This guide on hiking the W trek in Patagonia will cover how to organise and complete the trail independently in 4 days. The W Trek in the Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia is often on top of a South America bucket list and rightly so. Hiking here is world class. But advanced booking of accommodation along the trek is required. So the track is not overrun. However, with that comes the need to be very well organised and prepared.

W Trek | 4 Day Independent Hike

This would be our first multi day hike together. It was such a special experience to share with Beck. You don’t even have to be an experienced hiker to complete this trail. We met many couples on the trail who hadn’t done much hiking before. So we hope we can inspire any couple to consider hiking the W Trek as part of their South America itinerary. This would ensure you see the very best natural wonders that the continent has to offer.

Hiking the W Trek in Patagonia: 4 Day Itinerary

Day 1 – Pain Grande to Grey Glacier Return

Day 1: Let the games begin! Today is a 22.4km return hike that will take around 6-8 hours. You will arrive at Pain Grande from the ferry around 10:30am. After that, go straight to reception to check in, set up your tent and unload some gear. Only a daypack will be necessary for your hike to Grey Glacier, returning to camp here tonight.

Today’s hike is not too strenuous. You will begin hiking slightly upwards and away from the stunning turquoise Lago Pehoe. Then the path takes you alongside Lago Grey with some gorgeous viewpoints by your side. For the best views, you MUST veer to the left and scramble up some rocks for a higher viewpoint, before arriving at the information stand at Gray Glacier.

There is a 4pm cut-off for the Grey Glacier to Paine Grande route. So you won’t have time to see the glacier up close. Unless you’re up for an additional 8km (4km each way) hike and can make it back in time. Personally, from photos we’ve seen, the first Mirador that you’ll get to, really gives a better perspective of the glacier and its surroundings. So no FOMO for heading back to camp from this point!

Views of a rainbow set over Lago Pehoe in the Torres del Paine National Park.
Views of a rainbow set over Lago Pehoe in the Torres del Paine National Park.

Day 2 – Pain Grande to Los Cuernos via Mirador Británico

Day 2: Get an early start as today’s hike is slightly longer. Also, you’ll have your big rucksack for large portions of the day. Today is a 28km hike that will take around 8-9.5 hours. The trail is muddy at times but more or less flat. You will initially pass by the tranquil Lago Skottsberg. Soon enough you will arrive at Campo Italiano (see specific distances/times in the table below). This is the turn off for the return Mirador Británico hike.

Mirador Británico

Leave your rucksack at Campo Italiano. This is because the hike to the mirador is very steep. It is a common and safe thing to do. Just take your day pack with valuables and essentials. On this portion of the track, you will be hiking in the French Valley. Firstly, you will pass by Mirador Frances which provides epic views of the surrounding glacier. However, the amphitheatre of mountains bestowed upon you at Mirador Británico is truly breathtaking.

When you’re back at Campo Italiano, pick up your rucksack. You will then head to Los Cuernos campsite passing the magnificent Lago Nordenskjöld. Once you’re walking on a pebble beach, you’ll know you’re close to the Los Cuernos campsite.

Views of Lago Nordenskjöld in Torres del Paine on Day 2 of the W Trek in Patagonia.
Views of Lago Nordenskjöld in Torres del Paine on Day 2 of the W Trek in Patagonia.

Day 3 – Los Cuernos to Refugio Chileno Plus Las Torres Return

Day 3: Today you will FINALLY be rewarded with seeing Las Torres (The Towers)! This involves a 24km hike and will take around 8.5-9.5 hours. We would recommend another early start to beat the crowds. There’s nothing we dislike more than a busy trail to ruin the ambience! From Los Cuernos, you’ll make your way to Refugio Chileno with Lago Nordenskjöld by your side.

Like the previous day, dump your rucksack at Chileno and/or check in and set up your tent. Take just a daypack with you for the return hike to Las Torres. You’ll find the way there starts steep and ends even steeper. There is a really tough slog right before Mirador Las Torres. But oh my lucky stars it is worth it!

