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Torres del Paine W Trek – Best Experience on Foot in Patagonia

The recent events related with the pandemic brought the whole tourism business in South America to an abrupt halt.   Of course, the Chilean Patagonia was not spared.  Little by little South American countries have managed to control and flatten the curve of contagion and have started to open their international borders. Ecuador, followed by Colombia, Peru and Argentina and finally Chile announced the opening of the international airports for travellers.

Torres del Paine National Park has announced to be reopening on November the 26th.  The Puerto Natales airport will become operative with direct flights from Santiago, beginning in December.

Together with the arrival of summer in the southern hemisphere, lead to the conclusion that travelling to Patagonia is going to be definitely a possibility even before the end of this terrible year for the tourism business.

Thus a good chance to experience Torres del Paine National Park most famous trekking circuit, the W Trail, most likely in complete solitude.

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What’s the Torres del Paine W Trek?

Torres del Paine W Trek is a multi-day trekking circuit with a total length of approximately 75-80km (46-50 miles) that can be completed with a 4-to-5-day itinerary. The trails are located into the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Torres del Paine National Park, particularly around the mountains and valleys that form Paine Massif.

While drawing the paths that belong to the W trek circuit on a map you get a W-letter shape, hence the name of the trekking circuit. Chance to visit and experience the highlights of Torres del Paine along this circuit are pretty high; not to be missed are the granitic walls of the Towers (which give the park’s name), the French Valley and Grey Lake section with the possibility to take a boat tour in the lake and observe the three outstanding fronts of Grey Glacier, also known as “the bluest grey ever”!

Hiking the W Trail gives you the possibility to get directly in touch with the natural wilderness of Torres del Paine. Whether you’re walking across the green and lush southern beech forest of Torres del Paine French Valley or you’re hiking along the marvellous turquoise-colour waters of Nordenskjöld lake; you’ll be gifted with the chance to spot the endanger Andean Deer (locally called Huemul) or the elusive Mountain Lion as well as a whole selection of Patagonian birdlife such as the Magellanic Woodpecker, the Austral Pigmy-Owl, the Crested Caracara or the majestic Andean Condor.

 

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How Difficult is Torres del Paine W Trek?

Compare to other trekking that can be found in the rest of South America, especially in Peru, the W Trail discloses an advantage which is the lack of altitude and average elevation gains during the days. Torres del Paine National Park is set at the foot of the Patagonian Andes, and while its highest peaks reach heights of 2800-3000m (9300-10000 feet), the trekking circuits inside the park never go above 900-1000m (3000-3300 feet) of maximum elevation.

Therefore, unlike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu or the Salkantay trek around Cusco area, to tackle this itinerary there is no need to previous acclimatization and no shortness of breath while hiking due to the thin air of the high elevation of the Peruvian Andes. At the same time daily elevation gain is never going to be more than 700-750m (2300-2600 feet) giving the hikers the possibility to entirely enjoy and appreciate nature and the mountainous Patagonian landscape without having to struggle along the trails.

On the other hand there are two components which make trekking in Torres del Paine a different experience compare to hiking in Peru: changeable weather and the wind. However, both of them can be easily handle with proper gear and experience trekking guides. Weather in Patagonia is quite unpredictable and is common to face on the same day different weather scenarios. A sunny and warm day can turn into a cold, rainy and windy one, and sometimes even in the middle of the summer you can get small and short snowstorms especially if hiking above the treeline. The secret is wearing different layers so that you can adjust your body temperature by taking them off or putting them on.

Wind is another peculiarity of Patagonian weather, especially wind gusts. The latter can show up quickly and suddenly batter you while hiking and in windy days we can get up to 100-110 km/h (65-70 mph) wind gusts. This can lead to an interesting and unique experience if handle with knowledge and experience. Wooden areas can provide good protection from the strongest gusts and exposed areas can be avoided when knowing the trail and timing the hiking pace.

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Accommodation along the W Trail

Due to its increasing popularity among avid hikers from all over the world the W Trail provides a first class accommodation service. Every day you will be arriving at a nice and cozy Mountain Lodge which provide a common area for dinner, breakfast and even a bar where to sip your glass of wine or beer can while enjoying a good company and a great landscape.

Hot shower and toilette facilities are in common and divided between women and men. Bedrooms are normally furnished with 3 to 4 bunk beds for a total of 6/8 people each room. The staff in each Mountain Lodge prepare dinner and breakfast which are plentiful and each day you will be receiving a box-lunch to pack and carry during the hike.

For those more adventurous, campsites are also available near the Mountain Lodge. Tents are pitched at the spots with no need to carry them along with you during the trekking, and they are equipped with comfortable spongy mattresses and with sleeping bags (carry with your personal bed liner). Either you are staying at the campsite or at the Mountain Lodge meals are served inside the Lodge and you can use the facilities of this to wash or dry your clothes if needed.

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When is the Best Time to Hike the W Trail?

The hiking season in Patagonia starts from the beginning/mid-October and extends till the end of April. However, the best moments to hike Torres del Paine National Park W Trek are the middle of spring and the beginning of fall. That means the whole month of November till mid-December, this is a good time since the whole park is in bloom, from tiny orchids (yes there are endemic species of orchids even in Patagonia!!) to the crimson flowers of the fire bush and is mating season for most of the birds in the area, thus a great opportunity for birdwatchers.

The months of March and April, that is the early fall, give a great opportunity to see the foliage changing in the beautiful wooden areas of the Ascencio Valley on the way to the Towers and in the French Valley. These months are also characterized by less windy days, a quietness along the trails with few hikers around and breath-taking sunrises and sunsets due to the inclination of the sun in the horizon.

 

 

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