Welcome to my guide on the W Trek! I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina but moved to the US as a baby and was raised in Seattle, Washington. I consider myself a true Pacific Northwesterner. My parents are avid travelers and adventurers, and they definitely passed those passions down to me! I have always loved spending time outdoors – it’s how I recharge.
I’m currently a medical student and make it my goal to get into the mountains once a week to go hiking, skiing, camping or trail running. Exploring various cultures and natural sights, both locally and around the world, is one of the greatest privileges in my life. I had traveled to Argentina Patagonia back in 2017 and absolutely fell in love with the region, so I was eager to come back and explore the Chilean side of Patagonia as well.
When my best friend asked if I wanted to do the W Trek in Torres del Paine with her and some fellow medical students, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down! We had one week off for spring break, which was just enough time to do the W Trek and spend a few days in the capital of Santiago.
My Experience on the W Trek of Patagonia
The W Trek is just under 50 miles of well-kept trail with spectacular views. It typically takes between 4-6 days to complete. We spent 4 days and 3 nights on the trek. The W Trek is known for its incredible diversity and extreme terrain. Over the 50 or so miles we passed glaciers, brilliant lakes, rugged rock structures, lush valleys, raging waterfalls and breathtaking mountains – each view on its own would be worth making a trek for.
Strewn together, the W Trek is truly surreal. In addition to the sights, the quaint Refugios and spending quality time with friends made the W Trek a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. My experience on the W Trek was amazing. I went with a large group of friends – there were 14 of us in total including my boyfriend, some of my best friends and also some newer friends. This was a great type of trip to do with a large group because, once we started the trek, there weren’t really any decisions to be made along the way.
We all knew where we would end up at the end of the day, so we got to focus on taking in the views and spending quality time with each other. The hike is moderately challenging and is approachable for a variety of fitness levels, especially since the mileage can be spread out across many days. We went late in the season but got lucky with the weather. It rained on us for the first two hours of the trek, but we had dry and relatively clear skies for the rest of the time! It really couldn’t have been better.
Top 5 Highlights of the W Trek
1. Watching the Sunrise at Mirador Las Torres
This was my favorite view of the trip and truly was one of the most magical moments I have ever experienced. We woke up at 4:00 am to hike up to the top of Mirador Las Torres (towers viewpoint) and it was absolutely worth it. As the sun rose, the light caught the Torres on fire, turning the jagged peaks a vibrant orange-pink. The magic lasted for about 6 minutes!
2. Hiking through the Valle Frances (French Valley)
Hiking through the Valle Frances (French Valley) was certainly another highlight of the trip. This was actually my favorite section of the W Trek. The valley is surrounded by the most remarkable rugged mountains – some of them covered in snow, and others stark and barren. The glacial blue river running through the center of the valley was straight out of a dream.
3. Staying Overnight at Refugio Los Cuernos
The iconic hiker’s shelter known as Refugio Los Cuernos was my favorite campsite that we stayed at on the W Trek. Enjoying a cold cerveza (beer) on the deck of Refugio Los Cuernos with 360-degree views of Patagonian wilderness all around us was the perfect end to a long day of trekking.
4. Searching for Wildlife Throughout the W Trek
I also enjoyed looking for wildlife throughout the W Trek. We had been searching for guanacos (llama-like mammals) the entire time and finally saw hundreds in a herd at the very end of our trek. Some other wildlife highlights were Darwin’s rheas and, of course, Chilean flamingos!
5. Eating Lunch Overlooking the Grey Glacier
Having lunch overlooking the Grey Glacier on our first day was another highlight. The skies began to clear up just as we were getting to the glacier, and we all started hooting and hollering. It felt rewarding to finally be so remote after all of the long travel it took to get to the start of the W Trek.
What are the Refugios Like on the W Trek?
Refugios are little lodges and campsites dotted throughout the trek. I stayed in fully equipped campsites outside, while some members of my group decided to stay in private cabins or more hostel-style lodging in the Refugios. The Refugios can provide sleeping bags and ground pads if booked in advance. These are all wonderful lodging options because we didn’t have to pack any additional camping gear. There are also fantastic options for those who prefer to backpack with their own camping supplies.
Waking up and unzipping my tent to the views in the morning was a huge perk of staying in the fully-equipped campsites! The various Refugios on the W Trek each have a restaurant and bar, so we pre-ordered hot meals for breakfast and dinners on the trek as well. Additionally, we ordered bag lunches at the Refugios which we could take out onto the trail for the day.
This way, we didn’t have to pack any food for the trek. The Refugios made the W Trek a glamorous backpacking experience. There are 7 different Refugios along the route. We stayed at Paine Grande, Los Cuernos and Chileno. Los Cuernos was definitely my favorite but all of them were lovely!
Booking Tours vs Trekking Independently
We didn’t use a tour company for the W Trek. Instead, my best friend Alessandra spearheaded the planning. She did an excellent job encouraging us to book Refugios early – they fill up far in advance during the busy season – and also used Gaia GPS to help plan out our route. Before starting the trek, we stopped by Rental Natales in the town of Puerto Natales to rent trekking poles. Rental Natales were super helpful, and made sure we had everything we needed for a safe and comfortable journey!
Best Time of Year To Do the W Trek
We took on the W Trek last year in the final week of March, which is the tail end of the trekking season. We got lucky and hit great weather, but the Mirador Base Las Torres and Valle Frances were both closed due to poor weather conditions the day before we started our trek. The main benefit of going late in the trekking season was that the trail was not very crowded.
As a general rule, I suggest the trek for December-February to have a better chance of getting good weather. With these kinds of adventures, you never know what mother nature will throw your way. It’s important to be prepared for the elements and then make the most out of what you get!
How Much Does the W Trek Cost?
It cost me about $400 USD (~$100/day) to do the W Trek once I got to Puerto Natales. On the trek, I shared a fully-equipped campsite, which was around $70/night. My food ended up being around $60/day. Aside from room and board, the other expenses to be aware of are the park entry pass ($35), getting to the W Trek (the bus from Puerto Natales was ~$14) and gear rentals (the price varies – I brought my own gear and rented poles for $3, while other members of my group also rented backpacks and rain gear).
There are ways to make the W Trek cheaper – cooking your own food and staying in bunk beds – or more expensive – glamping in a luxury lodge or spending more days on the trail. Keep in mind the fact that Torres del Paine National Park is located extremely far south, so the price of getting to Puerto Natales can vary a lot based on where you are coming from.
Final Tips for Hiking the W Trek
- Don’t wait to do the W Trek if you are considering it and can make it happen. Life is unpredictable and these are the experiences to live for!
- Prepare for the weather to change quickly by packing lots of layers. Definitely be sure to bring some waterproof gear and a backpack cover.
- The W Trek isn’t the most technical hike in the world but 50 miles is a lot. Be sure to hike in the months leading up to your trip to prepare!
- Eat some Chilean Sea Bass and drink a Pisco Sour or two! Learn as much as you can about Chilean culture and history, especially in the deep south.
- Enjoy. Just enjoy this adventure. In this day and age, it can be so difficult to find these moments to slow down and fully unplug. Part of what makes the W Trek in Torres del Paine so special is having no responsibilities other than being present and appreciating the beauty of the natural world.