My love/hate relationship with hiking continued in Patagonia, the deep south of South America. After catching two flights from Salta (bought a dirty street hamburger outside Buenos Aires airport in transit) and two buses, we arrived in Torres del Paine, the national park in Chile where we began our hike of the famous W Trek.
Over four days, we hiked a total of 68km in all weather condition – snow, rain, hail and relentless sunshine, across all terrains – climbs, flats, downhills, bridges, mud, rocks, dirt, gravel. We saw lakes, snow peaked mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and True Detective-style forests.
Certainly, while the hail was stabbing me in the face, and towards the end of the last day where we hiked 25km, I wondered why I was doing this. But by in large, I had very little complaints about this hike largely because I didn’t have to worry about lodging and food.
We had booked a “full board” package with Fantastico Sur where they arranged mountain lodging (basic bunk beds) with school camp type meals including lunch boxes for your hiking days. We didn’t have to carry too much stuff either. If you imagine the trek in a W shape and most of the refugios (lodging) is at the bottom of the W. This means you can leave your big bags at the lodge before hiking up the sides of the W with only a small daypack.
As classic middle travellers, we upgraded our third night from bunk beds to our own private cabin. Our cabin came with its own slow burn stove, a skylight looking up the majestic mountains and free access to a hot tub.
At first, I didn’t think it was necessary (cabin bathrooms were shared anyway) but Lindsay thought it was a no brainer. And he was right. We enjoyed an afternoon snooze, great views and a heater which kept us warm during the overnight rain and hail. Best of all, we didn’t have to deal with offensive dorm mates.
Here are my hot tips for those tackling the W Trek with Fantastico Sur:
- If you do the 5-day trek, the first day is just getting there. There are only four days of walking
- You will go from east to west – backwards W
- There is a park fee of 18,000 Chilean pesos ($35 AUD) that is not included in the package
- There are free pisco sours on the first and second night
- The “box lunch” is more or less the same every day – the last day is the worst. You get a sandwich, granola bars, trail mix, fruit and a bottle of water. The bread is consistently horrendous
- Dinner on the third night (Los Cuernos) was the best – you get fish!
- Dinner on the last night (Paine Grande) was barely palatable but you are so hungry, you eat it anyway
- The food overall is ho-hum. We met people who pretended to be vegetarians for a shot at a better meal
- There are power points on the last night (Paine Grande) and the third night at Los Cuernos if you upgrade
- The Paine Grande is a soulless place
- Of course, there are camping options but why would you do that when the warm and cosy lodges are literally next to the camp sites