From the Mars-like desert we headed to the Patagonia region, in the far south of Chile. Also desolate, but very different.
This part of our trip has been a long time coming, as we’ve been talking about it for what literally seems years.
Patagonia is located about 3h30 south of Santiago by plane, and is split between Chile and Argentina. We will be visiting the Argentinean side in a few days, so I’ll only focus on the Chilean side for the following 3 posts.
The nearest airport to Torres del Paine is located in Punta Arenas, and from there you then need to take a bus to Puerto Natales. This small town is the nearest to the park.
Probably to save some cash (I can’t quite remember now as we booked these flights so long ago), we flew from Calama to Santiago, had a layover in Santiago before a 3.30am alarm to catch our 6am flight to Punta Arenas. When we landed at 9.30am, we had to wait until 11.30am for the bus to take us to Puerto Natales, another 2 hours away. Pretty long morning of traveling, and it was freezing waiting for that bus.
In Puerto Natales we had to rush around reshuffling bags, and drop our main luggage in storage of the accommodation we planned to return to after the trek. We needed to get our backpacks in order too, to get ready for the following four days of trekking in Torres del Paine ahead of us. If we forgot something we were a long way from shops!
We had booked a non-guided W trek tour with Fantástico Sur months ago. The principle of non-guided meant that they book everything for you (park entrance, accommodation, food etc) but that you walk on your own, without a guide.
I’m not going to lie, I was extremely nervous the day before we started as it was our first multi-day trek in the mountains, and on our own.
At 5pm, we attended a short briefing by the company explaining what we were meant to do each day, where our ‘refugios’ (hostels for hikers) were located etc. They also provided us with water bottles, sleeping bag liners and towels. Very pro, I really liked it.
On our first day we caught the morning bus to the park at 7am, getting to the park entrance by 9am to fill in a form and watch a short intro video about the park. We then headed to another shuttle to get to our accommodation for the night, in order to check in and leave our bags before the big walk of the day up to the Torres del Paine lookout.
After all this driving and admin, it was finally time to hit the trail up to the Mirrador (view point).
According to our briefing, this day was going to be the hardest day of them all, and yes it was tough!
You’re basically going uphill for a while, then through a forrest for 4 km, and then up giant rocks for the last 800m before reaching the Mirrador. 10km up, 10km down.
You also go through every season. We started our trek with beautiful weather and had to remove outer layers nearly instantly after leaving the camp-site.
Then after reaching the top of the first mountain, it gets cooler so you have to add a couple of layers back on. But then, by the time we reached the rocky last 800m, it started snowing which had us reaching for the last remaining layers we had.
We were so happy to see snow, we’ve been in Australia so long we hadn’t seen snow for years. We couldn’t even remember last time we saw proper thick snow. It was awesome!
By the time we reached the lookout though, the snow was falling pretty heavily and unfortunately for us, the 3 Torres mountains were impossible to see.
The big 3 towers are the most iconic part of Patagonia, they’re even on their bank notes, so it was a bit of a shame. We enjoyed the challenge of getting there regardless. This is what we were supposed to see that day:
We stayed at the Mirrador for a while, taking pictures and enjoying the snow before heading back down the remaining 10km.
By the end of the day we were both absolutely exhausted, but so happy about the incredible first day we had experienced. We thought we’d really struggle with this hike as the terrain was unknown, and it was built up as the toughest of the 4 days (therefore we knew likely the toughest hike we’d ever faced). To our pleasant surprise, it was very hard, but not horrendous. It helped that we’d mentally prepared for the worst.
We headed back to the refugio to spend the night. It was very luxurious (probably better kept than many hostels we’d been staying at) with great dorms (6 people per room), a lovely communal area, a small shop, and a great dinner hall where we enjoyed sharing good food with some Americans we’d met. Plus a well earnt beer and wine.
A brilliant first day, and an early night to prepare for day 2.
- Fantástico Sur has been a fantastic (pun intended) company to deal with. Communication was amazing, we loved the briefing, and everything was extremely well organised. Can’t recommend enough.
- During the briefing, we were told there were many fountains on the way to the lookout. After walking for kilometers without seeing one, we started to worry as we only had 1L between us. We then soon realised the ‘fountains’ she referred to during the briefing were actually natural streams. We got water from there and thankfully didn’t get sick.