We left Puerto Natales around 11AM towards Torres Del Paine. When we left, we were crossing our fingers for better weather, but our drive was filled with wind and rain. On the way to Torres Del Paine, we were treated to such beautiful sights (as beautiful as it could be in heavy rain and wind), such as lakes, mountains, and even a rock formation, Silla del Diablo, that reminded us of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
We arrived at Torres Del Paine around 1PM, and paid our entrance fees ($21,000CLP or $31USD each). Torres Del Paine is the largest National Park in Chile, and attracts over 140,000 visitors a year. The visitor center explained that our pass was good for three days, and since we didn’t have a camping reservation, we would be able to camp in our van in any parking lot that had a bathroom.
Our first stop was Grey Lake. We wanted to do the 2-hour hike to the view point of Grey Glacier. We stayed in the parking lot for an hour to eat our lunch and to wait out the storm. We saw people coming back from the trail looking soaked, but happy and smiling. We waited until we thought there was a break in the storm and went for it. If our first mistake was doing the trail during a storm, our second mistake was wearing ponchos. The first 1KM was in a forest, and sheltered by the trees – we thought, this is easy. The trail then leads to an open beach area of the lake, and the wind was insane. They had been predicting 95 km/hr winds that day, and I though I don’t know if they actually made it that high it sure felt like it! Walking through this 1.5 KM open area was the most challenging part of the trail. At this point, the ponchos were useless. We got to the view point, took a few photos and rushed through the rest of the trail. When we made it back to the van, we were cold, wet, and exhausted from the wind. We drove to the nearby visitor center and decided to make camp for the night. The rain and wind continued to be heavy, in fact, throughout the night we woke up several times thinking we were experiencing an earthquake. It was a rough night to say the least, and sleep didn’t come easy. We were so tired, we didn’t get out of bed till 11AM the next morning.
We had a late start and still felt groggy from our lack of quality sleep. We started the drive through the park hitting viewpoints, and planned on finding a small trail to do. The weather was better on this day, although the wind was still a bit intense. We made a point to check out the Salto Chico (small waterfall) near Hotel Explora Patagonia. The falls were beautiful, but what surprised us more was the visit of a South Andean deer. The South Andean deer is in danger of being extinct. There are only 100 of them in the National Park (and less than 1000 in the world!) – so we were stoked we saw a female one. One thing we noticed almost immediately was the thick fur this deer had compared to ones we see often in California. After admiring the doe, we continued our drive in the park, stopping any opportunity we had to capture the beauty of the park.
Our next big stop was the Salto Grande (large waterfall), which is near the Cueros lookout trail. The trail was about 5KM and went through a large meadow, a lakeshore and ended with the view of Cueros Del Paine mountain. At different points in the hike, the wind would get so strong it would blow water from the lake onto the trail. During those times, we would feel like we couldn’t control our body, the wind decided were our feet were going – it was a strange feeling.
We headed to our next campsite, a brand new visitors center parking lot close to Torres Del Paine trail head. We were excited to see friendly faces of travelers we have met at a Shell Station weeks ago, Christian and Jen. They had done the trail that day, and were leaving the next morning going South. Christian and Jen have traveled from San Diego in their van and were heading to Ushuaia. They had fixed up their van, which was optimal for camping. Christian and Jen have an amazing blog: theglobetrol.com. Check it out. We enjoyed hours laughing and talking about our experiences in South America. Christian & Jen – hope you both are doing okay!
We were excited to do the Torres Del Paine hike, and left our van at 10:30 AM. It was about 1-2KM to reach the trail head from our van, which wasn’t hard to find since hundreds of people were doing the same thing. The trail map indicated it was 19 KM roundtrip. Throughout the trail, there are several bridges, many of which indicate only two people could be on the bridge at a time – causing some backups at various trail points. Within the first hour of our hiking, we saw our friend Chris from Tierra del Fuego! Small world! She said that her husband, Chris, is up ahead and doing the full trail. We hoped we would see him on the trail, but didn’t. We also ran into a couple we met in Puerto Natales. The trail was interesting, although, we didn’t see much wildlife on the hike, with the exception of a few birds here and there. We experienced all types of weather during the hike. At first, it was hot enough to remove our jackets, then the wind started, then the rain came, and then sleet, and finally snow in the last kilometer. The last kilometer to the viewpoint is by far the toughest part. It took us close to an hour to do it. It is loose rocks, and a steep incline, with the amount of people and traffic, it made it extremely challenging. With each step, we weren’t completely sure if the rock(s) would take our weight, which resulted in Steve and I slipping quite a bit.
We finally reached the viewpoint and our jaws dropped. It was beautiful and snowing lightly. We sat and stared for about 30 minutes. A South American Gray fox was nearby looking for food, and without me realizing, was about 3 feet behind me. I turned around to see the stunning animal, calm and majestic. Steve and I, full of aches, headed back to the van. The hike back was hard as we were already tired, but we made it back to our van by 6:30pm. We cooked dinner and without much energy was in bed by 8:30pm.
The next day, we chatted with Chris & Chris, who also camped out in the parking lot. We said our goodbyes, and hit the road. On our way out of the park, we stopped at a few viewpoints and were sad to leave the park.
We arrived at the border crossing around 10AM, and were shocked at how many cars were there. The border crossing is an hour away from Torres Del Paine, so we assumed it must be a busy travel day. When we entered inside Chile’s border control, we saw that the Aduana (Customs) were only open for a few hours a day – 7:30-8:30AM, 12-1:30PM, and 9-10PM. We overheard someone in line say that there was a labor dispute and this was their strike. We hadn’t had internet while in Torres Del Paine, so had no idea this was going on. We waited till noon, when only one of two windows opened… and we were in a line with no agent. A hot mess occurred, with local tour guides trying to merge the lines fairly. People complained, yelled and lost patience. Within 10 minutes, a second agent opened up the other window, where people rushed to that window. Once again, the tour guides tried to intervene to make it fair. Eventually, Steve and I got our approval, and rushed to the car to get to Argentina’s border control, in hopes we would beat the large busses full of 50+ people. We got lucky, and arrived to an empty building. We were in and out of Argentina’s office within 10 minutes.
We hopped back on our old friend – Ruta 40! We spent a full day of driving – 12 hours. We stopped at a gas station for a fill, and the gas attendant was shaking the van excessively. We thought it was odd, and when we turned the van on again, our check engine light was on. We called the 24-hour number Wicked gave us, and they basically said, if it drives okay we should be fine to continue on. Exhausted, we finally stopped at a river we had camped at on the way down. We arrived around 10PM, and weren’t surprised to see a few other campers there in better spots. We were tired, hungry and didn’t care we parked, or what view we had. A solid night sleep is what we needed, and what we got.
Next Post – Carretera Austral