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W Circuit Trekking in Torres del Paine

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Lake Pehoe, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile
Torres del Paine, © Can Stock Photo / Muha04
More Torres del Paine pics.

Torres del Paine is a massif of several mountains jutting out of the Patagonian steppe on the eastern side of the Austral Andes.  The names of the mountains can be quite confusing.  The Torres del Paine massif in Torres del Paine National Park includes the Torres del Paine range (which we refer to as Las Torres or the Towers), the Cuernos del Paine range (the Horns) and the Grey Glacier beside Paine Grande mountain.

To the west and to the north, the Torres del Paine National Park forms the southern portion of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.  The ice sheet is continuous from the park's Grey Glacier to Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina, which is about 50 miles north.  To cover this distance by vehicle will take about 8 hours, including travel south toward Puerto Natales, then northeast on the Patagonian steppe to El Calafate and then west to Perito Moreno and the ice field again.

W Circuit:

Trekking in Torres del Paine can be done in a full 100 km circle of the massif or by the shorter and more popular 5 day hike called "the W Circuit" shown on the map of the W Circuit route.  The "W" refers to the pattern of the trail.   It is also possible to hike separate sections of the W Circuit in 1 - 3 days.  The W Circuit includes the las Torres Valley, the French Valley bordered by Paine Grande / Cuernos del Paine and the trail along Lake Grey / Paine Grande to the Grey Glacier.

The Towers, Torres del Paine, Chile

the Towers (Las Torres)

Terminology for Torres:

  • Torres - Spanish for tower

  • Paine - Tehuelche Indian word meaning blue

  • Refugio - Spanish for refuge, camp or hostel

  • Cuernos - Spanish for horns

  • Lago - Spanish for lake

  • Mirador - Spanish for lookout, viewpoint

  • Salto - Spanish for waterfall

Torres del Paine, Chile

Torres del Paine and Lake Pehoe, © Can Stock Photo / kavram

Weather:

This area is close to Antarctica and not very warm, even in the summer months of January - March.  Wind and cloud are year round impediments to the fabulous views.  Rainfall is fairly light and consistent throughout the year, though March does have slightly more rain.  It is windier in the summer months.  Expect average highs of around 66 F (19 C) in summer (January) and average lows of 44 F (6 C).  In the winter average highs are 40 F (5 C) while lows average a few degrees below freezing.  Be prepared for rain and sleet during your hike regardless of what the weather is when you start your day.  Also, use lots of sun screen, as the exposure to UV rays can be very high. Want to know the current weather temperature in Torres del Paine?

Transportation:

Puerto Natales is the staging area for Torres del Paine.  Buses and tours run regularly each day to the park at Laguna Amarga in under 2 hours.   There is a small airport in Puerto Natales, but the more common access to the city is via a bus ride from Punta Arenas, which is 4.5 hours from Puerto Natales.  Bus-Sur, Buses Gomez and Buses Fernandez provide access on this route.  The roads in the park are gravel, which may affect the ability to rent a car.  Refugio Las Torres runs shuttles to and from the park entrance at Laguna Amarga.  They're free if you're staying at the refugio.  It is also possible to arrange bus transportation between El Calafate and the park.

Holland America offers a full day excursion to Torres del Paine by flying in from Punta Arenas. 

Hiking Gear:

Puerto Natales is the best place to outfit your trek.  Rent sleeping bags, tents, walking sticks, water proof jackets & pants and waterproof duffel bags.  Leave your suitcase at a hotel in storage and retrieve your non-trekking belongings after your excursion to the Towers.  You can also rent tents and sleeping bags at Lodge Paine Grande.  The lodge has public washrooms, a small store, a cafeteria and a bar. 

Lodge Paine Grande, Torres del Paine, Chile

Camping at Lodge Paine Grande with views of Cuernos del Paine

Trekking and Hiking in Torres del Paine:

  • Las Torres (the Towers) - This is the most difficult climb of W Circuit Trekkingand forms its right side.  The hiking trail starts by the Hotel Las Torres Patagonia and Ecocamp Patagonia.  It climbs the base of Almirante Nieto mountain and then levels out in a glacial valley.  Next it turns steeply upward, traverses up a moraine and arrives at the small lake at the foot of the towers, where the viewpoint is called Mirador Las Torres.  Some recommend climbing early in the morning for the best views, however our guide indicated the clouds often clear each day at around 3pm, which is exactly what happened during our Take That Vacation trek.  Plan at least a 7 hour day on this 19 km return hike or camp an hour below the viewpoint and wait for the best views.

