Chilean Patagonia

We strongly recommend the explora Patagonia lodge.  Its extraordinary location inside the National Park facilitates an active itinerary. Guests staying there avoid spending 1-2 hours (each way!) driving into the park from hotels in Puerto Natales. This enables guests of the Explora Lodge to tackle more (and longer) hikes.  The below was our four-day itinerary:

Day 1

After overnighting at the convenient Holiday Inn Airport in Santiago, we departed on a 5:15 a.m. Latam flight for the nearest airport to Torres del Paine—Punta Arenas.  The 3.5 hour flight landed at 8:40, and we were met by one of the Explora’s vans.  The flight was just the start of our journey because the drive from the airport to Explora Lodge is ~4 hours.  The first half of the drive is good for bird watching, including ostrich-like Rheas grazing on the shoulder.  Explora stops at a café about halfway for a quick lunch and then for a series of photo opportunities at Puerto Natales and various overlooks in the National Park.

Arriving at the explora Lodge is magnificent.  Its windows look out across Lago el Toro at the Torres del Paine mountains, and a boiling waterfall tumbles outside of the hotel’s dining room.


View from Our Room

We arrived just in time for an afternoon excursion, a 2-hour hike from the hotel to a nearby lookout (Excursion Mirador del Toro).

Returning guests shower and then gather in the bar for snacks and drinks before dinner is served. Guides then share with guests which excursions are being offered the following day.  The wild and changing weather of Patagonia frequently makes certain hikes unsafe so it is impossible to schedule any itinerary more than a day in advance.

With good weather forecast for the next day, we opted for the most difficult of hikes—climbing to the summit of the Torres del Paines.

The dinner offerings were great, and the restaurant had decent Chilean wines included in the price of dinner, as well as premium offerings such as Concha y Torro’s Don Melchor and Almaviva.


First Night Dinner

Day 2

After quick breakfast, we were driven thirty minutes to the start of our climb.  Along the way, we saw lots of guanacos and even a hunting puma. We stopped and watched the puma stalk its prey.

The Torres del Paine climb is ~14 miles round trip, taking four hours up and four hours down.  There is a café and bathroom at the half way point. One of the issues we had was our pairing with a super-fit twenty-something couple who had been climbing in the Andes for a month.  They were moving so fast we felt like we were chasing a couple of mountain goats.  It also didn’t help that we encountered sideways rain and near-hurricane force winds over a short stretch of hike along the precarious edge of a canyon. By the time we reached the halfway point, we were exhausted and allowed the Explora Guide to continue on without us.

After we caught our breath, we continued the hike by ourselves.  The next hour was through a beautiful forest and was the easiest stretch. The last hour was the hardest—a scramble over tumbling boulders to the summit.  The hard work was worth it, though.  The view of the Torres before the lake was majestic.  Be warned, there is no photo opportunity of the Torres until you reach the summit.  Our guide and the other couple looked very surprised to see us, as they thought we wouldn’t make it.


At the Peaks

The hike down was surprisingly hard as rains soaked the rocks, making it hard to keep one’s footing. The Torres del Paine climb was the absolute highlight of the trip and is not to be missed.

Day 3

After the Torres del Paine hike, we were looking for something easier on Day 3.  We opted for a day-long excursion that included an hour-long horseback ride followed by a gaucho BBQ lunch.  We road amidst large herds of guanacos and up rushing rivers to view a waterfall.


Gina Riding to the Waterfall

After the delicious lunch, we opted for the Laguna Azul hike.  This was a leisurely walk along a lakeshore with the Torres del Paine mountains in the distance.

Day 4

For our morning excursion, we opted for the Pingo Chorrillo Los Salmones excursion, which explores a different part of the National Park.  This was a relatively easy hike through forests to photograph several waterfalls.  We were joined by a billionaire and his friend who were both serious bird watchers. They helped us find and identify some of Patagonia’s rarest species as they flitted among the tree branches.


For our afternoon excursion, we took the Glacier Bay cruise, which is operated by another hotel and takes large groups onto the lake to view the side of a glacier.


It was worth doing, but more touristy and not as peaceful as our other activities.  Had we been able to stay one more day, Explora offers an excursion that is a hike to the same glacier followed by a return on the cruise ship.  That would have been a better experience than the boat, alone.

Day 5

There was no time for any activity, and repeated the 4-hour drive back to the airport—including the lunch at the same café.  The return flights arrive in Santiago in the early evening, allowing for easy connections with overnight flights back to the United States.