27.12.2015 - 31.01.2016
Torres del Paine National Park is a protected area of over 200,000 hectares in the South Patagonian Ice Field and one of the main attractions I wanted to visit on my return to South America, but even I couldn't have been prepared for just how epic it was going to be. Heading back into Chile and Puerto Natales to prepare for 3 nights of camping, this pretty little city is on the shore of the Última Esperanza Sound and definitely worth a look in for its picturesque sunsets and chilled out vibe.
The following day we drove into the national park itself and set up camp at Rio Serrano, before heading on our first hike to Glaciar Grey, on Lago Grey. Another spectacular sight, the lake also contains huge icebergs that had calved off from the glaciar, and we managed to scoop a small block of ice out of the lake to take home for campfire gin and tonics later that evening. Yes, really - our cocktails now come with 700 year old glacial ice cubes!
Next morning was an early start for the 20km trek to the famous three towers or 'torres' of Torres del Paine. This is a gruelling hike, with an hour of very steep up, followed by two hours of undulating up and down (still very tough going), followed by another hour of scrambling even steeper up. And then the same in reverse! However, the immense effort was worth it because the feeling when the 2,500m high Torres finally come into view at the very top is absolutely incredible. One by one we climbed over the ridge to see this unforgettable sight, and one by one we let out a different expletive. We were blessed with beautiful weather so we could see the three towers in all their glory and basked by the side of the emerald green laguna, with a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat.
I opted to go horse riding the following day to ease my weary legs, but after five hours in the saddle, navigating craggy ravines and traversing fast flowing rivers, I don't actually think I chose the easier option. With spectacular views of Cordillera del Paine, we hacked all along the shore of Lago del Toro, through dense forests with low hanging branches that our much shorter gaucho managed to avoid, but nearly did me a cropper on several occasions! We even had a canter across the plains and another unforgettable day was well spent in my new favourite place in South America.