Torres del Paine is bound to be one of the highlights of any trip to South America. With spectacular mountains, glaciers and lakes, we were struck with a sense of awe reminiscent of only our first trip to Jasper National Park and the Canadian Rockies. Due to its popularity among travelers, Torres del Paine is one of the few parts of a long term trip to South America than you need to plan in advance (for everything you need to plan check out our guide on Preparing for a Long Term Trip). Based on our experience in early March 2020, we put together this guide on how to make the planning as painless as possible along with a Torres del Paine Extended W Trek itinerary that combines the spectacular sites of the W trek with some of the lesser-seen parts of the O Trek!
This post is geared towards experience-minded and cost-conscious travelers like us. Our approach was if it’s light outside, then we should be exploring. Who knows when is the next time we’ll be able to visit the park so we tried to see as much as possible. This post also assumes that you are planning to visit Torres del Paine during high season (Nov-March with a peak in Dec-Jan). To help break up your planning, this post is separated into what you need to think about 6 months in advance and what you need to think about at the last minute.
Okay, ready? Let’s dive in.
6 Months Out
Choose the Type of Experience You Want
Regardless of whichever option you choose, you will not be truly roughing it during your Torres del Paine adventure since all the accommodation and food options are very nice.
At the park, you have the option of either staying at campsites in a tent or refugios in a bed. Campsites are usually paired with refugios. Most campsites are likely fancier than what you’re thinking, coming equipped with cooking areas, bathrooms with toilets, toilet paper and hot showers. Then there are the refugios (a fancy word for hostel), which are the next step up and offer dorm beds. Refugios also house restaurants and bars which are open to people staying at the refugio and at the campsite.
Paid campsites and refugios are run by two different companies: Fantastico Sur and Vertice Patagonia. Here are links to their campsite and refugio prices, which are updated seasonally:
- Fantastico Sur Pricing Sheet
- Vertice Patagonia Pricing Sheet (be sure to click specifically on “refugio” or “camping” for each location to see the associated price)
The approximate campsite cost is $10 per person per night with both companies. The approximate refugio cost is ~$120 per person per night with Fantastico Sur and ~$40-60USD per person per night with Vertice Patagonia.
There are two exceptions, which are the two free campsites run by CONAF (Chile’s version of the US National Park Service). CONAF campsites are more like your standard campsite with specific areas for tents and an area to cook. Do not expect showers, hot water or toilet paper.
You also have to decide whether you want to pack all your own food or have meals provided by a refugio. It is certainly possible to fit food for 5 to 8 days across 2 full packs. Though if you’re tired off having the same pasta and tomato sauce, you can always stop into a refugio for pizza or a burger and a beer. Prices are included for food in the pricing sheets linked above (think between $60-80USD per day for breakfast, lunch and dinner). In addition to the prices listed online, there are daily specials like burgers advertised outside each refugio for pizza or burgers.
Our preferred itinerary focuses on travelers who plan to stay in a tent, carry a backpack and bring all their own food. The refugios are super nice but it is hard to justify spending up to $120USD per person per night just to sleep in a dorm bed, especially since you’ll already be renting a tent. If you want to forgo a tent completely and stay only in refugios, there is a W Trek Refugio Only itinerary mentioned below.
Torres del Paine Extend W Trek Itinerary
The goal of this itinerary is to see as much of the park as possible in 5 days and minimize the time spent hiking with a full backpack. All accommodations in this and the following itineraries are campsites unless otherwise stated.
Day 1 – Grey Glacier and Maybe 2nd Suspension Bridge
- Bus to the Park Entrance, buy your park entrance ticket and continue on the same bus to the ferry dock
- Take either the 9AM or 11AM ferry to the Paine Grande campsite. The ferry takes about 45 minutes.
- Check-in and set up your tent
- Hike to Grey Glacier and return along same route to Paine Grande (6 hour roundtrip)
- If you’re moving quickly, you can add a 4 hour roundtrip hike from Grey Glacier to the 2nd Suspension Bridge (optional)
- Hiking time: ~9-10 hours (0 hours with backpack)
- Campsite: Paine Grande
Buses from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine stop first at the park entrance and second at the ferry dock for Paine Grande. If you’re heart-set on making it to the second suspension bridge, then your name is likely Michelle and you will need to book the 6:40AM Bus Sur bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine which arrives at the ferry dock at 8:45AM. This is the only bus that leaves in time to make the first ferry and it will book up in advance. You should book it online once you book your campsite reservations.
