Our Last Day in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

At 3:30 am, the stars twinkled overhead. We dressed in pants and long sleeves and packed our jackets, hats, gloves, and snacks up to Torres del Paine under of the guidance of our headlamps along with a trail of lights from other campers. The ranger suggested we arrive by 4:45am to see the sunrise. I think we got there sooner.

Once again, we climbed up the rocky hillside for a perfect view only we weren’t sure exactly where the sun would rise. We broke a sweat as we ascended and piled on extra layers of clothes. It’s amazing how warm both our sleeping bag and the sun is, as the darkness in Patagonia is cold! I put on all my clothes and had to dance around occasionally to keep my feet and hands from going numb.

The thin wisps of clouds behind the torres turned pink around 5 am. I think we may have waited an additional 1.5 hours to see the sun light up all the torres on the diagonal. It was breath taking to watch the grey granite torres turn more and more orange with every minute as the color moved down the rocks. As we waited we saw an avalanche. The morning couldn’t have been any better! It was spectacular to end 2015 and begin 2016 at the Torres del Paine…and with perfect weather to boot!

Photos every 15 minutes starting at 5am. Watch the light change!:

IMG_7977 sunrise 1

IMG_8034 sunrise 5

Other photos from New Year’s morning:

With our legs on the tired side, we strolled down to camp, heated some water for oatmeal and coffee, and packed up our gear. I read it took 3.5 to 4 hours to get down to the hotel for the shuttle ride. We had tickets for the 2:30 Bus Gomez who really has their act together. We had to get the 2 pm shuttle from the hotel to Laguna Amarga for 2,800 pesos and wanted enough time to eat lunch by the hotel that is $500/night and requires a two night minimum stay. As such, we hiked down at a slow pace around 8:45am. I think it only took us 2.5 hours so we chilled out with some other campers while we waited for our transportation. One girl quipped, “This is going to be a stinky bus ride.” No doubt!

The shuttles ran at 9, 2, 4, 7:30, according to the chalk board at the ranch style hotel, but one came early around 1, so we hopped on and paid our fare. Sadly, we both fell asleep on the slow, 20 minute bus ride to the administration office where we waited in the shade of a shelter with several others for our 2 hour bus ride to Puerto Natales. We learned to dress according to the weather for the bus rides as A/C and heat were lacking. In shorts and T-shirts, we were hot!

From the bus station, we meandered through the quiet town as most everything was closed for New Year’s Day to Kau Lodge. This time at least we got twin beds that weren’t bunk beds. With nothing clean to wear, the shower became our washer and later in the evening we celebrated New Year’s dinner at Afrigonia which received spectacular reviews on Trip Advisor. I suppose we should have stuck with the regular menu as the king crab special was expensive, over cooked, and somewhat flavorless, especially with out warm butter. Having said that, with as much crab as I have shelled and eaten in my lifetime, I’ve never had a giant king crab placed in front of me. It was a fun experience, and David liked the curried shrimp and scallops he ordered. Not being a curry fan, I skipped that.

The coffee shop at our hotel has happy hour and makes tangerine sours. Apparently happy hour wasn’t over even though it was 9pm, so we ended the night with a sour and dessert. I think I passed out before 10, but who knows. We were up before 6 getting breakfast and a taxi to the bus station for the 7:15 am Bus Fernandez to Punta Arenas. This may have been the nicest bus with assigned seats, a bathroom, and temperature controlled.

We enjoyed our last view of the countryside…wind blown trees, lamb, guanacos, bus stops in the middle of nowhere, flowers that looked like blue bonnets, estancias and more. Three hours later we arrived at the airport, very early for our flight, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. The airport was small, but nice with two restaurants and three shops or so. The cash machine was out of order, so glad we didn’t need any money! We were trying to get rid of the rest of ours, and I have to say the restaurant upstairs was really good! I got a chicken sandwich that had about two avocados of guacamole…not the thin spread that barely covers the bread that restaurants in the States serve! We had an awesome trip, though I’m looking forward to home. ETB

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Hiking to Mirador Torres del Paine in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

After a very good egg breakfast, we left Los Cuernos just before 8 with our box lunch in hand. The park map suggested it would take about 7.5 hours to Campamento Torres by taking the “short cut” and not hiking by the hotel in the valley. As such we prepared ourselves for a long day of backpacking.

