When I first arrived in Chile, or even, when I first started to plan my trip to Chile, all I saw was the following photo, in some form or another. It was on the front of every single travel book, on posters, postcards, ads and even on the 1000 peso bill. I had to go.
I arrived in Chile in August and hoped to travel to the towers at the end of my stay, in April, but one thing led to another, and there I was in November, setting off for my trip to Patagonia.
Fortunately for me, the trip was already planned by a good friend of mine, Tannis, who was meant to go with another friend, but who could no longer make it. She invited me to go, and of course, I said yes. Just three days later, I was at Santiago airport, ready to board my flight to Punta Arenas, one of the most Southern cities of the world.
From Punta Arenas, Tannis and I jumped straight into a coach which took us up to Puerto Natales, which took around 2 hours. Puerto Natales is a really lovely town which sits on the Patagonian fjords and is the closest piece of civilization to the park.
We spent quite a few days there before we set off on our trek, so we had time to pack and prepare for our trip and get all the last bits and bobs we needed. Turns out we were quite unprepared, well I certainly was.
The main thing we had to buy was food, of course, we were doing the whole trek unguided, so we needed to buy all of our food for 5 days at once, which included a lot of beans, rice, soup and chocolate.
The other thing I wasn’t prepared for, was how cold it was (most nights dropping below freezing). So I had to buy a hat, a long-sleeved underlayer and some wind-proof trousers, among other things.
If you want to be more prepared, unlike I was, then you can check out Zoe Baillargeon’s ultimate packing guide, on the Cascada Travel website.
It was soon time to start the trek. We actually did the reverse W-Trek, where you finish at the Torres del Paine, rather than start there. You can do the trek either way round, the distance and difficulty stay almost the same, but we liked the idea of finishing at the towers, almost like a reward. What we did was pretty similar to this:
Pretty soon after you leave Puerto Natales, your signal cuts out, there’s no wifi (except in a few of the refuges, but it’s really expensive), and you’ve disconnected from the world.
The W-Trek Day 1:
Day one was a great day because at that point of the trek you’re in such high spirits, you feel good, you have lots of energy, and you’re not sick of beans and rice yet.
The day starts by taking a bus to the Torres Del Paine National Park, where you will have to pay an entrance fee of $21.000 CLP and be briefed on the safety and security of the park, before taking a catamaran boat (another $15.000 CLP) to the Refugio Paine Grande, which has bathrooms, a café and a minimarket, so you can grab the last few things you need before starting the trek.
From there, the trail leads up through a long windy track, all the way to the Grey Glacier and the Refugio Grey, where you can camp for the night. It’s only an 11km trek, and the shortest trek of the whole trip, but as it was the first, we weren’t used to the distance, especially while carrying such big bags on our backs, so it felt like miles.
Every turn you take on this trek opens up to a brand new piece of stunning scenery until eventually, you get to the massive Grey Glacier (what you see in this photo below is only one side of the glacier). I had never even seen an iceberg before that day, so that alone was really cool, let alone the glacier.
The W-Trek Day 2:
Day 2, is one of the longest days of the trek (depending on your route). We had to walk the 11km back down the way we came to the Refugio Paine Grande, and then another 8km to our next campsite, Campamento Italiano.
(Let me just mention that 19km feels like about 30km when you’ve not slept much because of the cold, you’re carrying a 15kg backpack and it’s pretty hilly).
The second part of our trek that day was stunning, just like the first. As the trail opened up onto a small lake called Lago Scottsberg, with an amazing backdrop of the Cumbre Bariloche and the recognizable Cuerno Principal.
The two parts of the trail are very different, with half being along one side of the mountain range, and the other half being along the other side. It goes from more rocky and narrow paths to more flat and grassy paths. The change in scenery makes the whole trail more interesting and exciting as you continue along the route, before arriving at the Campamento Italiano.
The W-Trek Day 3:
I was still feeling awesome on day 3. I was tired and a little sore, but none of that mattered, I was in Patagonia, the most amazing place I had ever been.
