Before time gets away from me, I want to share favorite images from my recent trip to Chile and Argentina. I traveled there for 3.5 weeks this past April and spent most of the time trekking around Patagonia. I promise to share details each location more fully in future posts, but for now, enjoy these photos!
First — I had a layover in Panama City. I remember flying through here in 2009 on my way to Peru and seeing Dunkin’ Donuts was such a novelty back then because we didn’t have them in LA until years later. Even though DD has now spread to the west coast, it still feels special to run into them abroad.
Upon landing in Santiago, I caught a domestic flight three hours later to the southern tip of Patagonia — a town called Puerto Natales that is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park. I snapped this photo from the main street along the water in town, in front of a beautiful coffee shop at Kau Lodge. Puerto Natales earned a spot in my heart and someday I hope to return.
I had exactly one night in town before heading off to begin my five-day, 50-mile trek in Torres del Paine National Park. I hiked the very popular “W” trek, but since it was so late in the season (mid-April) it was quite peaceful and uncrowded. And the weather was perfect. This was incredibly lucky, as I was told to expect all four seasons in one day (rain, wind, snow, and blistering sun) but not a single drop fell from the sky! I was most worried about clear skies the morning I hiked to the most famous viewpoint at sunrise, Mirador Las Torres — sometimes it is shrouded in clouds, which adds a certain mysterious quality that can be neat — but I had my fingers crossed for no clouds. And it worked out beautifully. Again, total luck. Check out the hint of pink on the Torres moments after sunrise:
I waited at this viewpoint for two hours — most people leave after an hour since it gets very cold when you’re not actively hiking, but I wanted to photograph it in full sunlight, so I waited until the shadows slowly crept away as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Meeting friends while traveling is really special — since we’re all doing a specific activity (traveling, hiking) we already have something in common with each other, and most of the people on the trail likely have a similar mindset: respect for nature, open to adventure, inclusive of other cultures. And on this trail in particular, you keep seeing the same faces over and over, since everyone stays at the same lodging (there are only a handful of refugios / campgrounds within the park), so it’s neat to get to know people better on each day of the trip. I met Caroline and Paul from Canada on my first night in the park and got to spend time with them over the following couple of days. They are the loveliest people and my life is richer for knowing them!
My favorite view in the park is the first viewpoint in French Valley. Sadly I ran out of time that day and didn’t make it to the second viewpoint, but I was so grateful to witness this vista:
On the second day, my feet sank into a swamp. Both feet plunged under water and mud, up to my shins. It was horrifying. My brand new waterproof boots immediately filled with water. I lost around 30 minutes trying to dry them off, changing socks, and using ziplock bags to protect the fresh socks from getting soaked. The boots didn’t even dry overnight so I had to hike like this the next day, too. The evening after that I left my boots in front of a fireplace at the refugio to properly dry out. But cheers to Ziplock for the quick fix!
Glacier Grey, be still my heart. Can’t wait to share more about this place.
View from the second swinging bridge overlooking the glacier:
I mean, come on…
Kayaking at Glacier Grey:
This is Betsy! My friend Lindsey from LA met Betsy in Costa Rica years ago and they’ve kept in touch, so when I said I was going to Puerto Natales, Lindsey put me in touch with her. I met up with Betsy on my first night in town and was so grateful to have an instant friend. We met up again after I returned from Torres del Paine and dined at Aldea, the best restaurant in town.
I’m not a big fan of lamb, but since this region is so well-known for it, Betsy convinced me to give it another try. So glad I did — this dish was so tender and flavorful. We also had local Patagonian wine (Carmenere) that was quite delicious.
After leaving Puerto Natales, I crossed over into Argentina by bus and spent a few nights in El Calafate. I didn’t like the town itself much (it was touristy compared to Puerto Natales) but the highlight is its proximity to Perito Moreno, the most impressive glacier I’ve ever seen.
There are several kilometers of trails crossing in front of the glacier’s face, so you can amble along and take in views from many vantage points while hearing the ice expand and contract, crackle and pop.
Every once in awhile you’ll hear a clap of thunder and glance up to see chunks of ice hit the water:
From there I took a bus to El Chalten, the hiking capital of Patagonia. You have to see this place to believe it. El Chalten is a tiny town in the middle of the mountains where you can leave your hostel and simply begin hiking on a nearby trail — no transportation required. There are a half-dozen popular routes so it takes a few days to do them all. Check out autumn in full bloom at Salto El Chorrillo waterfall:
And I met Emily and Linde at the hostel — they are so lovely! We were all traveling by ourselves and I was so grateful for their delightful company.
On the one day of sunshine, I did the most popular trek in the area — to the Fitz Roy viewpoint. It was so outrageously scenic.
Here’s the Fitz Roy framed in a pool of ice on the trail:
While we’d gotten rain in town the day before, it had snowed up on the mountain… so my final push to the viewpoint was an hour ascent over slippery rocks covered in snow. I don’t know how I made it without snapping an ankle. It doesn’t look so bad in this photo, but it was so slippery that without my trekking poles I would have been useless to get myself up or down this part of the trail.
But I made it!
After leaving El Chalten, I had to backtrack and take a very indirect route to go north to Mendoza, Argentina (this meant skipping Bariloche, Argentina, but that is fine for now). Mendoza has a climate not unlike that of southern California and is best known as wine country. I took a public bus to a nearby town called Chacras de Coria and rented a bike to pedal to various vineyards for tastings. It was fine but I wish I’d paid more money for a proper winery bike tour a little further south in Lujan de Cuyo — the one I did felt a little unsafe with cars whizzing by on some of the busier roads. In total it cost me around $20 whereas the more expensive ones are closer to $200 and include a fancy lunch, but maybe there’s a way to book the bike tour without lunch?
I will say this: all three wineries I went to (Pulmary, A la Antigua, Carmelo Patti) were locally owned and I got to meet the owners, who were super kind and took time to show me aspects of their vineyards that make them unique. If I’d done the expensive bike/winery tour, they only go to the major vineyards so you lose that mom-and-pop charm.
I went on a sunset horseback riding trip that was just delightful.
The company (Los Pingos) sort of screwed up the timing so the sunset happened within five minutes of our departure and the rest of the ride was in the dark (for two hours), but honestly, I still loved every minute. We could very clearly see the Milky Way on our ride back to the stable. Our guide Carlos was excellent and even played guitar for our small group for 30 minutes after dinner before we were dropped off back in Mendoza. I would highly recommend this activity.
I’m pushing the boundaries of what my DSLR is capable of capturing here (ISO 6400) — it was way darker in person by the time we reached our vantage point:
Me and my horse!
Back at the stables:
After leaving Mendoza, I took a bus back over into Chile (too many border crossings this trip…) to the coastal city of Valparaiso. Here is one of Pablo Neruda’s dwellings, La Sebastiana, which I toured (but photos are not allowed inside the house):
Valparaiso is best known for its endless alleys of colorful graffiti — I went on two walking tours here to see as much as I could:
Lomo saltado on one of my last nights in Chile… I ate meat almost exclusively on this trip.
The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is must-see when in Santiago. It’s eye-opening to understand the scope of the Pinochet revolution as documented here.
Final afternoon in Chile, writing postcards over a latte before rushing off to join a walking tour of the Bellas Artes neighborhood:
This turned out to be an incredibly memorable trip, and it all happened because I stumbled upon cheap round-trip airfare to Santiago and jumped on it. So glad things worked out for me to see this part of the world with my own eyes.