Breath-taking Torres

Torres del Paine 045 If you like nature, especially hiking and geology, you’ll love Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile.  It’s not easy to get to (one of its redeeming features), but it’s just an amazing place to be.  The views are stunning, the mountain peaks superb, and the glaciers breath-taking, and the guanacos ubiquitous (too ubiquitous?!?!).

Torres del Paine 015 We flew into Puerto Natales on a small plane, landing in winds gusting up to 60 mph.  It’s the first time I’ve ever hit my head on the ceiling of an airplane, despite having my seatbelt on.   We landed safe and sound, though, and were off to the Explora (great place to stay) in Torres del Paine.   On the way, though, we stopped at a cave where paleontologists had discovered milodon fossils less than 100 years ago.  The milodon is a large (3 meters high) sloth-like creature that is almost as frightening as the four more modern creatures recently sited at this cave.  Apparently, Patagonia was quite a hotbed of dinosaur activity millions of years ago.

Torres del Paine 125 I had been to this park in 1991, and still recall the great hikes.  The interior of the park hasn’t changed much since then, although there are many more lodges here (including where we stayed), more developed roads, and more guanacos (smaller versions of a llama, and a relative of the camel).  In 1991, there were about 250 guanacos in the park, and the current population is more than 4,000.  The natural predator of the guanaco is the puma, which must be enjoying the guanaco surge, although we failed to spot this elusive cat.

Torres del Paine 088 We spent three+ full days here, full of hiking and, for the girls, horse-back riding.  The best hikes were to Gray Lake, with great views of the Gray Glacier, and several large icebergs that had broken off.  We also went on a hike to get a great look at the three towers that from the Torres.  BTW, Torres del Paine is a multi-language amalgam, with “torres” meaning towers in Spanish, and “paine” meaning blue in the native language here.  And while the towers didn’t strike us as particularly blue, the glaciers certainly were.

Torres del Paine 224 We got some great views of a Gray Fox while out hiking., along with some nice views of Andean Condors flying not too far overhead.  We had some other nice animal sightings (no snakes or other reptiles, to the chagrin of our kids!), but the real appeal of Torres del Paine is the spectacular geology.  The Andes are the world’s youngest and most active mountain range, and the southern tip of them occurs where there are layers of granite and shale quite visible in the peaks.  They just rise straight up from their bases, and tower over the glacial lakes in the valleys.  The glacier activity here was fierce historically, and several large glaciers remain active in the area.

Torres del Paine 235 Make no mistake about it, Patagonia is the land of the wind.  Several of the vans driving around the park had broken windows — not from rocks or vandalism, but from gusts powerful enough to shatter the glass.  We had times when the wind was blowing so hard that it would knock us off our feet.  And all of us had fun at times leaning against the wind, which was so strong that we couldn’t fall down even if we wanted to.  The wind was often blowing 50 mph and the gusts could go up to 80 mph.  Torres del Paine is at the same southern latitude as London is in the northern hemisphere, but the climates couldn’t be more different.  Of course, being located at a latitude where no other land masses exist, and having a current running by directly from Antarctica, can create unusual circumstances.

Torres del Paine 028 There’s something of a selection process that affects the people who come here.  It’s not an easy place to get to, and you have to really value an outdoors experience to make the trek down here.  We found the people staying at the Explora (photo of the lodge on the right) to be fascinating, and had almost as much fun in the restaurant area or on vans chatting with the other guests as we had when we were out hiking around.  If you go to Torres del Paine, stay at the Explora; it’s such a great place, it’s worth planning your visit around its availability.

Torres del Paine 023 On our last day, Sterling went for a swim in the river running by the Explora,  This river is fed directly from glacial melt.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have a camera to record this swim for posterity, but the rest of us were reminded of two summers ago, when she went swimming in a glacial lake in Alaska, complete with icebergs.  Somehow, she inherited some polar bear genes!

All in all, an awesome destination, and our last stop in Chile, a country we’ll be very sad to say good-bye to.  But we’ll definitely be back, since it has so much to offer.  Click here for more photos.

One Response to “Breath-taking Torres”

  1. Bambi Says:

    You’ve convinced me- I can’t wait to visit Chile!
    Just glad you weren’t blown away…

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