Torres del Paine

The day after we got back from Antarctica, we headed towards Puerto Natales, Chile to get ready for our next adventure – hiking the W trail in Torres del Paine National Park.  It took us a full day of busing to get to Puerto Natales and then we spent a day renting gear and buying food before setting off.

The W in Torres del Paine is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and it is definitely the best that we’ve done to date. It is about 75 kilometers and most people hike it in 4 to 5 days and you can start on either side – we decided to do it in 4 days and go west to east.  The first day we spent the morning getting to the park and then took a catamaran to the bottom of the western arm. We set up camp and dropped our gear before hiking up to Grey Glacier, at the top of the arm. The hike started out super windy – 60 KM per hour – but luckily it died down as the afternoon went on.

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Day two we got up and hiked 2 hours to the camp that we would spend the night. We set up our tent and dropped our gear and then headed up the middle section of the W into the Valle Frances (French Valley). This was our favorite day – the views were great and we spent a while just sitting and watching little avalanches happen on the mountain across the valley.

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Day three was a long one – and the first day that we had to carry our packs all day. We hiked from the middle of the W all the way to the eastern tip. The weather was perfect though and the landscape was diverse.

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The last day we got up at 4:30am to hike up to the Torres (towers) to see them at sunrise. Then we packed up camp and hiked back down the east arm of the W to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales.


The hike was amazing except for one minor issue – my boots fell apart! The right one developed a hole in the sole on day 2 and the bottom of the left completely cracked open on day 3!



Pucon – Summiting an Active Volcano

After Santiago, we headed to Pucon, which is approximately 11 hours south of Santiago by bus. It’s a pleasant little town located in Chile’s lake district, and was the start of the Patagonia leg of our trip. The main attraction of the town is to trek to the summit of Villarrica, a snow-capped active (and one of Chile’s most active) volcano which can be seen from pretty much everywhere in town with smoke coming out of the top.

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We did the trek on our second day in town. We were equipped with a bunch of snow gear from the operator we went through, which included ice axe, crampons, helmet, boots, gloves, pants, jacket, and a sled…
[Sadly, I forgot our camera for this hike in the rush to leave their office, so we had to rely on one of the guides’ 3 megapixel smartphone camera to prove that we in fact did make it to the top. Enjoy the grainy photos.]
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We were quite lucky in that the weather obliged for our hike, since the hike is a no-go when there is any inclimate weather. Given the agreeable conditions, we didn’t necessarily need our cramp-ons. We relied heavily on the ice axe to brace ourselves as we were zig-zagging up the snowy/icy volcano. It was fairly steep in certain spots, so it required a bit of focus on each step to ensure we didn’t find ourselves sliding off of the side of the volcano.


We were able to get to the summit in approximately 5 hours, which featured an imposing smoldering crater at the top. We hung out at the top for a little while to take in the expansive views of the area and to fuel up for our exciting next leg of the trip: sledding down. I have to say, this was the most fun I’ve ever had on a descent. It tooks us roughly 30-40 minutes to sled down what took us 5 hours to hike up. There were a lot of little sledding lanes to go down.

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Outside of the volcano hike, we just hung out in town and explored the general area. There is a lake with a beach in town which was pretty nice.

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And we lucked out with our accommodation, we ended up getting a little cabin all to ourselves that came equipped with a television. We may or may not have watched a bit of HBO on our lazy post-hike day.


A week in Santiago

After Mendoza we headed across the Andes to Santiago, Chile.  All the Andes border crossings are so scenic!

Mendoza-Santiago Border

After more than a month of only spending a few nights in each city we visited, we decided to do a full week in Santiago and rented a room in an apartment.  It was so nice to unpack a bit and get into a little routine.  Our routine for the whole week was: sleep in, work out (there was a gym in the building!), late breakfast, wander around, snack, more wandering, drinks/dinner, bed.  It was awesome!  The only big to do on our visit was to stock up on trekking clothes.  When we left the U.S. we weren’t planning on doing any multi day treks so we needed to do a little shopping before we got to Patagonia (the region, not the store).  Luckily we found a few blocks of second hand stores and got a ton of stuff – including boots and waterproof pants for both of us – for under $100.


Second hand shopping

I visited Santiago in 2007 and for some reason I didn’t have a super favorable impression of the city – but I loved it this time around!  We had a lot of fun exploring different neighborhoods and parks and we really liked the city.  Well, except for the smog.Park in the city center Chilean Flag Santiago street

Ped Street

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As soon as we arrived in Santiago, everyone we talked to asked us if we had tried a terremoto. So we set out to try one. And by try, I mean order a 1.5 liter pitcher of it.   Although white wine, pineapple sorbet and fernet seemed like a strange combination, it was one of those dangerous drinks that went down waaaay to quickly.


We put some serious mileage on our Fitbits in Santiago – we walked almost everywhere for the first few days. Then we decided to try out the Santiago metro and didn’t look back. It was great to use public transportation again (well public transportation that didn’t involve half sitting on a Bolivan man in the backseat of a taxi truffi). The Santiago metro was so fast and clean and smooth! The El in Chicago jerks every which way, but you didn’t even need to hold onto anything to keep your balance on the metro in Santiago.


We took a bus out to Valparaiso and Viña del Mar one day. We did a walking tour of Valparaiso and saw the highlights – colorful houses on hills and lots of cool graffiti. Then we took a little metro (Chile for the win with another great metro system!) to Viña del Mar to check it out. Viña del Mar seemed like a great resort town – if only it would have been just a little bit warmer, we would have hung out at the beach longer.

Valparaiso Steps B&E Valparaiso Vina del Mar

On our last full day in Santiago, we took the metro to the end of one of the lines and then jumped in a cab for a quick ride out to Concha y Toro Winery. Concha y Toro is the largest wine producer in Latin America and has a beautiful winery just outside the city. However, we decided to skip the hour and a half tour and just do the best part of a winery visit – tastings. We hunkered down at a table in the restaurant patio for lunch and then ordered two wine flights and then a few more glasses.  After all the wine we had in Mendoza and then this trip, I think we are well on our way to becoming South American wine experts 🙂

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San Pedro de Atacama

We took a minivan from the border of Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.  We knew exactly when we crossed over to Chile – the roads suddenly became paved!  We spent 3 days hanging around San Pedro – it was a really cute little town although very touristy.

Main plaza San Pedro

On the first evening, we did a “star tour” out in the desert.  It was absolutely beautiful and it was crazy how many stars we could see. Our guide for the evening worked for the ALMA project, which is one of the biggest astronomical projects in the world. Some of the biggest observatories in the world are centered in the Atacama Desert, since the area is one of the driest in the world (not many clouds) and it has decent elevation.

We also spent a morning biking out to the Valley of the Moon.  It was a really nice ride with weird rock formations and huge sand dunes to see on the way.  We didn’t see many other people on the road and it was cool being all alone in such a striking landscape.

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