After landing in Puerto Natales, a tiny little airport at the edge of Torres del Paine National Park, we were due to pickup the rental car and head to the park. There was a man holding a sign with my name on it and I thought we would be all set with the rental car. Turns out while he had a car for us, it was a manual (we requested automatic) and he had forgotten the spare gas (given I knew there were no gas stations on the way, having the extra gas was more important than you’d think!). Fortunately, I had a backup reservation with Europcar, so we headed into town to get the car, grabbed lunch, stopped at the supermarket for supplies and made our way to Torres del Paine.
It was a nice drive and quite eventful too. Along the way, we saw horses, cows and also got stopped due to a sheep crossing!
Torres del Paine – Ecocamp
We entered the park through the Amarga Gate and made our way to Ecocamp, our home for the next few nights.
I guess you’d consider this glamping, or bougee trekking! We dropped off our stuff in our cozy little dome, which was well-insulated and had amazing beds. We then went to the community dome, a large set of domes on the property that housed the restaurant and bar. We were greeted with welcome drinks and snacks and socialized a bit with some of the other guests. Ecocamp provides all meals, so we were asked to select our three-course dinner, and boy where we in for a treat. The cook at this property is fabulous – everything was delicious and all the amazing local Chilean wine was included.
After consulting with the helpful Ecocamp guides, we decided that tomorrow was the day to due to base trek – weather conditions would be good, and we decided we’d start at 3am in order to catch the sunrise in route! So despite the sun setting at 10pm, we decided to call it an early night and try to get some rest before our early morning wake up call!
Mirador Los Torres Base Trek (15.2 miles, 3100 feet)
The alarm went off at 2am. It was time to get ready, and then make our way to the trail. It was pitch dark and with only the light of our headlamps, it was a bit tricky to figure out the start of the trail but fortunately we had it on all trails so between that and Google maps, we had some assurance we were in the right place. The trail itself was steep but straightforward. There was almost no one out as most people started their trek much later (or camped at Refugio Chileano, which was two hours into our hike) so it made for a peaceful morning. After a couple hours of walking, the sun started to peak above the horizon and we took in spectacular views over the valley while walking. While some could summit this hike in 3 hours, it was a 4 hour endeaor for us and therefore there was no chance we’d get to the summit for sunrise (5:30 sunrise) so we just enjoyed it along the way. The morning was gorgeous – the hike was peaceful and the weather was really nice. Even the famous section of the trail deemed “Windy Pass” was not windy!
At about 7am, we made it to the summit. Once again, it was beautiful and peaceful – there was only a handful of people there, making it the perfect place to enjoy the views, have some food and take photos. For me, it was the hike I had been dying to do, and it finally hit me – we were in Patagonia!
We started the descent around 8am. The first mile down is super steep so we watched our footing closely and took our time, and then it tapers off. But it’s still long! After about two hours, we hit Refugio Chileano, the half way point. On the way up, the refugio was quite but now it felt like a ski lodge – backpacks and hiking poles lying around, picnic tables filled with people and spectacular views all around. We decided to join them – we grabbed a pisco sour and a quesadilla, filled up our water bottles and then continued on.
We were eventually down the mountain around 1pm and made our way back to Ecocamp. It was only 1pm and we still had 9 hours of daylight but we were exhausted! It was time for a hot shower and a nap. Later that evening, I took a yoga class to stretch all my tight muscles and we met with one of the guides to help us plan the following day, before having yet another lovely three course dinner.
We next day was meant to be a rest day but we were both energized to make the most of our time in Torres del Paine so we inquired about what the other epic hikes are and decided we’d do the French Valley Trek.
The French Valley
If you are not on the W or O circuit, the only way to access the French Valley is by boat, and there are only two boats out in the morning, 9 and 10am. We left the property around 7, got to the dock around 8:15 and queued up to make sure we got a seat on the boat.
Upon arrival at the boat dock, the winds were blowing so hard – if you opened your car door at the wrong time, you’d lose the door! The wind was lifting water and blowing it around, making for quite a site. In order to get on the boat, we had to pass single file and crouch down on the dock if a wind gust came by. It was quite a way to start a hike.
The boat ride was about 30 minutes and the boat was filled with people looking to make it to the French lookout. Like most others, we decided to do the Italian trail, which was about 12 miles roundtrip to the first lookout. The hike itself is significantly easier than the break trek – much less elevation and easy terrain. I even did it in my gym shoes! That said, we did experience three out of four seasons with substantial wind, rain, hail and some sunshine. We enjoyed the walk but were disappointed with the viewpoint – the glacier and valley were pretty but didn’t give us the same excitement as the towers on the base trek.
The return boats were at 5pm, 6pm and 6:30 and we were eager to catch the 5pm. We rushed back, caught the boat, and made our way to Hotel del Paine, our new accommodation for the night. Hotel del Paine is in Rio Serrano just outside the south end of the park. The property had an amazing view of TDP and lots of horses! It was pretty amusing – the horses would run free, the dogs would bark and chase them away, and then it would happen all over again. Fortunately this entertainment didn’t go all through the night. We had dinner and breakfast at the property and really it was just a spot en route to our next destination: Laguna Sophia.
Rock Climbing in Laguna Sophia
In between Torres del Paine and Puerto Natales sits Laguna Sophia. This area is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains, including a few private cliffs made of conglomerate rock with bolted routes.
Prior to our travels, I contacted Diego, a local rock climbing guide. Diego not only guided, but he is one of the people bolting the routes in this area. While there is plenty of alpine climbing in the area, we were looking for something more approachable, but just as picturesque and this fit the bill.
The area itself is stunning. We parked our car at the lake and then hikes up about 700 feet over about a mile to get to the cliff. We then spent the afternoon rock climbing. The views were spectacular, Diego is a great guide, and we had loads of condors flying above us, and pretty much no one else around.
That evening, we drove back to Puerto Natales for our last night in Chile. We checked into Hotel Toore, returned the rental car, and then took Diego’s recommendation and had hearty sandwiches at Masay Pizza. And literally crashed – I tried so hard to stay awake but was completely exhausted from the days behind us. The days were long (18 hours of daylight) making it tough to convince ourselves to sleep, but it finally caught up to me and it was time to recharge!