We get it, the fear of missing out, or FOMO for short, is massive. When you do your research on Torres del Paine National Park, the W Trek comes up time and time again. It has to be the only way to see Patagonia right? That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Now there’s no right or wrong way to experience this part of Patagonia but we’re going to make a case for why you shouldn’t do the W Trek in Torres del Paine. You’ll be thanking us later!
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Where to stay in Torres del Paine?
- I personally stayed at and would highly recommend staying at the Las Torres Hotel which is within the national park and conveniently located right at the trailhead for the Base of the Towers hike. They offer an all-inclusive package which is a great way to see Torres del Paine without any stress.
- If you’re looking for more adventure, Chile Nativo has fantastic packages that can cater to your every need. I really loved doing their Multisport Tour. Their W Trek Plus looks amazing as well. Keep reading to find out how you can get a discount with them.
Here’s what we’re covering:
8 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Do The W Trek in Torres del Paine
As someone that’s done a pretty thorough first-time Patagonia itinerary (coming soon) on the Chilean side, and having spoken to many locals, guides, and travellers about this exact topic, we’re here to share food for thought about the best way to see Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.
Let’s jump right into what is going to seem very much against the grain. If you’re here, you’re most likely thinking about the W Trek but let this sink in and you can make the best decision for you. These are legitimate reasons why we think you should leave the W Trek in Torres del Paine out of your trip to Patagonia.
You don’t know what you’re missing out on!
1 – The W Trek is overcrowded
This is easily the number 1 reason why we’ve heard that the W Trek just isn’t as good as it was before. If you’ve read other blog posts and articles, it’s likely that they were written for trips that were done pre-2015.
At that point in time, tourism in Torres del Paine and all of Patagonia were at its infancy and everyone loved it because you had all of this incredible scenery to yourself.
Today, it’s a totally different situation and if you talk to the guides and tour operators on the ground, they’ll tell you that the W Trek in Torres del Paine is getting close to the a critical point where the system is stretched beyond what it can handle with many suggesting that an Inca Trail permit system is inevitable.
Speak to someone that’s done the W Trek in the peak season recently and you’ll hear words and phrases like “packed”, “like a shopping mall”, and “obscenely crowded”, referring to the immense queues for the Lake Pehoé catamaran (first come first serve), checking in at the gate, and trails that are like a freeway traffic jam.
The W Trek has continued to rise in popularity year over year and so you end up with a subpar hiking experience. The trail is littered with people and campsites and refugios are squished with people which results in long lines for meals and showers, and running out of hot water.
If you dig further into the creation of the W Trek, most of the trail as it is today was originally paths created for horses and cattle. As a result, they’re narrow and deep muddy troughs. When you mix in a sudden increase in foot traffic and weather, there’s been massive amounts of erosion and splintering of trails with hikers avoiding mud and steep routes.
The W Trek trail wasn’t designed for hiking and that is really starting to show. It’s only getting worse every year.
The end result is an experience that used to be amazing but now feels over-commercialized and an endless turnstile of bodies.
2 – It’s possible to see the W Trek as day trips
What really surprised me about doing the Multisport experience in Torres del Paine is how much of the national park we were able to see without actually doing the W Trek.
When you study the W Trek, it’s in the shape of the letter W. You can start from either end of the W but it is not a loop and is comprised of 3 distinct double-back hikes into the valley and two traverses in between.
Contrasting to the Inca Trail where you can’t drop into the middle of the trail, Torres del Paine can be seen from a variety of angles and its main trail can be broken down into its individual components.
- Grey Lake – The highlight is the Grey Glacier and while the view is different than the lookout point, you can get even closer to the glacier with a boat cruise (called a navigation here) or you can see much of the lake from sea kayak.
- French Valley – There’s a ferry that goes from the Pudeto Pier, crosses Lake Pehoé, and drops you right in front of the Refugio Paine Grande (labelled above as Paine Grande Sector). From here, you can hike the French Valley up to the Britanico Lookout in a day.
