By Tim Farquhar
Patagonia, my absolute favorite gem in South America, boasts nature at its best. On my recent journey, I embarked on an inspiring cruise through the Southern fjords aboard the Magellan Explorer, which gracefully glided through the serene waters of the straits of Magellan and Beagle Channel. After this remarkable cruise, I ventured to Torres del Paine National Park, where I had the pleasure of staying at Explora Torres Del Paine Hotel.
The fjords showcased a landscape characterized by countless glaciers, evoking the breathtaking grandeur of Antarctica. Yet, what sets this journey apart is the striking contrast of verdant forests that adorn the coastline. As we navigated these glacial waters, we made several zodiac stops along the way, allowing us to disembark from the main ship and explore the fjords. Here, the rugged, snow-capped peaks and glaciers provided a dramatic backdrop to our explorations. In the midst of this pristine wilderness, one can’t help but be moved by the peaceful sounds of nature, the sensation of fresh, clean air, and the profound feeling of being alone on Earth. These elements, alongside the spectacular scenery, are among the many allures that make Patagonia a unique destination for nature enthusiasts.
Yet, amidst this natural grandeur, Torres del Paine stands as the crown jewel of Chile and for good reason. The Torres del Paine range, rising from just above sea level to nearly 3000 meters, is a sight to behold. Accessible from Punta Arenas (approximately 5 hours by road), Puerto Natales (a 1.5-hour drive), and El Calafate in Argentina (a 5-hour journey), it presents an assortment of monumental towers, imposing cliffs, glistening glaciers, pristine lakes, and an array of wildlife, including the elusive Pumas and charming Guanacos. This region exudes an ambiance of tranquility, where silence and stillness meet the elements of snow, wind, and sun, crafting a memorable experience. While Torres del Paine’s remote allure draws visitors from across the globe, it’s no secret, and popular spots like the Base Las Torres, Grey Glacier, and various lookouts can get quite crowded during the season.
My enthusiasm for trekking led me to explore the French Valley one day, followed by the Base Las Torres Trek the next. On my third day, I opted for a more relaxed excursion with a half-day trip to the Nordenskjold lookout, offering a breathtaking view of the Paine range. In the afternoon, I indulged in a horse ride through the expansive plains. Each adventure was uniquely amazing, but it was trekking to the base of the towers, under a fresh blanket of snow and crystal-clear blue skies, that truly left me in awe. Patagonia’s ever-changing weather can be akin to experiencing four seasons in a single day, but luck was on our side with relatively clear and calm conditions during our stay. Although summer months can be windy and bustling, it’s also when all the park’s lodges are open. Among them, Explora is one that operates year-round, and in my opinion, an off-season visit is truly rewarding.
All Explora properties offer a diverse range of excursions. From full-day treks to half-day adventures, vehicle explorations, horseback riding, biking, and wildlife viewing, there’s something for everyone. Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of spending time in Torres del Paine National Park and Patagonia National Park, lodging at Explora properties on both occasions.
Explora Torres Del Paine hotel presents one of the most breathtaking views on the planet, in my humble opinion. With a direct vista of Paine Grande, Paine Massif, and Las Torres, it’s a place where you could simply sit and gaze all day. Its location inside the park gives it central access to all the park’s lookouts and excursions. Boasting 49 rooms, it’s larger than Explora Patagonia National Park hotel.
On the other hand, Explora Patagonia National Park hotel is a remote haven, nestled amidst ice-capped mountains and crystal-clear, turquoise glacial rivers. With only 13 rooms, it offers a more intimate experience. After your daily adventures, you can join fellow guests around the indoor bar and savor some delectable Patagonian asado. This is where one of Douglas Tompkins’ homes is located, a testament to the meticulous preservation of this region’s natural beauty. If you seek complete seclusion, this is the place for you.
It’s challenging to declare one superior to the other, so I wholeheartedly recommend both if possible. Torres del Paine is a definite must-see, but once you catch the Patagonian bug, Patagonia National Park makes for a wonderful addition to your itinerary or an independent journey. Due to its remoteness and ever-shifting weather patterns, setting aside extra time is advisable. If you can afford a week to experience both, it’s the perfect opportunity to unwind and relish the areas and their splendid amenities, all while accounting for Patagonia’s unpredictable weather.
For those planning to visit both Patagonia National Park and Torres del Paine on the same trip and staying at Explora properties, there is even a private flight option, with attractive discounts when combining the two. You can also include El Chalten via a vehicle transfer, expanding your adventure in this breathtaking region.
The region’s unique blend of captivating landscapes, abundant wildlife, and a sense of isolation creates an unforgettable experience, one that beckons explorers from every corner of the globe. Whether you’re gazing at the frozen beauty of glaciers or trekking through the rugged terrain, Patagonia will forever hold a special place in your travel memories.