When we first decided to visit Torres del Paine earlier this year, we initially weren’t even sure when we were going, how we were getting there, what campsites we were staying at, or what a trip to Torres really entailed. Here are our top tips to help you avoid all of our mistakes:
#1. Make your camping reservations, and make them early: I imagine the reservation system will only become stricter in the coming years, as the park becomes increasingly popular. Even if you’re backpacking with no particular schedule (like us), decide when you think you’ll want to go to Torres, book your campsites, and plan everything else around those dates. The free campsites in particular are sometimes fully booked months in advance. We were unsure of our schedule (as we usually always are) and started the reservation process too late; we couldn’t get all of the sites we wanted on the days we wanted, and we spent actual hours stressing out about it as the internet cut in and out of a cafe in Argentina… moral of the story, book your sites and book early.
#2. Pack light – leave things behind: Assuming you plan to stay in Puerto Natales for a night or two before starting the trek, talk to your hostel about free baggage storage. We all left backpacks filled with all of the “extras” we didn’t need to take to Torres. We stayed at Chumango Hostel, and they labeled all of our bags and stored them in a locked closet, completely free.
#3. Clothing tips: our hostel had a large chalkboard with a title that read “This Week’s Weather”. Hoping it would help me figure out how to pack, I started reading it, only to realize it said, “This is Patagonia. Don’t ask for the weather.” Choose your clothes with that in mind – hiking pants that zip into shorts are going to be extremely practical, along with both a short sleeve and a long sleeve shirt, a pullover jacket for warm, and a rain jacket, because it will rain. It does get chilly at night and sometimes during the day, so make sure you have some thermal layers for sleeping. Keep these in a separate plastic bag to keep them dry and never wear them during the day; clean, dry, warm pajamas will be so important for you to get a good night’s sleep.
#4. Food tips: For starters, you don’t have to worry about water. Water all throughout the park is pure and completely safe to drink; it will probably be some of the best water you’ve tasted. At refugios and campsites, it’s recommended to boil water, but everywhere else along the trail you’re totally fine. (We also drank the water that was right next to campsites, and we were fine there as well). Food will be one of the most important things in your bag, but it will also probably be the heaviest, so plan out your meals carefully. When it’s weighing heavily on your shoulders, just remember, by the last day, your backpack will be significantly lighter. We would 100% recommend bringing a camping stove with you. At the end of a long day, hot food just hits the spot, and in the morning, it’s a little easier to start a long day of hiking if you have a cup of coffee first. We brought a few dehydrated meals from Backpacker’s Pantry; these were a little more expensive than we would normally spend on camping-food, but they were light, added variety to our meals, and they were super easy to make. I typically had oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, peanut butter on wraps for lunch, and then either pasta or one of our dehydrated meals for dinner. We packed bananas and apples for snacks for the first couple of days, and plenty of granola bars for the rest of the time.
#5. Possible route/campsites for the W:
There are three companies for campsites, Conaf, Fantastico Sur, and Vertice. Their websites are below:
- Conaf: www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl
- Fantastico Sur: www.fantasticosur.com
- Vertice: www.verticepatagonia.com
Conaf is in charge of the free campsites – Torres, Italiano, and Paso. Prices for the other sites will vary depending on the type of accommodation you choose. You can choose to do the W from east to west or west to east; there are arguments for both, but it doesn’t particularly matter. It really comes down to whether you want to see the infamous towers at the beginning of the trek or at the end, but the more popular way to definitely to travel from west to east.
We chose to spend 6 days and 5 nights in the park, and we went the slightly more uncommon route, from east to west. We were ultimately happy with this decision because we had beautiful weather and clear when we went to see the towers, so we weren’t all that worried about the weather for the rest of the trip. You can complete the W well in 5 days and 4 nights as well. Our recommended campsites for this itinerary would be as follows:
- Day 1/Night 1: Enter the park and set up camp at Torres. This is one of the free Conaf campsites. If you are interested in seeing the towers at sunrise, you can wake up, check out the weather, and make the hike up to the mirador early in the morning.
- Day 2/Night 2: After you’ve gone up to the mirador, hike down from Torres and spend the night at Frances (a Fantastico Sur campsite).
- Day 3/Night 3: Leave Frances and hike up to the mirador past Italiano (you can leave your packs with the rangers at Italiano so you don’t have to carry them all the way up to the mirador). Camp at Paine Grande (a Vertice campsite).
- Day 4/Night 4: Leave Paine Grande and hike up to Grey, stopping at the mirador along the way. Spend the night at Grey (a Vertice campsite).
- Day 5: Hike down from Grey back to Paine Grande catch the catamaran. Catamarans run from Paine Grande at 9:35 am, 11:35 am, 2:35 pm, 5:00 pm, and 6:35 pm. We got the catamaran back at 11:35 am so that we were back in Puerto Natales making our celebratory dinners early that evening.
Additional important information:
- Go to the Erratic Rock Base Camp 3:00 talk. Erratic Rock is located right in Puerto Natales, and they offer free information sessions every day at 3:00 pm. It’s a great time to ask guides all of your questions, so you can feel completely prepared ready as you start your trek.
- Bring cash with you. As of January 2017, these are some of the major costs:
- Bus– $13,000 CLP round trip
- Entrance fee – $21,000 CLP
- Shuttle to start of the trek– $3,000 CLP (or you can walk, but I’d recommend just paying the $3,000)
- Catamaran– $18,000 CLP (you need to take the catamaran to Paine Grande or from Paine Grande, depending on which way you decide to do the trek)
- Plus some extra in case you want to buy beer or snacks at any of the refugios!
Have fun, and good luck! Torres is by far one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been; so much so that we’re hoping to get back one day and complete the full circuit.