Trip to Chilean Patagonia
In 2020 I decide to embark for Patagonia!
This name evocative of wide open spaces and wild nature has been calling me for a long time. It's time for me, after all these years in Asia, to go explore the other side of the globe: South America.
I set my sights on Chile to hold an old promise. It goes back to the time of a trip undertaken over a year in Asia and Oceania. At this moment I meet Maria, a Chilean chica and traveler like me, with whom I will share a month travel between Sri Lanka and the Maldives. She often talks to me about her country, Chile, of which I don't know absolutely nothing. Chile is not to my knowledge a flagship destination and Patagonia, who is also Chilean, is very often associated with Argentina.
She knew how to arouse my curiosity. After a months of travel and incredible stories shared together, our friendship, I know, will last all our life! So, when the time comes to separate, I promise her to go see her in Chile one day.
This is how I find myself walking the roads of Chile in order to honor a promise and realize a old dream, discover Patagonia.
Initially, the goal is to go up all Chile from the south to Atacama Desert but two events will shake up this adventure. The first is that I will need pass through Argentina at one point because the roads are non-existent on the Chilean side and the boats that go up through fjords are complete.
But what the luck! Because this detour will lead me to El Chaltén and the arrival in this city will mark my mind forever (see article El chaltén). The second is the arrival of COVID that will stop my trip dead.
In this article I present to you the places that I particularly liked, but Patagonia is vast and I am far from having explored everything. Little advice, after having traveled Patagonia with a backpack, I think
that the best way to enjoy it's in a van!
Pali Aike Park
Punta Arenas projects us directly into this atmosphere of a port city on the edge of the world between decay and suspended lives where nothing seems to happen. The atmosphere is peaceful and the penguins outnumber the inhabitants ... Welcome to Patagonia.
I will not meet a town in strictly speaking only after 3 weeks of travel. However, I find that Punta Arenas is a good starting point to visit the south of Chile and feel the atmosphere that reigns in Southern Patagonia.
Many boats can take you to see whales and penguins from Punta Arenas but excursions are very expensive. If you have a small budget like me, I recommend a park not that much frequented and yet very beautiful, the park of Pali Aike.
The landscapes at Pali Aike are absolutely stunning! The contrast between the black rock and the large yellow steppes creates breathtaking landscapes. Here the wind is blowing like never before. I knew the Patagonia was known for these strong winds but I did not realize the power of it here! You have to feel it to believe it. The wind is so strong that nothing grows and only herds of guanacos and nandu populate these landscapes.
El Torres Del Paine
The starting point for Torres Del Paine National Park is Puerto Natales. The Torres Del Paine Park it is THE park of Chilean Patagonia and it's true that it's a place to go in Patagonia.
A lot of travelers make the famous "W" trek, a four-day trek in the park, but you have to prepare the trip in advance to book accommodation and, given the weather, I prefer to return to Puerto Natales in the evening. It is quite possible to do day hikes in the park and return to Puerto Natales on evening. Many buses make the trip every day.
My favorite is the Valle del Francés trek which I found absolutely magnificent. And, well of course, the hike that leads to the famous "Las Torres" emblem of the national park.
Hiking in the Valle del Francés
To get to the Valle del Francés you have to take a boat and cross the lagoon which already offers a magnificent panorama of the mountains of the park.
The hike begins in the grassy steppes grilled yellow / orange but very quickly the decor becomes more mystical. We enter a forest of dead trees with white trunks which contrast with the gray and cloudy sky which encircles the high peaks. The atmosphere is strange and captivating ... The forest becomes denser as I go up in altitude. The trees are very much alive now and the forests very humid.
After a few hours of walking the view emerges and the landscapes become more mineral, finally revealing glaciers. It is surprising to see glaciers at an altitude of 500 meters but the weather forecast reminds me of how this phenomenon is possible ... It is raining and the wind is still blowing ... Arrived at the top a gust of wind blows so hard that it knocks me down and I find my ass on the ground.
Las Torres hike
The hike that leads to Las Torres is less spectacular than the Valle del Francés but the view of the summit is much more beautiful. The three towers which dominate the lagoon are impressive and the color of water adds real light to this composition.
