We left El Calafate and drove in a day, back into Chile, to Puerto Natales where we had a one-night stop over to buy supplies for a 5-day visit at the next highlight of the trip – the Torres Del Paine National Park. The park is 170km from Puerto Natales mostly on ‘Ripio’ dirt roads and there are limited and expensive resources there, so it was best to stock up in town.
The Torres Del Paine are huge clatter of mountains all gathered up in one area to form a fantastic arrangement of sharp peaks and rock formations. It looks like someone baked a 3-tier wedding cake from the finest rock ingredients and then dropped it from a great height onto the ground. As with the Moreno Glacier, scale is part of the equation as you can view the whole assembly as you approach it. Consider yourself as an ant looking at the dropped wedding cake and you’ll get the picture. There are layers of rock in every colour imaginable – sharp black granite, softer rocks in various hues of yellow & mustard, rusty reds (the jam in the wedding cake), bluey greys and a liberal icing of snow and ice with a huge slab to one side forming the Grey Glacier. In the debris fields surrounding this centrepiece there are lakes aplenty and the whole area is teeming with wildlife – guanacos, rheas, condors and Grey Patagonian Foxes. In short it is perhaps the finest piece of mountain scenery in the world that you could ever hope to lay your eyes on! Our expectations for Torres Del Paine were high and they have been not only met but surpassed.
Of course it is a hikers paradise with campsites and Refugios (shelters) dotted across the park. The main walk is called the ‘W’ and takes 3 – 4 days to complete. The ‘W’ is formed by the Grey Glacier on the left, The Valle de Frances in the centre and the walk up to the Mirador Las Torres on the right. We weren’t up for the whole walk (we didn’t have the right gear for the 2/3 day outings on the Grey & Valle de Frances sections) but we did manage to complete the walk up to the Mirador Las Torres (a 10 hour all-day effort to see a lake under the 2,800 metre ice-smoothed towers) and we got to see the views of the other parts from shorter walks around Lakes Nordenskjold, Pehoe & Grey. The weather has been astounding throughout. In fact it has been lovely all through our trip to date with sunny blue skied days – not too warm as to be oppressive and sunsets at 10-ish every evening, giving a wonderfully long day.
We camped at the main Torres site for the first 3 nights and then had 2 nights at Lake Pehoe at the other end of the park. The campsites were superb – very clean and well maintained with the most impressive backdrops possible – just throw your tent up anywhere, open the door & you have a view to die for! At Lake Pehoe we had the best camping site in the whole world, down by the waterside with the impressive array of the snow covered Paine Grande mountains and the massive 2500 metre Cuernos (Horns) formations towering across at the other side of the lake. Early morning at sun up produced whole series of ‘magic mountains mirrored in the lake’ photographs – suitable for any wall calendar!
Leaving the Torres Del Paine after our 5 nights, we both feel totally revitalised – full of life! We have exercised with our walks every day and eaten extremely well – canned tuna with pasta in red-wine sauces as the staple, accompanied by stream or lake cooled wine or beer. Oh and we have nice sun-tans (faces & arms only) into the bargain. It is simply one of the best places we’ve ever been and have spent hours debating the qualities of this park and how it compares with Yellowstone (our current number one best-ever-spot in the world). The jury is still out for now but it is a close contest!