A few times in life, an experience is everything that your mind built it up to be. Welcome to Patagonia.
Patagonia stretches across southern Argentina and Chile, and both countries heavily protect their National Parks. Tourism is strictly monitored and the number of visitors contained so that the treasures found here will be enjoyed for many generations to come. We almost sang with delight—here’s a place that not only lived up to the hype, but where the countries understood the preciousness and fiercely defended it accordingly. Ok, that’s a lie. Blakely did sing.
To add to the wonderfulness, Ryan’s family came down for a visit to check on our sanity after months of travel, and enjoy the general splendor Patagonia provides. In at least one, they weren’t disappointed!
We started of in El Calafate to get our first glimpse of Perito Moreno Glacier. Wowza. I’m not sure what we expected, but nothing prepared us for the colossal vista of this natural wonder. Who knew ice could be so astounding? It towered over and surrounded us, and whenever a piece of ice broke off into the water (called “calving”), the resounding splash thundered like a cannon!
We stayed at the fabulous lodge Esplendor, which has a cozy decor that perfectly matches it's gorgeous surroundings.
From El Calafate we traveled down to Torres del Paine to start the trekking portion. We stayed at the charming Hotel Las Torres, a lodge nestled amongst some of the best trailheads in Patagonia (which is saying something!). After a quick hike around the grounds, we got some rest to prepare for the great treks ahead.
The W is a famous multi-day trek around Torres del Paine that allows hikers to explore some of the most breathtaking nature in the world. So, to the Dubya we would go! The first portion of our route was advertised as a “lakeside stroll,” and promised to be the easiest portion of our trek. Incorrect. While it started off this way, the steep incline/decline of the last few hours (!) laid us flat. Literally.
Thankfully, the scenery around us provided a significant distraction. WOW.
There are basic lodges (or “refugios”) and campgrounds of all ranges along the W. We decided on a decided on a unique type of refugio and stayed in the Domes Frances, which has cozy domes built for warmth and peaceful rest. The delicious food and cozy beds made a perfect, and necessary, resting point.
The next day we opted for a hike up into the French Valley and were astounded with views that, though very different than they day before, were just as beautiful! Around every bend were lake views, thundering booms of the calving glacier, waterfalls, and landscapes that made us feel like we’d dropped into Narnia.
The next day we headed back along the lake and, whether our expectations were better set or our legs in better shape, the trek was much easier this time. What we didn’t expect was the tremendous wind! Patagonia has a reputation for tumultuous weather and we witnessed it on this day. At some points, the wind actually blew us over and off the trail!
Once back at the Hotel Las Torres, we settled back in for a night of stretching and delicious cuisine. And maybe a cocktail or two!
The next day we headed off to the iconic Las Torres. Hotel Las Torres has a well-stocked stable, so part of the group was able to do the traditional hike, while others of us traversed the trail on horseback! We joined each other halfway up the mountain at Chileno, and all hiked to victory at the signature vista of Patagonia. The rocks of the Torres pierce the sky, standing above a glacier fed lake and defy all reason.
After all of the fabulous trekking in some of the best known and loved trails, it was time to get off the beaten path. Way off.
It took a plane, car, and boat to get there, but the luxury lodge Aguas Arriba was more than worth the travel. Set on the gorgeous fresh water lake and in the middle of a National Park, Aguas Arriba is a retreat that everyone should experience once in his or her lifetime (Or twice. Or every year, until forever.). The lovely owners Ivor and Patricia treat their guests as honored family and their retreat centers on thoughtful hospitality, understated luxury, amazing food, and conserving the precious natural gifts surrounding their lodge. They excel in all categories.
If you can tear yourself away from the cozy cabin, sun filled porch, and gorgeous views of the lodge, the trails around Aguas Arriba take you through forests truly untouched and untarnished by man. This is it. This is what you dream of when you dream of Patagonia. The few days we spent there added years to our lives and we’ve never been more sad to leave somewhere.
The hiking was over, but there is much more to Argentina and Chile. We’ll take you there, next post.