Trekking through Patagonia’s Torres Del Paine (pronounced PIE-nay), is an experience not to be missed. if you take a look at the trail map, you’ll understand the origin of the term “W trek.” It is also one of the most popular multi-day hikes in Chile as you are exposed to everything the park has to offer, from valleys, glaciers, wildlife, lakes to the famous three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range or Paine massif – the Torres del Paine. These peaks are known as Torres d’Agostini, Torres Central, and Torres Monzino. They extend up to 2,500 metres above sea level, and are joined by the Cuernos del Paine.
Torres Del Paine is a national park, declared as a Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO and now a popular hiking destination. What I love about this national park is that there are clearly marked and well-maintained paths making it a pleasure to hike. Hikers can opt for day hikes, the “W” route in five days, or the full circuit hike which takes 8-10 days.
The “W” route is the most popular and earns its name from the shape of the route. Hikers typically start and finish at either of the base points of the “W”. The five days of hiking this route comprise of the Glacier Grey, a stay at Refugio Grey next to the glacier, Refugio Paine Grande which offers terrific views of the Torres del Paine peaks, Valle des Frances (French Valley), and the Torres Del Paine high in the mountains - the three peaks towering over a beautiful lake surrounded by boulders.
I recently attempted the five-day W Circuit Trek through the park and here is a breakdown on what you need to know if you are considering this trek.
Day 1 – You will arrive in Punta Arenas, Chile, a large city in Patagonia. Upon arrival, you can directly head to the Torres Del Paine National park, with a stop in Puerto Natales for lunch. Puerto Natales is a port city and the gateway to the national park. Arriving to the park, you will be greeted by snowcapped peaks glistening in the horizon, and graceful Guanaco running around in front of you. Night accommodations are at EcoCamp for this day.
Day 2 – Day two’s hike begins with the scenic Los Cuernos Trail. Translating to “the Horns,” it was named after the two granite peaks towering over the lush greenery and endless plains. The winding trail leads to the beautiful Nordenskjold Lake, famous for its eye-catching turquoise water. This trail is relatively flat, and you will be hiking through scenic grasslands and scrublands. To the north you will see awesome views of Aimirante Nieto and if you listen carefully you might be able to hear the frequent avalanches on the face of Aimirante Nieto. Don’t miss the Chilean firebush that blooms a brilliant red in spring along this trail. Refugio Los Cuernos awaits at the end of this hike – a cozy cottage where you can spend the afternoon relaxing and refueling with picturesque views. Accommodations are in dorm rooms and breakfast/lunch/dinners are served in the main dining hall.
Day 3 – Valle Frances is the highlight of this “W” circuit trek. Rather a long trek, this route travels through the heart of Paine Massif – where you’ll be journeying past staggering mountains and glaciers and roaring rivers. You will marvel at the geological formations and the endless almost other-worldly beauty around you. Due to frequent shifts in weather, it can snow, hail, or rain in this national park so be sure to carry a pair of gloves, and rain gear at all times. It will take approximately two hours to trek within this valley and reach the hanging Glaciar Frances, where you can hear the rumble of ice calving from the glacier. At the start of this trek you will first approach the Italian camp and it’s possible to leave your backpack here at the ranger’s office before you begin this trek. Check weather in the valley before you head up this hike, the morning of my hike I encountered hail and snow but luckily I had the right gear and the cloud cover shifted allowing me to fully appreciate the glacier. If you do make it to the end of the valley, expect spectacular 360 degree views of Cerro Cotta and Cerro Catedral, a mountain that is said to resemble a cathedral façade. You will end the day at Refugio Paine Grande, lodging that provides accommodations in dorm rooms and a large dining room for meals with lovely views.
Day 4 - Take a boat across Grey Lake to see Grey Glacier. You can wear crompons and hike the glacier or just glide by and marvel at the towering formations. Hiking across the blue ice is a once in a lifetime experience as you get to experience the ice blocks, caverns and deep cracks up close. Return to Refugio Paine Grande to rest for the nigh
Day 5 - The Three Towers. This is a demanding climb to the top to view the Torres Del Paine’s famous Three Towers overlooking a turquoise lagoon. You will hike through a beech forest, encounter mountain ridges and boulder fields. At the top take some time to marvel at the beauty in front of you. If you are lucky, sunrise here can be amazing but you will need to leave early to get to the top. If you are faced with cloud cover over the peaks, try and wait a few minutes to see if the cloud cover dissipates. As always take layers and plan for rain depending on the weather forecast. Mornings start out to be quite cool depending on the season you’re visiting. Today’s accommodation will be at EcoCamp.
Day 6 – Eastern Lakes. Travel to Laguna Azul for lunch with a view of the lake and mountainous surroundings. Then head to the Fauna Trail for a chance to encounter a variety of wildlife, such as guanacos, deer, foxes and even pumas. Today’s accommodation will be at EcoCamp.
Day 7 – Punta Arenas. Drive to Punta Arenas for flights home via Buenos Aires or Santiago.
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Article written by: Preethi Chandrasekhar