Trip to Torres del Paine: Getting there
Flying south from Santiago to Punta Arenas, the sun was shining & the sky brilliant blue. A window seat provided a clear view of the magnificent Andes mountain range. Snow rimmed volcanoes dotted the landscape. Glaciers made patterns as they snaked their way down from the Patagonian Icefield, spilling into lakes of varied shades of green and blue.
It was difficult to contain my excitement as I recognised our destination from above – the Torres del Paine National Park.
We landed at Punta Arenas on the Magellan Strait. With no time to explore the city we caught the regular bus to Puerto Natales situated on the desperate-sounding Last Hope Sound, Seno Ultima Esperanza.
Trip to Torres del Paine: Traveling into the park is part of the adventure
On our way to Torres del Paine the next morning, we stopped at the Monumento Natural Cueva de Milodon for a tour & history lesson. Excavation work has been permitted here where the remains of the extinct herbivorous Milodon, Giant Ground Sloth, were found in this huge cave in 1895.
Estancias with fields of grazing cows, horses, sheep, and a lone gaucho, flashed by as we continued to the Park. After entering at the eastern border ranger station, we began to see wild guanaco, rhea, a grey fox, and birds of prey.
Spectacular and inspiring Landscapes
Our first stop was at Laguna Amarga to gaze at the three Towers (Torres) with their reflection in the water. Granite spires rise vertically from the steppe, stark and naked, stripped of any life. Even the snow on neighbouring peaks loses its grip here.
These peaks are one of many separated by valleys and accessible on the 250 kms of trails that crisscross the park. Torres del Paine (Tehuelche for “blue”) is world renowned and beginning to experience a glut of trekkers. One reason is that in an area of roughly 182000 hectares one can appreciate glaciers, mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, wildlife, forest and steppe. We stopped at many viewpoints to wander around. Each one awe-inspiring.
Lunch stop was at the hotel overlooking Lago Grey. A walk through a forest alive with bird song led to the beach of the lake into which Grey Glacier expires.
Beyond the free-floating chunks of ice lies 270 square kilometres of glacier that slithers 28 kilometres down from the Southern Patagonian icefield. Due to accelerated climate change it has receded two kilometres in the last 30 years. Who knows how much longer it will be possible to observe this amazing phenomenon?
Lodging inside the park
We were the envy of the bus passengers as the driver dropped us off at Hosteria Pehoe. This iconic hotel, on its own 5-hectare island, looks across the lake to the perfectly sculpted Cuernos del Paine. Many advertisements for the Park have a photo of this perfect spot! It is connected to the mainland by a wooden bridge.
Before dinner we climbed to the Mirador Condor where the condors’ nest in the cliffs. These magnificent birds, with a wingspan of 3.3meters, are a sight to behold!
One needs at least a week to explore the park, so it was difficult to make a choice for our last day. We started from the little harbour where my friend sailed on the Pehoe catamaran to the French Valley hike and I walked the Mirador Cuernos.
Ferocious winds can blow here. There are warning signs & park rangers monitor the wind speed. It was fun to walk amongst an unperturbed guanaco herd! As a lone male kept watch on the hilltop, they ignored us. I guess we don’t look like their worst nightmare, the elusive puma, known as the ghost of the Andes. On this hike I came across the gushing Salto Grande waterfall which flows from the emerald waters of Lago Nordenskjold into Lake Pehoe. Around each corner there were amazing views of the dark granite base and peaks with light centre sedimentary rock, glaciers tumbling down, and even an avalanche. These are vivid memories of the Cuernos.
On the long walk back to our island paradise I thought about the fascination that surrounds Patagonia. It is indeed a refuge for the soul – from cluttered minds and cities.
As we headed back to the city the clouds were rolling in, drawing a curtain across the Torres.
Thank you to Across Argentina and their partners in Chile for a perfect, well organized vacation.
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