  • The French Valley - This forms the mid section of the W Circuit with the Cuernos del Paine on the right as you ascend and Paine Grande on the left.  The trail leads northeast along the lake shore from Lodge Paine Grande and up to the Italian camp near the Frances glacier.  The distance is 7.6 km of easy walking or about 2.5 hours.  It's another 5.5 km or 3.5 hours from there through the French Valley to the British Camp.  You can also reach the valley from the Las Torres Valley by hiking southwest along Lake Nordenskjold to the Cuernos Camp for 11 km or 4.5 hours.  From the Cuernos Camp to the Italian Camp is 5.5 km or 2.5 hours.  It can take 3 days to cover the entire middle section, but many tours only access the French Valley from the Lodge Paine Grande to reduce the hiking time to 1 or 2 days.

Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine, Chile

Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine

  • Lake Grey and Grey Glacier - This forms the left side of the W Circuit.  The trail starts at the Lodge Paine Grande and travels between Lake Grey and Paine Grande mountain.  There is a lookout at the halfway point, a hostel at the glacier and an option to take a ferry back down Lake Grey instead of hiking a full day to return to Lodge Paine Grande.  The one way distance is 11 km or approximately 3.5 hours.

  • Lake Pehoe Ferry- Lake Pehoe is located at the base of the Cuernos del Paine mountain and is fed by the Salto Grande Waterfall, which can be seen on the ferry rideThe lake and ferry are accessible by vehicle.  The Hielos Patagonicos Ferry crosses the lake from Pudeto to Lodge Paine Grande.  It's a key access method, as it provides the option to hike to the Grey Glacier or the French Valley from the Lodge Paine Grande.

  • On the plains near the mountains, see ostrich-like rheas, condors, pink flamingos and guanacos (alpaca relative).  There are a great variety of wild flowers in the park. 

For insight into hiking the W Circuit in Torres del Paine, see stephandben.com.   

For more information about the area, visit TorresdelPaine.com.

Hosteria Pehoe, Lake Pehoe, Torres del Paine, Chile

Lake Pehoe, © Can Stock Photo / englishinbsas

Torres del Paine Package Tours:

Hotels in Torres del Paine:

Accommodation along the hiking circuit consists of hostels or lodges, often referred to as refugios.  The refugios offer camping and hostels with bunk beds shared by groups without differentiation between sexes.  The bathrooms are shared, but are differentiated by sexes.  There are a number of quality hotels located near the hiking circuit entry points too.

Take That Vacation Refugio Recommendations:

  • Lodge Paine Grande - the starting point for hiking to the French Valley or the Grey Glacier.  It has single beds in a mixed dormitory with shared bathrooms.  There is also a store, cafeteria and a bar, plus Wi Fi.  Tent and sleeping bag rentals are available and there is open camping on the grounds around the lodge.  There is no vehicle access to this lodge.  It is accessible by the Hielos Patagonicos Ferry that crosses Lake Pehoe.

  • Ecocamp Patagonia - located at the start of the trail to the Towers.  Sleep in private domed tents with washrooms and wood heat.  Eat in a community tent and have a drink at the bar.  Full or half board.  

  • Lodge Lago Grey - this is a refugio at the end of the Grey Glacier hike.  It has single beds in a mixed dormitory with shared bathrooms.  There is also a store, meals and a bar, plus Wi Fi.

  • Fantastico Sur - Fantastico Sur has rights to the refugios and cabins in the park.

Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, start of Las Torres trail, Chile

Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, start of Las Torres trail

Take That Vacation Hotel Recommendations:

  • Hotel Las Torres Patagonia - a large hotel complex located at the start of the trail to the Towers.  This is the closest hotel to Mirador Las Torres and they have many full and half day excursions to choose from.

  • Hotel Lago Grey - located at the base of Lago Grey with views of the lake, the glacier and Paine Grande.  The hotel is accessible by vehicle but is not near the hiking trails.  Take their ferry to the Grey Glacier and begin hiking the W Circuit.  The hotel offers many tour options.  Enjoy the views from the restaurant, bar or lounge.

  • Explora Patagonia - top quality 5 star hotel located beside Chico Falls with lovely views of Pehoe Lake, Paine Grande, Cuernos de Paine and Almirante Nieto. 

  • Hosteria Pehoe - on a vehicle accessible island in Lake Pehoe with magnificent views of Cuernos del Paine and Paine Grande.  Unfortunately the hotel doesn't rate as highly as their views.

  • Hosteria Tercera Barranca - pleasant accommodation set back 20 km from the Las Torres trail head.  It has excellent views of the Towers.


View Torres del Paine map


View Torres del Paine pics.