Ferry tickets cannot be purchased in advance. They pack all travelers waiting at the dock onto the ferry and then you pay during the ride. The cost is 23,000 CLP per person and it must be paid in cash.
Day 2 – Frances Glacier and Britanico Viewpoint
- Hike with backpack to Italiano campsite (~2 hours), leave backpack at Italiano ranger station and hike out and back to Britanico Viewpoint (6 hours), camp at Italiano or continue ~30 minutes to Frances campsite
- Hiking time: 8-9 hours (2-2.5 hours with backpack)
- Campsite: Italiano or Frances
Day 3 – Hike to Chileno
- Hike with pack to Chileno campsite close to the base of Torres del Paine
- Hiking time: 6-7 hours (6-7 hours with backpack)
- Campsite: Chileno
- Chileno is the most popular campsite in the park. If it is booked, you can camp at Central instead. The hiking distance is roughly the same.
Day 4 – Torres del Paine
- Sunrise hike to Torres del Paine, the rock towers the park is named after (4 hour roundtrip), hike with backpack to Central (1-2 hours)
- Hiking time: 5-6 hours (1-2 hours with backpack)
- Campsite: Central
If staying at Central, you will not be able to do the sunrise hike to the Torres. The hike up and back to the Torres from Central is still gorgeous regardless (7 hour roundtrip).
You have the option to end your trek on Day 4 and take the 7:15PM shuttle from the Central refugio transportation center back to the park entrance where you can catch the last bus back to Puerto Natales.
Day 5 – East Side of the O (Optional)
- Leave your backpacks in the tents next to the campground check-in hut at Central and hike towards the Seron campsite. Hike as far as your legs will carry you, keeping in mind you’ll have to re-trace your steps all the way back. If you’re feeling really great, you can hike past Seron and up a steep hill towards the Dickson campsite to get a view of the backside of the O-trek.
- Hiking time: 6-8 hours if you turn around at Seron, 8-10 hours if you make it all the way to the viewpoint (0 hours with backpack)
- Catch the 7:15PM shuttle and sleep in a bed in Puerto Natales!
The best part of this itinerary is the minimal amount of time spent carrying a full backpack. Trust me, that thing is heavy! By Day 3 (your longest day carry your backpack) you will have made a substantial dent in your food supply, making the hike all the more enjoyable!
By definition, there is no such thing as an easy 5-day trek and this Torres del Paine Extended W Trek is no exception. If you go choose to follow this itinerary, expect to cover almost 90 miles and climb 1,200+ floors in only 5 days! You will sleep well back in Puerto Natales!
With so much demand to visit Torres del Paine during the high season, it is not a certainty that you will be able to book the campsites for the exact route that you want. Here are some other options to consider:
Reverse Extended W-Trek
In reality, this the route we took:
- Day 1: Out and back to Seron + backside of O-trek viewpoint, camp at Central
- Day 2: Central to Italiano, camp at Italiano
- Day 3: Britanico Viewpoint, camp at Paine Grande
- Day 4: Out and back to Grey Glacier, camp at Paine Grande
- Day 5: Ferry across the lake, shuttle to park entrance, shuttle to Central, out and back to Torres del Paine, 7:15PM shuttle to Puerto Natales
This route is still spectacular however it has two disadvantages when compared to the Torres del Paine Extended W Trek route above:
- Day 2 is a long 7-8 hour hiking day carrying a full backpack with most of your food. My legs have never been so tired.
- Day 5 is a bit of a logical pain. Not only goes it take a ferry, a bus, and a shuttle at get to the start of the Torres hike, you also get charged an extra 5,000 Chilean Pesos ($7USD) per person for the 30 minute shuttle to drop you off at the park entrance. Which is annoying because the entire 2+ hour ride from the ferry dock to Puerto Natales only costs 8,000 Chilean pesos ($10USD). I know it’s not a lot, but feeling like you’re getting ripped off is never fun. But still, you will arrive at Central around 11:30AM with enough time to do the 7 hour roundtrip hike to the Torres and then catch the 7:15PM shuttle.
Standard W Trek
The campsites for the standard W Trek are as follows:
- Grey, Paine Grande, Frances or Italiano, Chileno or Central
We didn’t choose to do this route because the hike in between Grey and Paine Grande has steep sections going both ways. Carrying a heavy backpack to Grey and then back would be pretty brutal.
Standard O Trek
The campsites for the standard O-Trek are as follows:
- Seron, Dickson, Los Perros, Grey, Paine Grande, Italiano or Frances, Chileno or Central
We didn’t choose this route because as much as Michelle loves to camp, Nick would not have survived more than 4 nights in a tent.
