Torres del Paine, Patagonia
Chile has a beautiful and diverse landscape and Patagonia has to be it’s crown jewel. This area is known for its rugged landscape dominated by the Andes Mountains and dotted with lakes and rivers. And, in this vast territory is its pearl, Torres del Paine National Park. World renown to hikers and adventurers alike. My initial itinerary was that I would spend three days here. But, with all the history and adventure one can find in this area, it was whittled down to one day. I joined a one day tour through the park that would show me the highlights of the park. I was staying at the city of Punta Arenas so it would take 3.5 hours to drive there. Punta Arenas is the closest city and the location of the nearest airport. It would be a long day with a pickup time at 5:30 am.
The road to the park would include a rest stop at a gas station for refueling and a wonderful viewpoint at the town of Puerto Natales, the closest town to the park on the Chile side of the border. The lake across from the stop provides a great panoramic that will get you ready for the park. The tour made another stop at a souvenir/diner for breakfast. For some reason, this was the only meal stop of the day, no lunch stop later that day.
After about a half hour, we were on our way again, getting closer and closer to the park. The landscape now dotted with sheep and guanaco, South American camel. We made another stop in front of Sarmiento Lake which provided another wonderful view.
And, from here, we stopped along the road to view the guanaco which were roaming near the road. We also saw the rheas, South American ostrich, grazing along the side of the road.
We made a final stop before entering Torres del Paine at Amarga Lagoon. This viewpoint made for another amazing panoramic with the Paine horns directly behind it. This would provide a great view of the horns which would be partial covered from view unless you make the hike deeper into the park to get a full view. This hike would not take place for me as I was only on a day trip featuring the highlights of the park .
We proceeded to enter the park which included an entrance fee, larger for non-Chilean citizens of course. Since it was the low season, I only had to pay 11,000 CLP (approx. $15 USD) and it is 21,000 CLP during the high season. We got back into the vehicle and made our way through the park gazing out the window admiring one stunning panoramic after another.
We made a stop at Nordenskjold which had a great view of the Paine horns but this was only a starting point to a short trail that will take you to two waterfalls. The hike is approximately 20 minutes long. They’re not the most impressive waterfalls but with the landscape surrounding it, it makes the little hike worth the sweat equity.
The trail continues and will take you further into the back country. Once again, I didn’t have time for that hike.
So, we proceeded with the tour and made our way to Pehoe Lake. This was just a short stop to admire yet another amazing landscape.
The next stop would be Grey Lake which included a restaurant and restrooms at the start of the trail. Now, I wonder if this was the lunch stop I missed, maybe we had the option to have lunch or take the trail. I didn’t get that message since I was ahead of the group and made my way to the lake.
The trail included a rope bridge that would shake upon every step. Pedestrians are limited to only six people at one time on the bridge to keep the movement at a minimum and most likely for weight restrictions. This is another 20 minute hike to Grey Lake filled with icebergs separated for a glacier visible at the far end of the lake. Unfortunately, This was the period of the day that the dark clouds rolled in and, well, turned the lake grey. We strolled along the shore, getting different views of the lake, but it was time to move on.
As, we drove to what would be our last stop, the sky opened up. Rain was pouring down from the sky and the temperature had dropped. We were at Cueva del Milodon Natural Monument, a set of caves in which an extinct giant ground sloth was discovered. The remains are said to be more than 10 thousand years old. With that said, the rain was coming down hard and it was very cold. I decided not to enter the park and bought some snacks to satisfy my hunger. I was the only one in the group to stay behind but as they returned, they advised me it wasn’t worth the effort. I definitely made the right choice. It was now time to make the long ride back to Punta Arenas.
I was finally dropped off at my hotel at 7:30 pm. Yes, it was a long haul but the day was well worth the effort. In hindsight, I should have kept to my original plan on visiting the Torres del Paine for three days as my kayaking trip along the Magellan Strait was cancel two days later due to heavy winds.
Visiting Patagonia was like trekking through a painting, mother nature’s work of art. It was a truly amazing visit but it was like a sip of water and it didn’t quench my thirst for Patagonia. It will be on my mind for a long time which will fuel my desire for a return trip.