Torres del Paine; one of the worlds most beautiful national parks and a place Chilean's are extremely proud of, and quite rightly so. The park is a Unesco Biosphere Reserve, home to soaring peaks, shimmering blue lakes, enchanting forests and herds of guanaco.
We travelled from Ushuaia in the early morning and arrived at Puerto Natalas by nightfall. We were officially starting our Chilean adventure after many weeks in Argentina which felt very exciting, a whole new country to explore. Our accomodation in Puerto Natales was a little different, we checked in to Domos House which comprises of several PVC covered domes with bunk beds inside. It reminded me of the tents in Harry Potter, these were not quite so magical as I had to wear several layers and thermal socks to bed.
After a chat with the owner of Domos who has travelled Chile extensively we found ourselves in a predicament; how were we going to travel Chile and where next after Puerto Natales? He rattled off what felt like a million ideas, all seemed a little difficult or involved a lot of expense. Our options included the 4 day Navimag ferry through the fjords for USD$550 each or a cheaper 2 day ferry and then hitchhiking. Hostels would be few and far between so we'd probably need a tent too. As we thought through each option our headaches became bigger and the costs seemed to be spiralling. We hadn't quite realised how difficult the south of Chile would be to travel, there are pros and cons to winging it round a continent, this is one of the cons. We mulled over our choices and looked forward to our tour of Torres del Paine for the following day.
The bed was so warm and cosy but the dome was not. I struggled to get up as the cold was biting but our tour awaited. The minibus picked us up and we made our way towards the park. The first stop was at a cave where milodon (huge land dwelling creature related to sloth) skeletons have been found. As the entry cost was extra we decided to instead photograph the mountains and go for a short walk while we waited.
The second stop was at a shop/cafe selling the usual merchandise, I enjoyed flipping through photography magazines next to the roaring wood burner, warmth has been feeling a little like a luxury lately.
Finally we arrived at the park and paid the hefty entrance fee of $21,000 CLP each which equates to around £25.00. Luckily the ticket can be used over three days. Each viewpoint inside the park was truly breathtaking, azure lakes, herds of guanacos milling around and mountain back drops. We saw rainbow embellished waterfalls, turbulent rivers and crossed rickety bridges to see ice berg topped lakes.
For lunch we ate our picnic with a lake view, the sun was shining and was warm enough that I could remove my coat. We had to be careful not to let the resident and not shy at all armadillos get at our food.
We'd experienced all four seasons while in the park; gusts of wind that nearly knocked me off my feet, warm sunshine and heavy rain.
The next day we decided to see more of the park and attempt to get up close to the famous towers, the element that the park is named after. We donned our walking boots and layers and caught a transfer to the rangers office. As we bought our tickets the day before we skipped the queue and watched a short compulsory video about the park including do's and dont's. A huge portion of the park was destroyed by fire in 2011 caused by a tourist and so measures have been to taken to ensure this doesn't happen again.
We started the walk, it was a lovely clear day though quite brisk. A few minutes in we were headed uphill, it's nothing we're not used to but it's still a challenge each time. As we rose higher the views got better, the colourful landscape contrasted with the cloudy sky. We walked along a ridge with a steep drop and eventually reached a refuge where a helicopter was dropping off supplies a few metres from where we were stood. Onwards we went through forests and winding tracks, leaping over puddles and balancing on logs to avoid the boggy mud. As we walked snow started to fall, once enough accumulated on the branches above a load would fall narrowly missing our heads.
Eventually we reached an opening and were blinded by the snow, the trail carried on to the most difficult section. We walked up and up, raising our legs high to gain purchase on the improvised rocky steps. Branches became helpful handrails although I needed a hand from Craig to negotiate some of the steps. The trees thinned out and the path was a mess of dirt and compacted ice. I have trouble keeping my balance on ordinary roads and so the ice and snow made things especially difficult for me. I was making progress though at a snails pace, helpful passers by lent me their hands so I could walk without slipping. I was beginning to lose patience, the walk felt never ending and I was feeling fatigued at the constant fear of losing my balance and falling.
At last, the towers were in sight! Shrouded by cloud but still visable enough to admire. A couple close by were looking overjoyed, after asking Craig to take their photo they announced that they'd that minute got engaged and she showed off her ring. We tucked into our cheese and avocado sandwiches perched on a snowy rock before negotiating the walk down. With more confidence and with gravity on our side my pace was much quicker, we walked back barely stopping to ensure we made the last transfer. It was a tough walk, but one that will remain in my memory. As is tradition we had hot chocolates at the end of the walk and once back to Puerto Natales we treated ourselves to dinner out, such a rarity on our budget but well deserved.
Next stop: The Island of Chiloé.
🎥 Chile - Up's and Down's:
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