The rental car. I’ve found that when renting a car in a foreign country, Expedia.com was the best source with the better prices. We dropped our bags off at the lodge and walked down a few blocks to Europcar for our reserved Mazda 5. When we arrived, there was a room full of travelers waiting for their car. I was fixated on ALL the luggage they brought. No joke, 3 bags each! What do they put in them?! Since traveling together, I’ve converted Steve to carryon. Anyways, I handed the rental guy my international driving permit which I got got from AAA back home and was pleasantly surprised when the car rental guy said he upgraded us to a Subaru Forester. I was unpleasantly surprised when I looked at the bill and saw that it wasn’t a free upgrade. I had to sign a few extra forms because I was declining their rental accident waiver insurance. He made it known that he didn’t think it’d be a good idea because of the roads but I had rental waiver insurance through my Chase Reserve, so I was covered either way. We did the car walk through pointing out every ding and scratch on the car before taking it off the lot. When we returned it, it was pretty much covered in mud. You wouldn’t even be able to tell if there were new scratches on it! “Oh, very dirty!” was the comment when we returned it!
The roads. We got up early the next morning and was on the road by 7am. Google maps said 1.5 hours to our hotel for the bag drop so we can make the 9am catamaran. Google maps did not know about the road closures so we were rerouted which added another 30 minutes to our drive. As I was driving along, I realized all the eyebrows I was getting from rental guy. Once you’re out of the town, the roads are unpaved, they’re full on gravel with potholes and they’re narrow for two way traffic lanes. I only fishtailed once as I took an edge too closely. Mid drive, I had to tell Steve that he had to be nervous silently. It wasn’t helping the zen mode I had to keep myself in. So, my tip on driving in Torres Del Paine, get an AWD vehicle otherwise your wheels might fall off and perhaps the insurance if you’re not covered by your credit card company for peace of mind as my heart rate spiked with every rock that hit the car and every oncoming local driver or tour bus!
Torres Del Paine. First of all, toilet paper in the toilet is a big no-no in the park and surrounding areas of the park. The area doesn’t have a sewage plant but they do have a sewage treatment system and toilet paper would interfere with that. Onto the hikes itself! I looked at all different ways of tackling Torres Del Paine. Did we want to do the full W trek? Did we want to camp all those nights? How did we want to split our time?! After some reading and research, I decided on the two hikes that was our must do. The hike up the French Valley which is the middle stick of the W and the base of Las Torres hike which is the last stick of the W. To do the French Valley hike, we had to secure a campsite and the reason we had to make the 9am catamaran. More on the campsite later. The French Valley hike did not disappoint! It’s windy, it’s uphill, the views of the glacier covered mountains in front with the glacier lakes behind. The French Valley trail is a busy one because most people start the hike at the same time pending the catamaran arrival. We hiked up then back down to Camp Frances. The French Valley hike can be done as a day trip, however, we were told at the hotel that some people got denied entry because they didn’t have a campsite reserved. I suppose the park is trying to crackdown on illegal camping due to fires started by irresponsible tourism. The Las Torres hike is the highlight of the park. Most tour groups leave the hotels at 730am, we decided to leave at 7am to beat the crowd. We made the 11.5 miles in about 6:45hours. I was mentally prepared for an eight hour hike so I was stoked that it didn’t take that long. The first hour is all uphill and rough but it’s the beginning so you’re stoked! Hours 2-2:45 are manageable peaks and valleys. The last 40 or so minutes is a windy rock climbing stinger to get up to the base of the Torres. I was reminded of how out of cardio shape I was! Once we got up to the base, it was breathtaking! It was quiet, the sun was starting to warm, we took a nap and marveled at the natural beauty. As we made our way down, a lot of folks were making their way up. The sun was heating up now and it would be our first day in the park that we actually felt heat! The return hike is pretty hard on the knees and the beginning of the last hour is a killer uphill punctuated by bees and flies wanting to sting you if you’re a female and it’s that time of the month. We wanted to see Glacier Grey which is the first stick of the W. We wanted to get up and close to it so we boarded an excursion boat. The glaciers up close are stunning and massive. It’s hard to think that we are only seeing a tiny portion, 4%, of what it used to be.
The lodging. My lodging strategy was that it’d get better as the trip went on. Our first night in Puerto Natales, we stayed at a lodge in town that was basically an ensuite tent with drywall to enclose it. I will not be recommending that place even though the staff was all so kind! Our next lodging set up was a premium platform tent at Camp Frances. I emailed Fantastic Sur to reserve this campsite in April. I didn’t get a first response back until June. June! I had almost forgotten about it by then. We were confirmed by July. Premium platform is an option that is new. It includes a comfy sleeping pad and a very warm sleeping bag in these new Marmot tents! Hot showers were an option from 6-10pm. We chose the full board option so we didn’t have to worry about meals. After camping, we checked into the Rio Serrano hotel. There are many options for areas to stay at in the park and I chose this one because the hotel had space. It turned out to the better choice as we were in the middle of any direction we needed to travel to. I was REALLY close to booking the Instagram famous domed Ecocamp Patagonia ones but it was way too costly. As we drove through the park and past the domes, it turned out to be a smart choice. For nearly $1k a night, you don’t even get view of the infamous mountain peaks! Our last hotel stop would be back in Puerto Natales at the Simple Patagonia Hotel. The hotel has been opened for a year and if just about as perfect as it can be to end a trip. If this was perched on a hillside in Big Sur, it’s easily be $1k a night but in Chilean Patagonia, this 11 room gem costs $225. The decor, the simplicity, the peace you feel watching the sea and grass move in the wind is pretty much on point.
Part of the planning process was to book a tour or not book a tour. I opted to not book a tour mainly because I like being on my own time. Aside from that, tours are expensive! I suppose companies have to make a profit. When we calculated what we’ve spent, we concluded that it was half of what we’d spend had we gone with a group. Besides, part of the adventure is the planning, the research and the surprises along the way. Prior to coming here, I knew the park would be spectacular. The hikes would bring pretty epic experiences but what I didn’t expect was the simplistic beauty of the architecture in this region. The Chilean people have all been so helpful and we will miss it here. Adventuring through Patagonia at 40 with my hubs is an adventure for the books!