1) Where to DRINK A PISCO SOUR MADE FROM GLACIER ICE
Try a pisco sour at Refugio Grey made with the ice from Glacier Grey. Pop into the refugio at the end of the Lago Grey trek and ask the bartender for a Pisco Sour using the ice from Glacier Grey. Most days, they fill a little metal bucket to the brim with ice from Glacier Grey.
2) That you should DITCH THE BOTTLED WATER
The water from glacial run off is pure enough to drink. Don't take my word for it, the University of Northern Texas completed a study that recognized the water in Torres del Paine as among the top .003% purest water in the world!
3) That WILDLIFE ARE ILLUSIVE, EXCEPT WHEN THEY'RE NOT
On the hike, you may see condors, especially near Lago Grey. However, if you want to take some pictures of Guanaco, the best chance will be on your way in, or on the outskirts of the park. Most Guanaco aren’t not found on the trail, however you will see plenty of them on the road into the park. They're everywhere!
4) WHERE TO buy a good MAP
You can buy a topographical map at the small Kiosk outside of Hotel Los Torres labeled "National Park Torres Del Paine. The full Paine Circuit & The W." It features distances, times and some elevation information. It's been authorised by CONAF, the park authority, and it costs less than 5,000 CLP.
5) To MAKE SURE TO KEEP YOUR IMMIGRATION PAPER WITH YOU
Otherwise you will have to pay Chilean tax at the Refugios and hotels.
6) that THE CATAMARAN GIVES ONE OF THE BEST CHANCES FOR A PANORAMic PHOTO
Some of the best photos of the Paine Massif can be taken from the back of the Catamaran that glides across Lago Pehoe. Go outside and bear the brute force of the wind to capture some truly great panoramas.
7) that you need to wear sunscreen
Buy sunscreen before you arrive in Torres del Paine for the W-Trek, otherwise you will face a severe price gauging. Also, wear sunscreen even if it’s cold. It’s quite frequent that hikers get sunburned without even realizing it due to the direct angle of the sun in Patagonia.
8) that DOME FRANCES IS THE NEWEST REFUGIO
It features an 8 bed, communal sleeping arrangement in domes. Sleeping arrangements are more private than other refugios. The 4 bunk bed sets are sectioned off in quandrants, paritally separated by a dividing wall which runs the length of the beds. The beds themselves feature charging plugs.
9) but DOME FRANCES does have its drawbacks
If you camp at Dome Frances, they will not let you eat dinner in the Refugio, as there are limited spaces. Be prepared and bring your own food. Also, the common area is significantly lacking. The most comfortable lounge / common area is at refugio grey, the least is at Dome Frances.
10) that you should BRING EAR PLUGS FOR THE REFUGIOS
and thank me afterwards.
11) where TO SEE AVALANCHES
The best place to watch avalanches and small glacier calving is at the first Mirador in Valley Frances. It’s not a bad idea to find a comfy rock (if there is such a thing) and break out your boxed lunch there and observe quietly.
12) WHERE to BUY YOUR SNACKS
Chocolate, trail mix, fruit and jerky are great snacks to use as energy boosters. Refugio Grey and Paine Grande have especially good pantries full of snacks and dehydrated food. They're great for campers who cook they're own food or for refugio hikers who need some extra energy on the trail.
13) how to do hike the W-Trek on a budget
Refugio Grey and Paine Grande are cheaper than refugios in the east of the park. Hiking West to East will thus be cheaper. All of the paid refugios in the east of the park require you to buy full board if you purchase a camping spot. There are also two free camping sites without shower or kitchen facilities: Campamento Italiano (Valley Frances) and Campamento Torres (near the towers). Concaf, the national park service, now allows you to make reservations before you arrive via their website.
14) OR how to do it in luxury
Near Rio Serrano and the Las Torres base area, there are several hotels that offer upscale accommodation. The Las Torres area, which actually is situated on the W Trek, has two hotels that offer excellent service: Hotel Las Torres and Eco Camp Patagonia. A littler further away, and a few hundred dollars more a night, Explora and Awasi, define luxury in the area, not only with their amenities but with their skilled explorations which they tailor to the individuals request. Although you can't complete the W-Trek in the traditional sense staying at Explora or Awasi, the level of service is next to none.
15) HOW TO LIGHTEN YOUR LOAD
There are a few places that you can leave your luggage to lighten your load for the day. If you are staying at Paine Grande, you can leave your luggage there while you make the hike to Refugio Grey and back. When you hike up to Valley Frances, leave your pack at Campamento Italiano and pick it back up on the way down. If you staying at the Las Torres Base area (Refugio Norte, Refugio Central, Hotel Las Torres, Eco Camp) you can also leave your bag there when you do the towers hike (or at refugio chileno or Campamento Torres if you are making the hike early in the morning to see the sunrise at the towers).
16) YOUR OPTIONS FOR SEEING THE "BURNING TOWERS"
One of the main draws of the park is to see the towers glow brightly in the morning as the sun kisses them upon raising over the horizon. To see the towers at sunrise, there are really only two options for where to stay the night before. Either you stay at Refugio Chileno in a warm bed complete with showers and hike 2 hours the next morning before sunrise, or you camp out at the free campsite of Campamento Italiano and forgo most creature comforts.
17) AND to BRING A SLEEPING BAG
It's very chilly in the morning at the towers. At above 3,000 feet, the wind brutally whips at your body. Bring a sleeping bag while you wait for the towers to be illuminated by the rising sun.