From Glaciers to Guanacos: Chile’s Patagonia

Adventure Travel, Chile, Destinations, Ideas, Wildlife & Animals — By on April 21, 2011 at 6:00 am

Lost Girl Julie Falconer recently took a trip to Chile and spent two days exploring Patagonia in the south of the country. Read on for a selection of her personal essays of her trip experiences. See Julie’s London travel blog and Chile travel website for more stories.

Patagonia has always fascinated me. From the ironically icy Tierra del Fuego with its flocks of King Penguins, to the navigational significance of the Straight of Magellan, from the flat pampas dotted with exotic flamingos and cameloid guanacos, to the mammoth mountains of Torres del Paine National Park, the land is both spectacularly diverse and incredibly unique.

I recently had the chance to visit Patagonia as part of a larger trip through Chile. My flight landed in Punta Arenas at the southern end of the region, and I spent one night there before renting a car to drive north to my main destination for the trip: Torres del Paine.

The national park is famous for its gorgeous granite peaks, wide variety of flora and fauna, and blueish glacier in the middle of a lake. Visitors from all over the world flock to Torres del Paine to go hiking and trekking and to participate in adventure sports.

After a four-and-a-half hour drive and a stop for lunch in the gateway city of Puerto Natales, I arrived at the Hosteria Lago Tyndall, my accommodation in the park. There I was given a room with a great view of the iconic massif, then shown a large map of the area. The manager helped me in choosing a short hike for the afternoon, and suggested several longer options for the following day.

Back in the car, I drove by groups of grazing guanacos, alongside electric blue lakes that almost looked fake in their muted surroundings, and over bridges that were so narrow I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to traverse them. Eventually I came to the Salto Grande, a large waterfall that fell into Lake Pehoe.

I spent the late afternoon hiking to the falls and along a trail that led to a vista point. All around me were more lakes, beautiful wildflowers, and swooping birds of prey. In the distance were the pointy peaks of Los Cuernos, or “the horns.”

After the hike I drove up to Lake Grey. Before I even arrived at the parking lot, I could see the lake’s famous glacier through the trees. The Grey Glacier was so bright that it glowed in the dimming light of dusk.

As soon as I parked my car, I walked as fast as I could along the short trail from the parking lot to get a better look. I arrived at the shore and watched as the glacier sat proudly in the middle of the water. I had never seen anything like it before, and I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

The next morning I woke up to pounding rain. I waited for an hour in hopes that it would clear, but I had no such luck. Rather than let it ruin my day, I decided to take the long way through the park to enjoy the scenery on my way back to Punta Arenas.

Along the lakes I drove, passing several large herds of guanacos. This time I also saw small ostrich-like birds called rheas, as well as ducks, geese, condors, and even an armadillo.

The scenery was just as beautiful in the rain as it had been in the sunshine, and I couldn’t help pulling over at every vista point to watch the hills and mountains through the mist.

When I reached the park exit, I wasn’t ready to leave. I circled back, prolonging my stay for as long as I could, then eventually headed south. Back through Puerto Natales I went, and down to Punta Arenas past flocks of flamingos.

It was with a heavy heart that I left Torres del Paine behind, and with an even heavier one that I left Patagonia the next morning. The region had worked its magic on me, and I vowed to return someday to explore more of the area’s unique landscapes.

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