This is the second part of a two-part series from my Travel Journal of my Patagonia tour. If you missed Part I, please click here to read about my trip to the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina.
Patagonia: Home of the Gods (Part II)
(A page from my Travel Journal of my Patagonia tour)
After a few days of total relaxation in the charming town of El Calafate (map) in Argentina, we made our way back to Puerto Natales (map) in Chile, where we were treated to another absolute highlight of our Patagonia trip: the Torres del Paine National Park (map). It was another early start, this time at 7am, and we drove northwards from Puerto Natales. It was a glorious day: clear and sunny, but cold and windy.
Trip to Torres del Paine National Park
The Torres del Paine NP is one of those few places on Earth that will absolutely blow your mind away. We spent the whole day driving through the park and the scenery along the way was so intense that the superlatives I had in mind weren’t sufficient to describe this place. We saw huge, imposing mountains, with granite faces that rise vertically almost 3,000m (+10,000 feet) high; magnificent jagged peaks that resemble the tips of fountain pens; immense turquoise and dark blue lakes, some littered with gigantic icebergs; eery moss-covered forests; gorgeous alpine meadows; impressive volcanos; massive glaciers; crystal-clear rivers full of salmon and trout; and beautiful waterfalls.
One of the highlights of this trip was the trek along the shores of Lago Grey (Grey Lake). It’s one of the many lakes in the park but the scenery is simply mind-blowing. Imagine a dark-blue lake surrounded by gigantic mountains on all sides. On the far side of the lake, the Grey glacier lazily meanders down from the lofty cloud-covered peaks of the far reaches of the Andes, depositing huge chunks of electric blue ice into the lake’s dark waters.
I remember my first glimpse of the lake very clearly: the cold wind howled and the clouds cast a dark shadow across much of the lake. A small crack in the clouds allowed a single beam of sunshine through, like a spotlight that lit the edges of the lake. The brilliant blue of the icebergs floating in the lake were illuminated like giant magic crystals – I’ll never forget that sight – whilst in the distance, the awe-inspiring peaks of the Torres del Paine formed a spectacular backdrop.
Braving the cold the following morning, I chose to have a cup of coffee out on the hotel’s terrace (everyone thought I’d gone mad). I sat there in complete solitude and listened to the friendly chirping of the birds. I stared at the awesome Torres del Paine mountains and pinched myself several times – yes, this was for real. Seriously, if Bora Bora was a “little piece of heaven“, then Patagonia (and Torres del Paine in particular) must surely be the Home of the Gods.
Throughout my travels, I’ve not seen anything so spectacular and magnificent. Yes, landscapes like this exist in places like New Zealand’s South Island but absolutely not on this scale. We spent two days just gaping at the scenery and there were lots of ‘ooohhs’, ‘aahhhs’ and ‘wows’ from the group. Well, let the photos speak for themselves. This place is just incredible. We were very lucky of course because the weather was good throughout most of our two days there and aside from the occasional clouds and showers, we had unobstructed views of the Torres del Paine peaks most of the time.
Seno Ultima Esperanza boat trip
The next day, we went for a boat trip along the Seno Ultima Esperanza (or Last Hope Sound – love that name!) to two other glaciers: Balmaceda and Serrano. It was another beautiful day and the trip was just gorgeous. The sound was breathtaking, with mountains rising steeply on both sides to their snow-covered peaks more than 2,000m (+6,000 feet) high; cliffs that harbour a variety of wildlife including sea lions, condors and cormorans; and countless waterfalls and cascades down the mountainsides.
The glaciers were stunning – that icy blue is just magnificent! After cruising past the Balmaceda glacier, we docked near the Serrano glacier and were led through the forest along a series of trails to various look-out points which offered stupendous views of the Serrano glacier and the little icebergs in the lake.
That afternoon, we docked at an estancia (a cattle ranch) where we were treated to a lovely BBQ lunch with heaps of grilled beef, pork, lamb and chicken. Good stuff! As we left the estancia, the weather turned quite suddenly. The sunny sky turned a dark grey in an instant and it started to pour. We were tossed around by big waves and strong winds as we cruised back to Puerto Natales. I’m quite accustomed to bad weather on boats now 🙂 so I just shrugged it off and fell asleep!
When we reached Puerto Natales, we were taken to the bus terminal where we boarded a regular bus to Punta Arenas (map). Punta Arenas is the southernmost city on the American continent. Located on the shores of the Strait of Magellan, the city is really interesting and colourful and boasts an amazing history of pioneers, immigrants, booms and busts and Antartic explorers. By the time we arrived in Punta Arenas (about a three hour bus ride from Puerto Natales), it was dark and very cold and windy, and we were totally exhausted. We checked into our hotel, Cabo de Hornos, which faces the town’s main square. After a quick dinner, I was glad to just climb into a nice warm bed and doze off.
The next morning, we were taken on a short tour of Punta Arenas, a very pleasant city. I especially loved the brightly coloured houses and the broad avenues. We were driven up to a viewpoint where we had a brilliant view of the city, the dark blue Strait of Magellan and Tierra del Fuego in the distance. From here, it really did feel like we were at the ‘end of the world’ as the tourism office here proclaims. Funny though because Punta Arenas is as southerly as Amsterdam is northerly, yet it feels so much more remote. Could it be because most of the planet’s landmass (and its population) is in the northern hemisphere? I guess it’s just a state of the mind.
After the viewpoint, we went to the Salesian museum where we had a great overview of the city’s history. Fascinating, albeit dusty, place filled with the adventures and haunting stories of the city’s earliest inhabitants. The highlight of the tour was the city’s cemetery. Morbid, no. Stunning, yes! The cemetery was opened in the late 19th century by one of the city’s richest citizens, a wool baroness by the name of Sara Braun. Her tomb and that of her husband’s are absolutely impressive. The other tombs (little houses where whole families are laid to rest) were really beautiful – I loved the manicured trees too.
That evening, we had a scrumptious dinner at Remezón, where we got a taste of Patagonian cuisine. That’s another highlight of Punta Arenas: its fabulous cuisine. There are various top-notch restaurants in the city but Remezón was my favourite. The fresh seafood and local Patagonian meats were simply superb. AND they’re especially generous with their pisco sour! 🙂
I feel so privileged that I’ve been able to witness the immaculate nature of Patagonia. My memories of this bewildering region will be ingrained in my mind forever.
Other Travel Journal entries include:
- Some lazy days in Salta (Salta, Argentina)
- The spectacular bus ride from San Pedro de Atacama to Salta (Chile/Argentina)
- Mystical Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile)
- My great laundry adventure (Bariloche, Argentina)
- A little piece of heaven (Bora Bora, French Polynesia)
- That rock star feeling in the Lost World (Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina)
- Getting over my Jaws complex (Lang Tengah, Malaysia)
- The wonders of Angkor Wat (Cambodia)
- A desert full of wonders (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile)