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Patagonia is high up on many travelers’ bucket lists but is one of the most difficult trips to plan. The region spreads out across parts of both Chile and Argentina. When most people talk about “hiking Patagonia,” they are usually referring to hiking Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. There are two routes you can hike in Torres del Paine – the W Circuit and the O Circuit. The W Circuit is the more popular trek, as it is shorter and more accessible. In this comprehensive guide to planning your Torres del Paine W Trek, I’ll take you through step by step how to plan your trip. In a separate post, I’ll provide a day by day itinerary for how to hike Torres del Paine without a guide.
Best time to hike Torres del Paine W Circuit
The best time to hike Torres del Paine is November through late-February/early-March. You can also hike during the off season in September, October, and April, but you’ll need to be prepared for much harsher weather during those months. January is probably the best month to hike Torres del Paine, as the park receives minimal rain during that time and has moderate temperatures.
With that said, the weather in Patagonia is highly unpredictable and constantly changing. Regardless of when you decide to visit, you should go prepared to experience all four seasons on your W trek.
How to get to Torres del Paine National Park
Santiago to Puerto Natales
The best way to get to Torres del Paine is to fly through Santiago, Chile to Puerto Natales, Chile. Puerto Natales is a small town located about 100km from Torres del Paine that serves as the gateway into the park. Here’s a post on where to stay, eat, and drink in Puerto Natales.
Santiago to Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
Flights to Puerto Natales are still limited and only available during peak season. If you’re unable to find a flight to Puerto Natales, you can fly to Punta Arenas from Santiago and take the bus from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales. This, of course, adds to your travel time but is the next best option to flying direct to Puerto Natales.
Buenos Aires to El Calafate to Puerto Natales
If you want to do some hiking around Argentinian Patagonia before your W trek, you can fly into Buenos Aires. From there, you can fly to El Calafate and take the bus to El Chaltén, where you can hike the Fitz Roy trail, my favorite trail in Argentinian Patagonia. Then, from El Calafate, you can take the bus to Puerto Natales to start your W trek.
Visas to Chile and Argentina
If you are a U.S. citizen, you do not need a visa to enter into Chile or Argentina, as long as you do not stay in either country for more than 90 days. Just make sure you have at least six months remaining on your passport and at least one empty page in your passport before your trip.
Vaccines for Chile and Argentina
You likely will not need to get any additional vaccines if you are only planning on visiting Patagonia. Just make sure all your routine vaccines are up to date, including your vaccines for measles, hepatitis A, and typhoid. The CDC recommends Hepatitis B and Rabies vaccines for some travelers, but if you are only visiting Patagonia, you’ll be fine without them. Here is some more information on each of the aforementioned vaccines:
- Hepatitis A: You should always have your hepatitis A vaccine up to date, as you can contract hepatitis A even in the U.S. Hepatitis A is transmitted through food, so it’s not hard to get. As such, I would definitely recommend getting this vaccine if you don’t already have it.
- Typhoid: Typhoid is generally not an issue in Chile or Argentina as long as you aren’t visiting the rural countryside. However, since typhoid is transmitted through food, you may want to consider getting the vaccine if you are an adventurous eater. I eat everything when I travel, so I always have my typhoid vaccine up to date.
- Hepatitis B: Hepatitis B is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids. You won’t need to worry about this if you’re only planning on hiking Patagonia and visiting the big cities.
- Rabies: A rabies vaccine is also not necessary, unless you are planning on doing some caving (there are bats in caves, and you may contract rabies if you get bit by a bat) or exciting adventures around animals.
Camping vs refugios in Torres del Paine
Most accommodations along the W Circuit provide tent camping facilities as well as refugios, or dorm rooms similar to those you’d find in a hostel. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether to tent camp or stay in refugios on your W trek:
- How much weight you’re able to carry on your back
- How comfortable you are with setting up a tent in all weather conditions, including strong winds and rain
- How much money you’re wiling to spend on the trek
- How well you’re able to sleep at night if it’s cold, wet, or loud
- Whether you already have your own gear (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad) or are willing to invest in purchasing them
If you want to tent camp but do not want to bring your own tent, you can also rent a tent from the individual campsites. Along with tents, campsites also offer sleeping bags and sleeping pads for rent. If you decide to rent a tent, the tent will be set up for you when you arrive at the campsite.
If you don’t mind carrying your own gear, but you don’t want to purchase brand new gear in the U.S. that you might not use again, you can rent your gear in Puerto Natales. It usually costs around $60 USD to rent your gear in Puerto Natales, compared to $200 USD to rent from the campsites.
Booking your accommodation at Torres del Paine
Whether you decide to tent camp or stay in a refugio, you must reserve your accommodation in advance. Each year, reservations are becoming more and more competitive. In 2019, reservations filled up about half a year (six months) in advance of peak season. Moving forward, you can only expect reservations to fill up earlier and earlier. For 2020, I would recommend keeping an eye on the online reservations page starting nine months in advance of your intended travel date and booking your accommodations as soon as online reservations open.
While it’s technically illegal for any campsite to turn you away if you do not have somewhere to stay for the night, the last thing you’ll want to do after a long day of hiking is scramble to find somewhere to stay for the night.
There are two companies that own all of the campsites along the W Circuit at Torres del Paine: Vertice Patagonia and Fantastico Sur.
Vertice Patagonia owns the following accommodations along the W Circuit:
- Paine Grande
Fantastico Sur owns the following accommodations along the W Circuit:
- Torre Central
- Torre Norte (Refugio only – located 100 meters from Torre Central with shared facilities at Torre Central)
- Los Cuernos
- El Chileno
- El Francés
Most campsites cost $10-20 USD per night during peak season, and most refugios cost $35-115. There are a few extra luxurious refugios that cost as much as $180 USD per night.
There is also a free campsite for tent camping along the W Circuit called Italiano that is owned by CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), a nonprofit Chilean organization that’s funded by the Chilean government. I would not recommend staying at Italiano, however, as it is sometimes flooded and does not offer the amenities that the other campsites offer.
Packing list for Torres del Paine
As with any backpacking trip, you need to have the right gear. Having the right gear can be the difference between spending a sleepless night in the cold and rain vs staying dry and warm in your tent. Check out my packing guide for Kilimanjaro, which has a very similar gear list to Torres del Paine, to get a good idea of what type of gear you’ll need for this trip. Of course, if you decide to bring your own tent and sleeping bag, you’ll need to have those items as well.
I hope that this comprehensive guide to planning your Torres del Paine W trek has been useful in helping you plan your trip. Let me know in the comments below what other questions you have, and I’ll get those answered for you right away!
Want to explore more of Patagonia? Then you might interested in reading these posts:
- Guide to Hiking Mount Fitz Roy in El Chaltén
- Ultimate Guide to Hiking the Torres del Paine W Trek
- Guide to Hiking Cerro Torre in El Chaltén
- Where to Stay, Eat, and Drink in Puerto Natales, Chile
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