As a professional travel writer, I love planning vacations—but sometimes it can feel like work, especially for off-the-beaten-path trips requiring lots of research. So, as the ultimate gift to myself, I decided to turn over all the control for an upcoming vacation to bespoke tour operator Journeysmiths.
The trip was to celebrate my birthday, and I decided I wanted to spend it hiking the iconic W Trek in Chile, a destination that had been on my bucket list for a long time. This multi-day trek in remote Torres del Paine National Park required a lot of logistics. Options for hotels and transportation are sparse in that part of the world, so everything needed to be booked months in advance, but I struggled to find updated information online on accommodation and trails.
I trusted Journeysmiths with my trip because of the company’s extensive experience in wild places and its commitment to giving back to the communities they travel within. With limited vacation time to spend on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, I wanted to go with a company that would get every aspect of the trip right the first time.
The Benefits of a Custom Trip
The guidance I gave Journeysmiths was simple: I wanted to do the W Trek in Torres del Paine, Chile, and I wanted to do it without camping (or sleeping in the hostel-style refugios available along the way). Although camping is the traditional way to do the trek, I wanted a little bit of luxury at night—and I wanted to enjoy the hike with a light daypack rather than hauling cooking supplies and sleeping gear on my back the entire way.
The team at Journeysmiths carefully considered my desires and pulled together a rough itinerary as a starting point, outlining potential hikes and activities, plus two hotels perfectly positioned near the W Trek.
Once I had the proposed plan, I was able to work back and forth with my Journeysmiths’ trip designer to add in things I wanted to do—like kayaking on Lago Grey—and take out things that didn’t interest me (like horseback riding) until we had everything just right.
Unlike with a regular tour, I wasn’t locked into any preplanned itinerary or defined dates and could do exactly what interested me when I wanted to do it, such as scheduling the iconic Base Towers hike for my actual birthday.
I’m used to having to be the person who figures out a solution if something goes wrong on a trip, so it was reassuring to have Journeysmiths’ 24/7 emergency line available if needed. When my kayaking excursion was canceled due to weather, for example, I didn’t have to worry about getting a refund—Journeysmiths handled it all for me.
Torres del Paine National Park sprawls over 700 square miles. To reach the park from the United States, I had to fly to Santiago, Chile, and then take a three-hour domestic flight to Puerto Natales, a tiny airport with just one gate. From there, it was a two-hour drive to reach the park.
The remoteness adds to the park’s beauty but makes it difficult to get around unless you want to rent a car and navigate the unpaved roads yourself. Instead, Journeysmiths booked me into two all-inclusive hotels on the park’s borders, Hotel Las Torres and Rio Serrano Hotel + Spa, which could arrange transfers to and from the airports, the hotels, and the trailheads along the W Trek.
Since there aren’t any restaurants (outside of hotels) anywhere near the park, an all-inclusive package is a smart option in Torres del Paine. Food and drink at hotels are expensive (due to the isolated location), and opting for the all-inclusive deal can help you plan out your budget by knowing exactly how much you’ll spend ahead of time.
My trip began with three nights at Hotel Las Torres, a family-run hotel built on a private reserve surrounded by the national park. The hotel’s main appeal is its location, which sits directly on the trail to the most famous hike in the park, Mirador Las Torres. Hotel Las Torres is within walking distance of several trails, so you can head out on solo hikes instead of joining a group tour.
From Las Torres, I did Mirador Las Torres and a few side hikes that aren’t on the W Trek but are definitely worth a visit: Los Cuernos Viewpoint and Salto Grande Waterfall.
For the second half of my trip, I moved to Rio Serrano Hotel & Spa, a luxurious retreat just across the river from the national park’s boundary. If you want to treat yourself after a hard day of hiking, this is one of the best resorts in Torres del Paine. This beautiful resort overlooks the Paine Massif, so guests can sit and gaze out the large picture windows at the snow-capped mountains.
Rio Serrano’s spa is a true gift following a hard day of hiking. After braving the fierce wind Patagonia is famous for, the two saunas (wet and dry) felt like heaven. The indoor heated pool, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mountains, is equipped with jacuzzi chairs and waterfall massagers to help guests unwind.
Rio Serrano was the perfect base to explore the French Valley, another iconic hike along the W Trail with incredible scenery. It’s also close to Lago Grey, where I sailed practically within touching distance of the massive Grey Glacier on a boat tour.
I had built a buffer day into my schedule in case bad weather interfered with one of the hikes I wanted to do, but since I was fortunate with the conditions, I ended up with one free day at the end of our itinerary.
I asked my personable Rio Serrano hiking guide, Andres, what he would recommend as an under-the-radar hike in Torres del Paine National Park. He directed me to the Ferrier Lookout, a steep and challenging half-day hike that rewards walkers with stunning views of Grey Lake and the Southern Patagonian ice fields, the massifs, and the Paine River. Located in the western part of Torres del Paine, this hike offered a different perspective than I’d had for most of the trip and ended up being one of our favorites.
Having Journeysmiths take care of all the travel planning didn’t take away any of the spontaneity I love about travel—it simply removed all the logistical headaches and trip prep and meant I could have the exact trip I wanted without any of the hassles, making it feel like a true vacation.
Editor’s Note: Journeysmiths hosted the writer of this story on a trip to Patagonia.
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