We climbed up and down the undulating, rocky path and wondered why it wasn’t cut closer to the lake’s shore that seemed much more level than the track we were traversing. We passed through some intermittent trees, but mostly followed the shoreline of the lake for a few hours under a partly cloudy sky. Along the way we spotted a few hares and listened to chirping song birds.

As we cut across the valley of rolling hills and wild flowers, the sun became more intense. We crossed many streams and tried not to kill ourselves on the primitive bridges and in mud pits. Soon we began a steep climb. From speaking with the group we met last night at dinner, I thought we had only just begun the climb to the intersecting trail from the hotel. I planned on refueling over lunch at the trail intersection to tackle the rest of the incline. We snacked on our pork tenderloin sandwich for energy and continued.

Little did I know, though winded, we had plowed through the hardest part relatively quickly. We reached a look out over the valley and saw a Refugio below. I thought this must be Refugios Torre Norte and Torre Central. From these we would continue the steep climb. As we rounded a tight turn, a young man commented, “You are almost there”.

David quipped, “Yeah, right”.

The young Asian replied, “No really! That building down there is Chileno.”

David and I looked at each other in dismay. We couldn’t believe we had reached El Chileno Refugio, operated by Fantástic Sur, so soon. We weren’t staying at Chileno, but we knew it was only 1.5 hours from Campamento Torres, and that we had just ascended the steepest part of the trail! About a mile earlier, we were discussing Chileno’s advertisement “Feeling tired, stop in to reserve a horse ride down the mountain”. Given we met 30 years ago riding horses, we thought it might be fun. By the same token, the weather was nice and we didn’t want to waste any time in the offices. Furthermore, we wanted the freedom to chose our schedule in the morning so with a bounce in our step, we strode forward.

As we hiked past the Refugio and through the camp grounds along the powder blue river with the Torres in sight, signs displayed 1 km to Campamento Torres. I was trying so hard to contain my excitement and hike slowly, but I don’t think I was succeeding. Anytime I have ever seen a photo that made my jaw drop, and I looked to see where the photo was taken, it was always the Torres in Patagonia. I have wanted to come here for years. With each step, I just kept hoping the clouds would cooperate!

The path led us across several bridges, many only supporting two people at a time, some only one, as we climbed up and down the steep terrain through a beautiful forest. As much as we enjoyed the forest, this elevation change was slightly unexpected based on our review of the map and our conversation with the group we met at dinner last night.

Soon we reached a sign for the camp. We were amped! We had reached the camp in 5 hours instead of 7.5 hours. With smiles spread across our faces and an energized laugh, we began looking around for the check in building. It wasn’t in sight! Confused, we wondered if we should have split off the path somewhere. It wasn’t long before some fellow trekkers hiking the opposite direction came along.

We asked, “How far is it to the campgrounds.”

The European gentleman replied, “45 minutes with your luggage.”

We must have looked at him in bewilderment because he quickly pointed to his partner and exclaimed, “Her English is better!”

With the language barrier, David asked with hand gestures, “Did you see an area with tents where you can sleep?”

She confirmed that the campground was 45 minutes away and there we signs pointing down to the camp and up to the Torres.

Ugh…a few more Kilometers! We probably would have enjoyed the lush vegetation much more had we not been so demoralized! We prodded on and reached camp in six hours instead of the 7.5 hour projection. I suppose we still should have been proud of ourselves, but by this time we were ready to dump our heavy packs, set up camp, and hike the last hour to the Torres lookout.

We presented the ranger with our reservation slip that took me a little while to find given the countless bus tickets, food tickets, and reservations slips I carried in my travel purse. We immediately headed to the back of the campground, found a flat spot beneath low hanging trees, and set up our tent. We threw our packs inside, planned on laying our sleeping out later, and stashed some snacks, water, and layers in our day packs. We were ready to tackle the final kilometer.

I couldn’t contain myself as I zoomed up the path. David remarked, “You know how sometimes you say I get crazed over good meals?”

