning viewpoints—when the sky is clear. You may even see an endangered Southern Andean huemul (a type of deer) around here.

Luckily, the hike back is downhill to return to Italiano, where you pick up your rucksack and hike the 30 minutes to reach Francés.

13:00pm-16:00pm Arrive at Francés*, pitch up and enjoy the views across the lake.

*If there is no availability at Francés when you go to make your refugio or campsite reservations, you can instead book to stay at Los Cuernos, which is a further 3.5 kilometres (one hour) from Francés.

The Torres del Paine W circuit path leading up to the Torres
The valley leading up to the Torres

Day Three: Francés to El Chileno*

Distance: 17km, 4-5 hours hiking

8:00am Get up, have breakfast and pack up your tent.

9:00am Leave the campsite and begin the trek to El Chileno, situated about two hours from the bottom of the towers. This trek meanders alongside the lake, gaining and losing altitude as it goes, until you reach the start of the valley where it becomes all uphill. The views are incredible but if it’s sunny, it will be hot!

16:00pm Arrive at El Chileno* and pitch your tent. Get everything organised for the morning as you’ll be leaving early. Check with the staff what time sunrise will be the next morning.

*For the 2021-2022 season, Campamento Torres, the campground just below the towers, is not open to the public. It’s no longer as easy to get to the towers for dawn as the distance is now around four kilometres, rather than one kilometre; however, it is still possible to do it.

If you can’t get a pitch at Chileno, it is possible to hike from Torres Central/Norte ($21 USD camping pitch per person). Although you’re not officially supposed to hike from here up to the towers, you can: leave four hours ahead of sunrise. It’s an additional one-hour 45 minutes if starting from Torres Central/Norte to reach the towers.

Day Four: El Chileno* to Laguna Amarga and Puerto Natales

Distance:  13 km (+8 km for the hike from the Centro de Bienvenida to Laguna Amarga), 6 hours hiking (add an extra 1.5-2 hours for the hike to Laguna Amarga)

4:30am Wake up and take a small bag (including warm clothes and a snack) to see the torres at dawn. Don’t forget your torch as the route is over rocks and can be treacherous.

4:45am Start hiking up to the torres. For us at the very start of March, dawn was at about 7:15am.

8:00am Leave the torres and return to the campsite. Pack up, have breakfast start the long walk down.

12.30pm When you get to Las Torres Hotel car park, there is a shop selling ice creams. To get the shuttle minibus to take you to Laguna Amarga, you need to hike one kilometre down the road towards Torres Central/Norte to reach the Centro de Bienvenida/Welcome Centre.

Shuttles ($3,000 CLP ($5 USD) – you must pay with cash in the shuttle) leave throughout the day to take you to Laguna Amarga.

If you can face the walk, it’s about another one and a half hours to the Laguna Amarga Ranger Station where buses are waiting to pick you up. Hiking there, you can get good views of the towers as they rise out of the Cordillera Paine if the weather is clear. .

14:30pm Take the bus from Laguna Amarga back to Puerto Natales.

17:00pm Arrive in Puerto Natales bus station and go and enjoy a pint at Cerveza Baguales on the Plaza de Armas to celebrate!

*If you can’t get a pitch at El Chileno, it is possible to hike from Torres Central/Norte ($21 USD camping pitch per person). Although you’re not officially supposed to hike from here up to the towers, you can: leave four hours ahead of sunrise.

Make sure you bring a headtorch for climbing in the dark (it will get lighter as you reach the more difficult stretch of hiking just below the towers), plus warm clothing (even including a sleeping bag) to use at the top and keep you cosy as you enjoy the sunrise.

Top tips for hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek self-guided

A view of the Torres del Paine towers on the W circuit, Patagonia
A final look at the torres as we left the park

Having now been hiking in Torres del Paine National Park twice, I’ve learned a few important tips that have kept me happy, sane and comfortable en route:

Equipment:

