By Ricardo Da Cunha
The first thing that comes into my mind after my experience in Patagonia is how incredibly vast the region is. It’s so big and I'm still not quite sure where its boundaries lie. To my eyes the massive area that makes up Patagonia somehow follows a sliding scale all the way from the incredibly dull to the stunningly beautiful.
The western spine that's fed by the largest ice field outside of Antarctica is abundant with arguably our earth's most impressive mountain peaks and one of the largest concentrations of glaciers in the world. Much of the eastern region is barren, dry and wind swept. This blog summarizes my visit to one of Patagonia's most popular national parks - Torres Del Paine in Chile. I hope to provide some helpful tips for anyone visiting in future and some incentive to do so! The other most popular national park is Parque Los Glaciers in Argentina which features the massive Perito Moreno glacier (Argentina's no. 1 natural tourist attraction) as well as what’s arguably the symbol of Patagonia; the Mt Fitz Roy range. I'll have to leave my experiences in Argentine Patagonia for another blog post in the near future.
Torres Del Paine National Park
What a magical place. The thundering sounds of avalanches in the distance high above were frequently heard, both by day and by night. Such was the sound they made that at the beginning I mistook the sound for actual thunder. In between were the sounds of flowing rivers and streams with the clearest water I've ever seen. Towering, permanently snow-covered mountains all peaking above 2000m were never too far from sight, as were the turquoise waters of the parks many lakes. Add to this the impressive vision of the massive 23km long Grey Glacier and Grey Lake dotted with icebergs fed to the lake by the always-changing face of the glacier.
My favourite and most memorable experiences were during the magical twilight time of day. Condors could be seen hovering and circling high above, which added to the majesty of Torres Del Paine. Perhaps the highlight for most however was the steep climb up to the base of the Torres; a national symbol and as iconic to Chile as Uluru is to Australia. Three uniquely formed 2000m plus towers standing side by side with a turquoise glacier feed pool at their base. Being the middle of summer where the sun doesn't set until well past 10pm and with a long walk back to camp, I was the only idiot who stuck around for the sunset. The solitude of enjoying this iconic landscape to myself at this magical time is a moment I'll cherish for many years to come. It wasn't without its challenges however with a long and somewhat scary trip back to camp alone in the dark forest, after my paranoia set-in with the realization of there being Pumas in the park!
Now for some tips. Ideally it is best to view the famous Torres at sunrise, so if you plan to visit then book well ahead in the summer peak time for a site at the Base of the Torres campsite. This will place you about 45mins away from the Torres, giving you a very achievable walk before sunrise. I unfortunately missed out and I was about a 2 1/2 hr walk away to the second closest campsite. Even better advice though is to visit the park in Autumn. The conditions are less comfortable but you will be rewarded with the colours of Autumn, more snow on the mountains and far less people. In the summer you will be surprised with how many bus loads of people arrive each day to embark on the same multi-day trek you are; definitely not a time to try and seek solitude in nature. My final tip is to not underestimate embarking on the very popular "W" or "O" multi-day treks. The shorter W trek is still approximately 100km with some steep climbs in some areas. I can tell you though it is well worth doing for the sheer fulfillment and the memorable sights that you'll gain from it.
Thanks for reading this far!