The "w" trek is considered a nice option for those who haven´t got much time available and want to see the most important parts of the park. I´m not a trekking expert =P and I could not complete the whole trek because of the weather, but I will write down the data I´ve collected about this circuit.
It usually takes from 4 to 5 days, depending on weather and speed, covering a journey to Torres and their base, contouring the mountain Chico Sur and the cuernos, then walking along the Valley of Francés and coming back to reach the Grey Glacier (the Grey Glacier, this valley and Torres are known as the most beautiful parts of the park). This walk then has the form of a W... Some people start from the Torres side, walking since laguna Amarga (or you can pay for a microvan to get to refugio las Torres and then start from there), and some others start on the Grey side, from Pudeto´s bus stop and taking a boat to Pehoe Camping.
There´s a nice description of this circuit here:
Just one detail: the cuernos refuge, that was in construction when that text was made, is already in function, and there is a camping as well.
- National/State Park
- Hiking and Walking
This is sort of a long tip since we did 3 things in 1 day.
There are 2 main tour operators that offer this full day option - Turismo 21 de Mayo and Punta Alta. I think both companies pretty much cover the same route: a 3 hour catamaran ride on the Seno Ultima Esperanza (passing by cormorant colonies and Glacier Balmaceda), a 1 - 1.5 hour stop at Glacier Serrano, a 2 hour ride on a zodiac down Rio Serrano, a lunch stop at an estancia, and a bus ride through parts of Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales.
The Turismo 21 de Mayo tour seem to include a scenic tour on a minibus through the park for 130,000 CLP. Since the site was in Spanish, I don't actually know what parts of Torres del Paine they visited and how long each stop would be.
We read that Punta Alta has newer and faster boats, so we ended up booking with them (through Rodrigo, the B&B owner). The difference between our tour and Turismo 21 de Mayo is that it ends at Pueblito Serrano, where we had a sheep BBQ lunch (98,000 CLP). From there, you can either get a minibus ride back to Puerto Natales without going in the park (for 12,000 CLP, I believe) or get a private transfer to Puerto Natales but with various stops through the park (40,000 CLP + 15,000 CLP park fees). It was rather pricey, but since it was essentially a private tour that took close to 4 hours, it was worth it. Our driver Jorge made many impromptu stops so we could look at the wildlife in the park.
Seno Ultima Esperanza / Catamaran
The 3 hour ride started at the pier in Puerto Natales at 8am. The boat has 2 decks and we can go to the upper deck to take pictures throughout the trip. It has wide windows, so if you don't want to brave the elements, you could stay inside the boat and still see pretty much everything. The day started out pretty smooth, but an hour or so into the trip, the wind became quite strong and our boat was rocking badly when the crew were handing out the breakfast / snack bags. Gravol is recommended. Along the way, you can see cormorant colonies, mini waterfalls, and Glaciar Balmaceda. The boat part of the tour stops at Puerto Toro for our visit to the Parque Nacional Bernardo O'Higgins (specifically Glaciar Serrano).
It takes roughly 1 hour to tour this glacier (which includes some time for photos). You can stay on the trail and get pretty close to the glacier or you can take the rowboat for an additional 8,000 CLP to get right up to the glacier. The glacier is not very big comparing to others but still pretty nice if you have never been that close to glaciers before. The area was quite windy and wet though, so you should bring a waterproof jacket and maybe something to protect your camera. After the tour, the people on the full day glacier tour got back on the catamaran to return to Puerto Natales. I think that tour cost 65,000 CLP. We stayed behind for the zodiac portion of the tour. It was about 1:00pm or so when we met our river guides.
There were only 4 of us who took the zodiac option. After the somewhat turbulent catamaran trip, we were quite worried about getting seasick (river-sick?) and our cameras wet. We didn't really have to worry though - we were each given an orange flotation suit to wear, which is waterproof and super warm. Our belongings (purses, backpacks etc) were gathered and thrown inside a black waterproof bag that came with us on the zodiac. There are pockets in the flotation suits, so you can put your compact camera and other personal items in there. We were told that the water was quite cold and we'd probably still die if we fell in and didn't get rescued in time :)
The zodiac ride turned out to be much calmer than the catamaran. The ride itself was quite spectacular and you get to see things that are not accessible by car, such as the Tyndall glacier. We passed through the Bernardo O'Higgins park and entered Torres del Paine (I think), and made a short stop to get a panoramic view of the river. We then switched zodiacs to get to Pueblito Serrano for our lunch. The guides were very accomodating and hospitable. I think our sheep BBQ lunch was one of the best meals we had on our trip and we all had a good chat about life and such while sampling the fine Chilean wine and pisco. (6 people decided to back out of the zodiac tour, so we each had double portion of lunch and drinks.) I think we finished our lunch at about 4:00pm and our transfers were waiting for us.
