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Published: February 16th 2018
And so our long awaited "W" trek adventure begins...
Hike #1 - Base de las Torres, Torres del Paine (TDP National Park)
Having become avid hikers over the past year, we were really looking forward to Patagonia's iconic and most famous hiking route - the W trek: a hiking trail that covers a distance of 80km through the most spectacular parts of the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, including the Base de las Torres, French Valley and Glacier Grey.
Unfortunately we had the wind knocked out of our sails when we started making enquiries a few months ago...we were told that we would be arriving during peak season and that transport to the national park and 3 nights camping in the park would set us back over $1,000 each (this didn't include a sleeping bag, we'd have to pay extra for that!!). Having not taken leave of our senses just yet, we politely declined and decided to book into the nearby town of Puerto Natales, the gateway to the National Park, and see what we could organise on arrival.
Luckily after a lot of research, we realised that we could cover the three main highlights of the W trek in three separate day trips to the park BUT
1) It would involve a 7hr round trip commute to
the national park each day requiring both bus and boat trips;
2) We would be under time pressure for each of our three hikes as we would be limited by the public transport times; AND
3) We would have to hike over three consecutive days as the park entrance is very expensive and the ticket is only valid for three days.
21hrs on buses and boats, and 64km of time pressured hiking over 3 days? Not. A. Bother. To. Us.
On our first day hiking, we were blessed with a glorious blue sky as we made our way along the 20km return trail to the Base de las Torres. Passing lots of hikers with heavy backpacks on their backs, some camping and others staying in Refugios in the National Park, we were glad of our light day packs! The views at the towers were picture perfect and well worth the tough climb for the last kilometre.
On our second day hiking, we had an entirely different experience weather wise as we made our way along the 19.5km return route to the French Valley lookout - sun, rain, sleet and wind. Visibility wasn't great but we
did catch a few glimpses of the incredible French Valley which made our efforts worthwhile.
On day 3, with tired legs, we completed our longest hike along the 24.5km return trail to the Glacier Grey lookout. The wind was nothing like we had ever experienced before hiking - so strong it threatened to lift us more than once. Unfortunately visibility wasn't great but the few glimpses we did get of Glacier Grey were spectacular. Waiting for the boat home that evening, we saw a number of flying tents and even though we would have loved to have stayed in the park to do the traditional W trek, we couldn't help but feel a little smug to be heading back to our B&B to hot showers and heating.
From one extreme to the next, after three amazing weeks we said goodbye to Patagonia and its snow capped mountains and flew to the Atacama desert in North Chile - the driest desert in the world (parts of this desert don't get rain for years)!!
Our base for exploring the Atacama desert was the weird but wonderful town of San Pedro that morphed from a mining town into a backpacker
hangout during the 90s. At first glance the remote run down looking town of San Pedro can be quite shocking. But there is actually an endearing charm to the dusty streets and mud slabbed buildings, and we really enjoyed our stay there. It also helped that the food in San Pedro was some of the best we experienced in South America! The highlight for us was a day trip to Moon Valley in the Atacama Desert where we experienced stunning views and out of this world landscapes. We had also read that San Pedro was a phenomenal place to witness the open night skies but believe it or not we happened to visit on the few weeks when there is rain!
Chile is a unusual country with a narrow land mass stretching 4270km. Flying from Punta Arenas in the south to Calama in the north, we covered an equivalent driving distance of 4300 km (maybe 4 to 5 days of overland travelling)! Between our two visits to Chile, we managed to explore three areas - Santiago, Patagonia and San Pedro de Atacama. They were all so contrasting that it's very hard to leave with a single impression of Chile
Man on the moon
Donal taking in the views of Moon Valley in the Atacama Desert
as a country. But we do leave with a better sense of the country's history and an appreciation for the incredible Patagonian and desert landscapes.
Thankfully, at an altitude of 2,408m above sea level, San Pedro has helped us to acclimatize for our next adventure - Bolivia. AKA Country number 21!
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