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The Southern Andes of Patagonia, on the border of Chile and Argentina, make a truly adventurous place.
It’s a land rippled by mountains, potholed with lakes, and ground by glaciers.
Torres del Paine National Park is an especially wild and remote corner that feels very much to travelers today as it did to explorers long ago—like the edge of the world. One trek in particular is the reason most hikers come to this extreme destination: the W Trek, a 5-day tour of all the best scenery the park has to offer.
Called "W" because the route is shaped roughly like the letter of the alphabet, this trek follows three parallel valleys that cut to the heart of the range, among its most impressive towering peaks.
Trekkers are guaranteed the challenges of wet, wind, and cold, but the rewards of flowers and forests between glacier and granite, sightings of wild guanacos and condors, and the company of intrepid travelers from all over the world. The standard route runs from west to east.
This puts the prevailing winds at your back, and saves the ultimate destination, the Torres peaks themselves, for the end of the trip.
Begin by taking a boat either to Paine Grande or to Grey Glacier.
The trail between the two is the first arm of the W.
If starting at Paine Grande, you can day hike to see the glacier and backtrack to camp.
If you start at the glacier you will have all your gear to begin the W from there. The middle arm of the W is up Frances Valley, beneath the famous Cuernos del Paine (the horns).
These are sheer granite walls flanked by alpine glaciers and snowfields.
After crossing multiple rivers and marshes and wrapping around lakes, the trail brings you to the final arm of the W, up the Ascencio Valley to the park’s namesake feature—the Torres del Paine.
These giant teeth of solid granite form a skyline unforgettable to all who see it. Because the W is such a popular trek, reservations are required for every night on the trail.
Different types of accommodations are available, from primitive camping to relatively luxurious refugios and lodges.
Plan your itinerary based on where you want to stay and how much you want to spend.
Refugios provide meals but cost more than campsites.
Some campsites with few amenities are free, but are in high demand.
Get your reservations early.
Another option is to hire a company to hike the trek as part of a guided tour. Sources: https://www.back-packer.org/trekking-guide-how-to-hike-the-w-in-torres-del-paine-patagonia/#prep http://www.torres-del-paine.org/map-tdp.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torres_del_Paine_National_Park