On this part of the trek, you get to hike up into the Valle Frances, to the Mirador Britannico. The trek to the middle of the valley was 6,5km, with the last kilometre or so being up a steep hill that takes you to the amazing Mirador (viewpoint), perched right a the top of a rock, where you can see a 360° panoramic view of the whole valley. It’s the perfect place to sit and relax, have a picnic or a snack, and take in the beautiful scenery.
While the majority of this route is through the forest, there are several stops along the way which also offer phenomenal views. One of which, about 2km in, looks directly out to the Glacier Francés.
For the very first time since we had arrived, there were blue skies all day long, which made this trek even more beautiful. Another great thing about day 3, is that you get to hike without your bags for the first time, as no matter where you camp next, you have to pass by Campamento Italiano again so you can leave them there, and pick up them up on your way down.
When we arrived at the viewpoint, we sat on the rock for a good while snacking on chocolate, of course, until we decided we had better make our way back, as we had another 10km to do that day, back to the original point we started at, then a little further on to the next campsite.
There are three options of places you can stay from that point, Campamento Italiano for a second time, Campamento El Francés, which is an extra 3km away, and Refugio Los Cuernos, another 2,5km after that. We chose Campamento El Francés, but right before we got back to the point we started at to pick up our bags, Tannis tripped and badly hurt her knee (tore her meniscus, ouch). So change of plans, we stayed at that campsite another night, with no idea what we were going to do the next day.
The W-Trek Day 4:
Day 4 was hard, we decided to push through and continue in the right direction, I took all the heaviest things in my bag, as well as much of Tannis’ stuff as I could fit, to try and make it a little easier for her. It turns out that trek was quite a bit longer than we thought… a total of 21km, but we made it in the end.
Most of the path is along the Lago Nordernskjöld, a bright blue lake which stood out despite the grey clouds overhead. It was hard to get my phone out without it getting too wet because of the rain or fly away in the wind, but I managed to capture this:
It was heavily raining and incredibly windy for the majority of the trek when we did it, but we made it in under 10 hours. As usual, though, the whole trail was just so incredibly beautiful that I think it was worth the pain (just).
The last few kilometres that day were really hard, Tannis was limping and in a lot of pain, and I couldn’t even feel my legs at that point, but we were there, at the Las Torres Campsite, the last campsite of the trip, and where we would be leaving from the next day, after our last trek up to the Torres Del Paine and back.
The W-Trek Day 5:
Day 5 is the big day, the final day of the W-Trek, and the day of the Torres del Paine!
From the Las Torres campsite, the Torres Del Paine are a 10km hike away, with the last kilometer being incredibly steep and difficult, rising over 600m and taking the average person almost one hour to climb. At the end of the trek, you arrive right at the base of the towers, where you can take your insta-perfect pictures, of course, and sit and take in the stunning view of the towers, before heading back the way you came, for another 10km.
This is what’s supposed to happen anyway, but it didn’t go so well for us, that day was the foggiest and windiest day yet, and we were told by so many people that it wouldn’t be worth the trip up there because it’s the steepest trail of all, the winds were 74km/h that day, the temperatures were severely low, and we probably wouldn’t get to see the towers anyway because of the fog. On top of all that, we didn’t know if Tannis would make it on her knee.
We didn’t make it all the way to the towers, but we gave it a go and did get to see them… just for a few minutes.
Believe it or not though, I wasn’t disappointed. I was tired, hungry and ache-y, but definitely not disappointed. Foggy or not they were still amazing.
Every single bit of the 5-day journey to the towers was stunning, beautiful and honestly, life-changing. The towers are incredible, of course, but if you come to Patagonia just to see them, and not the rest of the park, then I think you’re missing out.
The W-Trek is an experience, an adventure and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If it’s not on your bucket list yet, then it should be! I loved every second of it, some bits were harder than others, but every bit was worth it, and I would’ve done it all again!
If you’d like to find out about more trekking opportunities in Chile, or are interesting in this trip and others, be sure to download the TheBesty app to book the best tours and activities, discover fun things to do, and find the guaranteed lowest prices on hotel bookings – all in Latin America.