Chile's Torres del Paine ("Towers of Paine") National Park takes its name from three distinctive granite "towers" within the park. The park can be visited as a day trip from Puerto Natales, but the two-hour ride along ripiado (gravel) roads made me glad I had decided to spend a couple of nights in the park before heading back.
On the way into the Park we saw rheas, guanacos and a great many birds against a spectacular scenic backdrop. We also visited the "Cave of the Miladon," a huge cave where the remains of prehistoric miladons (a giant ground sloth) were found. (There is some indication that these creatures overlapped with humans and may well have been killed off by human hunters.)
The Park offers a wide variety of scenery, from the waterfalls to Lake Grey, into which a glacier feeds, producing icebergs of fantastic shapes in a surreal blue. A walk along the shore of the lake gave us once again an opportunity to experience the unrelenting Patagonian winds. (Our guide, Alejandra, told us that the climate is too fierce for cattle, except in some sheltered locations. Sheep and tourists, however, are expected to persevere.)
After the tour, I made my way to the Hosteria del Torres, one of the few hotels inside the park boundaries, where I would spend the next two nights. The hotel was quite comfortable and one could hardly expect a better location. Due to its remoteness, the hotel had to generate its own electricity, which we were advised would be turned off at night. Because it remained light outside until at least 10:30 pm (the latest I could stay awake after a day of hiking), the limited electricity was never really a factor.
From the hotel, it was (for me) about a four-hour hike to las Torres. The hike was very strenuous. The first third of it was a relentless uphill climb. Eventually the trail leveled off a bit and undulated up and down through thick forest and along a river fed by waterfalls streaming down sheer cliffs from the snow caps. The last leg of the trek was a 30-45 minute climb up a steep rock slide where I was never sure which boulders were safe to step on and which were not. The reward, however, was a spectacular view of the Torres, which can be seen so prominently from no other vantage point. Although it was snowing a bit and cloudy when I arrived, within a few minutes the skies cleared to reveal the views seen in the slide show below. (More committed trekkers can also do a six-day "circuit" around the Torres.)
Without a doubt, Torres del Paine National Park was one of the high points of my trip and I highly recommend a visit for anyone who responds to such natural splendor.
Hike to Las Torres: Torres del Paine National Park takes its name from three magnificent granite towers that are unlike any other rock formations in the world. The hike to las Torres is uphill all the way and gets particularly difficult toward the end. The scenery, however, is spectacular and final reward – a close encounter with the towers themselves – makes it all worthwhile. (11 Photos) [Preview This Slide Show]