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Published: February 16th 2018
The "W" trek via day treks...
Due to a lack of forward planning on our part and being quoted crazy prices to camp in the Torres del Paine (TDP) National Park, we decided to base ourselves in Puerto Natales and do the "W" trek via day treks (as opposed to staying in the National Park). When we started researching day treks we really struggled to find any good information online. For this reason we have decided to put some tips together based on our experience that might be of some help to other backpackers / hikers considering day hikes to the TDP National Park.
We did three day hikes in the park:
- Base de Las Torres
- Frances Valley Lookout
- Glacier Grey Lookout
Note: All of the bus times, catamaran times, ticket prices, etc. are valid as of January 2018.
The Erratic Rock hostel provide a daily information talk (everyday at 3pm) on the W trek, the National Park, etc. We found this talk extremely helpful and we would definitely recommend it as no matter what type of hike you intend to do, you will definitely get some good information here.
You've made it!
Laguna Amarga is the entrance to the park and here you need to register and pay.
It is safe to drink the water from any of the streams that you pass along the hiking trails in the National Park.
Bring a 1 litre bottle and refill it. Don't weigh yourself down by carrying unnecessary weight. Be sensible and always drink upstream of camp grounds, refugios, etc.
Hiking sticks are definitely a big help, especially for descents and stabilizing yourself during strong winds on the trails.
The National Park Entry is 21000 CLP to be paid in cash only. Your ticket is valid for 3 consecutive days if doing day trips. If staying in the park camping / in refugio's your ticket is valid for the length of your stay. Entry can also be paid in USD 34 or EUR 29.
If staying in the National Park make sure to bring your PDI form with you (you get this on entry into Chile and it is required when checking into the refugio's / camp grounds).
Buy your bus ticket to the National Park the day before travel from the Bus Terminal in Puerto Natales. There are many companies servicing the route to the park between 7 - 7:30 am. We went with
Hike towards Chileno Refugio
Day Hike 1
At this point you have covered the first 3 km uphill from the trail starting point. The next 2 km to Chileno is relatively straightforward.
JBA. The cost is 15000 CLP per person return or 8000 CLP one way. It is worth asking for a discount, particularly if you intend on doing multiple day trips.
The bus has 3 main stops in the park - Laguna Amarga (where entry is paid), Pudeto (for the catamaran across Lago Pehoe), and Administration (where there is a visitor centre).
The bus to Laguna Amarga from Puerto Natales takes 90 mins. On the first day you will need to queue up, fill a form, pay the entry, and watch a 5 mins video on the park rules. All in all, this takes no longer than an hour. For those doing multiple day hikes (who have already purchased tickets) you can remain on the bus if heading towards Pudeto.
For those intending to hike to Base de las Torres, you will need to take a shuttle bus from Laguna Amarga to Las Torres Hotel. This costs 3000 CLP per person one way cash and takes 15 mins.
For those travelling onward to Pudeto (where you catch the catamaran to the starting point for the Glacier Grey and French Valley hikes) the same bus you arrived to
Base de las Torres
Day 1 Hike
20 km return hike from where the shuttle bus drops you off from Laguna Amarga
Laguna Marga on will leave when everyone has got through entry - approximately an hour after arrival. It takes 40 mins to get to Pudeto.
The catamaran travels 5 times per day from Pudeto to (and from) Paine Grande during the high season of December to February. The first crossing at 9 am is not possible to make from Puerto Natales unless you have a rental or have organised private transport.
The catamaran costs 18000 CLP one way or 28000 CLP return payable in cash only. They also take USD 30 one way or 50 return. It takes 30 mins to cross Lago Pehoe.
Details of our three hikes:
Hike #1 - Base de Los Torres
Leaving the bus station in Puerto Natales at 7:30 am with JBA we arrived at Laguna Amarga at 9 am. After getting our entry tickets we were on the 10 am shuttle bus to Las Torres Hotel. The shuttle dropped us off 1km shy of the starting point so we started the official trail at 10:30 am.
The first 3 km is a constant climb. It didn't take long for the body temperatures to rise and the layers
Catamaran from Pudeto
Takes 30 minutes from Pudeto to Paine Grande. Always give some extra time before the scheduled departure time to ensure you don't miss it!
We used the catamaran for Day Hikes 2 & 3.
to come off! We took 1 hour to get to the top of this. The next 2 km to Chileno Refugio is easier going with a mix of up and downhill. We reached the Chileno Refugio at noon (1.5 hours from start of trail). From Chileno, it is a further 4 km to Base de Las Torres.
The next 3 km is through a forest and is fairly flat with some slight uphill. At the end of this 3 km the pathway clears and here we had lunch before tackling the last 1 km to the top (which is definitely the most challenging). This last km took us 45 mins. From the start of the trail to the top took us 3 hrs 15 mins.
We were very lucky at the top as the weather was very favourable and we got some clear skies to appreciate the towers. We stayed about 1 hr 15 mins before beginning our descent at 3 pm.
