Hiking the Spires of Patagonia: Fitzroy and Paine
Patagonia is famous for its vast emptiness, bitter winds, and spectacular mountains, glaciers, and fjords. But most adventurers focus on a pair of massive upthrusts of granite with weirdly sculpted summits and spires: Chile's Torres del Paine and, just across the border in Argentina, the Fitzroy Massif. These compact ranges are surrounded by rolling meadows, lakes, icy fast-flowing rivers, and glaciers. Both have good trail systems around their bases. Indeed, the 5-7-day trek around Torres del Paine is considered one of the great walks in the world. But the mountains themselves, although only 7-10,000 feet high, challenge world-class mountaineers with their steep technical routes. Nature buffs are attracted by the wildlife, which includes guanacos, flamingos (yes, flamingos), and one of the highest concentrations of condors in the world. Many visitors are content just to take it easy and drink in the sheer visual drama of Fitzroy and Paine, which have few scenic rivals, on this planet at least.
Patagonia is famous for its bad weather, and particularly its winds, which often blow 20-30 mph for days at a time and reach 60 mph in some places. And that's in the pleasant season, December through March. At other times the weather is forbiddingly foul.
Although Fitzroy and Paine are only about 120 miles apart as the crow flies, it is a chore to travel between the two massifs. Argentina and Chile are notorious for their border feuding, especially in this area; as a result, cross-border bus and air service is limited. If you drive yourself, you'll face a roundabout all-day ordeal, much of it on wretched dirt roads. If time is limited, you might be better off skipping one or the other and spend the travel time exploring one place thoroughly.
The tourist infrastructure is pretty good in both places, but make advance reservations if you can. The season is very compressed in Patagonia, and during those three or four months airplane seats and the better hotel rooms fill up fast. Prices range from $10 a night for simple hospedaje to $500 a night for an ultralux lakeside lodge, with lots in between. Figure $15-30 per day for food. Local outfitters typically charge $50-$75 per day for one-day activities such as horseback riding, glacier-walking, mountain-biking, whale-watching, or boat tours. U.S. outfitters offer group hiking and sightseeing tours for $100-200 a day.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication