We are flying to Patagonia! Yes, the famous Patagonia!
The mystical place, of which everyone is talking yearningly. Of course, our expectations are stirred up by this and we are very excited to find out what awaits us at the end of the world.
As a precaution, we rented a 4×4 jeep. There are supposed to be some unpaved roads down there and a few gravel roads as well. We packed our bags with quite a lot of warm clothes, though it will be summer there. But it is quite far south, so you never know…
Full of expectations we travel from the wintry Zurich with SWISS via Sao Paolo to Santiago de Chile to see that place with our own eyes.
Arrival in Punta Arenas
From summery Santiago de Chile we punctually fly in the direction of Punta Arenas, and not much later we land in the rainy and cool south of Chile. Phew! What a disillusioning welcome!
Somehow, Punta Arenas really seems to be at the end of the world. Or is the doomsday mood of this place “normal”?
After picking up our 4×4 Jeep, we make our way through the charmless lowland in the direction of Puerto Natales. We drive through much steppe and a lot of… NOTHING! Driving always straight on, we are on the verge of becoming lethargic because the road is gradually turning into an asphalt conveyor belt.
Every now and then we spot secluded houses, or huts. Does anybody really live there? What are they doing here all day or even all week? Not to mention the whole month?…
But maybe it is the weather’s fault, which puts everything into a bleak light.
More and more disappointed about Patagonia’s “welcome” to us, we continue on the lonely road which – to our dismay – is named “Ruta Fin del Mundo”. Well then … at least once a street that lives up to its name!
First stop in Puerto Natales
With some hope left, we reach Puerto Natales – what a promising name! (Though “Punta Arenas” sounded better than it actually looked, too…) This village is the typical starting point for expeditions in the much praised Torres del Paine National Park.
The sleepy backwater – or is it Sunday today? – appears to consist of a loose collection of small, colourful wooden houses and many one-way streets. It has a small centre that is arranged like a chessboard. Anyone who has been to New York will know what I mean, but it’s completely different…
There are tour operators and outdoor equipment shops on every corner. Apart from that, Puerto Natales doesn’t have much to offer.
Anyhow, at the outskirts of the village one can find the spectacular Remota, a design hotel. With its architecture it really stands out from the steppe-like landscape… The detailed report on the extraordinary Hotel Remota can be found here. Check out prices and availability.
After our first night in Patagonia, the sun is shining into our faces for the first time. Full of expectations we start our trip to the Torres del Paine National Park.
We had deliberately chosen the 4×4 jeep, but we were still surprised by the fact that we could not find any more paved roads behind Puerto Natales. Because it is still hundreds of kilometers to the Torres del Paine National Park…
Patagonia Camp at Lago de Toro
After a “moving” ride over bumpy gravel roads we reach the Lago de Toro and the Patagonia Camp where we spend two nights in yurts by the lake. Slowly, it seems to get better ;-)
When we are going on a field trip in the hotel van with the tour guide of the Patagonia Camp, we look at each other with confusion… proud and patriotic as he is, our guide Rodrigo highlights EVERYTHING we pass by: cypress trees (almost six-foot and the driver brakes, so we can have a good look at them), Chimango-Caracaras (a falcon-like dicky, barely bigger than a crow) or waterfalls (compared to the Rhine Falls a better trickle of water).
From time to time we spot a couple of guanacos and this is as good as it gets. A rhea, a kind of small ostrich, belongs to the highest of the highs! The birding specialists in the van are ecstatic with joy.
Slowly it is dawning on us: Patagonia is overrated… We could also have gone to the Grisons, we would have liked it better!
Finally – Torres del Paine National Park
All of a sudden – as if God, the Creator of the paradise Patagonia had heard us – things change: As we enter the Torres del Paine National Park, an overwhelming feeling comes up.
The landscape is wild, rough and somehow mystical. A condor is rustlingly flying past our van into the depth. Behind the next curve we can see the Cuernos (horns) of the Paine mountain massif majestically reaching to the sky.
We keep our mouths shut and look at each other with big eyes.
And as we approach Lake Gray, we are choked by bizarre, deep blue ice formations which are drifting in the water ghostly and a few months ago broke off from Gray Glacier.
The Torres del Paine national park, a UNESCO world heritage, promises breath-taking panorama pictures, glaciers, rivers, lakes, forests and … okay, admittedly a bird life rich in species.
A word of warning: The Torres del Paine national park is very spacious. If you want to pass through it in the direction of Argentina, as we did, you have to fill up the fuel tank in Puerto Natales. Depending on the tank’s range and consumption, it is sufficient almost to the other end to border to Argentina. With quite a lot of relief, you will spot a nice, big petrol station.
It is not a surprise that a tiresome paperwork and a pretty steep charge are matured crossing the border with a hired car. And a handwritten entry of a border official in the transfer booklet. Leaving Buenos Aires, they take digital fingerprint and a webcam-portrait. How the handwritten entry from the pampas and the hightech-entry of the metropolis are compared, we do not know …
Anyway, as soon as you came through the hell of crushed rock and the paperwork without any damage, you take a paved road in Argentina, which does not exist in google maps, and you will have yourself a monotonous journey to the Argentinian El Calafate, where you will arrive 8 hours after your departure in Patagonia Camp.
El Calafate, Eolo and the Perito Moreno Glacier
The absolute highlight in Patagonia was the Mini-Trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Over rough and smooth we went to top of the glacier spectacularly by means of crampons.
You arrive the Petito Moreno Glacier befitting to status via El Calafate and the Relais & Châteaux luxury hotel Eolo.
It’s rooms and restaurant allows a spectacular view over the landscape from all sides. Despite or perhaps because of its isolation, the place appears very inspiring and again offers a view over the Torres del Paine when the wheather is good.
So far to the topic „overvalue“ … Patagonia may seem monotonous at first sight. As soon as you have put thousands kilometres of gravel road behind yourself and bump into the nucleus of the vast territory, landscapes and views open up enormous dimensions.
We were thrilled and we already long for soothing expanses an majestic mountain ranges of the Anden.
The food was good to very good, but about the coffee there you can completely forget. The coffee gets better in the further north from the region about Bariloche and so on…
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