- Base of the Towers – If you stay at Hotel Las Torres, Central Refugio, or park at the Welcome Center, you can easily do the Base of the Towers (aka Las Torres Base) as a day trip.
3 – There’s more to see than the W Trek in Torres del Paine
We talked about FOMO for not doing the W Trek but there should be serious FOMO for all the things you can’t see on the W.
The W Trek is typically 5 days and for those that are on a time crunch in Patagonia and you want to do Argentine Patagonia, you’ll end up splitting your vacation days. When you factor in transit days, many just come to Torres del Paine for the W Trek and then leave, which is a real shame.
Here’s what you’ll be missing out if you only do the W Trek.
Kayaking Lago Grey
It’s one thing to hike or take a boat cruise to see the Grey Glacier, it’s something else to be on the turquoise-grey water, paddling side by side with majestic icebergs and all the while being surrounded by the impressive mountains.
There’s honestly more to Torres del Paine than just the W Trek and O Circuit. With both treks, what you’re doing is effectively circling the Paine Massif mountain range at its base but what if I told you that you can actually summit mountains?
There are two that come to mind that I’ve been lucky enough to do. There’s Cerro Ferrier and Cerro Paine.
Cerro Ferrier is truly of-the-beaten-path as it’s not even part of the Paine Massif. It’s to the west of Lake Grey and is a 1,599m (5,246ft) beast that climbs through that winds up through a magical forest and brings you up to a lookout that gives you sweeping and elevated panoramic view of the Eastern part of Torres del Paine including the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields.
What makes this hike unique is that because of the devastating forest fires of 2005 and 2011, you’re hiking through ghost forests throughout most of the W Trek. This side of the national park was left untouched so you get to see how delicately lush it was before.
Cerro Paine is an exclusive hiking trail that guests of Hotel Las Torres have access to that gives a remarkable view of the 3 famed granite towers all the way throughout. At 16km (9mi) and an elevation gain of 1,600m (5,250ft), it’s a demanding trail but made much easier when you can do half of it by horseback. Along the way, you’ll also have great views of Ascencio Valley and the lakes behind.
Fun fact: Cerro Paine gets you a similar view as what’s drawn on the 1,000 CLP bill.
This is truly a hiker’s dream to do, not done by many, and is easy to tackle in a day.
Indigenous Rock Wall Paintings
Aonikenk Trail (also called Porteria-Porteria or Fauna Trail) is a hike that starts from the Lago Sarmiento Gate to Laguna Amarga Gate of the national park
Halfway through this hike, you’ll make it to a rock cave where the indigenous Aónikenk (aka Tehuelche) used to lay shelter. It’s here that you’ll find a large sample of rock paintings, that date back to 4,550 BC and where you’ll learn the story of how Patagonia got its name.
If you’re with a company like Chile Nativo, you can ask about adding a day to explore Rupestre Patagonia. This add-on includes a visit to a private property that features several caves where there are more well-preserved examples of rock paintings.
Along the W Trek, you’ll certainly encounter some wildlife but if you’re doing it independently, you might not notice them because you’ll be so focused on the trail.
While you’re in the park, don’t miss the opportunity to see guanacos, a close relative to the llama, condors, the largest species of bird on earth, and its many small birds.
This is why we recommend doing tours with a guide because the chances of seeing wildlife will be much higher.
Oh and did we mention there are puma in Torres del Paine? We’ll get to that in a bit.
A unique part of Torres del Paine is how important horses are to the history of the land. That’s carried forward into tourism which is why there are so many great opportunities to go horseback riding.
Not only is it special to ride these elegant and powerful animals but for practical reasons, they can save you a significant amount of energy, and also get you to places that would be difficult to do on foot.
During my all-inclusive stay at Hotel Las Torres, we did a half day horseback to Lake Nordenskjöld and halfway up to Cerro Paine.
Baqueano and Gaucho Culture
Patagonia is renowned for its natural beauty but what doesn’t get a lot of attention are the people that live there and have been part of the land for generations.
Baqueanos are Patagonian cowboys that live the gaucho lifestyle. They’re the ones that have the skillset of being pathfinders, know every corner of their terrain, and have a special bond with their horses.
