There are all sorts of ways to do a W or O trek in Patagonia – so many ways it can be quite baffling!
The first thing to know is that you can save over £1,000 per person by not taking a guided tour, though you will pay for that in carrying a lot of kit.
No matter how you do the O or W treks you will have a great trip and get to see one of the most beautiful parts of the world in the form of the three Torres del Paine peaks, as well as the unspoiled wilderness of this far southern region of the Americas.
The treks themselves are very easy to navigate with signs at every turn as well as distances in kilometres to the destination.
Once more you are only allowed to do each trek in a certain direction and must not wilderness camp, so everyone is heading in exactly the same direction, leaving roughly at the same time and arrive as fast as their legs will take them with breaks and pauses.
The speed you go – fast or slow – and the time you head off will dictate how much peace and quiet you get.
The W is the busier route thanks to being shorter and really only taking in the towers as a main event.
The O is harder going by virtue of the length and a brief time over 3000 metres so you will get more time to commune with the mountain gods alone.
You’re not allowed open fires on the treks, even at campsites. You may wish to pause for lunch – that’s perfectly OK – but you will use your camping stove for hot meals.
Shall we get prepared? Off we go!
Park opening times
The Torres del Paine national park is only open during the Chilean summer between the 1st October and the end of March.
For the height of summer that could mean a UK trekker does it as their Christmas holiday.
Full guided tour
Flying to Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales, the nearest airports to the park is going to cost you around £1,100 and a tour company will charge you £1,000 and up for a guided tour trip on top.
If you were to self-guide the trip carrying all your gear from the UK, including food and all the park, food, campsite and overland travel fees it could cost as little as £100 all in – and yes, that’s two zeroes after the one not three.
There are different grades of tours available but essentially you will fly in with your standard trekking clothes, boots, electronics and toiletries etc, and walk with just a day pack between the campsites/hotels/hostels.
Given that most of the two treks are below 3,000 metres (just one section of the O goes above that) it’ll be a nice week of gentle walks and astounding views.
If you’re fit enough to carry all your food and gear for a week for hikes of up to 13 miles a day then the only real advantage to having a guide is to get up to the Torres del Paine viewing point before dawn from El Chileno on the W trek as you will need someone to show you the way in the dark.
Partially self-guided tour
The next grade down from a fully guided tour on either the W or O Treks is the ‘partially self-guided’ tour.
This grade is quite complex but we will try to simplify it.
How much gear do you want to carry?
You can arrange to rent all your camping gear at each campsite and thereby carry a heavier pack than a fully guided tour but without things like sleeping bag, mat, cooking gear and tent.
You just turn up and cook your dinner every day. That will cost you around £100 for the week.
Food? Bought from the local stores in Puerto Natales this can cost as little as £15 for a week.
You will carry your food, clothes and gubbins as you go – far lighter than a tent, sleeping bag, mat, and cooking/eating gear.
For less money you can rent all your camping gear at Puerto Natales!
You’ll carry it but you won’t pay so much.
Arranging in advance – self and partially self-guided tours
Another advantage of paying your £grand up front with a fully guided tour is that you won’t have to go online and on the phone to organise and book your trip in any detail.
In this section we will show you where exactly to look to book your itinerary.
Firstly you need to book well in advance as this is an extremely popular destination among Argentine, Chilean and international trekkers.
The nearest airport is at Puerto Natales.
You will need to book a bus from Puerto Natales to the national park – these go direct from the airport if you wish, though if buying/renting supplies in town then you need to think about a hotel for the night and onward travel.
Puerto Natales makes its money in a large part from the national park so this will be easy enough.
You also need to get a bus back from the end of the W or O treks.
Again, these run frequently and there’s enough competition among the bus companies that you don’t need to book in advance.
Buy your park ticket in cash at the gate of the park. That costs CP25,000 or roughly £25 which is payable in local currency and in cash only.
With a credit/debit card you can get your park ticket from the bus station.
The map on this Chilean government page will tell you where each site is and which campsites to choose/choose from.
You will then need to book each night individually with the proper company.
There are a choice of campsites at each stop. The Chilean government ones are free but there are only two on both treks.
It is worth noting that these are only for pure self-guided walks as they offer no extras like tents etc.
There are two private companies that run campsites.
The gear you will need
Here’s a rough list as to what you need for the O and W Treks, broken down into the means you will be doing the treks themselves.
- Day pack
- Water bottles and flask
- Down jacket (rentable in country)
- Gloves (rentable in country)
- Trekking trousers
- Cosmetics, sun cream, medication etc
- Snacks for the trip
- Cash in pesos!
- Credit cards, passports etc
The above plus:
- Food bought in Puerto Natales
- Any gear you’re not renting in country
- Paperwork – proof of bookings for each campsite. Can be kept electronically but do remember that devices love to fail just when you need them to work the most!
The above plus:
- Walking poles
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mat
- Cooking stove (buy compressed gas in country or bring burning alcohol)
- Cooking and eating utensils
As a final tip, don’t carry enough outer clothes for a change every day!
These will be a stinking mess at the end of every day anyway.
Bring only changes of underwear as you’ll only be carrying the weight of the excess clothes + mud and water at the end.
You will be able to wash every day but this is no fashion show – the mountains don’t care how box fresh you look!
How fit are you?
Can you manage to do 12-13 miles every day for a week?
That is a big ask for someone who sits at a desk all day although the terrain isn’t horrendous.
If you are London-based then hit the South Downs as often as you can – if you leave direct from work every day in the height of the British summer you could manage a 5-7 miler over some reasonable terrain before jumping on the train home.
How are you doing the walk?
Depending on whether on a full tour, self-guided or partially self-guided you will be carrying different loads for the trek.
A 12 mile walk with 20 kilos on your back is a different walk to one where you’re carrying just a light day pack!
That will require one of those training regimes where you have house bricks in your pack and a fair bit of water to get your strength and fitness up.
Obviously the closer to the trek itself, the more bricks you will carry!
Gym work like squats with weights is good for strength.
If you must use a treadmill then don’t forget the weighted pack as that will replicate your walking.
Don’t chicken out of gradients while you’re on it!
One of the advantages of booking everything on your own is that you get to choose who you go with or not.
You can be alone with the mountains and you can save piles of cash.
The disadvantages are that you will have to spend an evening or two booking the whole thing, not to mention flights and getting to Heathrow/wherever from home.
You will be solely responsible for it going to plan and sorting out issues as they arise.
Isn’t that what an adventure is all about?
Richard is a keen day-distance walker and lives close to the South Dorset Ridgeway and South West Coast Path.
Bucket list walks include: