Imagine a place so pristine and beautiful that it overwhelms your senses. The smell of fresh air fills your lungs and spoils you in such a way that the thought of breathing in city air again is hard to bear. The colors are so brilliant that you can hardly believe they are found in nature. This is a place so peaceful and untouched that you almost forget that the rest of the world is bustling and whizzing by outside of it. Well, that place exists and it’s called Patagonia! Located at the southernmost tip of South America, the Patagonia region lies across Chile and Argentina.
Now, since this place is literally at THE END OF THE WORLD, I wasn’t one to try my hand at a week-long hiking and camping expedition…no sir, no ma’am! So, with a little convincing, I managed to get Joe on board for doing Patagonia the cushy way: at a hotel complete with a restaurant, bar, and spa (A SPA!!!).
After doing a good amount of research, we opted to stay at Hotel Las Torres, a rustic-chic hotel located right at the bottom of the Torres del Paine mountains. Since we were going to be in a preeeetty remote location with not exactly any bars or restaurants nearby, we opted to go for the all-inclusive option. This was perfect for us since it included everything we needed: hotel accommodations, transport, all of our guided excursions, park entry fees…not to mention all of the food and drinks we could get our hands on for the whole week! If you know us, you know that those costs can add up pretty quickly! The service was excellent and entire staff was so friendly, plus, we got to wake up to this breathtaking view every morning:
Not too shabby!
How To Get There:
A trip to Patagonia requires some serious travel patience. It is definitely somewhat off the beaten path, but as any good traveler knows, some of the most rewarding destinations—the places that are really worth seeing—are the most difficult to get to.
First, we flew from DFW to Santiago. From there, we hopped on a plane to Punta Arenas, in the extreme South of Chile…seriously, this is also where you fly into to get to Antartica! From Punta Arenas Airport, we hopped in a van provided by our hotel. The van ride took around 5 hours, not including the halfway stop we made at Estancia Cerro Negro for the cutest little afternoon tea. Some sopapillas, tea and coffee, a warm fire, giggling at the soon-to-be sheared sheep, and we were back on the road. After our pit stop, I really started to get the sense that we were separating from the rest of the world. Like we were driving into the depths of a pocket of the Earth so special that it had to be tucked away as remotely as it is.
Finally, 24-hours after beginning our journey in Fort Worth, TX, we arrived in Torres del Paine National Park. Talk about a hike! Another option is to fly into Buenos Aires and catch a connecting flight to El Calafate. Hotel Las Torres offers van services from that airport, which take roughly as long as the ride from Punta Arenas.
When To Go:
Patagonia’s high season is during their summer months, roughly November through February, however visitors during those months will compete with heavy crowds. Think Disney World during any school holiday! If you’re looking for a more relaxed experience, low season (September-October, March-April) is definitely worth checking out. We visited in early April and would recommend this time of year to anyone who asks. The weather ranged from just above freezing at night (35-ish°F) to about 57-60°F at the very warmest. Now, if you know me, you know that I am the biggest baby when it comes to cold weather. Can’t. Stand. It. But these temps were PERFECT for all of the outdoor activities we had on our roster.
The risky part about visiting in the low season is that the weather can be somewhat unpredictable with a higher chance of rain and strong winds. If that’s the case, we lucked out! We had one afternoon of rain on our first full day in Patagonia (perfect to rest our travel-weary bodies!). The rest of the days were crystal clear.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most hotels in the park close for the winter in mid-April and reopen around September. The park remains open during these months, but most campsites close as well.
What To See & Do:
Base of Las Torres
This is one of the most recognizable places in the park. One leg of the famed “W” trek, travelers, photographers, hikers from far and wide travel to Patagonia to catch a glimpse of these three gorgeous, gargantuan rock towers looming over the sparkling turquoise lagoon. This hike takes about 8 hours to complete from start to finish. Let me set the record straight–I am not a hiker. I can hike. I have hiked. Do I enjoy hiking? Sure! Maybe not as much as relaxing in a spa or propping my feet up and enjoying an overly-garnished drink, but I enjoy hiking and the always rewarding views from the top!
Now, if you’re like me, this hike is not a walk in the park. The first hour is consistently uphill. The next two hours offer some relief on a somewhat flat stretch with the occasional uphill climb and downhill descent. Our Chilean guides called that stretch “bouncy” which always made me smile! The final 1KM (0.6 mi) is a BEAST, both mentally and physically. It is super steep and rocky and will require all of your concentration and mental toughness to reach the stunning view awaiting at the top. Joe ROCKED this part of the hike. Well, all parts, really. But I think our guides consider him a total tourist legend since that day. He seriously had guides coming up to him the rest of the week saying “are you the Texan who beat your guide to Las Torres?” and then asking for autographs. Well, maybe not the autograph part, but they surely were impressed and so was I (*swoon*)! I, on the other hand, had people who had stopped for rests along the way laughing at my desperate gasps for air. Hey, I tried my hardest to keep up!
Once we reached the top in world record time (joking…kind of!), the gorgeous view that we have been dreaming about since the first time we learned about Patagonia greeted us. If the hike isn’t enough to take your breath away (it was for me), this view will do it. It’s hard to describe just how massive the towers and lagoon are and even harder to fathom how #nature could create structures this varying and visually interesting. Joe and I busted out our Fatboy inflatable couch, our prepacked lunches courtesy of Hotel Las Torres (which included two chocolates each by special request!), and spent some time taking in the view. This was a welcome period of relaxation after the long morning of hiking we just put behind us.
We eventually parted ways with the oasis atop the mountain and started our four hour journey back to the hotel. Per recommendations from locals, we stopped at a stream on the way down to fill our bottles with glacier water. GLACIER WATER! This was honestly some of the best water I have ever tasted. It was crisp, cool, and refreshing. You could just feel how pure and untouched it was. Ugh, still imagining it as I sip on plain old tap water.
Living in Texas, I certainly have never even come close to seeing a real-life glacier. Let me tell you, my first one did not disappoint! To witness this sight, we hopped on a boat at Lago Grey to venture out to the second largest ice field in the world. Our hour long boat ride featured stops to gawk at waterfalls, rainbows, falcons, and floating icebergs. Side note: how did the Titanic miss one of these?? They’re HUGE! We drank Pisco Sours made with 10,000 year old iceberg ice. Ten. Thousand. Those seemed almost too cool to drink, but who am I to let a good cocktail go to waste! 😉
When we finally reached the Grey Glacier, we got to spend some time marveling at the three faces of it. Wow. The sun began to shine as we approached the glacier, causing it to turn the most brilliant shade of neon blue. Our planet sure produces beautiful things.
Travel On Horseback
Hotel Las Torres houses about 250 trained horses. In the off-season, those horses are free to roam about the estancia however their hearts desire. I am a novice horseback rider at very best. The last time I rode one of these majestic animals was…oh 15 years ago? It seemed like my horse, Brasilera, enjoyed messing with me because she would not budge. As hard as I kicked and begged and pleaded with her, she just was not having it! She was probably giggling to herself the whole time. These animals are way smarter than I am.
We spent a whole day riding about 20 miles all through hills, streams, and valleys. We got to trot with the horses and even canter! Few things in life will make you feel more free than galloping through a wide open valley. All of my Disney Princess fantasies came true that day!
I won’t soon forget Patagonia. After experiencing just a small fraction of this place’s beauty during our 7-day trip, my heart will always smile thinking about Torres del Paine National Park. Until we return, I guess I will just have to keep practicing making Pisco Sours at home!