Traveling to Patagonia was a dream trip for me and my husband. We added it to our bucket list a few years ago I saw some photos a friend took of his trip to Patagonia that took my breath away and decided immediately that we needed to experience this epic place. When we saw that LAN was offering discounted fares to South America, we jumped on the chance to head down and find some adventure, hike some mountains and, if I’m honest, eat lots of good food.
We spent the first few days of our adventure recovering from jetlag and eating our way through Santiago (hello avocado smothered hot dogs!) and then headed south, farrrrr south almost down to Antarctica. We almost didn’t make our flight after a hiccup with the airline losing (or refusing…we weren’t sure which) our reservation, but they eventually caved and gave us our tickets. I knew we were on the right flight since everyone… and I mean everyone… was wearing some sort of outdoorsy gear like hiking boots or zip-off pants. We landed in Puntas Arenas, made friends with some lovely Belgians (I’ve never met a Belgian I didn’t like), and took a long bus ride up to Puerto Natales, our jumping off point for Torres Del Paine National Park.
Puerto Natales is definitely a backpackers town, marked by tourists clad in North Face jackets which giant packs on their backs. The town is modest, but in an endearing way with a picturesque lake, cool watering holes and organic eateries. We loved Pizzeria Mesita Grande so much that we ate there twice! I’m such a sucker for a long family-style table and wood fire pizzas on a cold night. We also loved our little Hostal where we stayed, a cozy little house run by a kind Chilean man, David, and his Texas born and raised wife. They were out-of-their way helpful, doing our laundry, setting up bus tickets and offering us fresh from the over cookies; it was almost like we were staying with good friends.
We didn’t stay long in Puerto Natales, only long enough to rent some gear from Erratic Rock, head to the grocery store with throngs of other backpackers to gather lunch items for our hiking days and make some reservation changes to our trek. Bright and early the next morning we loaded back onto a bus and headed for Torres Del Paine, Chile’s most famous national park, to hike their famous “W” trek. Despite leaving town at 7am, with the long bus ride, stops for photos, park permits and catamaran, we didn’t arrive to where we wanted to begin hiking until 12:30 in the afternoon. We had to hike 14 miles that day… it was gonna be a looooong day.
Let me just tell you… long is an understatement. Thankfully, we were only carrying a small day pack since we left our big packs back at the Refugio where we were sleeping that night. Starting at Lago Gray by Refugio Paine Grande is a bit eerie. The area has been devastated by the December fire, the trees charred, the camping area completely destroyed with the fires coming within feet of the Refugio. At first I thought the leaves on the trees were yellow because it was early fall but quickly realized that they had turned from the heat of the fire. It was definitely sad to see, but it still was immensely beautiful. We couldn’t believe how warm it and sunny it was… we had anticipated cold and wet, filling our packs with fleece jackets, beanies and rain gear. I didn’t expect to sweat!
Our first day of hiking led us along Lago Grey towards Glacier gray. It was 7 miles EACH way, which totally sounded do-able before we started the trek. Unfortunately, nobody mentioned the softball sized rocks we would be hiking on that just wrecked the bottoms of our feet. After about an hour my feet started throbbing, a feeling I would get used to (kinda).
We hiked and hiked and hiked. The views were gorgeous. Milky green blue lakes, floating icebergs, majestic snow-covered peaks. At 5:15 we reached the Rufugio at the glacier and had the sad realization that we weren’t going to make it to the glacier look out point. It was another 30 minutes each way — not far in distance but too far to add to our return trip. After ALL that hiking, we were going to have to turn around in order to stay safe and not hike in the dark (it gets dark around 9:30 down there in March). I won’t lie– we both felt a bit defeated–but with the hours ticking by and our throbbing feet slowing us down, we headed back to the refugio for a good night of rest, hoping to make it further the next day with an earlier start.
Slept: Puerto Natales — Tin House Patagonia. Small, cozy rooms with shared bathrooms. Great breakfast options, including the option to cook your own eggs in the morning (yay!). I highly recommend this place. Torres Del Paine — Refugio Paine Grande. This was a HUGE refugio, but because of the fire, they were working with limited power, a tiny staff and less rooms. It was a good enough place to stay the first night, although the hallways totally smell like wet feet (due to everyone’s muddy boots and sweaty socks. ew.)
Ate: Puerto Natales — Pizzeria Mesita Grande YUM! Wood fired pizzas and fresh pastas served at long, community tables. Loved everything about this place. Torres Del Paine — Refugio Torre Cental offers warm meals but they were a bit pricey so we made our own meals in their dark but suitable cooking shed out back. Note to self: dehydrated scrambled eggs are gross, but dehydrated bacon bits makes it a bit better.
All photos ©2012 Jason Ward Studios