Destinations

Which Route to Torres del Paine?

Should you do 'the W' or the 'Full Circuit' route to the magnificent Torres del Paine?

As the South American continent curves and flattens out towards the tattered landmass of Cape Horn, the Andes play a scenic trump card. Crowning the desolate, wind-blasted steppe is the Torres del Paine massif, which provides a dramatic and otherworldly bulwark against the remorseless incursions of ancient ice. Sculpted into twisted, often two-tone mountains, their granite cores ground into strange tooth and nib-like shapes, these peaks form a stunning backdrop to what is undoubtedly the finest trek in Chile, if not all of South America.

If you’re visiting Chile between November and March, when the winter snows have released their grip, the question isn’t should you visit Torres del Paine but how you should go about exploring its many natural highlights. 

Numerous trails wriggle through the landscape, climbing passes, crossing through forests, and skirting lakes and glaciers, but the two main options are The Circuit and The W.

Both of these routes take in the classic features – the three vertical columns of granite that give the park its name, the verdant ridgeline of Frances Valley buttressed on either side by ten peaks over 2,000 metres and thumped by avalanches, and the walk along the berg-filled Lake Grey towards the incredibly blue tongue of Glacier Grey.

These three viewpoints form the apex of each line of the ‘W’, a route along the southern face of the massif that takes four-to-five days to traverse and requires a doubling back down each of the three valleys then a short boat journey across Lake Pehoé to regain road access to the rest of Patagonia.

If The Circuit, a six-to-seven day trek, has an advantage over The W, its that the third leg – down the eastern flank of Lake Grey – is only walked once. However, the two days of hiking along the north of the massif to reach Glacier Grey can be a slog over boggy ground, meaning that this extra time you spend in the park can dilute the overall experience without perhaps offering sufficient reward. 

You’ll also have to spend at least a night under canvas, whereas you can stay in comfortable accommodation on every night of The W.

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