Torres del Paine with a Twist
For many travellers, particularly for those with a penchant for the great outdoors, Torres Del Paine is an area high on their wanderlust tick-list. Scott Dunn South America Specialist Konrad Mludzinski recently returned to this ice-capped paradise. Here, he gives us the lowdown on his trip, on which he endeavoured to venture off the beaten path and explore some of the park’s lesser-known trails and viewpoints.
17 May 2022
Tucked away in the southern depths of Chile’s Patagonia region, Torres del Paine is one of the most remote areas on the continent and getting there takes the best part of a day from the capital, Santiago. So, as our vehicle hurtled along the dusty gravel track towards the national park, the snow-capped towering peaks glistening in the midday sun and punctuating the horizon, I thought how lucky I am to be revisiting this area again. These are without doubt the perks of working in travel, and something we’ve all missed over the past couple of years when such far-flung destinations have been nothing more than a distant memory.
On my previous visit, eight or so years ago, I completed the W-trek which, over the course of several days, tackles the most iconic and well-known trails within the national park, culminating in the challenging hike to the base of the towers. The jagged granite peaks and the emerald green glacial lake is probably the most famous and photographed viewpoint in the park. It was a truly rewarding experience, but this time around I wanted to see what else the area had to offer…
The major difference I noticed upon my return were the colours; it was early April and autumn was just setting in, so the forest was turning a dazzling array of golden yellows, deep oranges and ruby reds. This made for a super scenic horseback ride, with the mountain range reflecting in the verdant waters and the leaves beginning to fall from the trees. This was also a far more relaxing way of taking in the scenery (compared to an arduous trek); the only real effort required was mounting the well-trained horse and occasionally pulling on the reins to keep it from chomping on the grass. We capped off the excursion by sharing a crisp cold local beer with the two friendly gauchos who look after the horses and the local estancia, our guide helping to translate some interesting stories between our two groups.
However, you don’t have to be a seasoned hiker or a keen rider to enjoy Torres del Paine. All the lodges that we work with in the area offer a wide variety of guided activities. Of course, there are the more strenuous full-day treks, but these are complemented by shorter hikes to magnificent viewpoints, bike rides, fishing trips and boat excursions. And with such an abundance of wildlife in this remote part of the world, every excursion offers the opportunity to spot condors, foxes, rheas (ostrich like birds), vicuñas (related to llamas) and pumas. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever envisage the chance to see a puma (also known as a mountain lion) in the wild, but lo and behold, on my second day we were fortunate to see not one but two! It was a magical moment and we stood in silence for a good twenty minutes watching a young male stalking a herd of vicuñas across the grassy plains. Other guests we met on our trip had been even more fortunate and seen a female with small cubs crossing the road right in front of their vehicle – proof that the puma population is doing well in the area.
As if all of these experiences weren’t amazing enough, we definitely saved the best until last. Our guide had been telling us about an unusual hike to Sierra Baguales, something that is exclusive to guests staying at Awasi Patagonia. At first, I wasn’t entirely convinced, because it’s in the opposite direction to the famous peaks and the national park, but he assured us that this was the “real, remote Patagonia” and that we wouldn’t see any other tourists. So, on our last day, we bundled into our 4x4 (a must in these parts), with our guide at the helm and our backs to the Paine Massif. For the entire journey (1.5 hours) we didn’t pass a single other vehicle on the road and just the odd rural estancia. Eventually, we came to the end of the public road and began our journey across private land, having to avoid the grazing cattle that call this area home. Once parked up, we began our climb to the viewpoint and it was at this stage that it dawned on us how far from civilisation we were… It was deathly silent! Our guide also pointed out that just over the next ridge was Argentina, which was completely mind blowing as we could have walked there if we’d wanted to (and been fit enough)! The surrounding mountain range and peaks were stunning and we walked in almost silence as we absorbed our new surroundings and fresh air. We eventually stopped at a rocky outcrop, where we discovered our final surprise of the day – hundreds of fossils dating back millions of years! It was at this point that the heavens opened (the first time we’d seen rain in four days), so we scrambled backdown the hillside to our vehicle. By the time we had turned back onto the main road (an hour later), the rain had stopped and the sun was once again out in its full glory. So we pulled over, found a quiet spot away from the road with a view towards Argentina, and our guide surprised us with a delightful picnic, washed down with a local cocktail and a glass of wine. By the time we had finished our meal, our clothes had dried out and we were ready to return to the lodge and jump into the heated outdoor hot tub that had been prepared for us earlier that morning. A truly unforgettable and special day, and something that is exclusive to those staying at Awasi!