I replied, “Yes, I know. I’m crazed over this photo!”

We criss-crossed a small stream on ladder-like bridges as we maneuvered over boulders, stairs of rocks and loose scree. The terrain was slightly similar to the top of a 14er though at a much lower altitude. Coming from 5,280 feet was a blessing for us, as it made the climbs somewhat easy.

With the Torres in sight, we rounded the bend and soon found the grey lake with the granite columns towering above. It was spectacular! And much to our surprise, there were far less people there than we expected. With a limited hiking area, we were able to scramble over some boulders to an area that allowed us to snap photos without anyone else in the pictures!

Loaded with many snacks, we hung out for probably three hours as we watched the cloud formations swirl around the north torre and many times change directions. Of course, I could never decide when the sky seemed the clearest, so I just snapped one photo after the next. I had to capture the waterfalls, the surrounding peaks, the valley behind us, and of course the Torres poking through the clouds. What a way to spend New Year’s Eve! We celebrated back in the tent with ricotta and spinach ravioli drenched in red sauce with a sprinkle of cheese, a bottle of red wine that David lugged all the way from Los Cuernos, Godiva Chocolate that I got for Christmas.

We hardly made it to 9pm, much less midnight, but we planned on waking at 3:45am to go up for sunrise as long as we could see the stars when we woke up. Today was all that I could have hoped and more! We had such good weather for the whole trip, I was worried our luck might run out. Fortunately, luck was on our side, and the landscape met my high expectations (which doesn’t always happen). ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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Loved Los Cuernos in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

In doing my research and planning this trip, I read we could camp at Británico. This was old information as this campground has been closed a few years. Perhaps I should have purchased a book on the park rather than scanning the internet. The closest alternative was Campamento Italiano, so that is how we ended up there. Camping at Italiano made yesterday a few hours longer, but it made for a very short day today. According to the signs, we only had to trek 2.5 hours to Los Cuernos, operated by Fantástico Sur, where we had our next accommodations reserved. As such, we slept in (at least for our standards). David heated up some water, and we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of oatmeal and coffee in our tent.

The trail to Los Cuernos led us around rock formations, along the river and through the woods. The wind was so still that the temperature felt warm. We had to break out the bug spray and the sunscreen as we donned T-shirts. Soon we arrived on the shores of Nordernskjöld Lake. Its glassy turquoise surface reflected the clouds in the sky. We just chilled on the rocky beach and admired the scenery.

After a two hour stroll up and down the rocky trail, we arrived at Los Cuernos. We arrived 30 minutes earlier than expected, so we had to wait a little while to check in, but in the mean time we enjoyed the deck and adjusted for a few unexpected items that reared their head. We thought we bought two packages of ravioli in the grocery store, but we only bought one, so we adjusted our dinner last night and opted to buy one more lunch at Los Cuernos or perhaps more provisions at Los Cuernos. The small store at Campamento Paine Grande sold pasta and the like, but we did not know if Los Cuernos did the same, so we thought requesting an extra lunch would be the best choice.


We were unaware that Los Cuernos gets their food by horseback, so accommodating us was a little bit of a challenge for them, but they hooked us up. The chef prepared a hot pasta lunch topped with meat just for us. Los Cuernos did not serve a buffet style lunch as we were accustomed to at Campamento Paine Grande. Had we known this, we would have just asked for a boxed lunch like we reserved in advance for tomorrow. Our other option was to eat some of our other food and get food at the end of the W or buy some cookies and chips which were the limited options at Los Cuernos along with wine and beer! David got some wine and cookies anyway. He was insistent on carrying a bottle all the way to Torres del Paine tomorrow for New Year’s Eve!

Enough about the logistics. The staff took us up the hillside to our cabin. I planned one day of luxury during our five nights in the park, and I wanted it to be in the middle of our camping experiences. Our cabin was a treat! It was only a room, but it had a giant bed, a wood burning stove, and an incredible view through its skylights and from its porch. We were steps away from a powerful waterfall that tumbled down the cliffside and our porch looked out on Nordernskjöld Lake and Francés Glacier. If that wasn’t enough, we could look out our skylight at granite peaks and more waterfalls! And to think I suggested we could skip our reservations at the cabins to take advantage of the good weather and go straight to the Torres lookout, for which the park is named.