Through special baqueano experiences such as the one offered by Hotel Las Torres, you’ll be able to learn more about how they live, how they tend to their horses, the importance of mate, eat traditional sopaipillas with pebre, and what life was like before tourism took over this region.
Gaucho is another term you’ll hear about and while the terms will seem same, being a gaucho is much more of a lifestyle than a specific role.
A navigation is essentially a boat cruise in a catamaran and there are a number of different ones you can take inside and outside of the national park.
Within Torres del Paine, the main navigation is the Grey III Navigation operated by Hotel Lago Grey and is part of Chile Nativo’s W Trek Plus.
From Puerto Natales, you can see both Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers from a navigation that also includes lunch in an estancia with Turismo 21 de Mayo.
Another option is the Canal de las Montañas Navigation with Fiordos del Sur.
Epic Views From All Angles
The view from the W Trek is awe-inspiring but I’d argue that the view is better from farther away so you can see all of Paine Massif. When you’re hiking that trail, all you’re seeing is a close up view of the mountains.
The first photo in this article is from Laguna Azul, one of the most photogenic spots to photograph and you can only get there by doing a guided tour or renting a car, not the W Trek.
In the south side of the park, Chile Nativo’s Riverside Camp and Rio Serrano have gorgeous views of the entire Paine Massif that blows up in colour at sunrise at sunset.
Another example we can think of is the hike along Pingo River which was very much about seeing Torres del Paine from a different perspective, appreciating new landscapes, learning more about the wildlife, while still having views of Los Cuernos right there. This is included in the W Trek Plus tour.
Special Discount with Chile Nativo
Chile Nativo was the main operator I used for my trip to Torres del Paine and they are the leaders in helping organize independent W and O treks but also do incredible guided experiences in the park.
We have your back! We’ve negotiated a special 5% promotion with Chile Nativo. This applies to existing packages that they offer but not add-ons & upgrades or fully customized tours.
How? Type in “Going Awesome Places” under “Referral discount”. Simple as that!
4 – You won’t see the pumas
For a long time, pumas were in danger of becoming endangered but thanks to the Chilean government prohibiting the hunting of pumas in 1980, added protections in Torres del Paine, and the creation of more national parks, conservation areas, and buffer zones.
Pumas are the 4th largest cat and they can be found from South American to Canada but the highest density is in Patagonia with roughly 100 or more in Torres del Paine and is incidentally the best place for puma tracking (sighting experience).
There’s no guarantee of seeing them but if you ask the puma trackers, they’ll secretly tell you that it’s close to 100% because.
If you’re only doing the W Trek, you’d be missing out on a must-do in Patagonia.
5 – It’s not a particularly balanced itinerary
The W Trek is 4-6 days of what can be a gruelling 4-9 hour days of hiking. It wouldn’t provide a sense of accomplishment if it wasn’t hard right?
It’s not for everyone though and the simple fact is that there are other ways to build a Torres del Paine itinerary that has a nice mix of the ranges of adventure and comfort.
You can still do those epic hikes as day trips but in between, why not insert a spa day Hotel Las Torres, or take the afternoon off, sitting around the fireplace at Chile Nativo’s Riverside Camp‘s dining lodge?
Something you’ll find in our10 day Patagonia itinerary (coming soon) is that we purposely planned it so I started with the camping experience and transitioned to the more relaxing all-inclusive in the second half.
By going with a more balanced trip package or building out your own custom trip, we think many of you will enjoy taking control of your experience instead of doing the cookie-cutter one.
6 – The W Trek is quite boring for stretches
As we learned in the hard truths of the Inca Trail, the W Trek isn’t all “oohs” and “ahhs” all the way through. The nature of a multi-day trek is that you’re hauling a lot of gear, and you’re constantly on the move.
While we’re not denying the gorgeousness of what you’ll see, there’ll be elements of feeling like you’re seeing the same thing from corner to corner.
There are also honestly some stretches that are a little dull and uninteresting. Many of these are in the traverses between the main highlights.
