Active Adventures in Patagonia: Kayla’s Trip Report

I enjoy being active on vacation. There is something to be said about doing the extra work to hike up a mountain for an incredible view, reaching the top of the Eiffel Tower by foot instead of by elevator or walking in the bush in Africa to approach animals without the protection of a vehicle. The idea of putting in a little extra effort and getting my blood pumping a bit harder than usual for an amazing view or a thrilling animal sighting makes the experience more exciting for me.

On my recent trip to Chile with my colleague Ken Marshall, one of the things I was most looking forward to was the hiking, horseback riding, kayaking and an itinerary full of activities that left me happily exhausted at the end of the day.

On our 18-day trip to Chile, detailed in Ken’s blog post, we spent time in Santiago, the Atacama Desert, Millahue for a vineyard visit (just 2 hours outside of Santiago), Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego. The entire trip was incredible and left me with a suitcase full of memories, but a highlight for me was without a doubt our time spent in Torres Del Paine National Park on the Chilean side of Patagonia.

Torres del Paine National Park is a 4.5-hour flight and a 5-hour road transfer from Santiago, but the long journey is worth it! Ken and I spent 4 nights at Explora Lodge, which is just inside the park and one of my favorite hotels in the world. The views are otherworldly. I was completely in awe!

At the lodge each evening before dinner we joined our guides in the lounge to discuss the following day’s activities. On our first full day at the lodge, we were ambitious: we decided to do a full day trek to Grey Glacier – one leg of the famous W trekking circuit in Torres del Paine. We were geared up with lots of layers, packed lunches and lots of anticipation. The hike was amazing; the views were like nothing I’d ever seen! It was not an easy hike by any means, but the effort was worth the stunning views and the coffee with Baileys that our guide carried for us to enjoy during lunch! After lunch on a pebble beach on Grey Lake we boarded a boat to view the Grey Glacier up close. The brilliant blue color and the bright sun made for a wonderful end to a long and tiring day. We called it an early night after that, excited for another busy day the next day!

Chile Hike

On our second full day we decided to take it a little bit easier. We opted for two half-day activities: horseback riding in the morning and a gentle hike/walk in the afternoon. Our horseback ride was in an area called Buena Vista, meaning “Good View.” Unfortunately it was very foggy that morning so fog and clouds obscured the views, but the eeriness of trotting through the mountains on horseback in the fog made for an adventure. That afternoon the sun poked through the clouds, and we enjoyed a beautiful walk through the hills. We hoped to spot one of the few pumas left in the area, but unfortunately only came across the remains from their most recent meal: wanaco.

On our last full day in the park, I decided to challenge myself with a 10-hour trek in which we climbed around 4,000 feet in altitude and hiked a distance of 13 miles. It was the hike to the base of the towers (the base of the Torres del Paine Mountains that gave the park its name). This is another leg of the famous W trekking circuit. I didn’t have time to do the third hike to the French Valley, but I’ll definitely make time for it on my next trip to Torres del Paine!

We broke the hike into 4 sections: hiking up the dry riverbed, down the windy corridor, up through the forest and the last section was climbing on snow and ice to reach the top! The views speak for themselves (see below). After spending about an hour at the top of the mountain to have a quick lunch, we followed all 4 sections of the trail back to the meeting point where our driver picked us up and kindly delivered our favorite Patagonian beer.

The trek was one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever experienced. It was physically demanding, but in my opinion, it was even more mentally challenging. Nonetheless, the views when we reached the top were worth the effort!

I cannot wait to return to Chile! I never would have expected it to be one of my favorite destinations, but it blew me away. I completely fell in love with the beautiful scenery, the lovely people, and all the activities available.