David thought I was crazy yesterday when I suggested to skip the cabins if the weather was good. And once he saw the hot tub, I would have been in hot water, no pun intended, if I insisted we did. Clearly, photos of the torres were more important to me than comfort, though admittedly it was really nice to enjoy the glorious weather relaxing! So it probably isn’t hard to guess that David’s first stop was the hot tub! It looked like a whiskey barrel filled with river water and a woodburning stove with a black pipe sticking up! It probably wasn’t the most sanitary hot tub with ashes and gnats on the surface of only fresh water, but at least there was a skimmer to remove any debris.

I on the other hand, do not share the same excitement as David over hot tubs. The uniqueness of this one smack dab in the middle of amazing landscape, however, called my name for a few minutes. So I joined David in the warm water (I still wasn’t in hot water). I actually liked it better than normal because it didn’t make my skin crawl like most hot tubs. I still didn’t soak long, as I wanted a hot shower! The shower house, located behind our cabins, was clean and the shower had great water pressure though the drain could have been better. Regardless, I enjoyed my first HOT shower in the park.

We lounged around for the afternoon, read, and climbed on top of the nearby waterfall. For those who have the luxury of hiking the W route at a leisurely pace, having two nights in each general area of the park is the way to go. It provides so much flexibility if the weather stinks. My limited knowledge of the park resulted in a few planning mistakes that have worked out perfectly for us so far! Though the one plan that worked out the best, is that six months ago I could not get reservations at these cabins for the prior day when I wanted them so I reversed our entire trip. In hindsight, this made getting bus transportation more difficult, but it also saved us from being in the park during the snow storm and missing everything! We were in El Calafate and on the bus during the nasty weather. LUCKY!! I imagine the cabins wouldn’t have been quite as exciting if the weather were bad except they would have been a dry and warm place to stay.

Due to the small dining space, Los Cuernos has two seating times for meals. We chose the early dinner slot at 7. We were served chicken broth, a beef burger with hot sauce and rice that I didn’t find terribly appetizing, but then again we didn’t have to cook. We sat next to a tour group at the community tables. They were hiking the opposite direction of us. They hiked up to the Torres del Paine yesterday from Hotel Torres located in the valley. They said it was steep, and when we told them we were back packing up to Campamento Torres, a free campsite operated by the park only an hour from the lookout, they suggested we were in for a long day. The Aussies we met in Puerto Natales said the same thing. This conversation left me feeling a little nervous about tomorrow. The forecast also called for clouds, so I suggested to David that we could stop at the camping in the valley not far from the Hotel Torres at the Torre Central and Torre Norte Refugios operated by Fantástico Sur if we felt bad and the weather was bad as we had the next two days to see the Torres del Paine. David thought we could handle the elevation change, but we planned to play it by ear. ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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Valle del Francés in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

We arose early today. It’s not hard to do given it’s light at 5am. The moon lit the sky over the towers briefly before the clouds blew in. We packed up our camp and sat for the traditional South American camping breakfast. Toast, cheese, ham, oats, yogurt and surprisingly eggs that didn’t look like grits (yesterday was the first time we were served eggs for breakfast, but their texture was strange).

We turned in our lunch tickets for a to go box and stuffed it in our pack before we headed toward Campamento Italiano and the Valle del Francés. The wind gusted violently this morning. I was thankful to be following somewhat flat terrain through tall grass and low bushes by the lake so I could keep my balance. Soon we entered a stand of dead trees. It is amazing how well leafless trees block the wind. We turned from cold to hot as the morning sun gleamed on the white trunks. Eventually the dead trees turned to live ones, and we were in and out of stunted forest.

The path was muddy from the many waterfalls that spilled down the walls to our left into the lake on our right. Many of the boardwalks and bridges were in complete disrepair and may have been the only run down thing we’ve seen at the park thus far. Some of them looked rather dangerous. I was careful to walk on the boards with supports beams, and looked for ones that might pop up from being loose. Sometimes I just followed along the side in the mud.