The main benefit of the O-trek is how much quieter it is than the W-trek. Only 80 people are allowed to start the O-trek per day, unlike the W trek on which the hikes to the Britanico viewpoint and Torres can get quite crowded.
The main drawback for the O-trek (besides 7 consecutive nights of tent sleep) is the time spent carrying your full backpack. Besides the Britanico viewpoint and Torres hikes, your heavy backpack is always on your back.
Important Note: Unlike the W trek, the O-Trek can only be done counter-clock wise. Though it is very difficult to book W trek accommodations last minute, sometimes O campsites can be booked by talking to rangers in the park. If you’re considering the O, doing the W from Paine Grande to Central gives you the option to continue on, provided you can book the campsites.
Refugio Only W Trek
For those who believe sleeping on the ground is only for our ancestors, you have the option to sleep in a bed every night by staying in refugios. If you choose to stay at a refugios, you would only need a day bag for snacks and a change of night time clothes. This route can be done in either direction.
- Grey, Paine Grande, Cuernos, Chileno, Central
The longest day for this itinerary is the walk from Paine Grande to Cuernos including the Britanico Viewpoint. Start early and factor in at least 10 hours to cover all this ground. That bed in Cuernos is going to feel incredible!
Now that you think you know the route that you want to do, it’s time to book those campsites. And, as you’ve probably read elsewhere, it is a pain. The campsites are owned by three different companies. Here are the links to their websites.
- Fantastico Sur – Paine Grande, Grey, Los Perros, Dickson
- Vertice Patagonia – Central, Chileno, Cuernos, Frances, Seron
- CONAF – Italiano, Paso
The websites will break if you try to translate them from Spanish to English so have Google Translate ready to go. Here’s how early you need to book your campsites depending on which month you want to go to Torres del Paine.
- November: Book by September.
- December & January (peak high season): Book when agencies open. There is no specific date. They open sometime between May-July. Check weekly.
- February & March: Book by December.
Or Don’t Book Any Campsites
Although we certainly do not recommend this, we met numerous travelers who did not book any campsites. They just showed up with a backpack and a tent, bought a single day park entrance ticket, avoided the main check in areas at each campsite, set up their tent in the back and stayed for free. Michelle and I are too much of rule followers to try something so bold, but if it’s up your alley you can do some digging around on the Internet…
1 to 2 Weeks Out
How To Get To Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is located about an 1.5 hour bus ride outside of Puerto Natales, Chile. Puerto Natales can be access via a 3 hour bus from Punta Arenas, Chile, which has an airport with regular flights from Santiago. Puerto Natales can also be accessed via 5 hour bus from El Calafate, Argentina which is one of the main towns in Argentine Patagonia.
What To Pack
A Torres del Paine couples packing list will look something like this:
- 70L Backpack (2)
- Tent (1)
- Sleep bags (2)
- Sleeping pad (2)
- Cooking set (bowls, utensils, mugs) + Camp Stove + Small Canister of Gas
- Large black trash bags
- Hiking shoes
- Trash bag of hiking clothes (1 shirt, 1 pair of pants, 1 rain jacket, 2 pairs of underwear, 2 pairs of hiking socks, 1 buff, 1 hat, 1 pair of gloves)
- Trash bag pack of camp clothes (1 long sleeve shirt, 1 jacket, 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of underwear, 1 pair of socks for sleeping, 1 pair of sandals, 1 beanie)
- Toilet paper
- 5 days worth of food
- Re-usable water bottle – all flowing water in the park is safe to drink!
- Phone chargers
- Small Dry Bag for Passports, Phones and Chargers
- Day Bag for snacks/lunch
If and when it rains during your trek, no amount of Gortex and rain covers will keep you and your backpack dry. The easiest way to water-proof your stuff is to wrap it all in large trash bags. It is recommended to use 1 big black trash bag as a liner for your entire bag and then use smaller trash bags for your hiking clothes, camp clothes, and food.
Hiking poles are not needed for the W trek. If you are doing the O-trek, then they are strongly recommended.
Where to Rent Gear
You have a plethora of options in Puerto Natalas for where to rent your gear from hostels and rental agencies alike. You could spend days reviewing costs and building spreadsheets to find the best possible deal. And if you know Michelle and me, then you know we started doing just that. Thankfully, we came to our senses and realized that spending 2 days optimizing this cost was not worth the $1 per day cost savings and loss of our mental health.
Since all prices around town are pretty similar, we recommend checking out the gear at your hostel and then heading over to Erratic Rock and getting whatever else you need.
