How to visit Torres del Paine on a budget, with a mix of day hikes and trekking in the park.
In the last few posts I have been talking about the W Trek trail in Torres del Paine, Chile. If you read them, you know by now that this is one of my favourite places in the world and I have a lot to say about it!
If you are planning your trip and want to know things like how to get there, how to book accommodation, fees, when the best time to visit is, the post at the link below is what you are looking for.
In the Torres del Paine National Park, you have two options: you can do the full circuit or the W hike. Probably due to the fact that we were there during low season, we only met one person who was doing the full circuit.
The most popular route to take is to hike the W Trek West to East, so from Paine Grande to Base de las Torres.
The W Trek is the easiest and cheapest option and you can even do it via day hikes if you don’t want to sleep in the park (I’ll talk more about this in my next post). If you decide to stay in the park overnight and do the full hike, it will take you between four and six days, depending on how fast you walk, how many hours a day you want to hike and if you break sections of the trail such as the Glacier Grey trail or the Base de las Torres into two parts and spend the night in one of the refugios and campsites there, or make your way back.
For more information on distances and difficulty levels of the various trails, check this post out:
Our “mixed” hike
When we arrived in Puerto Natales, we were thinking about doing day trips to the park to save the money on accommodation, that by that stage had got very expensive, as we didn’t book anything in advance and only the top range accommodation were available in park, despite the fact that we were there during low season. But at the same time, we also wanted to experience the park at night time and take our time to enjoy the walks, so we decided to do a mixed hike: the first hike to Base de Las Torres as a day trip, and then do Glacier Grey and Valle del Frances staying in Paine Grande for the night.
Day 1 – Base de las Torres
On day 1, we got a bus at 7.30 am from Puerto Natales and we arrived at the National Park at around 9am. Filling in the forms and getting the tickets didn’t take too long, but we had to wait quite a long time to get on a minivan, since base de Las Torres is a very popular day hike and guided tours destination, so lots of people get on those vans.
We started hiking at 10.15 am from the visitor centre, where the van left us. The first part is constant uphill, and it took us one hour and 30 minutes to complete it and reach the highest point before the first refugio, Chileno, including a 15 minute break. After this, it’s a mix of uphill and downhill to get to Chileno. In total, it took us one hour and 30 minutes to get to the refugio. Here we took a break of 30 minutes to have a few snacks and a coffee, hoping that the rain would stop in the meantime, but it didn’t. In fact, it got worse!
At 12:15, we continued the hike towards the mirador and this part was harder than the previous one. Almost all uphill, you get to a part where you must climb a very rocky waterfall until you get to the very last bit, which is the most challenging of the whole “W”: all uphill, you constantly have the impression that you are almost at the mirador, made it worse by the fact that at a certain point there is a sign that says that you will be at the mirador in 15 minutes, but you really won’t! We arrived at the Base de Las Torres Mirador at 3:10 pm, where we stayed to enjoy the view until 4pm.
If you are lucky, you will be able to clearly see the towers. If you are unlucky, like us, the rain and fog will make it almost impossible to see the towers in front of you, but it still is nice to enjoy the view of the lake, with its very blue and grey clear water.
We were back at the refugio Chileno by 4:50pm and back at the visitor centre by 6pm. The shuttle bus back to entrance left at 6:30pm and the bus back to Puerto Natale was supposed to leave at 7:45 but left at 8:30.
This was the hardest trail of the W Trek for me and, if you are doing it as a day trip, you have from 10am to 7pm to complete it. In total, it took us 8 hours to walk 22km.
Day 2 – Paine Grande to Glacier Grey and back
On the second day, we decided to do the first leg of the W trail to Glacier Grey. From Paine Grande to the mirador for Glacier Grey and back it’s 26km and it took us 8 hours to walk it. This was our favourite part of the hike not only because of the view, but also because we got sunny(ish) weather and it wasn’t as cold to as the first day.
The day started off as the first day, getting the bus from Puerto Natales to the Park, but this time, since we already had our ticket, we could stay on the main bus and continue on to Pudeto, to get the catamaran at 11am. We got to Paine Grande where we were going to spend the night and we left our big bags here and started hiking at 12pm.
The whole walk wasn’t too hard, with a mix of uphill and downhill and we reached the first viewpoint of Laguna de los Patos at 12:55. After a short 15 minute break, we continued to the Lago Grey mirador. We arrived there at 2:10 pm. The view from here is very nice and you can see lots of icebergs floating in the water. From here, you can also have a view of the glacier from far away. Depending on how fast you walk and if you are only doing the day trip (and so have to be back by 6pm to catch the catamaran), you can decide whether to stay here and enjoy the view or continue on to Grey. Keep in mind that you still have 6km left to the Grey Refugio, but to get to the actual mirador and see the glacier from close it’s a further 2 km. If you are not going to the second mirador, there’s no point in walking to the Refugio Grey, as there is nothing to see there.
At 2:30 pm, we left the viewpoint of Lago Grey and continued our walk to the refugio. Along here, you have several viewpoints, where you can stop to see more icebergs and look at the big glacier getting closer and closer. We arrived at Refugio Grey at 4pm and then continued on past the camping area, to get to the mirador at around 4:30pm. Here we stopped to have a late lunch while looking at the glacier and at the icebergs from very close. I think it’s the best view of the whole trail. While you are there, you can also see some ice detaching and falling into the water.
We left the viewpoint at 5pm, to be back at the first mirador Grey by 6:30pm and at the Laguna de los Patos by 7:30pm. It gets dark at around 8pm at this time of the year (April), so it was nice to watch the sunset while walking. We were back at the Refugio Paine Grande by 8:15pm, where we had dinner and spent the night.
If you want to break this hike, you can get to Refugio Grey and spend the night there, and then go back down the next day and base yourself in Italiano or Frances, to gain some time when you are hiking Valle del Frances the following day.
Day 3 – Paine Grande to Britannico
The plan for day 3 was to start the hike pretty early, since we had to be back by 6pm to catch the catamaran. However, we ended up leaving at 8am, when it was still dark outside. From Paine Grande to Campamento Italiano it’s 7.6km and the trail is almost all flat. Except for some very muddy parts and river crossings, you can walk fast enough on this section of the trail, as there isn’t as much to see as in the other places. It took us around 2 hours and 15 minutes to get to Italiano. From here, it’s only 2 km to the Valle del Frances lookout, but it took us from 10:15am to 11:40am to get there, since we were tired from the previous days, it was very rainy and muddy, and this part of the trail is made of very steep and rocky uphill and downhills. We were lucky enough to see the mountains and the ice on our way down, since once at the lookout, it was so rainy and cloudy , that all the mountains were covered and we couldn’t see anything at all.
From here, you can walk 6.5km more and get to the very last viewpoint, the Britannico. However, the weather was very bad and we weren’t able to see much because of the clouds, and we had to be back to get the catamaran on time, since we had no accommodation booked for that night. So, at 2pm, we decided to go back to Paine Grande. On the way back, the clouds started clearing a bit, and we were able to enjoy the landscape again. When you walk there, you can constantly hear a noise similar to a thunderstorm, but it’s the noise of avalanches. We managed to see three on the way back to the refugio.
We were back at Italiano by 1:15pm and back at Paine Grande by 4pm, where we had a few warm drinks and relaxed by the fire while waiting for the catamaran. From here, we got the 6:35pm catamaran and then got on the bus that brought us straight to Puerto Natales.
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