Patagonia…On top of the world at the bottom of the world

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine | Chile

[TORRES DEL PAINE, CHILE] — Going here has been one of my lifelong goals, well, at least for the last 15 years. Finally got a chance to go, paired with a visit to the Atacama Desert in the northern half of Chile — the driest place on the planet (and posts to follow). Patagonia actually straddles Chile and Argentina and I could never figure it out, finally just picked Chile and didn’t even get a chance to see the Argentina side, which people I met strongly recommend.

Where is it? Look at a map, find South America, then take a left and go aaallll the way to the bottom. It’s there. End of the earth. It’s hard to figure out what starts and stops where, so I included a couple of maps. I just went to Torres del Paine national park, but there are several sub-regions to go to….leaving more to explore in the future.

Look at a map, find South America, then take a left and go aaallll the way to the bottom. It’s there. End of the earth.

To get there, you fly to Santiago then take another flight or two down to Punta Arenas, at the bottom of the continent, right above Tierra del Fuego — the place we all studied in grade school.  You literally do feel like you’re at the end of the earth there, what I imagine northern Alaska to be. From there, you drive four hours north through endless Sheep Country — nothing but sheep — until you get to the park. Chile is long and thin, so you’re never far from the ocean, but Torres del Paine has it’s own microclimate, so while it was windy, bone-chilling cold and winter-like in Punta Arenas — I was scared to death and even bought an extra down jacket, wondering “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into? I’m gonna freeze.”

But when you get up to the park it was….SPRING!  Warm, flowers blooming, everything green. The wind, like everywhere in Patagonia, is ever-present, in some places, 100km/hour. But the place is built for it.

Just by luck, not by plan, I picked to travel in the Springtime, which many people say is the best 

The views from Lago Azul, the same views you see on a lot of guidebooks

It is, by far, the most stunning and varied scenery I’ve ever experienced. Jaw-dropping goodness around every corner. And nobody there. More animals than people.  Each day you set out for a hike and maybe pass a dozen cars. My ideal spot. No lines. No people. Just nature. The geology is astounding, you literally feel like the earth is still evolving around you. I was there in Spring (later November), which I hear is one of the best times of the year to go. As my friend Barb Marczyk told me “there is is no bad weather, only proper clothing.” So get the right gear — layers, windproof, water-proof, lightweight — and everything’ll be just fine.

Now, go. Hurry.

Grey’s Glacier

The geographic diversity is just incomparable to anywhere I’ve been. Where else can you be by a lake, then climb a mountain then get thisclose to a glacier?  This is must-do trek, Grey’s Glacier.

 

Resources

Here’s where you should stay.  Tierra Patagonia. Here’s a great overview in Conde Nast Traveler’s Concierge.com travel site. And Travel & Leisure’s compendium guide. And a great article in the NY Times, with better pics than mine.  Here are two awesome articles from Departures magazine.  A Patagonia Guide. and another on ranking the different hotels.

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