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Top Treks in Patagonia

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Villa O'Higgins to El Chalten, views of Mount Fitz Roy, Patagonia

Patagonia is a vast area and full of fabulous mountains, so there are numerous treks and trails. Andean Trails’ director, Kathy, who has been exploring the area on and off for 25 years gives a round-up of some of her favourites.

 

The Paine W

The Paine W is a multi-day trek that takes in three of the best walks in Torres del Paine national park, one of Chile’s largest and most visited parks. For glacial lakes and rivers in all shades of blue, vast mountain scenery and plentiful wildlife there is nowhere better.  At the heart of the park is the Paine massif with the centrepiece being the three granite spires of the towers, the south tower reaching 2,500 metres high.

It is usual to trek the Paine W over 5 days, walking from south west to north east. The first full day walking is alongside the ice-berg filled lake Grey with beautiful views along the lake to glacier Grey that flows off the south Patagonian ice-cap. The French valley comes next and a hike up here through southern Beech forest takes you into an amphitheatre of wonderful granite mountains – the immense walls of Cerro Cota 2000 and Cerro Catedral , the granite arête Aleta de Tiburón (Shark’s Fin), the Fortaleza (Fortress), La Espada (the Sword), La Hoja (The Blade), La Máscara (the Mask),  the three iconic  Torres (tower) and the weirdly eroded Cuernos (horns). The third classic walk is up the Ascencio valley to the base of the towers. On a fine day the views are outstanding.

 

Trekking Lago Grey, Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Lake Grey, Torres del Paine NP

The Paine Circuit Trek

For those with more time, 9 days are required, the Paine Circuit  is even better. It circumnavigates the whole Paine massif, and takes in the highlights of the W trek described above. The area is rich in wildlife.  Herds of Guanacos are common throughout the park, and foxes and pumas can be seen, though less often. The elusive Chilean Huemul also lives here. There are 15 bird of prey species including numerous Andean condor, black-chested buzzard-eagle, rufous-tailed hawk, cinereous harrier, chimango caracara, magellanic horned owl and the austral pygmy-owl. Other creatures that stand out are the Chilean flamingo, Darwin’s rhea, black-necked swan, Magellanic woodpecker, various geese, and buff-necked ibis.

 

Lewis on beach family holiday, Patagonia, Chile

Horns of Paine / Cuernos del Paine

 

Walking and trekking from El Chalten in Los Glaciares National Park

Fitzroy mountain and Cerro Torre, on the Argentinean/Chilean border are well known to mountaineers, as being highly technical climbs and exposed to extreme weather for much of the year. Both are granite spires that stretch up from the vast ice-cap, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.

There are three excellent day walks that can be done from the small mountain village of El Chalten, nestled between the Patagonian steppes and the Patagonian Andes ensuring the very best views of these iconic peaks.

The walks can be done with a guide, who will have expert knowledge and can tell you about the flora, fauna, geology and history, or go self-guided if you prefer. Trails are well marked.

The three recommended walks, each special in its own way are: the walk to Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Fitz Roy; a shorter trail to the base of Cerro Torre; and a long rewarding day hike up the ridge of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. Views from each are spectacular, and whether you are a climber or not you will be able to appreciate these magnificent mountains and the difficulties faced by those that dare to try to scale their icy heights. These can be included in s self guided Patagonia itinerary.

 

Fitzroy peaks, Patagonia, Argentina

Fitz Roy Massif, Los Glaciares NP

 

Off the Beaten Track Walks in Patagonia

Less well known but equally beautiful are the following walks.

At the southern end of the Carretera Austral in Chile lies the small town of Villa O’Higgins. This is a top spot for walks. The crossing from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten is a wonderful way to get from this remote part of Chile into the Fitzroy area and El Chalten in Argentina. There is no road connection this far south. The journey, a combination of boats and walking, is best done over two days, or more. There are plentiful trails in the area and if you have time and the kit you can explore this relatively unknown off the beaten track region of lakes and mountain peaks.

If travelling down the Carretera Austral we highly recommend you stop on route to take a day to walk up Cerro Castillo in Chile’s Aysen region. You can trek in this area for several days if you have the camping equipment and enough time.

 

Mountains and Lake, Aysen trek, Patagonia, Chile

Aysen Region, Patagonia, Chile

 

Walking and trekking near Bariloche

In the Argentinean lake district lies the chocolate box town of Bariloche, busy ski station in the winter and excellent as a jumping off point for walks in the summer. This is one of the only mountain areas of Argentina with mountain huts. The huts are basic, and I wouldn’t particularly recommend them, but with long daylight hours it is possible to get into the heart of the mountains on a day walk.  I recommend the hike from the ski station up to Refugio Frey which is at the foot of Cerro Catedral.

 

Trekkers-and-mountain-view-Bariloche, Argentina

Views of the area around Bariloche

 

Walking and trekking from Ushuaia

At the very end of the land mass that is South America lies the fascinating historical town of Ushuaia. The Andes change direction here and plunge into the sea, the Beagle Channel. I have three favourite walks here, one just up in the hills behind the town, the second along the coast in Lapataia national park, and the third up Cerro Guanaco inside the park also. The mountain areas are rugged and remote and the coastal walk is green, more gentle and has plentiful wildlife. In Lapataia you will see various types of Patagonian geese, the Magellanic woodpecker, flightless steamer ducks, diving petrel and black-browed albatross, possibly even sea otters, and inland guanacos, Patagonian grey foxes, southern river otters and the introduced Canadian beavers and European rabbits.

 

Looking back, mountain views, Montes Martial trek, Ushuaia, Argentina

Montes Martial Trek, Ushuaia, Argentina

 

If you would like more information on a Patagonia trekking holiday get in touch with Andean Trails.

 

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