Punta Arenas (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (2 nights) >> Torres del Paine (2 nights) >> Puerto Natales (1 night)
After a quick trip to Mendoza over the border in Argentina, we returned to Santiago for our flight on 1st December 2018 down to Patagonia.
We were really excited to see snow-topped mountains, glaciers and penguins. Particularly Jonny, who was starting to melt in the Santiago sun.
Our first stop was Punta Arenas, a sleepy town with colourful houses. It took us a moment to adjust to the cold by putting all the clothes we had on, especially in the evenings.
Punta Arenas seemed most famous for King Crab. We tried this in the seafood empanadas in the local market and my absolute favourite was the King Crab lasagne.
Our main reason for staying in Punta Arenas was to visit Magdalena Island, home to a huge population of Magellanic penguins. It was a long 2 hour boat ride to get to the island and the weather was awful. When we arrived we had about an hour to roam the island with the penguins which was really fun, despite the wind and rain.
The trip in total was quite pricey and had we realised we were going to get to see penguins two more times during our trip (in much better weather) we may not have splurged. However, they were amazing to see! Even the penguin who backed up to me to have a poo, the cheeky critter.
In Punta Arenas, there was a great chocolate shop decked out in Christmas decorations to help us begin feeling festive being away from home.
Next we took a bus to Puerto Natales, the nearest town to Torres del Paine national park. This town felt much bigger and busier. It was a useful base to prepare for our multi-day hike through the national park.
We went to a talk provided by Erratic Rock which gave lots of tips for hiking in Torres del Paine. One tip was to put all your stuff into plastic bags because the weather changes so frequently you won’t have time to keep putting on a rucksack waterproof cover. They also strongly advised bringing walking poles to help in the wind, mud and for steep climbs. Plus to save your knees. We dutifully went and bought some after.
…and then celebrated our purchase with a pre-hike treat 😋
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine is a national park in Chile and most commonly people opt to take a day-trip, or hike the w-trek or the full o-circuit.
You need about 4-5 days to complete the w-trek and all accomodation needs to be booked in advance. We only realised quite late into our trip just how popular this hike is and how fast the limited options for accommodation get booked up. Even if you bring your own tent, you have to pre-book a pitch.
We managed to book two nights, the first night in a dome and the second in a tent that was provided. Even for this, it was very very expensive!
We just carried our day packs for the 3 days and managed to complete more of a u-circuit in the time we had. It was completely worth it as the scenery was absolutely breathtaking. In total, we walked 60km, 6-8 hours per day.
Day One – we walked from the boat drop off at Camp Paine Grande up to the first mirador (view point) of Glacier Grey, then back down and around to Camp Frances.
I vividly remember on day one, getting to the view point and seeing Glacier Grey for the first time, the first proper glacier I had ever seen.
There was only one issue I encountered which was on day one of the hike, the sole of my trekking boots decided to collapse. By the evening, even with blister plasters, I had 8 swollen blisters and my feet were in agony! Thinking off my feet (lying down to be precise), I considered how I was going to walk the next 2 days. We went to the small camping shop to see if they had insoles so I could line my boots for at least some cushioning. No surprises when they did not. Though, a little gem came to me when I saw a pack of sanitary pads on the shelf. The shop keeper realised what I was thinking and burst out laughing, “you’re the first person to suggest lining your boots with sanitary pads”. I swear, it was like memory foam! And that’s how I got my feet through the next 2 days!
Day Two – Camp Frances to Refugio Las Torres Norte (missing the middle of the w-trek to Camp Britanico which everyone said was amazing).
Day Three – Refugio Torres del Norte up to the 3 towers and back, which is where the park gets its name ‘Torres del Paine’. This was the longest hike of the 3 days. One part was through windy pass – we were so glad we brought our poles to avoid us being blown off the mountain.
The celebratory beer at the end was truly magical.
We returned to Puerto Natales with a day to recover before crossing the border into Argentina to go to El Calafate.
Up next, wandering Argentina!