Instead, what if you could do packed half day excursions and have an afternoon off or what if you could fit in two different activities in a day?
7 – You just don’t like hiking that much
The W Trek isn’t for everyone but the good news is that there are plenty of options. You just need to know where to look.
If you love adventure and like the idea of connecting with nature, the Riverside Campsite is a nice balance because their tent, lounge, and meals are anything but “roughing it”.
If you want to have a more luxurious experience, consider Hotel Las Torres for packages that include unlimited choice of excursions or Rio Serrano Hotel + Spa.
8 – It’s getting really hard to book now
Even if you want to book the W Trek in Torres del Paine, you might be out of luck.
Thinking about booking during the high season (December to February)? You will need to book at least 6-8 months ahead of time. While there isn’t a permit system in place yet, it’s the refugios and campsites that are being booked up.
9 – W Trek offers no flexibility
The weather in Patagonia can be unpredictable with extreme wind and rain always being a possibility even in the summer.
Once you start the W Trek, you’ll have to complete it no matter what.
Something I personally experienced in Torres del Paine was extreme rain which closed down the Base of the Towers trail for a few days. Since I wasn’t doing the W Trek, Chile Nativo was able to be flexible and switched it to something else. I then added the Base of the Towers to the last day of the trip after the trail opened back up.
One of the big advantages of spending more time in the park is that you’ll have flexibility when mother nature throws a curveball.
Save When Booking With Chile Nativo
There aren’t a lot of big deals to be had when planning a Patagonia trip but we’ve been able to secure a 5% promotion with Chile Nativo. This applies to existing packages that they offer but not add-ons & upgrades or fully customized tours.
How to get the discount? Type in “Going Awesome Places” under “Referral discount”. Simple as that!
What If You Still REALLY want to do the W Trek?
If after all of this, you are still convinced that you want to check the W Trek in Torres del Paine off your bucket list, here’s what we suggest you do to make it as good of an experience as you can:
- Work with a reputable company to help you organize everything you need.
- Book at least 6-8 months in advance especially if you’re looking to go during Patagonia’s summer.
- The best time to go is during the shoulder seasons – fall colours in April or springtime in October.
- If you can afford it, don’t skimp out. Upgrade to cabins where you can and take advantage of a private porter service to take the weight off your shoulders.
- If you want to save money and prefer to do it on your own, the independent W Trek is great because the trail is quite easy to do on your own.
- Consider the O Circuit (aka Paine Circuit) which takes you around the entire Torres del Paine mountain range. You’ll get to do the W and the backside of the mountain which is much less travelled.
Many call the W Trek a bucket list trek and there’s no denying the sheer breathtaking beauty that you’re surrounded with all the way through.
The misconception of Torres del Paine National Park is that EVERYONE does the W Trek but that is simply not true. There are so many different ways to experience this part of Patagonia and we’d argue that it shows you a more diverse range of the best that it has to offer.
Hopefully with this piece on why you shouldn’t do the W Trek in Torres del Paine, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision of whether you want to do it or not.
Maybe a better way to put this is this. Coming to Patagonia and not doing the W Trek shouldn’t be frowned upon, it should be encouraged!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes and in fact, we’d argue that it’s better to have a more complete experience in Torres del Paine is to book a multi-day tour or do an all-inclusive stay.
For those looking for a hiking challenge that brings you up close to the majesty of Torres del Paine, it’s a great trek to do but it is not the only way to see Chilean Patagonia.
There are plenty of alternative day trips you can do that range from boat cruises, horseback riding, off-the-beaten path trails, wildlife viewing, and viewpoints that range in comfort and difficulty.
The easiest way to see Torres del Paine is with the help of a local tour operator. We recommend Chile Nativo for comfortable camping adventure experiences. Hotel Las Torres is great for all-inclusive packages that combine luxury with a dynamic range of day tours.
The W Trek is one of the easier multi-day treks you can do. It’s easier because altitude isn’t an issue, there are nicer campsites and mountain lodges available, and there are special comfort services. That said, hikes like the W Trek aren’t for everyone.
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