The unbelievable scenery of Las Torres we had been dying to see for years was certainly not underwhelming. Hopefully the sun is out to really accentuate the emerald lagoon. Also, hopefully there are no clouds obstructing visibility of the towers. Afterwards, you can make your triumphant return to camp!

Day 4 – Refugio Chileno to Hotel Las Torres

Day 4: From Chileno, it is possible to head back up to Las Torres for sunrise. This is if you are willing to leave at 4am. Unfortunately for us, Chileno was booked out so we had to alternatively stay at Central Sitio on Day 3 (nearby Hotel Las Torres). We didn’t fancy the 2:30am wakeup to hike backup to Las Torres via Chileno for sunrise.

If you miss out on a spot at Chileno, Central Sitio is a great backup option. It does add another 5.5km to Day 3, totalling a massive 29.5km. But the extra distance is all downhill. Another benefit is that you do not need to do any hiking in the morning of Day 4 as you will already be at the bus station (read below!)

Hotel Las Torres to Puerto Natales Bus

Bus: So it’s time to head back to civilisation! For those who did manage to book Chileno, today is a fairly easy 4.8km walk downhill to Hotel Las Torres. It takes around 2 hours. Once you have arrived, the Torres del Paine National Park entrance office is close by. It’s here that you can buy tickets for the shuttle bus for $5,000CLP ($7USD). These cannot be booked in advance. The shuttle bus takes 10 minutes to get to Terminal Laguna Amarga. Additionally, this shuttle bus is coordinated with buses departing from Laguna Amarga to Puerto Natales. So the shuttle bus leaves half an hour before the Laguna Amarga bus departs to Puerto Natales. The Amarga to Puerto Natales can be booked in advance on Busbud for $10USD/person.

Hiking the W Trek in 4 Days: Distance/Duration

Route – DayKilometres (km)/Miles (mi.)Hours (hrs)
Paine Grande to Gray Glacier – Day 111.2km/7mi.3-4hrs
Gray Glacier to Paine Grande – Day 111.2km/7mi.3-4hrs
Paine Grande to Campo Italiano – Day 27.5km/4.65mi.2-2.5hrs
Campo Italiano to Mirador Británico – Day 27.5km/4.65mi.2.5-3hrs
Mirador Británico to Campo Italiano – Day 27.5km/4.65mi.2-2.5hrs
Campo Italiano to Los Cuernos – Day 25.5km/3.4mi.1.5hrs
Los Cuernos to Chileno Refugio – Day 312.8km/8mi.4.5-5hrs
Chileno Refugio to Mirador Las Torres – Day 35.6km/3.5mi.2-2.5hrs
Mirador Las Torres to Chileno Refugio – Day 35.6km/3.5mi.2hrs
Chileno Refugio to Hotel Las Torres – Day 44.8km/3mi.2hrs

W Trek Elevation Gain

  • Day 1: approximately 185m
  • Day 2: approximately 710m
  • Day 3: approximately 740m
  • Day 4: minimal to none

Please keep in mind that this is not accumulated elevation gain. Given the continuous ascent and descent of the W Trek, the accumulated elevation gain would be much higher on each day. The numbers above represent true elevation gain – the difference between the lowest and highest point on each day of the hike.

W Trek 4 Day Hiking Itinerary Recap

Hiking the W Trek is a phenomenal experience, whichever way you choose to do it. But, if you are not afraid of long distance hiking and want to save money doing so, we can testify to hiking the W Trek independently in 4 days. Beck and I had a wonderful experience and highly recommend you hike the W Trek this way. However, booking and organising for the W Trek is notoriously difficult. Please follow on to help you understand how to book the W Trek!

Difficulties with Booking the W Trek

Booking the W Trek takes time and effort. Personally, in September 2019 we tried booking the relevant campsites for the W trek in Patagonia 4-5 months in advance of the 2020 season. Unfortunately, one of the integral campsites was already booked out. So if hiking the W Trek independently in the recommended time of Patagonian summer (December-March), booking early is essential. For instance, booking 6 months in advance may be necessary. This is possible as the campsite booking systems apparently opened around August in 2019. But this changes every year so keep an eye out!

This guide is not intended to be a comprehensive one on all the different booking options. Of course, there are already some very thorough guides out there. For instance, the more comprehensive guide covering all of the different options include Wordly Adventurer and/or Stingy Nomads.

These guides are fantastic. But when we first tried to read them, our brains were fried with all the different options and ways one could go about doing the W Trek. So if you are short on time and want a quick instructive guide on how to practically book the W Trek independently, this is the guide for you.

Independent vs. Tour Group

Independent: Firstly, forget about doing the W Trek with a tour group or trekking guide. Not only is this expensive but unnecessary as the path is well signposted and very straightforward.

Also, if you want to squeeze as much as possible into your South America itinerary and are reasonably fit, we highly recommend completing the W Trek in 4 days. This is instead of the traditional 5 days. We guarantee that you will not be rushed or miss out on anything by doing the trek in 1 less day! Essentially, the only difference is doing extra walking on day 1. But more on this later.

Camping vs. Refugio

Camping: In regards to style of accommodation along the W Trek, the refugios seemed very nice but are expensive. Not only do the suggested campsites save you money, but in fact have exceptional facilities. Just to be clear, most of the refugios on the W Trek will offer a refugio/cabin style accommodation as well as a site for camping. When staying at these campsites, we actually considered ourselves to be practically glamping! Additionally, the refugios do offer camping equipment. But it is much cheaper to bring your own gear or what is usually more logistically realistic – renting camping gear in Puerto Natales before you go (more detail on this later).

However, if you would prefer to stay in the refugios, this would certainly be a more comfortable night’s sleep. We will run through the booking process below. You can use the same links we provide but instead of choosing the camping option, you will choose the refugio option.

Hiking the W Trek in the East vs. West Direction

East to west: Furthermore, the W Trek can be walked in different directions. But to keep things simple, our itinerary is going east to west. The traditional way.

W Trek Booking Details Recap

The booking process: So, you’ve been convinced to book and hike the W Trek independently, in 4 days, going east to west and camping along the way with your own or rented camping gear. Let’s briefly go through the booking process of the campsites first. Campsite availability will provide you with concrete dates which form the basis of your trip. Then, you can book everything else. Luckily for Beck, I took care of booking the W Trek, whilst she planned and booked the Easter Island part of our trip. Great teamwork!

The insane ampitheatre of mountains on display from Mirador Británico in Torres del Paine..
The insane ampitheatre of mountains on display from Mirador Británico in Torres del Paine.

Booking the W Trek Campsites

The campsites: This can get awfully complicated so stay with me. You are hiking the W Trek in Patagonia in 4 days/3 nights. So you will book 3 different campsites in advance strategically along the W Trek. This will be booked in a way to evenly distribute walking distances each day. Basically, you need to book your campsites through the 2 main companies running them.

  • Day 1 Campsite: book Pain Grande campsite through Vertice Patagonia. Price: $11USD/person.
  • Day 2 Campsite: book Los Cuernos campsite through Fantástic Sur. Price: $21USD/person.
  • Day 3 Campsite: book Refugio Chileno campsite through Fantástic Sur. Price: $21USD/person.

You can book campsites for days 2 and 3 in the same transaction. Be aware that Chileno is a relatively small campsite on the W Trek. So it is the first to book out. Alternatively, we booked Central Sitio (Las Torres) campsite for Day 3, also through Fantástic Sur. This just means you will need to walk further on day 3. Plus, although still possible, you will be further away if you wanted to do the sunrise hike for Las Torres. But more on that later.

Day 4: you’ve finished and will spend the night back in Puerto Natales.

Getting to Puerto Natales

Your journey begins in Puerto Natales; the gateway town for hiking the W Trek in Patagonia! To get here, you must either fly or bus to Punta Arenas. Afterwards, you get a 3 hour bus north to Puerto Natales. We booked this bus through Busbud for $10.50USD/person. Although booking in advance seemed unnecessary as plenty of bus companies do this route.

Getting from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine

Bus: Hiking the W Trek in Patagonia takes place in the beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Using Busbud, we booked the earliest bus at 6:30am for $11USD/person (changed to 6:45am after booking) from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine (Terminal Pudeto). We booked this in advance.

