Patagonia is a sparsely populated region located at the southern end
of South America, shared by Argentina and Chile. The region comprises the
southern section of the Andes mountains as well as
the deserts, pampas and grasslands east of this southern portion of the
Andes. Torres del Paine National Park is a national park encompassing
mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers in southern Chilean Patagonia. The
Torres (towers) del Paine are the distinctive three granite peaks of the
Paine mountain range or Paine Massif. They extend up to 2,500 meters
(8,200 ft) above sea level, and are joined by the Cuernos (horns) del Paine.
The park was founded in 1959 (and was renamed as Torres del Paine two years
later), and was stated as Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO in 1978.
Torres del Paine National Park has been selected as one of the most
beautiful places in the world by National Geographics, and is a popular
hiking destination in Chile.
Getting there ...
This is a part II of our 2-week trip in South America and Antarctica. We
were back to Punta Arenas from Antarctica
in the evening on Feb 9, and we will take a day break to relax in Punta
Arenas before we continued our 5-day/4-night journey to the Torres del Paine
National Park, Patagonia.
Day 10 (Feb 10) ...
- Punta Arenas Cathedral
The first Cathedral was built entirely in wood and consecrated in 1892.
After only four months it was destroyed by fire. Nine years later it was
replaced by the present Cathedral, the first building in Punta Arenas to
be constructed of brick. Not as ornate as other Cathedrals throughout
South America but still a peaceful place to worship.
- Palace of Braun Menendez & Regional Museum of Magallanes
Mauricio Braun and Josefina Menéndez’s house was built in 1903 by French
architect Antoine Beaulier. Following the trend of those days, all
materials, pieces of furniture and other objects were brought from
Europe. In 1974, the luxurious palace was declared national historical
monument and, in 1983, their heirs decided to donate the entire property
to the Chilean State. The first half of the house is preserved the
exact same way their owners left it. The second half holds a permanent
archaeological exhibition regarding the region history, from its
prehistory, passing through all the discovery expeditions and finally
the city founding and first years.
- Punta Arenas
After diner at a nice pizza place, we walked to the
ocean front for more pictures of the beach, piers, and birds. It
was a warm evening considering it was the summertime here.
Day 11 (Feb 11) ...
We were picked up by an Explora driver at
8:30AM and started the 5-hour drive from Punta Arenas to Torres del
Paine, Patagonia. The view was becoming better when we were
getting closer to the national park boundary and we started to be busy
in taking pictures inside the van. When we finally got to the
hotel and stepped off the van, we were speechless looking at the view in
front of us and we could delete all the pictures we have taken before.
At the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, Explora Patagonia has a
privileged location from where to go out and explore the park. It is an
all-inclusive luxury hotel including accommodation, transfers from and
to the airport, meals and beverages, and a menu of more than 40 guided
exploration routes designed by their outdoors team. The
view from our room
is so incredible that we may become too lazy to go out at all.
Day 12 (Feb 12) ...
- Torres del Paine sunrise
It was easy to just walk out of our room
for the best sunrise view. However, it was so windy that I could
not really stand without the fear of falling. I decided to sit
down to take pictures with the tripod at the minimum height to avoid the
- Pingo Chorrillo Los Salmones (9 km, moderate)
We left the hotel
by van in the morning and headed toward the Grey Lake station. From there, we walked on
a path along the Pingo River, crossing open fields and entering a dense
forest of native trees. Along the way, we enjoyed different views of the
Paine Massif along with its unique fauna. At the end the trail
there were some nice waterfalls where we took a break and drank some
coffee/tea carried by our guide before we returned along the same path
back to the station.
We were back to the hotel at about 1PM and had a nice
lunch and a relaxed break (almost fell asleep...).
- Nordenskjöld (6 km, easy)
We left the hotel by van at about
3:30PM and headed
towards the area of the Pudeto station to start to walk along a path
where we could see the largest formation of the massif, called Paine
Grande, with its hanging glaciers. The view was so gorgeous that I could
not take my eyes away from the mountains during the hike. Later we
arrived at the turquoise waters of Lake Nordenskjöld and we had a full
view of the lake and the Paine Massif from the Nordenskjöld lookout.
On the way back we stopped by the mighty waterfall, Salto Grande.
It was such a windy day that we were unable to walk straight under this
high wind conditions (we heard it's ~ 80kph wind!).
- Explora Spa
After a short break in the hotel room after the hike,
we went to the outdoor Spa to enjoy a romantic afternoon. The view
was good, the weather was nice, however, the water in the spa was too
hot for us to stay in there for too long...
Day 13 (Feb 13) ...
- Aonikenk (7 km. moderate)
Today we headed to the eastern part of
the park which is drier than the western part. This excursion has an
excellent opportunity to enjoy the local wildlife including guanacos and
pumas (unfortunately we did not see any puma today unlike the day before
when a tour group had a close encounter with a puma hunting). We also visited
a cave with 4,000 year old paintings and saw geese,
ducks and swans in the lagoons, and condors in the sky along the way.
The terrain has various ups and downs without too steep a slope.
It was nice to visualize some iconic pictures of a guanaco standing on a
ridge with jagged mountains in the background.
- Quincho Explora
We had a special BBQ lunch at Quincho Explora at
the eastern boundary of the national park. It was the first time
we saw a whole lamb on the grill and it was indeed very delicious.
- La Loma (4 km, moderate)
After lunch, we took the La Loma trail
towards the Paine Towers. This exploration allowed us to observe the
park’s rich wildlife. We crossed native forests and finished with a
descent during which we were exposed to the strong Patagonian winds.
Unfortunately it was cloudy and rainy, and the towers were totally
Day 14 (Feb 14) ...
- French Valley (16 km, moderate)
We were supposed to take our own
Explora's catamaran to cross the turquoise waters of Lake Pehoe.
However, due to the high wind condition, our guides decided to take the
public boat (which is much bigger) to cross the lake so we were rushed
to the boat deck to catch the 9:00AM boat at the last minute.
trail borders the Lake Skottsberg and is pretty flat with gentle ascend.
It provides magnificent views all the way before entering the French
Valley which is surrounded by dense forest and native bushes. We had our
prepared by the hotel (very good chicken salad) and had a relaxed picnic
at a shady area by the river side. Our guides even carried some
hot pumpkin soup and coffee/tea for us. After a short break and
lunch, we continued the hike and crossed a hanging bridge over the
French River, and passed the Italian camp to an open area within the
valley where we were able to observe the Glacier del Francés and the
amphitheater of granite peaks that frame the area.
After a full day long hike, we finally descended back
to the Lake Pahoe after 5PM, and our Explora's catamaran (and cool beers
onboard) was already waiting there to take us back to the hotel.
Day 15 (Feb 15) Going Home ...
It was a long way home. We left the hotel at 7AM for the 5-hour
drive back to Punta Arenas; took the flight at 1:55PM and arrived in
Santiago at about 5:30PM; had a casual dinner at the Santiago Airport and
spent a couple of hours at the airport lounge; took the flight at 11:30PM to
transfer in Houston and arrived in San Francisco at 10AM on the 2nd day (Feb
16). After more than 33 hours, we were finally home and concluded our
2-week trip to Antarctica and Patagonia.
It is truly an amazing and "once-in-a-lifetime" trip although I wish we will
go back to these fantastic places and enjoy all the scenery and
wildlife (and wild weather) again in the future.
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