Climbing session around Puerto Natales
Oh yeah! How to consider crossing Patagonia without scratching stones. It is unfortunately the only time I climbed in Patagonia because I have neither my gear nor a buddy, but I am considering seriously to come back with everything needed. There are many climbing spots in Patagonia and
the preview that I have is quite nice.
Around Puerto Natales the rock is curious and it's nice to climb in something other than limestone. Here it looks like the magma has frozen a cluster of pebbles in the rock creating a wall of small pebbles between which you have to make your way.
As always the wind is blowing! The weather is shiny but the wind is freezing... I have to warm up my freezes fingers in the middle of the track.
The fun of Patagonia!
La Carretera Austral
It's when I leave Puerto Natales that I see myself forced to leave Chile to go through Argentina in order to go back to the north of Patagonia. No road crosses the mountainous landscapes cut by the fjords on the Chilean side.
The first point to come back to Chile from Argentina is Chile Chico. Here I am again in Chile and on the most popular route for travelers, the Carretera Austral!
To explore the Carretera Austral is to feel the soul of an adventurer. Partly paved and partly gravel, it is the only road to cross Northern Patagonia. 1240 km long, the Carretera Austral passes along more than 18 reserves and protected natural areas, many of which offer a splendid and still intact nature.
If there is a part of the Carretera Austral that I recommend to you
it is clearly between Chile Chico and Puerto Tranquillo. The landscapes are crazy!
La Capilla de marmol
Certainly one of the most beautiful things I have admired in Chile. La Capilla de marmol, understand the marble cathedral, is a surprising geological formation.
It all starts with an early morning wake-up call, but the beauty of the sunrise over the lagoon makes up for it largely the effort. So I embark in a kayak in the early morning to explore this famous Capilla de marmol. The walk on the lagoon is cool but pleasant.
As the sun rises the colors appear and intensify, the midnight blue of the lagoon gives way to this turquoise color so peculiar to Patagonia. We row, we row and here we are at last on the outskirts of Capilla de Marmol. the spectacle is grandiose! See the turquoise waters reflected in the ruggedly cut marble never ceases to dazzle me.
The advantage of being in a kayak is that you can get into tunnels / caves carved naturally in the marble and thus explore these fairy geological formations.
Going up the Carretera Austral, I discovered the village of Puyuhuapi which I particularly appreciate. The kind of place where you would like to put your bags for a few weeks because the village is so peaceful and exudes a crazy charm.
A fishing village nestled in a fjord of the Pacific Ocean and without contests a very good base for exploring the surrounding area. Some inhabitants offer homestay and it is a good option for accommodation, especially as the breakfasts at the inhabitant are worth the detour.
The more I go up the north of Patagonia and the more luxuriant the vegetation becomes, the great steppes roasted by the wind and the sun give way to an abundant jungle filled with giant ferns, exotics flowers...
I did not imagine Patagonia like that and I am pleasantly surprised by this jungle flourishing of Queulat Park. But my surprise is increased tenfold when in the middle of the jungle I see a hanging glacier !! And yes, Patagonia is definitely the land of all contrasts.
I will even have the chance to contemplate a magnificent hummingbird in the middle of this atypical setting.
Termas del Ventisquero
The joy of traveling in a volcanic country like Chile is that after a busy day we can bask in thermal baths to end the day well. Easy and close to reach in hitchhike from Puyuhuapi, the Termas del Ventisquero are very pleasant. The few water basins warms overlook the lagoon of the fjord where you can cool off and have a few lengths.
Here I am at the gates of Patagonia. Tomorrow I leave this wild and spectacular land, not without a heartache. But for now I intend to take advantage of my last day at Chaiten to go see the volcano of the same name nestled in the Pumalin park.
The hike to get there is superb, it begins in a forest of giant ferns and ends in a lunar setting populated by dead trees and bushes teeming with yellow and red flowers.
The beauty of Patagonia accompanies me throughout this ascent and finishes confirming to me why this wild land has always fascinated so many travelers.
Arrived at the top we can see the smoke of the still active volcano and admire the breathtaking view around.
My adventure in Chilean Patagonia ends there ... I am on board the ferry that takes me to Puerto Montt, to other regions, other Chilean adventures...