Perfect Day in Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park is truly the grand highlight of Patagonia, one of the few things on which Argentinos and Chilenos can agree. Torres del Paine is the perfect culmination of all the magnificent beauty Patagonia has to offer in one astounding national park. A landscape of dramatic granite peaks, unreal aqua blue lakes, glaciers and glimpses of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Trekkers know Torres del Paine for its famous W trek and O trek which hold the best vantage points of the Torres. If someone could only visit one place in Patagonia, I would tell them to go here.
We booked a day trip by van through Torres del Paine National Park by Patagonia Planet. We were a small group of six, our driver and our guide, Miguel. It was nice to be with a smaller group allowing us the opportunity to get to know each other and have more flexibility to stop. I wouldn’t normally opt for an all day tour via van, but this ended up being a great way to see many highlights and canvas the entire park in one day. I really wish we had the opportunity to go hiking in Torres del Paine, like REALLY wish. But I am happy with what we saw on our day trip and am planning to return to Torres del Paine to hike the O and W trek.
As with all of our Patagonian day trips we started out early with pick-up around 7 AM. We would be out for over 10 hours that day. It took us more than an hour to reach the entrance to Torres del Paine National Park. Most of the road in this area and throughout the park is dirt making for a slower bumpy ride. We had a light hike planned in the morning to Grey Lake, followed by lunch at Pehoe Lake and a short hike to the Salto Grande waterfall in the afternoon
We stopped as we passed different lakes and viewpoints. One of the nice aspects of this small tour was how often they stopped so we could get out, take pictures and enjoy the views. When you are in the car all day, these frequent stops to stretch our legs really helped break up all the driving and let us stop to enjoy the magnitude of the park. Patagonia Planet really nailed the timing.
We drove to Grey Ranger Station where we would hike to Grey Lake. Patagonia is full of microclimates that can change very quickly. Its true what they say about Patagonia, that you will experience all four seasons in day. In our case we experienced them all within an hour hike down to Grey Lake.
When we started on the trail the sun was warm and I was comfortable in a tank top. The temperature continued to drop as we made our way down to the lake despite the perfectly sunny day. The wind picked up and became icy as we approached the lake and we pulled on our jackets.
We walked along the dark sandy shore checking out the oddly shaped icebergs floating in the lake. At the far end of the lake sat Glacier Grey feeding the lake with milky white glacier water. As we walked back towards the van we slowly peeled off our layers as it got warmer and warmer. Four seasons in a day.
The stop for lunch at Pehoe Lake couldn’t have been more perfect. It was mid-day and the sun was high bringing out the brightest of all the blues in the lake. We were so lucky to have such clear beautiful weather.
We had packed a lunch of salame, cheese, peppers and crackers that we had picked up at a market in Puerto Natales. We shared a picnic table with a small Argentinean family and made conversation in our broken Spanish and English. Meeting people while abroad and making conversation in a different language than my own are always my favorite moments of travel.
I hiked up the small hills around our picnic area and snapped a few photos of the lake from up high. The views were simply breathtaking. It couldn’t have been more picture perfect.
After lunch we drove to Pehoe Lake lookout for another picture perfect view of the Cuernos los Paine. This lookout had recently been the location of a photo shoot of the Cuernos del Paine for the cover of National Geographic. We took a bunch of pictures and lingered to admire the epic view. This had to be one of my favorite places we stopped in the park that day.
Salto Grande Waterfall
A short drive from the Pehoe Lake lookout we stopped to check out the Salto Grande waterfall. The waterfall was a short walk from the road. Salto Grande is a not a super high waterfall in comparison to some, but it is wide and the amount of water gushing through every second is astounding.
We hiked around the falls and then up the trail a short ways to check out another vantage point of the Cuernos. Cuernos means horns in spanish and the two granite peaks do very much resemble two horns.
Torres del Paine and guanaco!
As the afternoon crept on we made our way through the park catching views of more lakes and finally the Torres del Paine for which the park is named. We stopped at one vantage point to see both a glacial lake and a lake formed from rain water. The glacier water was a milky aqua color while the lake formed from rain water was a deep dark blue.
We learned from Miguel that torres means towers and paine is the blue color of the ice that sits on top of the torres. We reached a lookout for the Torres del Paine late in the afternoon so unfortunately the light was a bit harsh for photos. But how could we complain after all the beautiful sights we had seen that day?
As we wound our way out of the mountains of the park, we passed a field with herds of guanaco. We stopped and quietly crossed the road near the fence where they were grazing. The guanaco are a protected animal in Chile and Argentina so they roam wild and are unafraid of humans. We would spot the guanaco everywhere throughout Patagonia and I loved the opportunity to stop for a close up.
Hard to believe this is all in one place, isn’t it?