Another popular option is Rental Natalas. Their gear was definitely the nicest we looked at but also the most expensive. You only need rental gear so nice for a 5 day trip. Plus, if you have booked a night at the free Italiano campsite, then Rental Natales will not rent you gear. They claim that the camp site has a mice problem. We stayed there and saw no mice, but instead plenty of birds and chicken hawks.
Regardless of what you choose, set up your tent before you go and make sure it doesn’t have any holes. Remember, anything you rent has been used tons of times before it got to you! Here’s a sample price list from El Patagonico hostel to help wrap your mind around what you will be spending:
Where To Stay in Puerto Natales
When looking for hostels in Puerto Natales, you are looking for the words “free bag storage” in the description. We stayed at El Patagonico and were super impressed by the friendliness of the staff. Would recommend!
Things To Consider
- Due to a fire that burned a substantial part of the park in 2011, no fires are allowed and all camping must be done at designated areas within each camp site.
- Central and Paine Grande camp sites are the main places that people start and end their treks. Because of this, you will sometimes find left over food in a designated “Free” box in their cooking areas and you will certainly find barely used gas canisters for camp stoves.
- There are multiple grocery stores and small shops in Puerto Natales where you can pick up any food you need.
- Cook up some vegetables the night before you start your trek and pack them for lunch or dinner for your first two days. You’ll be ecstatic to eat them and everyone else will be jealous!
- There are no ATMs in the park so bring enough cash with you to pay for the park entrance, shuttles, and any extra meals/beers.
- Ask your hostel if they have any leftover/free food or trash bags. Almost every traveler buys large trash bags and too much food!
1 to 2 Days Out
In summary, these are the things you should do in Puerto Natalas before starting your Torres del Paine Extended W Trek.
- Screenshot pictures of your reservations.
- Get groceries.
- Book your bus to El Calafate or Ushuaia for after your hike (more details below).
- Get your gear from your hostel and/or Erratic Rock. Test your tent.
- Stop by the 4PM afternoon meeting at Day Zero to get an update on weather conditions and some last minute hiking tips.
Torres del Paine Extended W Trek Cost
Our total cost for 2 traveler to hike the Torres del Paine Extended W Trek as of March 2020. Most costs are in Chilean Pesos (CLP):
- 5 day rental of backpacks (2), tent (1), sleeping bag (2), sleeping pad (2), cooking set (1), stove (1): 105,000 CLP
- Groceries: 70,000 CLP total
- Bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park Entrance: 8,000 CLP per person
- Ferry to Paine Grande: 23,000 CLP per person
- Park Entrance: 35,000 CLP per person
- Paine Grande Campsite: $22 USD
- Italiano Campsite: free
- Chileno Campsite: $21 USD
- Central Campsite: $42 USD
- Celebratory beer in park: 5,000 CLP per beer
- Shuttle from Central Refugio to Park Entrance: 3,000 CLP per person
- Bus from Park Entrance to Puerto Natales: 8,000 CLP per person
Approximate Cost for 2 Traveler doing 5D/4N Torres del Paine Extended W Trek (at 775 CLP to $1 USD): ~$525 USD
Where to Go After Torres del Paine
From Torres del Paine National Park you have 3 options:
Interested in visiting the bottom of the world? Well, you’re in luck. You need to take the three hour bus back to Punta Arenas and then take a 12 hour day-time only bus to Ushuaia. Yes, it’s a lot of time in a bus, but still, Ushuaia is worth it. The town has many great restaurants (local king crab is the specialty) and is surrounded by spectacular national parks and glaciers. In our opinion, it is a must-visit. Here’s our Ushuaia Travel Guide to help you get planning!
Argentine Patagonia (El Calafate / El Chalten)
Once you’ve explored Chilean Patagonia, it’s time to go see what Argentina has to offer. El Calafate is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy is close by in El Chalten. You can take a 5 hour bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate and then from El Calafate to El Chalten it’s another 3 hour bus. It is recommended to book your bus to El Calafate before you start your Extended W Trek as it is a popular route among travelers.
To get to Santiago, you also take the 3 hour bus from Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas and then fly. Santiago usually has the cheapest flights to any other South American country so the world is your oyster!
More South America Trekking Options
Planning a long term trip to South America and love trekking? Check out our thoughts on taking the 4 Day Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu and doing the 3 Day Colca Canyon Trek just outside of Arequipa, Peru!
There you have it, our Torres del Paine Extended W Trek guide! From us to you, happy adventuring!
All costs are current as of March 2020. Prices and schedules vary by season. The prices and schedules above are for high season (Nov-March with a peak in Dec-Jan).