I’m afraid this is a slightly misleading blog post title. I’m not heading back to Patagonia any time soon, though of course I would love to. It’s been almost a year and a half since I headed out into the wilderness on my honeymoon, and quite a lot has changed since then. More importantly, my perspective has changed, and I feel like I’ve learned to look a bit closer since then too.
In three days, in the middle of winter the Torres del Paine national park might be beautiful, but your options for adventure can be a bit limited. We had a very short amount of time, impeded by even shorter daylight hours – the sun rose at around 10am, and was gone by 4pm. While we enjoyed the trip immensely there’s a little part of me that regrets we didn’t stay longer. If you travel for so many hours, you should make it worth it, and we did. But if I could do it all again, there’s a lot more I’d do.
Travel in the autumn
Because winter is cold down there. We hit -7 degrees and believe me out on a frozen lake with the wind-chill to factor in, thermal trousers, socks, woolly hat, gloves and furry hood were only just enough. Between the months of December and February there’s plenty more to see, a lot more daylight, though the slight risk of being blown away by strong gales. The weather can be unpredictable no matter the season, but autumn would be my top pick. As someone who adores the transition from summer to autumn, the changing colours and nature’s habits, I can only imagine how beautiful Patagonia is at this dramatic time of year.
Trek the “W” circuit
Named because of the shape of its route, one thing I really missed about being in the Torres del Paine in winter was that we didn’t do much hiking. While I don’t confess to be the most experienced outdoorser, I would have given this trek a good go, even with a bad back and not a great love of tents. This route takes you around the Lago Grey (where we stayed) all the way to the great southern ice fields of Glacier Grey and eventually to the Mirador del Torres: a lookout point with the best views of the great three mountain peaks. If you’re lucky with the weather, the view will be crystal clear and breath taking.
Pack my telescope
Last year’s Christmas present from my husband arrived too late for my trip to Patagonia, but if I could go again I’d definitely pack my telescope, camera and a sturdy tripod (Torres del Paine is as famous for its wind as its peaks) and check out some of the clearest skies I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t see much with my own poor vision, unfortunately, so some lenses would have helped!
Go to the Argentinian side
Torres del Paine borders the Los Glaciers national park, the Argentinian side of the southern Andes and home to its own stunning natural scenery, fauna and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. A trek around the unmissable Lago Argentino and a stay in El Calafate and its dynamic glacier views would certainly be on the itinerary.
Freezing hands and freezing watercolours don’t make for the best plein air painting experience, but if I’d had a little more time I’d have packed a few suitcase-sized canvases and some paint. On our last day, the fog and low cloud cleared and transformed the park into from a greyed out smudge to a wash of golden-green hues, something that a tube of Naples yellow would have worked a treat for.
Rent a car
Saving our feet and backs from perhaps being unwilling protagonists on multi-day hikes, renting a car would give us plenty of time to explore deeper into the park, to shelter from bad weather and yes, perhaps as an alternative to spending a bitterly cold night in a tent.
Drink more pisco sour
While Chile isn’t top of my list of food destinations, the drinks were amazing and more than made up for some underwhelming meals. One of my favourite drinks was the pisco sour, a cocktail made of lemon juice, the local Pisco liquor, egg white and some syrup. Have the traditional one or mix it up with mint, strawberry, you name it.
Take more videos
We may have over a thousand photos from our trip (don’t judge, we were there three weeks, and my husband is a bit of a camera-Nazi), but I’m surprised at just how few videos we took. We could have captured those thrilling few moments when the clouds melted away to reveal the Torres with the same skill and swiftness as whipping away a tablecloth from underneath precious china. We should have filmed the scenes and sounds of the glaciers on the lake, the views above Santiago, or even just the silence out on the lake itself.
Keep going south
When we arrived at Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region, Magallanes and Antartica Chilena, it felt strangely familiar, almost like a Welsh coastal town with wide streets, low white houses and local shops. Yet we knew this wasn’t Europe, and we were a very long way from home. Though we found an English pub to watch England v Croatia in the World Cup semi-final, we drank South American beer, and it wasn’t England fans we met outside the pubs either.
After we left the pub, a bit saddened by England’s defeat, we wandered along the coast and looked out into the glorious blue Strait of Magellan, and I knew that the only thing further south were the last rugged remains of Patagonia and the Tierres del Fuego before stormy ocean and the northern tip of Antarctica. There were domestic flights from Punta Arenas, most surprisingly, so if I were to go to Patagonia again, of course I’d venture even further south to the home of albatross and penguins! It’s only another 1,425km to go.
And finally, I’d stay longer. Much longer.