  • Camping in Torres del Paine at Francés, Los Cuernos and El Chileno is on wooden platforms. If you plan to stay at any of these campsites, you will need extra cord or string to help you attach your tent without using pegs.
  • Bring a range of warm and wet weather clothing. Check out my packing list for hiking the Circuit in Torres del Paine for the full guide to the clothing that I packed for the trip (and which is also a good guide to what to pack for the W). It also includes a free, downloadable checklist. 
  • Bring a book or some cards for the evenings as you tend to finish hiking quite early and if it’s cold and wet, you’ll want to retire to the shelters with something to do.
  • Having a lightweight tent really does make a difference camping on this trek. Have a look at my review of the Big Agnes HVUL2, the really lightweight backpacking tent that we used for the O Circuit.
  • If you’re carrying all of your own equipment, a 60-litre rucksack should be big enough.
  • Pack all of your clothes into dry bags (better than a bin bag which can easily rip). The weather changes rapidly and on days when it’s pissing it down, you’ll welcome the fact that your sleeping bag and clothes are dry. I recommend the Sea to Summit dry bags (buy them on REI|Backcountry|Amazon).
  • Bring a rucksack cover. I’ve heard mixed advice on this one, but a rucksack cover kept our bags dry (and so lighter) when we were hiking in Torres del Paine National Park and no, they didn’t blow away in the wind. If your rucksack doesn’t come with its own, you can find them in various sizes on REI|Osprey|Amazon (make sure it’s the correct size for your bag – otherwise it will blow away!).

Food:

  • There is a much wider (and cheaper) selection of food in the supermarkets in Punta Arenas than in the one Unimarc supermarket in Puerto Natales. I recommend doing your food shop there before you take the bus to Puerto Natales. We left the stuff we didn’t need in our hostel in Punta Arenas. You can also buy trekking food and bring it with you, but it’s heavier and far more expensive than organising your food when you get to Puerto Natales.
  • Pack everything into zip-lock plastic bags and bin all the original packaging that you can to save on carrying any extra weight. Also, don’t bring the full pack of rice if you’re only going to eat half of it – every bit of weight counts!
  • You can buy basic staples (pasta, biscuits, tomato puree etc.) from the shops at Paine Grande, Grey, Francés and El Chileno to stock up on supplies. It’s pretty expensive, but totally worth it. They also all stock beer – an additional expense that I didn’t include in the costings for the W trek!
  • You don’t need to bring water with you as it’s available from all the glacier meltwater streams that you’ll run into along the W and is drinkable from the taps at each of the campsites. If you’re nervous about drinking the water, you can also bring a Steripen (read my review of the Steripen Adventurer or buy one from Amazon or buy a newer Steripen UV Ultra from REI) to zap anything that might be nasty or a Grayl (REI|Backcountry|Amazon) – find out why I recommend these water filters for South American travel.
  • My dad is a pro at packing food for multi-day treks. Read what food we took with us for the O Circuit (and which you can use as a guide for the W too).
cooking and camping in Torres del Paine on the W circuit
Cooking on our last night in Torres Campsite

Camping in Torres del Paine:

The following summarises some of the main points about booking campsites and refugios in Torres del Paine for the W trek, but for you can get a full overview of how to book campsites in Torres del Paine with this article updated for the 2019/2020 season.

The new website Torres Hike can show you the availability of accommodation and allows you to book it directly through them, rather than having to go via the Vertice Patagonia, Fantastico Sur and CONAF websites. All you need to do is plug in your dates and it’ll show you which campgrounds and refugios are available – saving you LOTS of time.

Reservations with Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia

You will need to book your campsites in Torres del Paine advance. In August 2019, many of the campsites and refugios were fully booked for December through February 2020, which just shows how far in advance it gets booked up.

Before you start panicking, what happens each year is that reservations opened up in September/October/November, probably due to the fact that tour agencies in Puerto Natales make mass reservations for the high season, and then cancel them when they don’t fill the bookings.

If you need anything planned well in advance, then this isn’t going to suit your plans. If your plans are a little more open and you can wait until closer until the time (and keep checking back to see if any spots have opened up), then you should still be able to hike the W during these months.

My recommendation would be to hike outside of these months anyway (November or March) to avoid the crowds as much as possible, but either way, you still MUST SECURE YOUR RESERVATIONS with Fantastico Sur (Francés, Los Cuernos, El Chileno) and Vertice Patagonia (Paine Grande and Grey).

If you’re trying to get a space last-minute, you can always pop into either of their offices in Puerto Natales and see if they can book you in. I’ve heard of people having success with this with only a day or two’s notice.

Reservations with CONAF

For the 2021/2022 season, all of the CONAF campsites remain closed.

As of the 2019-2020 season, you now have to book all of your CONAF camping site in Torres del Paine (the free ones: Italiano Ranger Station and Torres Ranger Station) in advance too and PRINT OFF CONFIRMATION.

They don’t have a list so you must show them your reservation. Again, these book up well in advance so secure all of your accommodation at least one or two months in advance during peak season.

Make reservations here. Their online booking system is now much easier than it was for last season.

You just need to click on the above link, put in your dates (you will need to do this twice if you want to book more than one campsite with CONAF) and it will show availability and allow you to insert your details to make the reservation. It’s all in English, too!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Reservations for CONAF campgrounds for the 2020/2021 season likely won’t open until around September time. When they do, you can make reservations directly through their website.