Torres del Paine
While I think it would be much better to hike in the park, our 4 hour tour did give us enough to appreciate the beauty of the place. Our first stop was the Grey Glacier beach, where you can see glacier ice formations in the lake with the Cuernos as the backdrop. The beach was a lot larger than we thought and the winds were quite strong, so it took us much longer to cover the distance. Jorge, our Spanish speaking driver, came with us to make sure we weren't blown off the bridge :)
We then stopped to look at the turquoise waters and also at Lake Pehoe. Jorge noticed that I was collecting rocks (for my friend) and made a couple of stops to show us some fossils. I was fascinated by the windswept landscape, especially the trees that grow only towards one side.
Originally, we were not going to stop at Salto Grande because of the wind (there is a spot where you can see it from afar), but Jorge decided that it was safe enough to go. We were pretty Ok and got up to the falls and snapped a few pictures. In the space of that minute though, this strong wind appeared out of nowhere and we were all clinging to the post and hoped that we won't get blown down river. (Literally.) I think we were hanging on to our dear lifes for maybe a couple of minutes before the wind died down enough that we could walk crab-like to safety. Apparently there were some accident with a school group the week before our visit and a child may have been hurt by the strong wind. (I couldn't get the details since the guide was half speaking in Spanish.)
We also stopped at Lago Sarmiento and the Mirador for Las Torres. Due to the clouds, we only saw about 2/3 of Las Torres, so it was a bit disappointing. We did see a lot of wildlife, like guanacos, condors, flamingoes, and an ostrich on the way out of the park. We got back to Puerto Natales at around 9:45pm and the sun was about to set.
I would recommend this tour if you are only in Puerto Natales for one day and want to see everything you could. It made pretty good use of time, especially since if you were on the glacier tour, you sort of wasted 3 hours coming back the same way. The major drawback was that it took close to 14 hours. The cost was also quite high comparing to some of the other tours we did in Chile.
Address: Starts at the pier in Puerto Natales
Directions: The Pier
- National/State Park
The stunning Torres del Paine national park is what attracts almost every visitor to Natales, nearest town to the park. The park is about 110km north and a huge tourism industry has developed here in Natales, catering to the large numbers of visitors.
The beautiful bay on which Natales sits is well worth seeing. It's about six streets west of the main square, and from here there are good views of the sound and the distant mountains. It can get very cold and windy down here so come prepared.
To be perfectly honest, I was a little disappointed with this trip because I had had huge expectations for it.
The thing is, the area is indeed pretty, with stunning mountains and green islands all around you as you cruise down the channels for 4 days and 3 nights. The scenery is NOT of the dramatic, plunging fjords I had imagined.
However, the trip was dogged by rains and howling winds (hey, it’s Patagonia!) that made it difficult for one to be standing on the deck and enjoying the view. Around the Golfo de Penas, there is a VERY ROUGH crossing as the ferry sails around the peninsula, across the gulf. The route can take from 12 to 20 (like what happened to ours) hours.
During this period, if you look at the window, at one moment, you see the entire SKY, then, the next, you see the entire SEA. If you have sea-sickness, you will feel HORRIBLE. If you do not, like me, you will perhaps find the day mildly amusing as everything seemed to be happening in slow-motion around you.
As you can imagine, there are many ways of doing the hike, it really depends on the number of days you can afford, your fitness and interests.
Naturally, if you have injured yourself, you should try to head to CAMP PEHOE, which is your best bet to get help to head back.
DAY 1 : Do not camp at CAMP LAS TORRES. Hike with your main backpack all the way to either CAMP CHILENO or, if you can endure longer, to CAMP TORRES about 1.5 hours more.
DAY 2 : Staying the night at CAMP CHILENO or CAMP TORRES will give you the chance to hike up to LAS TORRES early in the morning when the morning sun directly spotlights LAS TORRES. Truly a magnificent view!
But this means, that you either spend today, hiking down with your gear to camp at CAMP LAS TORRES.
Or, you can hike down and do everything in ROUTE A / DAY 2 to reach CAMP ITALIANO.
This is possible during summer when the days are longer and if you are very fit and have high endurance.
DAY 3 : If your last camp was CAMP LAS TORRES, do the same as ROUTE A / DAY 2.
If you last camp was CAMP ITALIANO, REST today. You deserve it after the very tough hike yesterday. This camp-site is great, anyway.
DAY 4 : Same as ROUTE A / DAY 3.
DAY 5 : Hike the easy route to CAMP PEHOE and endure all the way to CAMP GREY, by the terminal face of GLACIER GREY or CAMP LOS GUARDAS, some 2 hours north.
DAY 6 : An early morning rise to see the royal blue of the glacier. Should be amazing!! Then, head down to CAMP PEHOE.