Ferry: Getting the earliest bus possible is important in order to reach Terminal Pudeto at 8:30am, in time for the 9am ferry to Pain Grande. This is where the W Trek begins! Don’t worry if your bus seems to be running late. The ferry will not leave until everyone on this bus has arrived and boarded. Additionally, you pay for the ferry ticket on board for $20,000CLP ($25USD). Ensure you have cash.

Torres del Paine National Park fees: Of other importance is that during the bus ride from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine (Terminal Pudeto), you will be dropped off at the administration building. It’s here that you will quickly complete a form and pay the entrance fee of $35,000CLP ($40USD) in cash. Then you will reboard to get to Terminal Pudeto.

Views over Grey Glacier during the W Trek in Patagonia.
Views over Grey Glacier during the W Trek in Patagonia.

Accommodation & Renting Camping Gear

Booking camping rental gear: Most hotels/hostels will offer camping gear for rent and luggage storage. So use Booking.com to find a place to stay that offers both services. We stayed at Niko’s II Adventure. It was actually the most expensive accommodation of our entire Patagonia trip at $50USD for 1 night for 2 people. Be aware that most, if not all, rental places for camping gear, even those within a hostel/hotel that may have a 24 front desk, close between 10:00-11pm and reopen 8-9am.

STORY TIME: Without going into too much detail, we chose to book Niko’s because on their website, they were the ONLY accommodation we came across that offered reserving camping gear to rent in advance. This also included the ability to pick up upon arrival, even after 11pm. Long story short, upon arrival at 11:30pm, we were told we could not pick up the reserved gear. It was a really stressful situation as we were starting the W Trek the next day and catching the bus to the National Park at 6:30am the following morning. This would be before any other rental places would have reopened. Thankfully, after pleading with the manager, she came to the hotel around midnight to rightfully rent us the gear.

Accommodation Options

Accommodation: So with Niko’s II Adventure not delivering on their word, we can’t recommend staying there without this service. You’d be better off booking a cheaper hostel elsewhere who also offers the camping gear rental. Erratic Rock Hostel seems to be a popular choice. You’re welcome to use our link to book. They also run an information session 3pm daily to further explain W Trek logistics.

Airbnb: The actual cheapest option, which we went with the night we returned from the W Trek, was an Airbnb. It was close to the town centre for $26USD for 1 night. Funnily enough, the host was a W Trek guide. But more importantly a very welcoming and trustworthy local. The place was quite rough around the edges but good value and after camping for 3 nights, was more than adequate!

Rental gear price: Please find below an example of costs for hiring rental gear per day. In your case, 4 days. For us, rental gear came to about $60,000CLP ($70USD) for 2 people. Be aware, you must pay in cash not only for the gear but also for a deposit which depends on the rental company’s policy. We had to leave an additional $30,000CLP (50% of the value of gear rented). Moreover, it’s much cheaper to pay in the local currency.

Rental Camping Gear Prices Example

Equipment$CLP/day$USD/day
3 person tent6,00010
2 person tent4,5008
Sleeping bag3,0005
Sleeping mat1,5003
Backpack4,0007
Trekking pole x 23,0005
Stove & Cooking  Set4,5008

Renting gear is probably easier and logistically more sensible for someone travelling South America who may not camp otherwise. In hindsight though, you could save more by buying cheap camping gear. You could then possibly discard or pass on to someone else after the trek. Otherwise, you might take your own gear.

Which ever way you decide to go, we do recommend travelling with quality hiking trousers. Because waterproof trousers are expensive, bulky, heavy and non-breathable, we prefer lighter and breathable water repellent trousers. However, we always pack an emergency pocket size waterproof overtrouser in our day pack just in case of torrential downpour.

Checkout our 66 Items You Must Travel With guide to find out what other hiking and camping gear we recommend.

