Holiday in Chile (8): Torres de Paine National Park

It was a fabulous day (Tuesday) as we spent our time travelling to and around Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. We knew that it would be cold in Patagonia, so I wore a thick shirt, a jumper and a padded jacket plus scarf, gloves and hat. In fact, it was not that cold today and not really windy, so we were quite comfortable and had great views of the terrain.  

We set off from our hotel in Punta Natales at 9 am and reached our hotel in the national park about 4.30 pm, so we were on the road for some six and a half hours but, in that time, we made around 10 stops of different lengths.

The first major stop was at a tiny village called Ville Cerritos Castillo. For our group, this was an opportunity for coffee and toilets but the location is also a route to enter nearly Argentina, Next stop was to view the gorgeous Sarmiento Lake.  Then we halted for our first view of a herd of guanacos, relations of the llamas and alpacas. From then on, we saw the guanaco everywhere and each time the British group of animal lovers would cry louder “Oh. Oooh, Aaaah” followed by semi-hysterical laughter. 

About noon, we paused at a spot where there was a couple of shelters so that group members could partake of a packed lunch since there are no facilities whatsoever in the national park. The next stop was at Cascada Paine which is the watershed of the Serrano River and a truly impressive waterfall.  

Only at this stage did we enter the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine proper. The word ‘Torres’ refers to the towers of rock – the granite peaks rise up to 2,800 metres (over 9,000 feet) – while ‘paine’ means blue in the indigenous language. The park covers 1,810 square metres (almost 20,00 sq ft), so there is a lot to see. 

The park has several entrances and we entered at Laguna Amarga. We soon reached a special sight: the Salto Grande which is the waterfall of the Paine River with a particularly powerful flow. The area is noted for its sudden and strong winds, but members of the group set out for a walk along a rocky pathway. One by one members turned back until only three were left: Edwin, Silvia and me. However, the weather was becoming grim and eventually even the intrepid trio returned to the coach. 

It was terrific day. Round every corner and over every hill, there was another wonderful view that cried out to be photographed. And there was so much more to see.  

We stayed in the park for two nights at Hotel Grey overlooking Lake Grey which in turn is overlooked by snow-capped mountain peaks – a magnificent location (but with slow and intermittent WiFi because of the isolation and the weather). 

Wednesday was another wonderful day as we spent the morning on an excursion titled Navigation To Grey Glacier. In the night, we had lashing rain and whistling wind. In the morning, it was dry and less windy but still overcast. So this time I wore a thick shirt, two jumpers and a padded jacket plus scarf, gloves and (when the wind allowed) a hat.

The term Grey Glacier is a bit of a misnomer: it is a glacier at the end of the Grey Lake which is indeed grey because of the sediment but the glacier itself is bright blue because of the absorption of light by the ice. 

There was a walk of an half hour or so to the vessel and this walk was mainly over exposed flats where the wind tore into one’s body and whipped off my hat. Our vessel was a catamaran called “Grey III” which takes 98 passengers in its main cabin with bright orange life belts for each passenger which have to be worn when out on deck. 

The trip was about two and a half hours in all. Most of the first hour was travelling out to the Grey Glacier front wall during which time we were given information about the glacier, offered an alcoholic sour drink, and viewed the imposing mountains and dramatic landscapes. The Grey Lake is 475 metres deep and 15 kms long. 

The Grey Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field which is 80% in Chile and 20% in Argentina. This ice field is the third largest block of ice on the planet after Antarctica and Greenland. It has 49 glaciers of which six are in the Torres de Paine National Park.  The Grey Glacier front wall is over 25 metres high and it really is blue and the floating icebergs looked even bluer. To view such spectacles of nature so close is an awe-inspiring experience and the cold and the wind served to  make this experience even more memorable. 


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