After we made it around the lake and up and over the ridge, we walked through the prettiest forest yet with large trees and soon arrived at a rickety, suspension bridge over an aqua river with a fantastic view of Francés Glacier. This bridge led us to Campamento Italiano which is free and operated by the park. We filled out a form and provided our reservation tickets to the ranger before we seeked a campsite. We didn’t look long because we wanted to climb up to Británico whose trailhead begins at the camp. We found a flat spot not too far from all the amenities (a kitchen and bathrooms which were 80 yards away). Had we scouted at all, we could have found a quieter spot along the river.

We set up our tent quickly, packed up our day packs and followed the trail up the Valle del Francés. Signs pointed us in the direction of Británico. Our walk took us through the campground in the woods and then along a scree path. The gentle sloping path turned steep as we exited the forest to the rocks where we enjoyed a nice view of Francés while eating part of our lunch. We were still at the bottom of the trail, and I was feeling antsy as I wanted to reach the top during the nice weather given it is so unpredictable. Though during our short stop, we did spot another ice calving.

The path, peppered with location signs, crossed countless waterfalls. At times when the trail leveled out, it turned into a small stream. We trounced through the water, climbed over boulders, and wandered through more forest until we stopped again at Francés lookout. Several people had stopped here for lunch as it provided a close up view of the glacier. We didn’t stay long, but kept going toward Británico lookout. We passed through an open space with dead trees, more forest, and more rocky steep areas before we finally reached our resting point surrounded by granite towers and walls a few hours later. What a magnificent panoramic view!

Lucky for us, while slightly breezy, the usually windy lookout point was rather pleasant. We hung out with a handful of hikers for a few hours as we watched the clouds shift. Each set of peaks and walls, once wrapped in clouds soon protruded into blue sky. We sure have been fortunate with the weather! Come late afternoon, we ran out of snacks so we meandered slowly back to camp. Hearing several thunderous booms in the warming day, we decided to make one more stop at the glacier and wait to see ice calve. On the way up, we saw a few poofs of snow. At our final stop, we basically saw a waterfall of ice tumble down the rocks. With that, we finished our descent. After a ten mile day, we chopped up cheese and sausage and complemented it with dried fruit and walnuts for dinner. We were asleep by 9:15! The only disappointment is neither our pictures nor my description can do this place justice. It is so beautiful! ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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A Day Off In Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

So the beauty of reserving camping at Refugio Paine Grande two nights in a row is twofold.

1. In case of bad weather we could choose which day would be better suited for a hike to Glacier Grey

2. We could hike with a day pack, as opposed to backpacking to Refugio Grey on day 1 and backpacking back to Refugio Paine Grande on day 2

It rained off and on from midnight until 11 am. The wind battered our tent. Though the only, single pole alpine tent set up in camp, it survived handily. Since we hiked to Glacier Grey yesterday, we got to take a day off from hiking on a gloomy day. We showered when no one was around, though I would have liked my shower better had it been hot. It was cool with an occasional surge of luke warm water.

During the dreary morning, we played cards and read in the dining area. We warmed up with a hot lunch of lentil soup with salad and bread as we watched the changing weather pattern. Eventually, the sun peaked out. We thought we’d take advantage of the clearing sky to stretch our legs.

We strolled down to Lago Pehoé and found the trail that leads from the park’s administrative headquarters to our campground. This section is part of the Q route. There is also an O route. Both of these routes include the W, but extend to a less crowded section of the park. Having said that, we didn’t find our hike to Glacier Grey to be terribly crowded, especially in the evening.

So we climbed the path to the top of the ridge and admired the landscape from above our campground. On our way down, we saw a woman eating berries. We asked what they were and she replied, “Calafate berries”. We decided to try some, though I didn’t find them that tasty.

Dinner tonight was roast on rice with salad and cream of lentil soup with a terrible dessert and peach juice. After David’s third glass of juice, I said, “You know, I think that juice is straight from the canned peaches that were used for the peach tart last night.” He laughed and replied, “Yeah, and I think the cream of lentil soup is leftover water from the hot lunch that was served today.” Well, at least they aren’t wasteful!

