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