In this series, we take you step by step through how we planned some of the most complicated travel adventures, so you can recreate them yourself with ease. Here, writer Sarah Reid takes you through how she planned her hike on Chile’s famous W Trek.
Tracing the foothills of the snow-capped Paine Massif in southern Chile’s famous Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the W Trek one of the world’s most epic multi-day tramps. Named for the shape sketched by the 80km (50-mile) trail, the W Trek immerses you in some of Patagonia’s most mesmerizing scenery, with turquoise lakes, oozing glaciers, gnarled subpolar forests and wildlife spotting opportunities aplenty (you might even spot a puma).
While it’s easy to follow the well-trodden if not always well-marked trail, planning the expedition is complicated by the numerous ways to access the route and the multiple reservations required before you set out. Having recently experienced the trail in two different ways, I’ve figured out all the tricks you’ll need to plan one of the most memorable hikes of your life. Here’s what I learned.
Step 1: Time it right
Find the best mix of good weather and accommodation availability.
Hiking the W Trek hinges on the availability of the half-dozen currently operational refugios (hostels with limited dorm beds, a restaurant, hot showers and campsites) dotted along the route, which can book out months in advance during the November-to-February peak season. This is the warmest time of the year comes with the added bonus of long daylight hours – but it can also be very windy. The less-busy shoulder seasons (March to April and September to October) offer increased camping availability and more agreeable weather (potentially; this is Patagonia, after all). A guide is required for a wintertime hike (May to August, when refugios are closed). Wildlife, including pumas, can be spotted year-round.
To get to Torres del Paine, you’ll need to travel to the small, beautifully situated gateway city of Puerto Natales. You can fly here (or to nearby Punta Arenas) from Santiago, take a four-day ferry trip from Puerto Montt or travel overland from Argentina (a 5.5-hour bus ride from El Calafate to Puerto Natales). From Puerto Natales, expect a two-hour bus ride to the eastern end of the W Trek, and a three-hour bus ride followed by a 45-minute ferry to the…