After our four day journey through Chilean Patagonia, we were excited to set out from Puerto Natales to nearby Torres Del Paine National Park. TDP has been called South America’s best national park and we were anxious to find out if it would live up to that billing.
TDP is a very popular destination for hikers who flock to the park to do the “W Trek,” a 50 mile hike that typically takes five days. While we’d love to do that some day, we weren’t in good enough shape to take it on this trip. Instead we decided to rent a truck and camper trailer from Aventura Motorhome, camp in the park, and do some shorter day hikes.
Carlos, the owner of Aventura Motorhome, picked us up from our hostel and gave a brief tutorial on operating the truck and trailer. Carlos decided to make a career change from engineering to tourism after going on an extended motorhome trip with his family from Brazil to Chile.
After picking up some groceries we set out on the open road and were struck by the amazing scenery.
Our camp site was located at Camping Pehoe, by Lake Pehoe near the middle of the park. The campsite was only about a third full and we were able to get a great site with a view. If this campsite was in the US it would have been completely full of large camper trailers and motorhomes, but here the only other RVs larger than a van that we saw were the two other rigs that Carlos rents out.
The campsite had a bathroom with hot showers and a small playground, which the kids greatly appreciated.
After setting up camp we were eager to explore the park. We went for a drive, stopping to see a waterfall and catching glimpses of the granite towers (“Torres”) that the park is named for.
The roads in the park are mostly gravel and were generally in good condition but we appreciated having the Chevy truck to get around.
Back at the campground we watched how the colors of the sky and the mountains changed as the sun went down.
This was the view from our window in the morning. The trailer had a basic kitchen and we prepared almost all of our meals there, which turned out to be a good decision because prices at the park restaurant were astronomical; about $30 for a simple meal.
Our first short hike in the park was Mirador Cuernos, a two hour round trip hike to a viewpoint of Cuernos Del Paine. As we set off it was quite windy, which is very common in Patagonia.
Along our hike we saw a large waterfall and snow-covered mountains beyond.
White skeletons of trees stood as a reminder of a forest fire that occurred several years ago, caused by a careless camper.
At the outlook we studied the Cuernos Del Paine, which have a distinctive stripe of light colored rock in between darker colored rock. The lighter colored rock is granite, and much younger than the sedimentary rock above and below.
Mirador Glacier Gray
The next day we picked out another short hike, this time to a viewpoint of Glacier Grey.
The path took us through a forest and then across a rocky shore. Along the beach we observed various layers of different sizes and shapes of stone, carved from the mountains above and shaped by the action of the waves in the lake. Some stones were nearly spherical, others were flat, and some were elongated, almost like stubby crayons.
At the end of the path we took in the view of Glacier Gray in the distance. A few days after our visit we read in the news that a huge iceberg had separated from the glacier.
Mirador Condor Hike
The Mirador Condor trail started right near our campsite and led us in a steep ascent to the top of a granite column.
For this hike we had some of the best weather of our stay, with a few clouds and very little wind.
There were just a few ripples on Lake Pehoe, which had been full of white caps on the first day we arrived.
At the top we had a fantastic view of the blue waters of Lake Pehoe and the mountains beyond.
Mirador Los Torres Hike
The hike up to the base of Los Torres is one of the most popular in the park. According to the park brochure, the challenging hike was supposed to take 4 hours one-way. We couldn’t talk the kids into this trek, so Annette kindly volunteered to watch them while I (Wes) made the hike solo.
Hoping to beat the crowds, I set out early and got on the trail around sunrise, carrying a light pack with some water and a cheese sandwich. The trail started off flat but quickly began snaking up into the mountains.
My early start paid off and I often had the trail mostly to myself. Most of the hikers that I passed were carrying heavy packs with their camping gear so I was thankful to be traveling light.
The landscape varied between open grasslands, scrubby hillsides, forest, and eventually barren rock. Bridges with a capacity of one or two people spanned the occasional streams.
The last couple of kilometers were by far the most challenging; the even path was replaced by huge scattered boulders. Orange posts marked the path I was supposed to take.
After about 2.5 hours I reached the end of the trail, where I sat and ate my cheese sandwich (which was quite simple but tasted particularly good after the hike) while watching for the Torres to emerge from the drifting clouds.
Selfie with the Torres.
The Mirador Los Torres hike was a fantastic experience and I hope that the five of us will be able to come back some day and do it together.
Mylodon Cave National Monument
After four magical days in the park it was time to keep moving so we broke camp and headed back to Puerto Natales. Along the way we made a stop at the Mylodon Cave National Monument.
The cave here was formed when the waves of an ancient sea crashed against a wall of sedimentary rock and formed a cavern. After the sea receded, prehistoric animals including the Mylodon (a giant ground sloth) used the cave as shelter. The remains of one of the creatures were discovered in by a German explorer in 1895.
Walkway into the cave.
When we started planning our trip to Torres Del Paine we were a bit intimidated because most of the available travel guides and advice are geared towards long-distance treks not suitable for young kids (or at least not our kids). However, camping (I’m using that term loosely since we were in a luxurious trailer) inside the park and doing easy day hikes turned out to be the perfect way for us to experience the national park. We enjoyed our time in TDP immensely and look forward to returning and taking on some of the more challenging trails.
Our experience with Aventura Motorhome was fantastic from start to finish and we highly recommend this as an option for anyone looking to explore TDP and surrounds in comfort.
Next time, we cross back into Argentina for some more Patagonian adventures.