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Finding Fairyland in Patagonia: Torres Del Paine

Our next stop was a hop over the border into Chile to see the famous Parque Nacional de Torres Del Paine – a 240,000 hectare reserve filled with waterfalls, glaciers, lakes and mountains.

A map of Torres del Paine - you can go on a walk to see the park's main sites in a 'W' shape, or do a circuit right around it

A map of Torres del Paine – you can go on a walk to see the park’s main sites in a ‘W’ shape, or do a circuit right around it

The most well-known mountains are the Torres Del Paine (Towers of Paine), which are three enormous granite monoliths carved by glacial ice, but there are different mountain ranges to see. There are also several treks you can do within the park; the most popular being the five-day ‘W’ trek or the nine-day circle trek. Not having the time to spend more than one or two days there, we chose to do the day-trip hike to the Torres themselves.

An old fishing town, Puerto Natales is small and pretty

An old fishing town, Puerto Natales is small and pretty

We arrived in the sleepy Chilean town of Puerto Natales to plan our trip and found very quickly that (due to the lack of busses to and from the park) it would be impossible to get to the park in the morning, do the trek and return the same day. So, we fell back on plan B – hiring a tent.

We arrived in the park the next morning armed with supplies for our overnight stay. Immediately, we set about setting up our new home at the Camping Torres campsite. We were glad we decided not to stay in a Refugio (a hostel) within the park. We met a couple staying in one opposite our campsite who told us they were paying US$80 per person per night, just for a bed.

Well, Dale set up our home… I supervised

Well, Dale set up our home… I supervised

We packed a day pack, including a picnic lunch, and headed off on the 10km trek to the Torres.

Almost straight away we could see stunning glacial lakes and waterfalls from the path, which climbed up and up along the side of a mountain with no barriers. At times the path was worryingly narrow, with a rather long way down over the side of a sheer cliff – and the higher we got the more the wind picked up.

Walking along the valley and a sign warning of 'Rolling Stones'

Walking along the valley and a sign warning of ‘Rolling Stones’

At one point, we had to skirt along the path with our backs to the mountain – flattening ourselves to the rock so we wouldn’t get blown over the edge!

All along the way we saw weird and wonderful scenes - some of the plants looked like they'd come from an alien planet

All along the way we saw weird and wonderful scenes – some of the plants looked like they’d come from an alien planet

And there was plenty of wildlife along the way, we even saw a South American grey fox!

And there was plenty of wildlife along the way, we even saw a South American grey fox!

After four hours of walking through huge open plains, inside secluded forests and up rushing waterfalls, we reached the last stretch.Until this part, all of the markings had been fairly easy to follow, but now we were nearing the summit, we were confronted with a seemingly empty mountainside of loose rocks and rubble. While we were discussing which way to go, a German couple that had been marching as if they were on a mission squeezed passed us, took one look around and started climbing up the rocky mountainside with no further deliberation.

Thinking, ‘well, they must know where they’re going’, we followed suit – scrambling up the mountain after them. As the rocks wobbled and crumbled away underneath our feet we exchanged nervous looks – both of us thinking ‘this can’t be right’.

Up we go... You can see one half of the German couple we were following up near the top!

Up we go… You can see one half of the German couple we were following up near the top!

Halfway up the mountainside, precariously balancing on the loose rocks underneath us, we heard a string of German curses high above us followed by ‘er, hey guys! I think that the path is back down that way’. Sure enough, far below us and to our right, there was a marker.

Back down we go...

Back down we go… Dale loved this bit. “This is the last time I listen to you!”

It turns out the markers on this stretch are susceptible to being buried or relocated by rock slides!

Can you blame us for missing these??

Can you blame us for missing this??

After successfully following the path the rest of the way, we saw them. The Torres soared high up into the cloud above us from a large and icy lake in front of us.

The towers themselves are around 2,500 metres high and, even though we couldn’t quite see the tops because of the clouds, it gave the impression that the rock stretched up to the heavens.

The towers themselves are around 2,500 metres high and, even though we couldn’t quite see the tops because of the clouds, it gave the impression that the rock stretched up to the heavens.

It felt very cold in this little valley and the thin sheets of ice moving around on top of the lake would clash occasionally, making a noise like the tide dragging shingle along a beach that echoed around the mountains.

It felt very cold in this little valley and the thin sheets of ice moving around on top of the lake would clash occasionally, making a noise like the tide dragging shingle along a beach that echoed around the mountains.

The next morning, we had enough time to go and explore another part of the park before our bus back to Puerto Natales. We were glad the sun was back out (even though it was extremely windy) and we got to see several beautiful lakes as we made our way to Salto Grande waterfall.

Lake Pehoe

Lake Pehoe

The beautiful turquiose Salto Grande Waterfall

The beautiful turquoise Salto Grande Waterfall

Lake Nordernskjold

Lake Nordenskjold

According to the National Geographic, this national park is the fifth most beautiful place in the world – and it really isn’t hard to see why.

Cordillera del Paine

Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine)

The typical moody Patagonian weather makes the fantastic scenery something atmospheric and ethereal. The turret-like snowy mountain tops disappear into vast swathes of swirling cloud and the trees grow gnarled and twisted in the harsh wind.

Some parts of or walk reminded me of a fairyland, with gnarled and twisted trees and foggy, shadowy mountains

Some parts of or walk reminded me of a fairyland, with twisted trees and foggy, shadowy mountains

We’d heard lots of good things about Parque de Torres Del Paine before we arrived, but we were blown away by everything we saw. The plants and trees and scenery are very different to anything anywhere else. If any film directors are out there looking for a real life fairy-tale world, this is it.

Cuernos Los Torres

Cordillera del Paine (the Paine mountain range)

Comments

      • I’ve read and seen so much about Patagonia, I’ve been dreaming about it for ages. I’ve also read quite a lot about Torres del Paine. I would absolutely love to go there someday soon! It’s on my bucket list =)

    • This part of our trip was definitely memorable – not least because we almost got stuck on the mountain! The scenery is simply spectacular – never seen anything like it. You should certainly go one day if you can!

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