The Ultimate Guide to Hiking Torres del Paine – UPDATED

September marks the start of the trekking season in Torres del Paine. A lot has changed in the short time since we visited in 2015, so we are updating our guide. Full-circuit trekkers can now only hike counterclockwise and reservations are necessary for the free CONAF campsites starting October 15, 2016. Read on for details and complications.

After several months of indulging in amazing luxury experiences in Peru and Argentina, Tony and I were craving a good challenge and decided to hike the full circuit around the Torres del Paine Massif. It had been way too long since we did a multi-day hike on our own. It was time to hit the trails and test our physical limits. This time, no organized lodges, no guides or porters, no prepared meals. We wanted a real adventure to rediscover our sense of independence. Just a tent, food, and enough time to explore 130 km of wilderness.

Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is a household name among serious trekkers. Even if you have never heard the name, you’ve certainly seen the world-famous park in advertisements. Its epic landscapes represent everything that makes Continue…

Valparaíso, a City as a Canvas

Graffiti street art, Valparaíso

Grotesque faces glare down at me, others smile angelically and stare into nothingness. Tony aims his camera at a long-necked woman whose Medusa-like hair is a tangle of colorful strokes. I’m bombarded with supersized hummingbirds. Ahead, an ocelot roams through a forest of hot pink trees while a young Indian girl in red performs a tribal dance. No, this is not a dream. We are wandering the narrow alleys of Valparaíso, a city that plays the role of a canvas for urban artists. Imaginative graffiti and politically charged street art cover everything. The effect is spectacular.

Valpo, as locals call it, is just a couple of hours from Santiago. Its labyrinthine backstreets and passageways are spread out across a series of over 40 hilltop neighborhoods. Cerros Concepción and Allegre are the most popular hoods; they bring in Continue…

Easter Island Reality Check

Easter Island problems

As I mentioned in our previous post, Easter Island is remote. To be blunt, the isolated Polynesian island represents one of the ultimate travel dead-ends. Yes, some people manage to “drop by” on trans-South Pacific flights from Chile via Tahiti to Australia or New Zealand, but even that “bargain” is not such a bargain. In other words, you come here because you have gone WAY out of your way to experience its amazing history and culture.

As I hinted at in our previous post, nationalist unrest meant that it was NOT business as usual during our visit to Easter Island. Our first full day, we were scheduled to go on a tour with a local company based in Hanga Roa. Just as we were leaving, national park officials stopped our bus and announced that a band of angry locals had blocked the roads out of town and had taken over the national park. Continue…

The Fantasy of Easter Island

Rapa Nui, known around the world as Easter Island, is one of those fantasy destinations that most people recognize from pictures, but few people actually get a chance to visit in their lifetime. The tiny speck of land is one of the most isolated inhabited islands on the planet. Located 3,687 km west of the already isolated coast of Chile and 4,230 km east of the equally isolated island of Tahiti, this literally is the middle of nowhere. Its closest inhabited neighbor is Pitcairn Island located 1,921 km to the east… yeah, that’s isolated.

So how did this tiny chunk of land thousands of kilometers from anywhere develop one of the most monumental and mysterious civilizations in the South Pacific? It’s a riddle which has baffled outsiders since the island was first visited by the Dutch on an Easter Sunday in 1722. These early explorers discovered Continue…

Surprisingly Cool Santiago

Patio Bellavista, Santiago

Santiago de Chile… quick, name one tourist attraction that comes to mind. Nothing? We had exactly the same response. Latin America’s fastest growing city is definitely not the first entry on most travelers’ bucket lists. We certainly didn’t have any expectations when we planned a 3-day stay in Santiago to wait for our flight to Easter Island. The giant metropolis of five million was just going to be another quick stop en route to a more exotic destination. But then something happened. We suddenly discovered we really liked the city.

It’s true, there are no world-famous monuments, no Eiffel Tower, no Pyramid of the Sun, no Taj Mahal, but there’s a subtle attraction to Santiago, a laid-back and easy-going vibe that spoke to us. In some ways, it reminded us Continue…

Close Encounters

Mountian Lion in Torres del Paine National ParkPhoto by David Valdés

It was day seven of our eight-day trek through Torres del Paine National Park in southern Chile. My whole body hurt as I dragged myself slowly up the hill. We had been walking for several hours and I needed to rest. As we came over a steep ridge, I found the perfect place, a rocky ledge overlooking Lake Nordernskjöld and the green glacial valley before us. Unfortunately, two girls were sitting in our spot. Silently cursing them, I moved on while Tony suddenly stopped in his tracks.

“Thomas, look!” he whispered hysterically pointing at the rolling hills down by the water. I had no idea what he was pointing at, but I instinctively grabbed my binoculars dangling from my neck. “A mountain lion!” Tony blurted out. I almost started laughing. Continue…

Puerto Varas

Osorno Volcano

“Aqui Kuchen,” announced the rickety roadside sign in a comical mix of Spanish and German. I started to drool as we drove past the rustic café in our rented Toyota Urban Cruiser. As if the cake sign weren’t distraction enough, the route along Lake Llanquihue was absolutely gorgeous making it more difficult for me to keep my eyes on the road. Snow-covered Osorno Volcano loomed tall across the water, partially hidden from view by giant conifers. I pulled down the visor and stole a glance at the picture-perfect cone we were about to visit. Talk about Fahrvergnügen!

We had arrived in Chile’s spectacular Lake District a few days earlier. The picturesque region, settled by German immigrants in the mid-1850’s, is a sprawling region of glacial lakes and towering volcanoes, quaint German villages and epic national parks. Not surprisingly, it is Continue…

A Second Glance at Evolution

Imperial Shags

Quick, take a look at the picture above. What do you see? If you glance quickly enough, you’re quite likely to make the same mistake we did.

While strolling along the waterfront in Punta Arenas, Chile, we happened to spot a large group of black and white birds on the beach in the distance. “Oh penguins! Smack-dab in the middle of town!” we exclaimed. But we were wrong. Continue…

Expedition Patagonia on the Via Australis

Play video to start cruising

In one of our most incredible travel days on record, we stepped off our 11-day cruise returning from Antarctica, walked across the Ushuaia dock, and checked in for our 4-day cruise through the isles of Chilean Tierra del Fuego. Yes, two adventure cruises in one day does seem a bit over the top to us as well, but – hey – what better way to start our adventure across Patagonia?

Cruceros Australis offers a variety of expedition cruises through the isolated islands of the Tierra del Fuego Archipelago. It’s a vast region of untouched bays, glaciers, mountains and unique subpolar forests. This region closely resembles what Antarctica must have looked like millions of years ago before it was covered with ice. Cruceros Australis is also one of the only options for landing on Cape Horn, the most southerly point in South America. While Cape Horn is a major destination for geography aficionados, most people have no idea just how hard Continue…