The day many of us have been eagerly anticipating finally arrived. Today, we visited one of the most famous national parks of Chile and one of the highlights of our itinerary, Torres del Paine National Park.
The day began with a very early wakeup call from expedition leader Lucho. Those who wanted to stretch their legs extra had signed up for a longer hike that left around 6:30 a.m. The rest of us left the cute port town of Puerto Natales around 8:00 to begin our drive to the Torres del Paine National Park. And what a morning it was! We could not have been luckier. A beautiful pink sunrise accompanied us on the early hours of our drive.
While driving through the Patagonian steppes, also known as pampa vegetation, we came across guanacos, our first Patagonian animal. It was a large family group with several pregnant females and the chulengos (baby guanacos) born early this year. It was quite exciting to watch these wild animals interact with each other in their natural environment.
Almost immediately after our guanaco sighting, we encountered a rather rare species, a group of lesser rheas. Also known as Darwin’s rheas, these birds are closely related to ostriches.
Patagonia was showing off all its wonders. We made a short photo stop near Lake Sarmiento to admire the panoramic view of the Paine Mountains, which were capped with magical lenticular clouds. Our next stop was Amarga Lake, a round, emerald-green lake where we took photos of the three towers, the granitic peaks that gave the park its name.
We kept driving towards Salto Grande Waterfall, where we took a 45-minute walk to see the highest summit of the Paine Mountain Range, Mt. Paine Grande. Local guide Gabriela confirmed how fortunate we were. She said it is quite rare to see the very summit of Paine Grande since the peak is usually hidden behind the clouds. The clouds covering the summit were moving fast today, making the mountain look even more dramatic.
Just as we were thinking the day could not get better, we arrived at our lunch spot, Hotel Rio Serrano, located just outside the national park. A delicious Patagonian lamb barbecue and Chilean pisco sours were waiting for us. We ate our meal looking at the panoramic view of the mountains. One last surprise was waiting for us on our drive back to the ship. We spotted an Andean condor, the largest terrestrial flying bird on earth.
It was such a spectacular day! We were given everything we expected and more.