Consider asking us to reserve accommodation in Puerto Natales or El Calafate the night before you start your trek and the night of the day you end your trek. Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine is approx 2hrs on the old road, or 1hr to the CONAF ADMIN (Sector Serrano) on the new road that passes by the Milodon cave. Punta Arenas from Puerto Natales is approx 3hrs. There is a direct bus from El Calafate to TDP and also TDP to El Calafate and this transfer takes approx 6hrs.
In order to trek the Circuit and “W” people need to be reasonably fit, not necessarily as an athlete, but perfectly able to walk for up to 10hrs a day (in the longest sectors) over rugged terrain, uphill, over streams and rocks, through woods and sometimes in driving rain and strong winds. If you are not able to endure this environment you should seriously consider not trekking in TDP. The routes themselves are sign-posted clearly with orange-painted poles and well-trodden paths and, in the summer season (Dec – Jan – Feb) there will be numerous other hikers about. Nevertheless, this is wilderness country, very remote and subject to sudden changes in weather that can make conditions tough. Do NOT go off the trail because even if you have the slightest incident like a twisted ankle you may find that no one will find you. It is essential that all walkers have the right clothing and food, and know what to do it they are caught out in extreme, unpredicted bad weather.
The Circuit Route
This is the route that goes in a circle around the back of the Central Massif, but also takes in the “W” route too. You can start this route from Laguna Amarga, the Refugio Torre Central, Refugio Chileno (eastern side of the W trek), or Camping Seron (the first camp of the circuit).
The W Route
The W route is called so because the path you walk forms a pattern in the shape of a “W”. It can be started either at the Refugio Las Torres or Refugio Chileno (Eastern end), or at Refugio Grey (Western end), or even at Refugio Paine Grande, which is almost central in the route.
To go West to East or East to West? – That is the question!
For most of the time walking the footpaths in TDP you will be staring at the ground a few paces in front of you and looking up occasionally and then stopping to take in the breathtaking views all around.
A number of people ask which way is better. In reality there is really no specific advantage over the other, but the main differences are that going West to East means that from Paine Grande you will have the Cuernos del Paine in view for most of the way and hanging glaciers on your left, and the prevailing wind, if it is blowing, will be on your back. If you go East to West you will have the beautiful view of the lakes to your left and hanging glaciers on your right and the prevailing wind against you if it is blowing. It is better to plan the route around the reality of your travel logistics and connections.
All regular buses from Puerto Natales pass by Laguna Amarga (and Pudeto and the CONAF ADMIN Center). Laguna Amarga is 7km from sector Las Torres (1.5hr trek, unless you take the shuttle bus, for which there is a very low charge). Shuttle buses run regularly between Laguna Amarga and the Estancia Cerro area for Hotel Las Torres, Refugio Torre Central and Refugio Torre Norte (located in the same sector). Refugio Chileno is a 2.5hr hike uphill from Refugio Torre Central.
Weather can change in an instant in Torres del Paine. Take the right clothes for cold wind and wet weather, sturdy walking boots, extra food and water, and a torch.
There is an entrance fee to pay to enter Torres del Paine and this will need to be paid in Chilean Pesos – equal to approx USD40 per person. Payment for all extras at the refugios will also be required in Chilean Pesos. Chile has a modern network of ATM machines called Red Bank located in many areas (banks, supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations) in villages, towns and cities. It is easy to use a debit or credit card to get local currency cash out BUT NOT within Torres del Paine so ensure you have enough CASH with you before entering the park. More refugios are now accepting credit cards too (but do not rely on this). There IS a money change service at the cafeteria called Ovejero located at the border village of Cerro Castillo.
Trekking Accommodation Options in TDP
The most comfortable way to hike the principal trails in TDP is to stay in the sheltered refugios or a mix of refugios and hotels.
What Clients Say About the Trek
The serviced campsites at:
Chileno, Frances and Cuernos require that tents are pitched upon the wooden platforms provided. Camping Central has two options: the wooden platforms and ground-based sites, where the tents are pitched directly onto the ground. If trekkers bring their own tents they will need extra rope to rig their tents on the ground and they may struggle to pitch their tents. The advice is to not bring your own tent and just rent the tent and other equipment (if required) by way of a reservation in advance (which ExperienceChile.Org can arrange).
In camping Chileno and Cuernos you MUST purchase all meals if you want to stay there.
However, the downside to camping on the provided wooden platforms is that you will, in some cases, be next to the refugio and this often means lots of noise from whatever is going on inside the refugio.
Camping at Paine Grande is very crowded and does not have much shelter from the wind.
The trails on the CIRCUIT trek (the back country) are heavily degraded.
TDP Food, Sleeping Bags, Ground Mattresses & Tent Rental
You will need to pay for food separately when you are at the refugios unless you have booked full board in advance (and most people do so). The cost for meals varies from refugio to refugio. Full board means: hot dinner, breakfast and box lunch to go (in that order).
Sleeping Bag, Tent and Ground Mattress
All the serviced camping sites offer sleeping-bag rental, when available, and in most cases a soft ground sheet or mattress.
The catamaran operates between Pudeto (no accommodation here) and Refugio Paine Grande. NO previous reservations are accepted and it costs approx USD40 per person, each way. Take Chilean Pesos (approx $30.000 CLP) if you can, although in the high season they accept USD too. Note that these rates are only estimated and change with currency exchanges and inflation.
Glacier Grey Navigation
This operates from Hotel Lago Grey and offers excursions to see the Glacier Grey, but ALSO drops off and collects people at Refugio Grey. Not ALL the sailings pass in front of the Glacier Grey so check the times of the ones that do.