The first km descent took 45 mins. We arrived back at Chileno Refugio at 4.30pm and stayed for a half hour. Tea / coffee and other refreshments are available for purchase here. At 5 pm
we left Chileno Refugio and we were back down to the end of the trail by 6 pm. It took another 15 mins to reach the place where we had been dropped off by the shuttle bus earlier that morning.
The shuttle bus left at 6:30 to bring us back to Laguna Amarga. We were there at 6:45 and thankfully there was a JBA Bus leaving for Puerto Natales at 7:30am. After 90 mins we were safely back in Puerto Natales where we booked our bus trips for the following day.
Total hiking distance: 20km
Total hiking time (incl. breaks): 8 hours (this includes 15 min walk from where the shuttle bus dropped us off to the beginning of the trail)
Hike #2 - Frances Valley Lookout
Our second trip the Torres del Paine NP started out the same as Day 1 (7.30am bus). As we already had our park entry tickets, we waited on the bus. At 9:50 we departed Laguna Amarga (bus drivers wait for all passengers to get through the park entry) and after 40 mins we arrived at Pudeto.
The catamaran was due to leave at 11am but it departed at
10:50am. We saw some disappointed hikers arriving as we were pulling away. Our advice would be to go straight to the catamaran on arrival just in case it happens to leave early like it did in this instance.
The catamaran takes 30 mins to reach Paine Grande. We didn't have large backpacks so we were off as soon as we pulled in and had started the trail to Camp Italiano at 11:30. The trail to Italiano is fairly flat and aside from the muddy pathway it was straightforward. We covered the 7.5km to Camp Italiano in 1 hour 45 mins.
After a 15 mins break we left the Italiano campsite for Frances Valley lookout. This 2 km was slow as the pathway was over rocks, through streams and was steep in places. But the views were worth it and after 50 mins we had reached the top. The pathway continues to Británico lookout but that would have added another 6.5km distance return and we knew we wouldn't have enough time. We only got to spend 10 mins at the top as the weather was against us and the sleet began to fall!
The return to Paine Grande
Cerro Paine Grande and Francés Glacier
French Valley Lookout
Day Hike 2
19.5 km return hike from the pier at Paine Grande
took us 3 hours from Frances Valley lookout. Strong wind, rain, taking photos and the fact that we knew we were good on time led us to taking a slower pace on the return. We were back at Paine Grande at 5:30 and with the catamaran not leaving until 6:30 we took refuge in the lodge. It is possible to buy tea/coffee and other refreshments here.
The various bus companies were waiting at Podeto for the catamaran to arrive back from Paine Grande. These buses then took the same route back to Laguna Amarga to collect additional passengers. At 8pm we left Laguna Amarga for Puerto Natales and arrived back in the town at 9:30.
Total hiking distance: 19.5km
Total hiking time (incl. breaks): 6 hours
Hike #3 - Glacier Grey Lookout
This was the same as Day 2 until the catamaran. Today the catamaran didn't depart until 11:05 so it meant that we didn't start the trail to Glacier Grey until 11:45.
The distance to the Glacier Grey Lookout is 12 km and took us until 3pm (incl a 15 min break at Mirador Lago Grey). What we hadn't realised at the time
Some beautiful scenery from the bus!
Along the route from Laguna Amarga to Pudeto
was that the Glacier Grey Lookout was a further 1 km past Grey lodge and camp zone (we had initially thought the hike was 11km each way). If we had known it was 12km each way, we wouldn't have spent 15 mins having a break en route!
The wind was like nothing we had experienced before. This made some of the hike tough and really dictated the pace that we were able to move at. Also some of the terrain is quite challenging and needed to be taken at a slow pace.
We didn't delay long at the Glacier Grey lookout. The wind was so strong that it was impossible to stay out in the open for long and also we wanted to ensure we had enough time back at Paine Grande just in case the catamaran went a little earlier. Our experience was that the times couldn't be relied on 100%!
The return took hike took us just less than 3 hours. By 6pm we were warming ourselves with cups of tea at Paine Grande lodge. The catamaran departed at 6:30pm and from there it was the same as Day 2 with the buses arriving back
Mirador Glacier Grey
The wind was so strong that it was impossible to hold the camera straight to focus the picture!
Day Hike 3
24.5 km return hike from the pier at Paine Grande
to Puerto Natales for 9:30pm.
Total hiking distance: 24.5km
Total hiking time (incl. breaks): 6 hours 15 mins
We hope our blog post is helpful for those considering day hikes in the National Park and that it shows that it's possible to do the Base de Las Torres, French Valley Lookout and Glacier Grey Lookout via day hikes. Our hike times are not to be taken as standard. An individual's hike times will vary depending on fitness level / weather. Our advice would be to calculate a turn around time that leaves you enough time to make your bus / catamaran. Happy hiking!
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