How to tackle Torres del Paine
23rd September 2014
Hiking doesn’t get any better as in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine in the Southern part of Chilean Patagonia. The immense park is rightly ranked among the finest national parks on earth. Find endless open steppe interspersed with forest, a radiant blue glaciar, azure gemstone lakes, and world-famous rock spires. You can’t deny it’s a feast for the eye.
Hiking in Torres del Paine asks for good preparation, some hiking skills (you’re hiking up to 7 hours a day), perseverance and good (but few!) material. Whether you opt for the famous W treck (4 to 5 days) or the full circuit that covers the back as well, Torres del Paine offers mesmerising panoramas anyway. If you are short in time or not too much of a hiking fan there are even one day trekking options to the Torres, a pity according to me as you would only see a part of the sublime diversity of the park.
Puerto Natales is the perfect getaway to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. It used to be a modest fishing town, but became a travellers stopover these days as it is an easy access point to the national park. Which is nice in a way, because some touristy pampering isn’t unnecessary luxury before and after your adventure. The W circuit can be hiked from east to west, or in the other direction. Both have their benefits, so I suggest to take which option suits best according to transport. As we arranged a free ride to the eastern park entrance we decided to walk the circuit from east to west.
The granite pillars of the Torres dominate the landscape of the national park. Make sure to hike all the way up to the viewpoint for sublime views over the famous Torres.
Guanacos grazing the open steppe.
Azure blue lakes – Los Cuernos
Panoramas are everywhere when the weather is clear. The climate in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine is unpredictable though. As you can experience 4 seasons in one day high-quality gear is recommended. A Goretex jacket was my lifesaver.
The last hiking part of the W circuit was the one up to Glacier Grey, a huge glacier in the Southern Patagonian Icefield. People who are in for adventures can book a kayak trip on Lago Grey.
Tips & tricks
Most people choose budget options to sleep in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. These days even on a budget you can hike the W trek while sleeping in real beds, eating hot meals and taking showers. There are two low-cost options: camping or sleeping in basic refugios. If you choose to camp I would recommend to rent equipment (tent, mattress and sleeping bag) at the base camps, as the material is fine and you really don’t want to carry anything heavy. If you choose the campings next to the refugios, you can often dine inside as well if you make a reservation ahead. Camping equipment and places in the refugios may run out in the busiest periods so book in time. Apart from your bed or equipment don’t forget to reserve meals and picnic. The refugios are dorm rooms with bunk beds, so don’t expect any luxury here neither. We tried both camping and refugios and enjoyed each of them.
Where we slept (in chronological order): Refugio Chileno, refugio Los Cuernos, camping Paine Grande, refugio Grey.
WHAT TO PACK
I have never travelled so light in my life as when I was hiking the W trek in Torres del Paine. A day backpack was the only thing I had to carry and it was the best decision I made during my big trip to Chile and Argentina. If there were people complaining to us, it was about their heavy backpacks. We even heard stories of people throwing away their sleeping bags, cameras, … on the circuit. Pack ultra light is probably the best tip I can give you.
Leave your big backpacks in the hostel in Puerto Natales and take your day backpack with you. You will have to wear the same clothes for four days – no worries nobody looks fancy when hiking the W. Only take a second pair of socks and underwear. And provide an extra set of thermal underwear to use as pyjamas.
-Goretex jacket: if you want to invest in 1 thing, let it be a Goretex jacket (water- and windproof). A must to survive the extreme weather conditions in the national park.
-Gloves, buff scarf, beanie
-2 sets of Thermal underwear: 1 to wear during the day, the other one to sleep in when the other one is soaking wet and drying
-1 pair of trekking trousers
-2 pairs of socks and 3 pairs of underpants
-Headlamp, travel guide and maps, (small) camera, sunblock, plastic bags or dry bags to put your extra clothes in, basic first-aid kit, sunglasses, energy bars, soap, toothbrush and -paste, deodorant, phone, travel lock, money, copy of your passport, travel towel
-1 water bottle: in the national park you’ll find water everywhere to refill it. The water is potable so you don’t even need purifying tablets.