The W and O Trek, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia

I owe my wonderful friend Julia (of New Zealand, Bruce Penninsula, New Orleans, and Texas road trip fame) a detailed post about this amazing hike I did, as she’s heading to the Patagonia region next week to do the W-Hike, so I thought I would post it here too!

Firstly,  What is the W-Trek and O-Circuit?

Well, it’s exactly how it sounds. It’s two hikes that follow paths that create those two letters.  The “W Hike” is within the “O-Hike” (see map below). The hikes are located in Chile. 

The “W Hike” is significantly more popular than the “O Circuit hike,” but both are amazing and I’d recommend doing either/or.   

You can complete the “W Hike” in 5 days, and four nights, and the “O Circuit Hike in nine nights, 8 days.  

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The gateway town towards the park is Puerto Natales, where you can stock up on food, gas, and camping gear.  (Although be warned, it was pricey and hard to find regular granola-type bars, or small-packaged items like oatmeal). 

We stayed at Base Camp hostel, which was super cheap, clean, and had a great atmosphere! They also had an AMAZING talk there daily(I think it was at 2pm)  about all the details in this post plus a lot more. Even if you don’t sleep there, go to their talk about two days before you leave for your hike; that way there’s time for you to prep.  

Here we are the night before our hike, sorting everything out.  The hostel also allows you to keep items there during your hike. Essentially you want to carry as little as possible. And I’m talking, seriously as little as possible. Two sets of clothes: 1 dry (for night)  / 1 wet (for day).   

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Park Entrance Logistics/Fee

Entering and exiting the national park, Torres Del Paine park, is a well-oiled machine. Buses constantly run from the main bus stop in Puerto Natales, and everything is very well organized. 

Book the bus ahead of time (we used the bus company Big Sur) and make sure you take cash with you for the park entrance.   

You can choose to take the bus to several entry spots depending on which way you’re going to complete the hike (which depends on which campsites you can book (see next section).  

We did this: Puerto Natales -> Park Entrance (fee: 21.000 CLP) –> Pudeto. From Pudeto (a tiny spot with 1 cafe), we took the catamaran boat to Paine Grande (20.000 CLP).  Paine Grande is a campsite, which you could sleep, or, if you’re like us, get hiking!

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Campsites

As I’m sure you’ve read online, campsites are a nightmare booking. Here’s a link which will show you how HARD it was to figure out the right booking order of campsites.  Here’s our final campsite bookings (this is for the O-Circuit, but the W-Hike is within the O) which I would not recommend, as some of the distances between campsites below are two days in one.  One of the challenges is figuring out the distances between campsites, as it’s sooooo hard to find proper maps online. We never did! 

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The reason booking campsites is so hard, is because there are multiple companies that operate them. This means you have to make sure you can book your route with the coordination of all the sites.  If you click into this spreadsheet, you’ll get a link to all the sites, and which company owns each sites. 

There’s no best way to do the hike, more the way that you can figure out the booking is best.  But you have to start at either Hotel Torres or Paine Grande (see map above).

The Campsites themselves

From luxury to bumming it, there’s a spectrum:

  • Your own tent/food/equipment (it’s the most challenging type, and the cheapest, as you just pay for a spot to set up your tent)
  • Their tents (you carry your own food, but they have a big beautiful tent set up and ready for you when you arrive. On a mattress too!)
  • Lodges (it’s very similar to a hostel, and have bunk beds. They fill up fast, but could be worth doing)
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Food & Water

There’s also a large spectrum for food. We took all of our food with us, and planned it out diligently, but there are stores and restaurants(!) at some of the campsites (especially along the W Hike) so don’t feel like you have to plan it all ahead. That being said, the food up there is pricey, so bring snacks to eat a long the way. 

Water you drink along the way from the glaciers, and I guarantee it’ll be the BEST water you’ve ever drank in your entire life. It’s just perfect. 

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Equipment

Here’s a big dedicated post on my equipment (from my tent to backpack to hiking boots), but know that you can also rent nearly everything for the hike! 

Most hostels in town will rent you most of the equipment. 

The Scenery

Most of the trek is spectacular. It’s famous for a reason, but the main lookout points are at the ends of the “W” points.  

Also, the national park is named after the Torre Del Pain (horns of pain) which are STRIKING. Except, when we got up close and personal to them (we woke up at 3:30 to go see them) they looked like this:

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Was it hard?

Yes. But it’s doable. Also, the hardest parts were on the O-Circuit and the worst case scenario is really just taking your time and going slower. 

Patagonia is known for its high winds (a reason I love the rare photo above!) which were indeed, very very big winds. You’d hear the wind coming and have to plant your poles and feet on the ground and wait for it to hit you.  One of the scariest moments of my life was when that wind hit me on the side of a cliff, but again, that was on the O Circuit. 

Other Things 

I loved this trip with all my heart. It’s the absolute best and I hope you have the time of your life doing it. Julia, let’s do a phone chat if you have other questions!  This has also inspired me to get my butt in gear and write add write about the post in detail with lots of photos… as look at them all here, waiting to be seen!

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* This article was originally published here
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