DAY 7 : Hike south around Lago Pehoe to CAMP LAS CARRETAS for the night.
DAY 8 : Head to SEDE ADMINISTRATIVA for the bus-ride back to Puerto Natales.
Remember : Listen to your body. Do what your physical fitness allows. This is NOT an expedition. This is NOT a competition. This is NOT an ego-race.
DAY 4 : Leave your things at CAMP PEHOE, hike up along Lago del Grey to CAMP GREY for a fantastic view of GLACIER GREY.
It should take about 4 hours to get within sight of the glacier. If you do not wish to go all the way to CAMP GREY, there is a mirador to view the glacier about halfway through the route.
Total hiking time = about 5-8 hours.
DAY 5 : Catch the boat from CAMP PEHOE across LAGO PEHOE to CAMP PUDETO. The buses, which you have bought round-tickets or which you can buy tickets here, pick hikers up at various alloted times.
Now, return to Puerto Natales to shower, have a well-deserved rest, show off your new thigh muscles and leave your laundry with the professionals.
DAY 3 : Leaving your tent and main backpack at CAMP ITALIANO, hike up the route to Valle de Frances or The French Valley with your day-pack. It takes about 3.5 hours.
First, you walk along the beautiful river with the melting glacier from the amazing mountain at the top. The route will ultimately get you BEHIND this mountain.
The hike up is mostly sheltered through the woods. Follow the marker as at some points, the route is not obvious. Finally, you reach CAMP BRITANICO.
You will soon arrive at an open flat space surrounded nearly 300 degrees by gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous string of mountains. Spin round and round here. It is a magnificent view.
You need about 30 minutes of more hiking to reach the Mirador. There is a fantastic, breath-taking view there but there is not much room available. Savour the ecstasy of reaching this point.
The route back to CAMP ITALIANO is the same.
If you are up for it, pack up your tent and walk 2.5 hours through marshy flat grounds to CAMP PEHOE.
Total hiking time = about 9-10 hours
DAY 2 : Take the left path after crossing the bridge. You pass through flattish lands with gorgeous mountains.
After 1 to 1.5 hours, you should arrive at the beautiful turqoise-coloured Lago Nordenskjold, surrounded by snowy mountains. Take a breather here and soak in the view.
The next section is through undulating rocky paths, between shrublands. Find a spot around this point for your lunch.
Soon, you will arrive at a rushing river. The speed of the river is very fast and there is no way to rock-hop across. Boots off!
The next section is nearly up a gentle slope all the way. Watch out for a peninsula that juts into the lake. Once you have passed it, you should be 1 to 1.5 hours to CAMP LOS CUERNOS.
Suddenly, you will see the very impressive and unique mountains - LOS CUERNOS. Take a moment and let the reality of knowing how lucky you are alive to see this sink in.
Beyond here, the route is round mountains or across passes. The wind can get very, very strong and vicious! Everything becomes survival-instinct by now. Personally, this was the most dangerous part for me.
You should arrive at CAMP LOS CUERNOS after a hiking time of 4 to 5 hours. You deserve a good, long rest here.
As the campsite here stinks, it is best to head 2 more hours to CAMP ITALIANO.
But the last 2 hours are NOT EASY. At one point, you are right by the beach of Lago Nordenskjold. If the weather is very windy, down by the beach is EVEN WORSE. Be prepared to be whipped around like a rag-doll.
Then, it is TOUGH uphill climb up muddy paths until finally you peter out to a flat grassland. Follow the path into the woods and soon, you will arrive in CAMP ITALIANO. Congratulations.
Total hiking time = about 6-7 hours but can take up to 10 hours, if you include rest time
Below is the suggested day-to-day ROUTE A for the 'W' Circuit.
DAY 1 : The minibus will transport hikers to the first camp-site CAMP LAS TORRES. Set up your tent and leave your main backpack there.
After crossing the bridge, there is a rocky path on the right upslope. It takes from 1.5 to 2 hours steadily up an exposed slope which can become very windy to reach CAMP CHILENO. Have a rest and a quick lunch there.
Then, it is another 1 to 1.5 hours through forests and certain exposed areas. At the exposed areas, it can get very chilly.
Finally, you see a sign that reads '45 minutes to Las Torres'. How can you turn back now? This last scramble, 45 minutes to 1 hour, is up a rocky slope with huge boulders. The wind is very vicious here. You cannot rock-hop as you do not know when the savage wind will come and slam you against the boulders! Best to crawl up slowly, with your arms out-stretched in front, for cushioning effect.
When you finally reach the top, you will surely gasp at the sight that unfolds before you - LAS TORRES. It was pure poetry.
Some people do the 'W' circuit the other way, saving the BEST for LAST. But if you are unsure whether you will make through the hike alive, it is better to save the BEST for FIRST.