Getting out of Puerto Natales

Bus: Regardless of your next destination, it is likely that you will need to get back to Punta Arenas. To do so, catch the 3 hour $10.50USD bus there. This will take place the following day you arrive back in Puerto Natales. If you’re heading north, you’ll likely catch a bus the next day to El Calafate (Argentina). This involves crossing the border which takes around 7-8 hours. You should book this in advance on Busbud for $20USD/person.

Buying Supplies for the W Trek

Unimarc: Thankfully, at each campsite you will have access to clean water to refill your 2 x 1L drink bottles. For food, the refugios do provide nice meals but are relatively expensive. Moreover, to save, you will need to stock up on food in Puerto Natales. Unimarc will have everything you need. Although for the life of us, we couldn’t find apples! So let us know in the comments if you could find apples in Puerto Natales. Anyway, groceries for the 4 days between 2 people was around $30USD.

Total Costs

  • W Trek campsite bookings: $41,000CLP/person ($53USD).
  • Bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales: $8,000CLP/person ($10.50USD).
  • Bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine National Park: $8,500CLP/person ($11USD).
  • Ferry: $20,000CLP/person in cash ($25USD).
  • Torres del Paine National Park entrance fees: $35,000CLP/person in cash ($40USD).
  • Bus from Torres del Paine National Park to Puerto Natales: $8,000CLP/person ($10.50USD).
  • Puerto Natales accommodation before (hostel) & after (Airbnb): $58,000CLP ($76USD) for 2 people.
  • Rental gear: $60,000CLP ($70USD) for 2 people, plus $30,000CLP in cash ($35USD) deposit.
  • Bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate (Argentina): $15,5000CLP ($20USD).
  • Food: $23,000CLP ($30USD) for 2 people.

= $212,000CLP/person ($275USD) over 6 days/5 nights (plus $30,000CLP [$35USD] deposit).

We calculated costs for hiking the W Trek in Patagonia, beginning from Punta Arenas. That’s because most people will start there for this adventure. Overall, the costs are pretty good considering what you would pay for a group tour (easily +$1,000USD)! Also, remember to take extra Chilean Peso’s ($CLP) for the camping gear rental deposit.

Five Hiking Essentials for the W Trek

Five Camping Essentials for the W Trek

Although we rented gear, this list may help anyone taking their own gear. Otherwise, this list will also give you an idea of gear you might need to rent.

Trail Navigation

Torres del Paine Maps: The official map given on Day 1 at the Torres del Paine entrance office for hiking the W Trek in Patagonia is quoted in time instead of distance. This is rather strange for many reasons. But mainly because of varying walking paces. Other maps we did find online that had distances were inaccurate. This is why the distance/duration table we have provided will be different from others online.

To be fully prepared, consider downloading a GPS guided map before you set out. We recommend Wikiloc or AllTrails. For those not so prepared, if you’re needing navigation help during the hike and don’t have any phone reception, consider using Maps.me. Although you need to have at least downloaded the map of the general area beforehand.

Bonus Tips

  • Go to Las Torres early: Arriving at Las Torres around midday is the worst time of day to get there in peak season. This is because the Chileno to Las Torres stretch of the trek has tough upward narrow sections which leads to frustratingly long queues. So starting your hike as early as possible on Day 3 can help you avoid this! What about delaying your arrival to Las Torres for mid afternoon? Although a good idea in theory, there are cut off times for starting the hike. So it may not be possible. The sunrise hike may be your best bet to avoid crowds. A friend of ours arrived at Las Torres mid morning and commented that it was really quiet.
  • ATMs: Due to ongoing protests in relation to socio-political issues, many of the banks were boarded up and closed in Punta Arenas and Santiago in January 2020. Even so, using ATMs was still possible in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales. But similar to Argentina, you will be hit with a $5-7USD conversion fee. So bring $USD cash to exchange in Santiago if possible. You’ll have a better rate than in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
  • Wet Weather Gear: Even though it is ‘summer’, it is still Patagonia! We encountered rain at some point of each day on hiking the W Trek in Patagonia. Although sometimes not lasting too long, you will definitely need at the very least – waterproof hiking boots, trousers, jacket and bag cover to see off those damp spells. So make sure you don’t leave home without these

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