South America Cruise – Punta Arenas, Chile

We were very excited for Punta Arenas.  It is actually the reason that we came on this cruise.  Not for the port, but for the excursion/tour that leaves from this port.  We have always wanted to visit Antarctica and Princess has a tour that flies to the Chilean weather station for a day, however, the tour is cancelled about 50% of the time.  When flying to Antarctica, you must use Punta Arenas as it is in Chile and since the weather station and airfield are owned by Chile, they will only allow Chilean aircraft to land.  In preparation for the trip, the previous evening, we had to have everything that we would be taking to Antarctica, vacuumed and disinfected.

After our disinfecting session, we played a game in the lounge, called Strike Out and we won!!! We thought that might be a good omen and the trip would go as planned.20190308_214217

The next morning we were up bright and early.  We had been told that they were flying in a penguin expert to lead our tour.  As we were gathering our items to leave the ship for the airport, we were told that the tour had been cancelled due to bad weather at the air strip in Antarctica.  There were 31 one of us and we are sure that devastation would be an accurate word.  So close, yet so far away. We had been told that if the Antarctica trip was cancelled we would be flying to Puerto Natales, boarding a bus, and travelling to Torres del Paine National Park.  We have learned in travelling that not all goes as planned and you have to go with plan B.  So we took all our winter items back to the room and prepared for a warmer day.  We boarded the tender to the port and met Betsy and our driver Eduardo.

After leaving the port, we drove along the shore,

We were able to catch a view of the Punta Arenas sign with the ship in the background. We saw the Monumento a los Tripulantes de la Goleta Ancud, which is a monument to the Chilean Schooner Ancud and passed a replica of the Victoria which was one of Magellan’s ships

At the airport, we had to show our passports and go through security.

The “Antarctica group” was given a sack lunch which was part of the original tour package.  We tried to make the best of a disappointing situation, but not everyone on our tour felt the same.  There was lots of grumbling…

After about a 45 minute flight we arrived in Puerto Natales, which was in the middle of no where.  We felt more like we were in the Idaho desert near our home…lol.  It is located at the top of Last Hope Sound.  The area is known for sheep ranching and is highly regarded as the sheep are disease free.

As we drove to Torres del Paine, Betsy told us about Chile.  It is the longest and narrowest country in the world.  It has over 2000 volcanoes and is known for earthquakes.  There were 4 native tribes that inhabited the area…hunters, sailors, and 2 tribes were warriors/fighters.  This lower region of South America is known as Patagonia, meaning Big Foot.  The Patagonia flag is the Southern Cross star constellation. The area was difficult to settle due to it’s remoteness.  Chile used the remote nature to their favor and sent prisoners here to serve their sentence.  It worked well until the prisoners revolted and killed the governor.  Punta Arenas translates to Sandy Point.  In 1927 it was officially named Magallanes but changed back to Punta Arenas in 1938.  It was founded in 1848 and it’s position on the Strait of Magellan helped it’s economy boom. Ships would stop for provisions. Some sailors and passengers stayed so the area was settled mostly by immigrants and at one time the local newspaper was printed in 4 different languages. However, when the Panama Canal opened, Punta Arenas had to reinvent themselves…the economy is now centered on expeditions, research and tourism, with a bit of manufacturing.  It is also very important to the Falkland Islands, due to their conflict with Argentina.  The Falkland Islands will not allow planes from Argentina to land, so the plane must fly from Punta Arenas.

We drove on a two-lane highway towards Tierra del Paine NP and along the way saw numerous birds, including the crested Caracara and the Buzzard eagle.

The scenery was beautiful and there were sheep ranches scattered across the area.

The transportation waiting stations delighted Cindy.  They were so quaint.

We stopped briefly at a small store for a short break.

Our tour helper from the ship got locked in the bus…and we were locked out 🙂

With the bus unlocked, we continued our journey and enjoyed the numerous guanacos along the road.

And we saw one of the few predators in this area a South American/Patagonian fox.

We caught our first views of Torres del Paine National Park, named for the three granite peaks. The park was established in 1959 and received Bioshpere Reserve status from UNESCO in 1978.  The name comes from a Tehuelche word meaning blue, inspired by the park’s numerous ravines.  The park covers 448,000 acres, and is visited by 250,000 people annually.  It has 4 entrances and 5 hotels. The hotels were built by the ranches, which was a compromise for their land being “annexed” into the park.

We stopped at Sarmiento Lake for a better view of the Torres del Paine peaks which are the jagged spires to the right. They rise 8,200 feet above sea level.   The lake is a glacial lake left from a past ice retreat.  It has no inlet or outlet and is feed by rain water.  It has a white “lip” around the edges,  caused by thrombolites or calcium carbonate.

A few more guanacos…

Inside the park boundaries we got a good view of Darwin’s rheas.  It is the lesser known rhea and is a flightless bird.  They love the open areas of scrub brush found in Patagonia.  An interesting fact…once the female lays her eggs, the male is the one to stay until they hatch and then cares for the chicks.

The spires of the Torres del Paine were impressive.

At the visitor’s center we were able to obtain a park stamp.

For lunch we were headed to Hosteria Pehoe, but first we stopped at Nordenskjold Lake. for some beautiful views of the mountains.

In the distance you could see Salto Grande waterfall.

Hosteria Pehoe is an inn located on Lake Pehoe, translated from Tehuelche, it means Hidden Lake.

The color of the water is due to glacial runoff.

The inn is only accessible via a bridge.

We were served a wonderful lunch…the main course was mutton.

We had time after lunch to enjoy the views with our “friends”.

The scenery was spectacular.  It very much reminded us of Grand Teton National Park.  The Paine Massif is the mountain in the middle with the “horns”.  It has a unique banding, due to layers of dark sedimentary rock and light colored granite.

What a great place to eat lunch…

After we left Lake Pehoe, there were more glacier fed lakes.

We had a glimpse of one of the lower glaciers.  The park’s glaciers belong to the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.

The bus climbed out of the valley and we had one last look at the mountains of Tierra del Payne National Park.

Just outside the park, we drove past Milodon Cave.  You can take a tour of the cave, where the remains of an extinct giant sloth were discovered in 1895.  There are several caves in this Natural Mounument.

We also passed an interesting rock known as the Devil’s Chair.  We didn’t notice until later the weird cloud formation over the “chair”.

We made it back to the Puerto Natales airport…

We had a short flight back to Punta Arenas where we would re-board the ship, but enjoyed the landscape from the air.

So it wasn’t the day we were hoping to experience, but we saw creatures and landscape that was very distinctive and beautiful.  Tomorrow was a sea day, but in the afternoon we would pass by Amalia Glacier.  When you travel tomorrow is always a new day of adventure.