After savouring LAS TORRES, it is the same 4-hour route back to CAMP LAS TORRES.
Bring a bottle. Water can be obtained as you pass a few streams. Always refill the bottle when you pass a stream. As you are only carrying your day-pack, the going is moderate today.
Total hiking time = about 8-9 hours.
Torres del Paine is the reason why SOME tourists fly all the way to Chile to visit. It has one of the most spectacular natural scenery in the whole wide world. There are impressive peaks, glaciers, lakes of turqoise, green, etc... colours and gorgeous valleys.
Entrance to the park is 8000 Ch Pesos, where volunteers will brief you on the treks, the camping sites and the precautions to take. There is another bus (1500 Ch Pesos) to catch from the entrance to the first camp-site. Either that, or you walk 6km there.
'The Circuit' is a route around the park in a circle. This takes between 5 to 10 days. Lone hikers are not allowed and camping gear must be carried. The circuit is not easy and some sections can be blocked or washed away.
The shorter route is the 'W' Circuit. Allow me to explain more on the 'W' Circuit, which takes about 4 to 5 days.
Starting from right to left of the alphabet 'W', the first vertical section up is to view the three famous towering, near-vertical mountains that gave the name 'Torres del Paine' the 'Torres' (towers) bit for they are called Las Torres (The Towers). This would be, to many, the HIGHLIGHT of their hike here.
Then, one has to head west, walking the horizontal bit of the 'W'. After that, the second vertical section is along Valle de Frances, where one could see beautiful ranges of mountains, including the unique-looking Los Cuernos (The Horns).
Finally, after heading west again and up to the third vertical section of 'W', one could see the impressive Glacier Grey. At the bottom of this third vertical section was Camp / Refugio Pehoe where one can take a boat ride (9500 Ch Pesos) back to Refugio Pudeto to catch a bus back to Puerto Natales.
Puerto Natales is even more wind-swept and bleak than what I remembered about Punta Arenas. I could not stay out for long amidst the tossing wind. I either had to stay in my hostel or sit tight in a cafe to avoid the wind.
One has to be here to prepare for one's hike to Torres del Paine or embark on the Navimag cruise, going to Puerto Montt, or disembark from the Navimag cruise, coming from Puerto Montt.
There are many bus companies to Torres del Paine. The one ('Maria Jose' bus) I got seemed cheaper. It cost 8000 Ch Pesos (Around 700 Ch Pesos = 1 US$) to / fro Torres del Paine National Park but there is only 1 departure time from Puerto Natales and 1 departure time from Refugio Pudeto.
The bus-ticket can be bought from a camping equipment rental-cum-internet shop located on Av M Bulnes, between Magallanes and Tomas Rogers. The wall of the shop is yellow in colour.
Tents, sleeping bags and stoves are available for rent everywhere but this same shop provides 1-man tent (not so common) and seems to have more reasonable rates.
The prices per day for a 1-man tent and stove are 2000 Ch Pesos and 500 Ch Pesos respectively. Sleeping mat and pots and plates are provided free.
For camping gas, most shops sell at around 2500 Ch Pesos. Walk down Av M Bulnes towards the water channel. There is a large camping store at nearly the last block. The burners are on display at the window and are sold at 1650 Ch Pesos each.
There are a few supermarkets near the east side of the Plaza de Armas, around the Av Baquedano and Av M Bulnes to stock up on groceries for your hike.
La cueva del Milodón es una gran caverna que está dentro de un grupo de rocas denominado la Silla del Diablo
Nos sorprendió este sitio , por el tamaño de la cueva y por los paisajes que tiene al rededor . Hay varios paseos interesantes y un museo
5crThe Milodón cave is a big cavern that is located in a group of rocks called the Devil Sadle
Thisplace syrprised to us , for the cave size and by the landscapesaround it
There are several interesting paths to walk and a museum
Puedes darte un paseo y aprovechar para llevarte algún recuerdo de la Patagonia Chilena pues hay bastantes tiendas y con cosas interesantes
You may take a walk and buy some Chilean Patagonia Souvenir as there are many shops with interesting things
Cuando llega el ferry a PN , lo primero que hacen es bajar parte de los camiones que interfieren con la salida de los pasajeros ( 1 hora )
A partir de este momento bajan todos los pasajeros a buscarse hotel
Lo más cómodo es dejar las maletas en el barco , para que las bajen los de la compañía , y luego las recojas en sus oficinas . PN es pequeño y es mejor ir a recogerlas cuando tengas solucionado el hotel
When the ferry reaches PN , the first thing they do is to unload part of the trucks that interfere with the passengers exit ( 1 hour)
From this moment all passengers go down to get their hotel
The most convenient is to leave the luggage in the ship , the company will take them down and latter you may take them in their office . PN is small and is better to go to pick them up when you have arranged your hotel