Before starting to research for my trip to South America, I didn’t know much about Patagonia. However, as soon as it registered on my radar I was determined to go there. The nature and hiking appealed to me, and the scenery looked like nothing I had ever seen before. Patagonia is the most southern region of South America and is shared by Chile and Argentina. The region is made up of the southern tip of the Andes mountain range, dessert and grassland. Being in this region honestly made me feel like I was in a new world. In Patagonia there are three main towns to visit: Puerto Natales (Chile), El Calafate (Argentina) and El Chalten (Argentina).
This town is in Chile and is the best way to access the national park, Torres del Paine. Torres del Paine is massive, with an approximate size of 181,000 hectares. There are many different hiking trails in the park, but the most popular are the five day “W” route or the one day trail to see the base of the towers. We did the one day trail to see the base of the towers. The towers refers to three granite formations that lie behind a glacial lake. To get there requires one to hike 9 km (approximately 4 hrs and 30 min). This makes the trail 18 km and took us 8 hours to hike. This hike was one of the hardest I have done in my life, and I think all three of us had to dig deep emotionally at some point in the hike in order to finish the trail. The autumn colors and the scenery definitely helped motivate me to reach the top. The colors were absolutely stunning and against the snow capped mountains it was a sight I want to remember forever!
This small Argentinian town is the base in which people can visit the largest glacier in Patagonia, Perito Moreno. This glacier is in Los Glaciares National Park which, as of 1981, has been recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers that remains to grow each year, there is no scientific reason as to why this is the case. The glacier is approximately 5 km wide, on average 70 m tall and has a surface area of 250 km2 . The blue color of the glacier is cause by the dense ice. When ice is dense it can’t filter long wavelengths, only short wavelengths. White has a long wavelength, and therefore this color is hard to see when the ice is dense. Blue, on the other hand has a shorter wavelength. The Perito Moreno has dense ice, and this is why the glacier appears blue. The more compact the ice gets, the more blue the glacier appears. Our hostel organized a tour for us with Always Glacier to visit the park. We drove for 90 minutes on the bus to arrive at our destination. On our drive we passed the largest lake in Argentina, Lago Argentino. This freshwater lake was a beautiful turquoise color, formed by melted snow and glacier. We were fortunate enough to spot some pink flamingos, black-chested buzzard-eagles and many Southern Crested Caracaras on our drive. When we entered the park we were given the opportunity to take a boat ride to the base of the glacier. I decided to do this as I thought it was a once in a life time opportunity. The boat trip was an hour long, and although it had started to rain it was an amazing experience. Seeing the vibrant blue in the crevasses of the glacier was spectacular. After the boat ride I started to do the walking trail which was approximately 4 km. By this time I was soaked, the temperature was 2 °C and the rain had turned into sleet. I have never been so cold in my life, but it was worth it! To see the glacier from the trail gave me a new perspective of the glacier and allowed me to understand how enormous it was. It was fascinating to walk and hear the large echoes of ice breaking off from the glacier and crashing into the water. Along the trail I found Jess and Courtney, who were just as cold as I was. We finished the trail together and were in awe of how spectacular this blue glacier was.
El Chalten was our third and final destination in Patagonia. This Argentinian town is situated in the same park as the Perito Moreno glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, but is north of the glacier by 130 km. This was a great town because all the hikes in the national park were free and could be started from our hostel door. We did three hikes in El Chalten: Laguna Torres, Chorrillo del Salto and Laguna de Los Tres.
1. Laguna Torres
Our first hike in El Chalten was Laguna Torres. We set out to do this 6 hour hike not realizing that it was 22 km. The hike started with a bit of an uphill but then it evened out and was flat for the rest of the way. Even though it was a relatively easy hike, after walking 22 km we were exhausted! The views of the valley and snowy mountains were beautiful and was a great way to start our stay in El Chalten.
2. Chorrillo del Salto
This was a two hour stroll that led us to a beautiful waterfall. The autumn colors made this a beautiful site, but a light rain made us rush back to town. This was an 8 km hike that can definitely be managed by anyone!
3. Laguna de Los Tres
We had been warned by people in our hostel that the Laguna de Los Tres trail was a tough hike. We tried to mentally prepare as much as we could beforehand, but it was still a challenge. The hike was 24 km and took us just over 8 hours. It started with a 3 km uphill to a view point where we got our first glimpse of Mt Fitz Roy. The next section was flat and very easy to walk, it was just long. After 3 hours we arrived at some signs warning us that we should have proper shoes and be in good physical condition as this was the last 1 km that would ascend by 400 m. We did this section, to our surprise, in the expected hour and arrived at the base of Mt Fitz Roy. This was a beautiful site that was unique compared to the others because the ground was covered in snow! We could see the iconic lake but unfortunately there was to much cloud coverage to see Mt Fitz Roy. Even with the clouds I thought the view was worth the last hour of the hike. Courts and I even had a mini snowball fight. Jess was having none of it. Overall this hike was tough, but only due to its length and the steep incline at the end. I found it to be easier than our hike in Torres del Paine.
Patagonia was an experience that I feel so privileged to have had. The hiking was tough but out of this world and I think it being autumn made the experience even more special. I would highly recommend trying to get to this part of the world if the opportunity ever presented itself.