The Packed Perfectly team began our Patagonia adventure dancing and eating our way through Buenos Aires. Then we flew to Ushuaia, rented a car, and drove 11 hours crossing the Argentina border, hopping on a short ferry ride, and finally into the vastness of Chile.
A few hours outside of Torre Del Paine National Park we approach the tiny town of Punta Natales for a pit stop. It is the last place where you can fill up with gas before heading to the National Park where roads are not paved, alpacas and guanacos run wild, and pumas may welcome you. Take a deep breath in. You have made it to Torres del Paine, Chile’s crown jewel and the 8th wonder of the world!
Chile is nothing short of a phenomenon. It has 34 National Parks, and the President, Michelle Bachelet, has vowed to add more land to them. Patagonia covers some 400,000 square miles encompassing both a large portion of Argentina and Chile. No one can really agree where Chilean Patagonia begins. Much of the south of this long, skinny country is jagged coastline, uninhabited islands, roads that come to dead ends, and impenetrable forests and ice fields.
I gently placed Torres del Paine in the center of our Patagonia experience, as it is the heart of why I wanted to come to these far-off lands – to experience the glaciers, windblown trees, waterfalls, granite towers, wildlife, all day hiking, and getting back to nature in its purest form. For me, Torres del Paine is the most fascinating place on the planet. We are here in January, the height of the Chilean summer, when 70 percent of the annual 213000 visitors arrive, during colder months you have the trails virtually to yourself.
Activities you can try are:
Driving into the park was nothing short of spectacular. We had to pull over countless times to hang out with alpacas next to the road and try our best to get a candid photo of them. It is wide open spaces for as far as you can see, snowcapped mountains in the background, lakes of crystal blue, and streams wiggling their way around the oddly shaped trees. It is what earth looked like pre-man. Where life revolves completely around nature, and where I felt the calmest in my life.
We are staying at Rio Serrano, one of the high-end properties on the southern entrance to the park, with massive windows in each room commanding superb views of the Cuernos. The hotel offers inclusive guided hiking, kayaking excursions, horseback riding, boat tours, and glacier grey ice trekking. Each day there is a man roasting meat outside the hotel and horses run wild and peacefully, which aides to the charm. If you are looking for luxury in the area there has been an influx of hotels to choose from, Awasi Patagonia is up there on the list with Rio Serrano.
Before conquering the Base of Las Torres hike, we got our barrings with a 4-hour hike from the hotel up to a lake with sweeping views. The hike descends upon where horses are running around freely, careful not to approach you, but curious as to what you are doing. Afterward, we have the buffet dinner and retire early to our rooms to prepare our bodies for the early wake-up call and the best hike I can imagine….
Difficulty: High (steep)
Duration: 10/11 hrs
Distance walked: 20.4km (12.5mil)
The three granite monsters that give the park its name and the most challenging hike in the park is what we have come to do. Hiking the Base of Las Torres is like traveling through four different ecosystems in one day. The morning is hot at the base and the steady incline keeps you warm. As you approach the forest it slowly changes into what feels like a light rain but is actually mist from the waterfalls. Here it is chilly enough to add a layer, even gloves. Further up the Lenga forest you go the warmth returns and a layer is shed, then you arrive at the top and its snowing.
This hike makes up a third of the famous ‘W’ circuit along with the French Valley hike and Grey Glacier hike and is top of the list of things to do in Torres Del Paine. The hike is a 10-hour round trip, 20.4km (12.5mil), and of high difficulty level.
The first 2 hours are very tiring due to a steady ascent into the park but after this, and with views of Ascencio river, you will enjoy an easier walk until you get to Refugio El Chileno. From here, you have one hour more through the Lenga forest, until you finally get to the morrein. This is the last part and the hardest. Your hard work will be compensated for by breath-taking views of this massive granite mountain that sparkles over a blue lake and disappears into the clouds above. Arriving here after the steep cliffs will give you a sense of accomplishment you will take with you into every aspect of your life. We had a picnic at the summit but had to cut it short as we arrived with a blue sky, but within the time I pulled my sandwich out of the bag, clouds rolled in and hail started falling. We huddled under rocks until a unanimous decision was made to start heading down the cliff and back into the safe coverage of the forest.
Tips: Bring more water than you think you will need.
Bring layers such as gloves, pocket warmers, extra leggings, beanies, and make sure your boots are broken in. There are many steep climbs, so make sure you are mentally and physically prepared.
Difficulty: High (steep)
Duration: 8 hrs
Distance walked: 21km (13.04mi)
This mountainous cord represents the snowy rocky peaks and glaciers of the area next to the great Ultima Esperanza that gets lost behind the mountains. During the ascent, you may be accompanied by beautiful condors watching over you from above
Duration: 12 hrs
Walking Distance: 22km (13.7mil)
This is a must for the real hard on trekkers. Known to be the least visited of the hikes here, it is also considered the most challenging and most incredible. The first three hours entail a demanding combination of ascents and descents with wonderful views of the Nordenskjöld Lake before you reach the French Glacier lookout. Here you can observe landscapes of hanging glaciers and tiny avalanches. The route continues until the ‘Mirador Britanico’; one of the most overwhelming spots in the circuit for its selection of mountains and towers that surround it.
Duration: 3 hrs
Park near the shore of Grey beach. In this excursion, you will pass by the swinging bridge that crosses the Pingo River. Then go to the Lenga forest and possibly run into a family of deer. You will eventually arrive at a viewpoint to see the east part of the Grey Glacier.
As the most easily accessible glacier in Torres del Paine National Park, you have the option of viewing the beautiful Glacier Grey from a boat. A round trip is anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, giving you a front row seat to the Glacier Grey.
Eat lots of carbs, as you will be hiking them off, the local fish is called Hake, and it is a delicious option at mealtime.
Have lunch at Hosteria Pehoe, the island in the middle of the
Toro Lake, the restaurant is incredible. The island also has a three-star hotel to stay at if you prefer to stay here.
Patagonia Austral beer.
There is a little restaurant at the end of the Base of Las Torres with wifi and coffee, a bathroom, and Patagonia Austral beer. It was the most refreshing cheers I have ever had after our hike before the hour drive back to Rio Serrano, which we all spent talking about my Mother’s chili and our dream of eating chili in Chile.
WHAT TO PACK
Head: woolen knitted beanie, thermal knitted scarf, sunglasses with UV protection sunscreen 50+.
Chest: High neck thermal long sleeve shirt, thermal quick dry singlet, polar or fleece jacket, waterproof jacket, gloves.
Legs: quick dry thermal legging tights, waterproof long pants (Gore-tex), shorts for hot weather.
Feet: polar or polypropylene socks and trekking shoes.