Tomorrow we are headed to Campamento Italiano and Valle de Francés and the forecast seems promising! ETB

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Hiking to Glacier Grey in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine

Our bunk beds were rough for David. He nearly killed himself before we started the W route in Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Still in one piece, we had out breakfast at 6:30am. The lodges are very accommodating for those who leave before the scheduled breakfast time. As usual we got cheese, meat, yogurt, and toast. Eggs would be nice. They put eggs in soup, on pizza, and with a million other things, but not with breakfast.

IMG_3616 breakfast

We shared a cab with two more hikers to the bus station. The 30 minute walk is only a $3 cab ride! We had Buses Gomez tickets that our lodge purchased for us in advance for the 7:30am bus. As soon as it pulled into the terminal we walked outside. This was a brilliant choice. David threw the bags underneath, while I handed over the tickets, and we were the first of five to board the bus and to snag good seats. Being early kept us from waiting for a second bus, though they caravaned together so it didn’t matter too much.

The bus took us past estancias, guanacos and several farm animals during our two-hour transport to the park. We even spotted a grey fox trotting across the hills while waiting a few minutes by a construction site. As the park scenery came into view, at first I was very upset to be sitting on the right-hand side of the bus. Eventually, the road turned, however, and I got to snap some photos.

Several companies operate at the same time. They stop at a small town for a restroom break and soon arrive at Laguna Amarga. Here all passengers must fill out paperwork, purchase park passes, make campsite reservations for free locations, and watch a video on the rules of the park. David’s papers were in his backpack as was the itinerary I made which had the dates for reservations I needed. While I had it memorized, I felt better to have this in hand when making reservations, so we had to do some digging under the bus. I don’t recommend this. Luckily, we were able to get reservations at the free campgrounds when we wanted because some dates were already full. It was amazing that with all the people, no one seems to get left. The buses wait around a while, but it a little chaotic.

I read that we should take the ferry ride for beautiful views so instead of starting the hike at Laguna Amarga, we took the bus to the second stop…Pudeto. Here, we started the line for the 12 o’clock ferry. Boarding the ferry first allowed us to get seats up top for good pictures, however, our bags got stored at the bottom of the pack. I didn’t mind having to wait for our bag, as we had to pay for our $22 one way tickets in cash before we left the ferry anyway. We could have done that anytime during the boat ride, but we wanted to enjoy the view. We felt a like sardines on the ferry, but the spectacular weather made it worth the thirty minute ride across Lago Pehoé.

We had reservations for camping and food at Vertice Patagonia’s Refugio Paine Grande which was located adjacent the ferry dock on the south side of Cerro Paine Grande with magnificent views of los Cuernos del Paine. We checked in, received our laminated food tickets and set up our tent. Fortunately we had our own tent, as tent rentals sold out by the afternoon. The refugio was equipped with mens’ and womens’ bathrooms which included sinks, flush toilets and showers; a kitchen for campers to cook on their camp stoves; a large dining area; a small shop selling limited food supplies; and of course hostel style rooms with bunk beds should guests wish to share a room with strangers and not sleep in a tent.

After getting the lay of the land, I suggested we hike to Glacier Grey today as the last weather update I saw called for rain tomorrow. David was in a more lackadaisical mood until we checked the latest weather forecast with the staff. In Spanish, English, and hand gestures, we learned that tomorrow there would be a chance of rain and low clouds. The gentleman suggested the hike to Lago Grey was only two hours and told us to “go NOW”. Fortunately I had scheduled some buffer time upon arrival at the park because I didn’t have full confidence in the transportation system that they somehow have down to a science with paper tickets!

So we hustled back to our tent, tossed together our day packs and headed toward Glacier Grey around 2:30pm. Just near the turnoff to the trail, I read a sign “11K and 3.5 hours to the glacier”…hmmm. At a quick pace, we followed a light incline up an impressive valley through dead and stunted trees until we reached Los Patos Lagoon. Only 30 minutes into the hike, and we enjoying superb scenery which only got prettier as we climbed. Snow capped peaks towered over the Lago Grey which stretched the entire length of the trail. After about 1.5 hours of hiking, the glacier came into view. It looked magnificent in the nearly cloudless, sunny sky.

We stopped for a brief time to enjoy the grandeur before we continued toward the lookout point by the glacier. This is when we figured out the hike would take three hours at a steady clip as we were going beyond the lake and close to the base of the glacier. The sign and the staff were both right. We were the challenged ones! We had to hurry to finish as we had purchased dinner which ended at 9pm. At least we didn’t have to worry about the light given it doesn’t get dark until 10pm, and we had our headlamps anyway.

While we rushed toward the glacier through intermittent forest, I did not fail to take pictures. Flowers sprinkled the trail and waterfalls tumbled down the mountainside. Soon we reached Olguín bridge not too far from Refugio Grey, also operated by Vértice Patagonia. We passed by the refugio and through the campground to the final lookout point. We climbed out on the rocks, enjoyed a quick snack and view before racing back. Admittedly, I would have liked to enjoy a slower pace, but I also didn’t want to be the last one on the trail or miss our dinner. We capped our hike off by spotting six hares as we descended to our campground.

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

Our cafeteria style dinner was good, though nothing spectacular. The burger patty, potatoes, corn soup, salad and peach tart beat cooking dried camp food. After dinner, we admired an absolutely fantastic sunset that lit up the rocky Cuernos del Paine! We couldn’t have asked for a better day, especially when the clouds blew in just after dark at 10:30 and the rain began at midnight. ETB

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Navigating Puerto Natales, Chile

Our 5:30 bus came after 6 am. I guess that gave us a little more time for our breakfast that the hotel provided to us early. The company blamed the snowy weather. I could see why…we boarded a freezing cold bus with only one windshield wiper. Bundled in our puffy jackets and hats, we thought this will be a long ride to Puerto Natales. Just as we reached the outskirts of El Calafate, however, we met up with another bus and transferred. We gave up our front row seats for heat. I was OK with that trade!

Our bus took us past fields of snow that blended with a white sky. Sheep, guanaco (llama), rheas that look like ostrich, cows and horses peppered the fields that slowly turned green over our five hour drive. The sheep made me laugh because they ran away when the bus passed. They seemed so surprised, but they had to be used to it given all the scheduled bus transportation. On our way, we stopped at Hotel La Esperanza for our rest stop.

We arrived at the Argentinian border, got our passports stamped and then continued on to the Chilean border. In Chile we removed all our carry-ons from the bus, declared any food and passed through customs. The dog sniffed out fruit in our bags and helped agents search the bus baggage storage. The X-ray machine was somewhat useless because the agents only looked at the monitor half the time. We were ready to cross the border, but the bus driver didn’t have his papers! We were stranded 45 minutes away from Puerto Natales. What was funny, is this was the major piece of transportation I was most concerned about going as planned.

We waited a while because the driver said it would be 20 minutes. But after 45 minutes or so, we noticed a guide leading a tour group on our bus started looking for alternate transportation. When they ditched, David went in search of a new ride. A taxi had just pulled up to the border. $30 later, we were racing off the bus, crossing the border and jumping in a cab. It was pricey relative to the buses, but we needed to get cash, stop by the CONAF office, buy our camping food, get our bus tickets to Puntas Arenas upon our return from the W in Torres del Paine, find a park map, and come to find out buy another hat since I grabbed all of David’s stuff off the bus but managed to forget mine!

We checked into Kau Lodge around 1pm, got our room, and reimbursed our hotel $33 in cash for the Bus Gomez tickets to the park that they purchased for us in advance to guarantee us a space during the high season. As much as we would have liked to enjoy their awesome coffee shop, errands called our name. Once again, we had no problem getting cash, despite arriving on a Saturday, so I feel like the Fodor’s book is incorrect given we were visiting over the high season. The CONAF office posed more of a challenge. Our hotel staff guessed its location and was a few blocks off, but it didn’t matter as it is closed on Saturday (but of course it was open on Christmas). We needed to make reservations for some free campsites operated by the park, but it was required to make the reservations in person. We hoped we’d be able to make the reservations upon arrival in the park.

We checked the hours of the grocery store which remained open until 8, so we walked up the hill to the bus station where we purchased our bus tickets to the airport in Puntas Arenas for next week. We actually got to use a credit card for this bus! It seems Puerto Natales is far more equipped for credit cards than El Chaltén. We headed back down the hill for the grocery store. We spotted a few fellow bus mates who told us they were stuck at the border for another hour…not too bad, but aggravating none-the-less. We stocked up on cheese, sausage, pasta, and oatmeal. Outside the grocery store, we picked up some dried fruit and nuts from a street vendor. Next to him, we purchased a hat from a young girl, and then we went in search of a map.

It was just after 5, and we found many stores had closed. Fortunately, we happened upon a hostel that had what we needed. Not only did we find a map, we met an Aussie couple that had just returned from the W route. They said it dumped snow (2-4 feet), it was freezing, two of the routes were closed (Britanico and Torres del Paine), and that people were fleeing to the ferry to leave the park. YIKES…not what we wanted to hear…especially since we opted to leave our microspikes behind in Denver!

Oh, well. After five hours of wandering around town which was much larger than I expected, we returned to Kau Lodge for a coffee and a view of the lake and mountains across the street. We didn’t want to be out too late, so we chose a restaurant mentioned in Fodor’s called Kosten just a few blocks from our lodge. I wouldn’t recommend it. The king crab appetizer that we both wanted wasn’t available, and the service was extremely slow. Our entrees were tasty, though rather small in portion compared to the amounts of food we have been getting everywhere else. At least it had a nice view.

Back at the lodge, we packed up and got ready for our adventure in Torres del Paine with both excitement and nervousness. ETB


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Strolling Around Santiago, Chile

After enjoying a wonderful Christmas party at my Mom’s Friday night, we set out for our Christmas vacation to Patagonia. Our flight Saturday departed 9:50pm. When we tried checking in at AA, they couldn’t check our bags to our final destination because we were supposedly “unconfirmed” on the LAN portion of our flights. So eventually we just checked our bags to our first stop in Santiago, Chile where we had a long layover.

In the meantime, we made sure we were confirmed on our LAN flights to Buenos Aires and El Calafate. We were. Oh well..worse case we’d wander around Santiago wearing our backpacks and best case we’d find a storage locker. Fortunately, upon arrival, we found a guarded baggage room where we could store two bags for 10,000 pesos or about $14.

After deciphering the Spanish ATM, we grabbed a cab which is metered to Plaza de Armas.  Following a combination of a few walking tours from GPSmycity.com, we soaked in the highlights.  At the plaza we admired the Christmas tree art made from scraps and stopped in the nearby Santiago Municipal Cathedral. The cathedral, built in the mid to late 1700s, is one of the largest in Chile.

From the church, we passed through a pedestrian shopping area and a variety of markets. Our taxi driver pointed out the fish market, so we meandered through the building. Inside, restaurants offered a plethora of seafood plates. We enjoyed lunch at Galeon.

Moving on at a leisurely pace, we passed by a beautiful arts complex and walked through a fantastic park called Santa Lucia Hill. We got a little practice in for our hiking trip as we took quite a few old stairs up to the tower atop the hill. The tower provided a panoramic view of the city that was surrounded by mountains. We also enjoyed the fountains and relaxed in the shade on a park bench. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Luc%C3%ADa_Hill

From the park, we walked to the municipal theater who’s inaugural show, Ernani, played in 1857. Our final stop was La Mondeda Museum.  The cultural center is located under Citizenry Square.  It houses a small film center, craft rooms, a photography show as well as a museum displaying Samurai pieces.  It was a neat place though relatively quiet and empty.

In fact, for a Sunday, we felt the historical downtown area was somewhat quiet, though after a long red-eye flight it was perfect for us. Perhaps everyone was shopping for Christmas in Bella Vista. TripAdvisor recommended visiting this neighborhood, but we didn’t want to rush around. Perhaps we will come back, as the European vibe and friendly people appealed to us. We particularly got a kick out of the traffic signals. When the light was about the change, the walk sign turned into a person running! For now, however, we returned to the airport to make our way to El Chalten via Buenos Aires and El Calafate. ETB

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Strolling Around Santiago,Chile


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