Extras:

  • You will need Chilean pesos on you for the park as nowhere accepts cards. You’ll need $25,000 CLP ($34 USD) each for your entrance fee (unless you pay in advance online here), $23,000 CLP ($35 USD) for the catamaran ferry and then extras for additional food, beer and anything else you want to buy.

Upgrade your solo Torres del Paine W trek, Patagonia with these changes

If you’re not so bothered about hiking the W in Torres del Paine National Park on a complete budget, consider making the following small tweaks to your itinerary.

Camping and accommodation in Torres del Paine along the W circuit, Patagonia
Part of the dining area in Los Cuernos Refugio. Look, they have wine! And jenga!

Stay overnight at Paine Grande ($6,000 CLP ($9 USD) camping between two) rather than at Italiano*

*Italiano is currently closed.

The toilets at the latter are pretty grim and there’s only a three-wall shelter to protect you from the elements. Instead, at Paine Grande, there’s a huge cooking area with dining tables, magnificent views of Los Cuernos and even power sockets for charging the batteries of your camera.

If you make this change, you’ll need to hike all the way to Francés the following day, but you can always trek just to the Francés Lookout rather than all the way to Británico to shorten the walk.

Stay overnight at Los Cuernos ($59,000 CLP ($90 USD) per person full board) instead of Francés

Again, this is only really possible if you stayed overnight on Day Two in Paine Grande. When we hiked the Full Circuit, we decided to treat ourselves to an all-inclusive night at Los Cuernos.

This meant we still pitched our own tent on a wooden platform, but we had a three-course dinner, breakfast and packed lunch for the next morning, which reduced the amount we had to pack in our rucksacks for the hike.

The food from Fantastico Sur is much better than Vertigo Patagonia too, so I would recommend this instead of eating in the big canteen at Paine Grande.

Los Cuernos now offers camping sites without full board (previously you had to pay for full board at this campsite). This means that for $21 USD per person you can pitch up your own tent here. They also offer half board options priced at $56 USD per person, which include dinner and breakfast.

Book full-board and a tent or bed at each campsite

You can rent gear and get food at Grey and Paine Grande, while at Los Cuernos and El Chileno you have to book a bed and food, so if you don’t want to carry anything, then you can also book this way!

Bear in mind that full-board at Los Cuernos comes in at $145USD per person for a bed, sleeping bag and full board – so it certainly won’t come cheap!

Did you find this guide to the Torres del Paine W hike useful? Pin it!

Read this complete guide to hiking the Torres del Paine W trek in Patagonia without a tour, fully updated for the 2018/2019 trekking season. Everything you need to know about hiking routes, camping and accommodation and costs. #TorresdelPaine #Chile #hikingchile #torresdelpainetrekking #torresdelPaineWTrek #patagaonia #worldlyadventurer #hikingpatagaonia #travelsouthamerica #treksinchile
Read this complete guide to hiking the Torres del Paine W trek in Patagonia without a tour, fully updated for the 2018/2019 trekking season. Everything you need to know about hiking routes, camping and accommodation and costs. #TorresdelPaine #Chile #hikingchile #torresdelpainetrekking #torresdelPaineWTrek #patagaonia #worldlyadventurer #hikingpatagaonia #travelsouthamerica #treksinchile
Read this complete guide to hiking the Torres del Paine W trek in Patagonia without a tour, fully updated for the 2018/2019 trekking season. Everything you need to know about hiking routes, camping and accommodation and costs. #TorresdelPaine #Chile #hikingchile #torresdelpainetrekking #torresdelPaineWTrek #patagaonia #worldlyadventurer #hikingpatagaonia #travelsouthamerica #treksinchile

Sam

Saturday 6th of November 2021

I could not find the bus sur that leaves from Puerto Natales at 6.40 am. The earliest that I found leaves at 7:00 am. Can you elaborate where we can reserve tickets for this bus?

Steph Dyson

Thursday 25th of November 2021

Hi Sam, bus timetables on this post are still pre-pandemic as I've not had a chance to update them. The Bus Sur bus at 7am is their only one in the morning at present. Steph

Rob

Wednesday 19th of February 2020

Hi – I have a question on the final day hike to Mirador Torres and then leaving the park to Puerto Natales. Is it feasible to start the day from Torres Norte and make it to Mirador Torres (ideally by sunrise which is ~7:50am in late March). I read it takes about 4hrs. So if I managed to reach there by 8am and depart at 9am, that places me back at Torres Norte at ~1pm. Would that be enough time to ensure I get on the 2pm shuttle (I read somewhere it can be a 30mn walk to the welcome center where the actual shuttle leaves) and make the 230pm bus?

I’m very confused on how often the shuttle from Hotel Torres works to Laguna Amarga. It seems the bus service has a varying departure time so I’m confused on how often the shuttle runs for each. The times I see for each service departing from Laguna Amarga is as follows: Bus Sur – 1:30pm Maria Jose – 2:30pm Gomez – 2:30pm As far as I can tell, Bus Sur is the only one with a website that allows you to book online, however, I would prefer to have a 230pm bus so not risk cutting things close. How do you book Maria Jose or Bus Gomez in advance?

Steph Dyson

Tuesday 25th of February 2020

Hi Rob, all the information about the shuttle is on the company's webpage. They claim they now leave continuously between 9am and 7pm, so I suggest you communicate directly with them. For the other companies, you go to the bus station the day before and book your tickets. Steph

Alison

Tuesday 11th of February 2020

Hi Steph, Thanks for such an incredible article. I've been using it to plan a very last minute solo trip on the W due to other plans falling through.

The early bus back to Puerto Natales is 1:30 from Armaga (instead of 2:30) which I won't make if I see the sunrise at the towers. Do you think it's doable to hike from Frances to Chileno - drop off my pack -- then hike to the towers for sunset and back to Chileno? That would mean I could leave and make the 1:30 bus the next morning. I know it's a long day of like 11-12 hours of hiking, but if I leave Frances at 5 am it seems like it would work.

I'm an experienced backpacker and know my gear. I'm going to assume a 1.5 - 2 mph pace given the terrain. I usually average 2.5 in the US Appalachian Trail. It'll suck - but it's the best I can think to do.

I have a flight from Santiago back to the US on March 9 so I want to get from Punta Arenas to Santiago early on the 8th to be safe. That means making the 1:30 bus.

Thanks, Alison

Steph Dyson

Tuesday 25th of February 2020

Hi Alison, they close the trail from Chileno to Torres at 6pm, so as long as you get there before then, you should be ok to hike up. Make sure you take a torch for the way down! Steph

Jess

Sunday 2nd of February 2020

Hi Steph, this has been an incredible resource as I'm planning to go to TdP this December. I was wondering: 1) If I book a spot in the camping grounds, can I walk into the Refugios to use their facilities / stay in the common areas but of course go back to the tent to sleep? 2) Do you have any resources for hiking in El Chalten? I'm planning to hike Laguna de los tres before heading to Puerto Natales

Thanks!

Steph Dyson

Sunday 9th of February 2020

Hi Jess, 1) it depends on the refugio. In Paine Grande, for example, there is a separate cooking area and toilet block for the campers, however campers can enter the dining hall in the refugio to eat food if they buy it. In Los Cuernos, you have access to the dining/sitting area in the refugio even if you're in the camping. 2) Unfortunately not yet! You can find other stuff on this site though! Steph

Sofia P.

Saturday 25th of January 2020

Hi Steph!

Thanks so much for providing your many thorough blogs about Torres del Paine. I've been diligently reviewing them all to make sure that all is good leading up to my solo W-trek in just a few weeks! I have a couple of questions remaining and I was wondering if you might have any thoughts:

1. I would certainly like to get an early start to my trek on my first day and I was happy to notice that you mentioned that there is a Bus-sur bus @6:40 AM to Pudeto (in time for the first catamaran). Great! However, on the bus-sur website it says that the bus arrives at Pudeto at 9 AM. Do you know how likely the arrival time varies between 8:45 and 9 AM? Also, does the catamaran leave at a strict 9 AM or does it possibly wait for that first bus to arrive?

2. On another note, in terms of my cooking equipment, I have a Jetboil device. I wanted to ask if you know about the fuel options around Puerto Natales? I have emailed a few trekking-related stores and they do not carry fuel and so I'm wondering what my options are (e.g., where can I buy the canister? how big is it (I'd really only need the smallest option for myself), will it fit with my Jetboil? And how much might it cost?

Any thoughts here would be amazing! Thank you :)

Steph Dyson

Sunday 9th of February 2020

Hi Sofia, I'm glad you've found the information so helpful! In terms of your questions 1) I really don't know; this bus is very new so I'm not exactly sure how it functions. I suggest you email them (and let us know what you find!). 2) Again, I don't use a jetboil, but it looks like it uses a standard gas canister. You can probably get these from the camping and equipment rental stores - or at least they should be able to point you in the right direction. There are so many campers looking for fuel for their camping stoves that I think most shops in Puerto Natales sell it! I hope that helps :)