HALF MOON BAY, Calif., November 2, 2012—Chile’s Patagonia region is such a wild and beautiful place, filled with awe-inspiring beauty in its varied scenery, that during my recent visit, I very nearly gasped every time I looked around.
Consisting of 370,000 acres, Torres del Paine National Park is the centerpiece of Chilean Patagonia. It attracts travelers from around the world to view its spectacular landscapes, which include mountains, forests, pampas, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. The most adventurous of the park’s visitors come to climb the peaks of the Paine Massif.
The superstars of the Paine Massif may be the granite spires of the Torres del Paine towers, but the Cuernos del Paine packed the biggest punch for me. The two-toned sedimentary and granite peaks always seemed to grab the best light and clouds to keep my attention focused in their direction.
The water features are jaw-droppingly gorgeous in even the worst weather. The four glaciers within Torres del Paine National Park include the Grey, Pingo, Frances, and Dickson glaciers. And each of the park’s lakes has its own unique beauty, which makes it worth taking the time to visit them all.
In my short stay, I hiked along buttresses to spot condors, hiked the Paso de la Guitarra, climbed to the Mirador Ferrier, and went horseback riding in Estancia Lazo before having a tasty Patagonian barbecue.
Hikers and trekkers can enjoy a wide variety of the park’s trekking circuits — from the relatively short Circuito Las Torres to the seven-day Paine Circuit, which surrounds the Paine Massif. The Paso de la Guitarra, located at the southern edge of the park, winds through fairytale forests and borders Lago Maravilla and Lago Porteño, before ending at the turquoise waters of Lago del Toro. The day I was there, the only person I saw aside from my hiking companions was a gaucho in a tattered leather jacket, riding horseback and accompanied by his dogs while rounding up cattle.
The fantastic lookouts in the park include a steep trail to the Mirador Ferrier. The challenging hike has a big payoff, however: a spectacular view of Grey Glacier, the Paine Massif, Paine river, Lago del Toro, and more. In early September, snow remained knee deep on the uppermost parts of the trail, turning away anyone without hiking boots.
One of the best ways to feel connected to both the nature and people of Patagonia is a horseback ride among the wild landscape, capped with a meat-rich Patagonian barbecue. Mine, at Estancia Lazo, included a tasty barbecue over an open fire, homemade bread, locally made beer, and a table full of tasty lunch fixings. The best added bonus of the afternoon was watching Cooter, the estancia’s dog, monitor the barbecue as if he were the sous chef.
Where To Stay:
There are a variety of choices in Chile’s Patagonia region, ranging from camping and hostel-type accommodations to luxury resorts. I stayed at Tierra Patagonia Hotel & Spa, one of the luxury properties. But here’s the thing: it’s all-inclusive luxury with amazing service.
Opened at the very end of 2011, the resort allows guests to enjoy the region’s dramatic beauty in five-star comfort. Tierra Patagonia’s 40 rooms come in three styles: suites, superior rooms and family apartments. Superior rooms are just spacious enough, with a huge bathroom and tub with a view. Suites boast a two-story loft design with a living space up top and sleeping space below. Family apartments are made of two interconnecting superior rooms, thus allowing a family not only more space, but two bathrooms as well. All hotel rooms have showers and bathtubs, L’Occitane products, robes, slippers, hairdryers, and in-room safes.
There’s a three-night minimum at the all-inclusive resort. Rates start at $1,950 per person for three nights, based on double occupancy. Staying an odd number of nights? A third of the three-night rate is $650. Tierra Patagonia’s all-inclusive offerings include transfers to and from the Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, or Calafate airports; three meals per day and open bar; daily excursions; and use of the Uma Spa facilities (treatments are available for an additional charge). Special rates are available for children and teens.
Jill K. Robinson is an award-winning journalist and adventure seeker. Follow her adventures on dangerjillrobinson.com and Twitter @dangerjr. Jill is an avid kayaker and owner of Half Moon Bay Kayak Company.
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