I had five days to allocate to Patagonia out of my fourteen day trip to Argentina and Chile. Only five days for a destination that travelers spend weeks or even months experiencing. But that's the thing when you're working full time, you take your vacations and you make the most out of them. No matter how short.
One place I wanted to experience was Torres del Paine, Chile's national park in Patagonia. The only issue was it isn't located near a town and doesn't feature any day hikes. Most people spend a few days hiking, setting up tents at night, until they reach the peak. I know, super hardcore. I struggled hiking with my day pack in Chalten. There was no way I could hike with enough gear to pitch a tent and survive for a few days.
I almost let it go. I mean I was going to the infamous Perito Moreno Glacier (read my guide here) and the enchanting, cozy town of Chalten. Wasn't that enough? And then the pictures got to me. I had to make this happen but I only had one out of my five days that I could afford to give to the park.
I did some google searches and found two tours. There wasn't much information on the web about them but both departed from Calafate (the city I would be located in before) and both offered to either return you to Calafate or Puerto Natales (the city located about 2 hours from the park). I needed to get to Puerto Natales because it was closer to the city we would be taking our flight out from. So I emailed both and hoped for the best. I received very swift replies that each gave me a very scanty description, a cost, and a duration. Neither one of them really sold it to me but I decided to take the risk and just go with the cheaper option.
The day of came and my friend and I woke up at 5 am, somewhat apprehensively and massively sleep deprived. Who knew what this tour would consist of? We reluctantly boarded the bus at 5:30 and promptly went to sleep. A few hour later, we arrived at the Chile/Argentina border where there was a cute little restaurant/store and we were told we'd have 20 minutes before our tour departed. It turns out, the bus full of people were not coming with us and our tour group would instead consist of the two of us and one other person. We were ecstatic at the thought of basically a private tour! We exchanged some money at the little store and then boarded our new tiny bus and we were on our way.
Immediately, we fell in love with our guide. He was energetic, passionate about his job and the park, witty and his English was fantastic. He told us some awesome stories on our way into the park and then we stopped at her our first scenic lookout and oh boy did I know I made the right call
The weather was perfect and so was this day. After the first lookout, we spent the next few hours stopping at various points at the park.
Our guide was very patient with us and gave us plenty of time to look around and take pictures. We did end up having to pay the park entrance fee as well but this was completely fine because it was disclosed in the original email I got from the company so I was prepared. Although we mostly drove from one spot to the next, we did do one 15-20 minute trek to get to one of the most scenic viewpoints of the park.
Have you ever had that feeling where you think you're going to cry because you almost can't comprehend how it's possible to witness something so extraordinary beautiful? This was the emotion I was overcome with as I sat the edge of a ledge overlooking the bustling stream of water, rushing and churning it's way to a waterfall. It felt like my eyes were playing a trick on me. There was no way somewhere as serene and picturesque as this could be real.
If you're planning a visit to this park, please note that it is strictly forbidden to light a fire of any kind. The penalty is a fine and jail time. A few years ago a group of men lit a fire that turned into a raging wildfire destroying tens of thousands of acres of the park. Watching the guide tell us the story was devastating as you could clearly see just how hurt he was by this experience and seeing the animals and fauna burn.
The experience was incredibly unreal. There was no way it could get any better than this. The day could have ended here. Or a rock could have fallen on my head and I would have died happily. But nope there was more.
We returned to our bus and which, to my dismay, wouldn't start. But the driver told us not to worry. And with a smile he, the tour guide, and a random guy pushed it till we were good to go.
Of course, I was of zero help. This was equal parts my major lack of upper body strength and my distraction by a Guanaco.
The bus took us to our last and final destination. My heart literally fell out of my chest in excitement. The sight in front of me was so stunning, with the sun bouncing off of the water that I almost just sat down right there so I could spend hours soaking it all in.
But we actually headed for a cute little restaurant at the end of the bridge.
I honestly couldn't believe my luck. We snagged a table at the restaurant with the best view of the water and the scenery. The best part was that lunch was part of the tour price! As vegetarians, we got delicious fresh tomato soup and a lovely Asian inspired pasta. And of course, a generous pour of Chilean Sauvignon Blanc
Remember, this all originated with me sending an email to a random email address. I can't believe that it ended up being the highlight of our trip. If you don't have the days to devote to Torre del Paine, I HIGHLY recommend you book this tour.
Name: Always Glaciers
Cost (paid in advance): $170
Park entrance fee (cash needed): 10,000 CLP - 18,00 CLP depending on the season
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