Torres del Paine National Park is said to be the number one attraction in all of Chile, and it is easy to understand why. The reason behind its unbeatable popularity among foreigners and Chileans alike, becomes clear even before setting foot within the limits of the park itself.
The gorgeous early-morning bus ride from Puerto Natales to the park, swings through golden sun kissed peaks, deadly calm lakes dotted with bright pink flamingos and infinite dry steppes where now and then you can spot groups of curious guanacos on their daily rounds. Despite the early hour, the wild vistas hidden behind every turn kept me awake in anticipation of the two days trekking that lay ahead.
Since the moment I decided that I would travel to this remote part of the world, Torres del Paine was immediately added to the bucket-list. I read a lot about it, gone through the hints and tips of other travellers who had previously hiked the trails of the park. I had seen pictures and galleries but still the mesmerising landscape in front of me exceeded all expectations. Torres del Paine is magical, epic and inspiring yet definitely real.
It is a Biosphere Reserve, an intoxicating cocktail of steppe, lakes, snow-capped vertical peaks, glaciers and forests. The park is named after the three massive vertical stony spears, that overlooking a bright turquoise lagoon, represent the quintessential creative force of nature. Unsurprisingly, this is also the most visited spot in the whole reserve.
"Torres del Paine has changed my idea of an heavenly landscape, becoming the alternative enduring symbol of paradise to the usual stretch of white, sandy and palmed beach"
I am greedy and didn’t want to waste a moment of the time at my disposal. In an attempt to achieve this I would be walking almost two thirds of one of the most popular circuits around the park, namely the “W”, which usually can be completed in four or five days. From one of the many entrances, I took a catamaran to cross lake Pehoé, a wavy basin of the same colour of the sky on its clearest days. The catamaran took me and the other numerous sleepy hikers to Guarderia Paine Grande. From there, with a brave face, a relatively light backpack and almost 70 km ahead, I started my trek.
The trail goes through a myriad of diverse terrains and landscapes. First you cross green hills guarded by the hulking glacier-capped and misty Cerro Paine Grande to find yourself by the lake Sköttsberg in a valley which is unique, thanks to the surrounding windswept forests. The smooth, leafless and intricate design of the branches emerging from the mist create a magical Tolkienian atmosphere that I will find difficult to forget. The trail continues past streams, waterfalls, the pebbly shore of the lake Nordernskjöld, infinite arid pampas, winding its way beside a deep and breathtaking gorge.
I broke the arduous and shirt-wetting trek with a one night stay at Campamento Torres, where I rented a tent and a sleeping mat. The park offers multiple lodging opportunities, from simple campings to a high-end luxury hotel. Since I really would like to get to Mexico and be able to spend a fair amount of time in all the countries in between, after checking the prices of the various options, it seemed like I did not have a choice. Camping it would be. I like to think that I chose to sacrifice the comfort for the experience. And what an experience!! A cold, distressing and back-breaking night reminded me of the good old scouting days when the stubborn squadron leader decided to put up the tent in the worst camping spots available. At least the feast of tuna and avocado sandwiches filled my hungry stomach and soothed my untrained achey legs, which proved to be stronger than I thought when the following day I resumed the strenuous hike. In fact, the last kilometre before El Mirador Las Torres is a steep, rocky and slippery climb, a challenge for unexperienced trekkers; however the view at the top rewards the effort ten times over.
The weather is no less harsh. Just like the landscape, it continuously changes. All four seasons can be easily experienced within the space of just an hour. One moment can be sunny and pleasant, the next rainy, cold and rough with gales so strong that many times I worried they could blow me off the cliff’s edge.
I have to admit that, in front of the many natural beauties I have had the chance to admire around the world I have never remained speechless. This time, there were no words. While walking the trails of the park, I thought about how I could best describe the place to my friends at home or here on this blog. I wandered what would be the most suitable words or the most effective metaphors to render the beautiful scenery in front of my eyes. I doubt they even exist in any human language, or probably the reality is just that I am not the greatest of writers. However, if I can use any metaphor, I could possibly say that Torres del Paine has changed my idea of an heavenly landscape, becoming the alternative enduring symbol of paradise to the usual stretch of white, sandy and palmed beach. It is that kind of place on earth where the immensity of nature can make us feel human again. Where my words are not up to capturing this place I hope my images will.