Aside from breathtaking scenery, delicious cuisine, friendly people and inviting culture, Chile also offers a plethora of options for the adventure seeking traveler. From hot air balloon rides to long, arduous treks, a viable excursion can be found for all levels of physical fitness.
While in Chile's Atacama Desert for three nights, in the northern part of this long, slender country, I hiked through “El Valle de la Luna” (Moon Valley). The trek through Moon Valley was much more physically demanding than the latter, considering that we reached altitudes of 4.5km or 14,000 ft. above sea level. The terrain and landscape is unbelievable, however one should be prepared for the altitude and almost vertical, uphill climbs at certain points along the way.
On another day, I followed the local river for a few kilometers through a shallow, cactus-lined ravine which was known as the “Los Cardones” hike. The “Los Cardones” hike was less strenuous and much cooler temperature-wise, given that you’re walking along the river for most of the way with readily accessible areas for shade.
By far the highlight of the trip was the full-day trek to the base of “Las Torres del Paine” (the Blue Towers/Horns) in Patagonia, in the south of Chile. Our guide informed us that “paine” means blue in one of the local dialects because apparently, on some days, the towers appear to have a soft blue hue to them. We set out around 10:15am for our approximate 18km, (about 11.18 miles) round-trip trek.
The trail was in good condition and well-maintained. Certain parts were more challenging than others, but I never felt out of breath like I did at times in the Atacama Desert. We walked along snow-capped mountains, numerous waterfalls, lush trees and greenery, a river and also experienced a variety of weather conditions along the way.
The sun poked through from time to time, but overall, the weather was a bit on the cool side which was great because we generally were able to stay warm while hiking. Seasons are reversed from ours, so it was spring in Patagonia, and I was definitely glad I brought a few extra layers of clothing in my backpack, along with a warm hat and gloves and some light snacks/lunch. Water, without question, was essential.
The last 1k to the base of The Towers was perhaps the most difficult. This part took about an hour to complete because it was very steep and we were basically just stepping from one stone to the next. Upon arrival to the base of the towers, it was immediately clear that the 5+ hour uphill trek was totally worth it. Just standing there and basking in the grandeur was unbelievable- words are difficult to find to express just how immense and impressive Las Torres del Paine truly is. We spent about 30 minutes just taking it all in before heading back.
It was mostly downhill the entire way back to the start of the trail. This was very tricky at times because good footing was always a concern along with our general safety of course. It would have been quite easy to slip up and roll down the mountain, which we wanted to avoid at all costs. We arrived back to the trailhead around 7:30pm.
I consider myself to be in above-average physical condition so I didn’t think this trek was that difficult, just more time-consuming than anything. Most people that work out a few times a week could probably handle this trek- just be prepared for a long day; but the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment after the day is done makes the time and effort extremely rewarding!
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