The W Trek is probably one of the most famous hiking trails in the entire world - and with good reason! Located in Torres del Paine, Chile, it’s the perfect place to disconnect from the busy-ness of civilization and reconnect to the awesome beauty of nature. There, you find an untouched landscape full of jagged granite peaks, crystal-blue lakes, roaring waterfalls, chilly rivers and stunning valleys.
It doesn’t require you to be a pro, but some hiking experience is ideal. (If you’re not a hiker, no worries, you can still experience Torres del Paine through day trips and lodge stays!
Over a four-day journey, you’ll be hiking about eight hours each day through mountain ranges, valleys and rivers, as well as along glaciers and lakes. For the most part, the trail is well-maintained with good signage, although there are some sections where you’ll need to navigate wet rocks and cable bridges.
The most challenging parts of the hike are the weather, more on that below, and booking all the refugios, aka mountain lodges (but you don’t have to think about that since we’ve got you covered!)
The weather in Torres del Paine can change at the drop of a hat and several times throughout the day too, so you want to make sure that you have lots of layers to prepare for wind, rain, snow or sunshine. At the same time, you don’t want to overpack, which will tire you out.
Here’s what we recommend:
Base Layer: This must keep you warm and wick away perspiration from your body
Mid Layer: A fleece jacket or sweater will work
Outer Layer: This needs to be a warmer, thicker jacket
Lightweight waterproof layer: This will protect you from wind and rain
A change of comfortable clothes to sleep in
Waterproof hiking boots
Waterproof 50-80 L backpack
Water bottle: Most hikers feel comfortable drinking the river water
Hiking poles: These make a huge difference in your energy levels!
One of the easiest ways to get to Torres del Paine is to fly from Santiago, Chile to Punta Arenas. The town is small and easily walkable, but as it's a popular stopover to the National Park, you’ll find lots of hotels, shops, restaurants, cafes and gear rental stores.
In Punta Arenas, you’ll also meet your guide. While the trail is well-marked, having a guide makes all the difference, as they are knowledgeable about the geology, wildlife and history of Torres del Paine. They can also show you some hidden gems that no one else knows about.
One night is all that’s necessary in Punta Arenas. From there, you’ll take a five hour bus ride to the trailhead in Torres del Paine National Park.
You’ll want to start bright and early in the morning to hike up 2,850 feet in elevation to Las Torres, after which the National Park is named. First, you’ll hike through a forest and along a river, then you’ll have to climb over some small boulders before reaching the awe-striking three granite towers that jut up out of a serene, blue lake. While the hike is a bit strenuous, the view is worth it!
After the hike, you’ll stay at Refugio Torre Central, where there are comfortable beds, hot showers and hearty meals. Onsite, there’s also a warm lounge, which is perfect for reading, or you can head to the lively bar and meet some other hikers.
Los Cuernos, which means “The Horns” in Spanish, is part of the Paine Massif, an outcropping of jagged granite mountains. The hike this day is much more relaxing, especially after Las Torres, since there is no elevation gain. There’s also fewer people on this section of the trail, allowing you to easily slip into the tranquility and beauty of the mountains.
A good option for the night is to stay at Refugio Francés, which is simple but comfortable and located in a forest close to the beautiful Lake Nordenskjöld.
Hiking through French Valley, there are two amazing view spots to stop, rest, and watch nature do its thing. The first is French Valley lookout, where there’s a stunning view of Lake Nordenskjöld. From there, you hike through a forest of dead trees, which is much more beautiful than it sounds, and then up a steep mountain before reaching the Britanico Lookout. There, you can rest atop a large boulder and look up at Paine Grande and its small hanging glacier.
A recommended place to stay for this night is Refugio Paine Grande Sector, which is probably the largest and busiest of all the park’s lodges, but it has a lively bar and mini-mart.
It’s also located right next to Lake Pehoe, facing the south face of Cerro Paine Grande.
From Refugio Paine Grande, you’ll hike to the stunning Grey Glacier, the most famous of the park’s glaciers, measuring 100 ft tall, 3.5 miles wide and 17 miles long. It’s truly an impressive sight. The trail will take you up over 1,000 ft in elevation through a variety of different viewpoints where you can marvel at its grandness and varying shades of blue.
To end the trip, you’ll take a fun catamaran ride across Lake Pehoe to eventually return to your lodge. And before you know it, you’ll have completed the trek of a lifetime!
Want to explore even more of stunning Patagonia? Check out our 8-Day Santiago and W Trek Tour or another favorite, the 5-Day Patagonia Estancia Tour. Want to go beyond Torres del Paine? Explore all our Patagonia itineraries here.
About the author: Julia Guerra Slater is the SEO and Social Media Marketing Manager at SA Expeditions. She has traveled extensively throughout the world and thinks the W Treks is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world.