Great big Thank You to all who answered my Qs and helped make this trip memorable for us!
We arrived in puerto natales on a morning Bus Sur from El Calafate. The Argentina border crossing took almost an hour since only 1 person was working and the other officials were walking around and also engaging the worker bee in conversation. Comparatively Chile immigration was very efficient.
We stayed at Hostal Los Neneos in a private room with en-suite bathroom. This hostel comes very highly recommended. The place is super clean, hostess is friendly, speaks English and they have a great breakfast. They also let you use fridge to store your groceries.
We picked up our car rental at Newen car rental, a local outfit which was very accommodating, had clean car with very good tires, not much blemishes. One of the best tips from them was to park the car facing heavy winds so the door does not fly off the hinges :) After we returned the car, they were kind enough to drop us off at the bus station for our journey to Punta Arenas. Very Very highly recommended!! Generally we have found that outside USA, local car rentals are much more responsive than international car rentals.
We had a great Chilean seafood and lamb meal at Cangrejo rojo close to the boardwalk in Puerto Natales - again highly recommended. They also have great bakery section.
Most posts recommend Unimarc for groceries. When we went there, it was extremely crowded, you have to remember to weigh fruit and bread separately. It was packed with tourists who seemed to push one another and cut in the line.
We went to another store which is close by, a smaller grocery store but with similar prices, which only had local shoppers and not the pushy tourists.
Next morning we left at 8 AM after a nice breakfast. It took us about 2.5 hrs to get to our first view of the Torres del paine and it was fantastic! We were lucky to have clear skies, low winds, good visibility. We continued on to Laguna azul, passing many herds of guanacos, couple foxes, flocks of black and yellow birds. We were the only car that went to laguna azul since most others turn to amarga entrance fork. laguna azul is amazing, you have wonderful views of the torres. We walked around part of the lake to see the towers from different angles. We then drove to amarga entrance to pay the park fees. If you get there before 1 PM, you can pay fees with a major credit card, keeping your CLP for other items.
We then drove to cascada paine, mirador de nordensjold where we had a picnic lunch. Since the day was still nice but there were dark clouds in the distance, we decided to continue to salto grande and mirador cuarnos. We were able to complete the hike at a leisurely pace, stopping for many photo ops along the way. It started drizzling as we neared the parking lot. We decided to continue to Hotel lago tyndall.
We stayed in lodge rooms and were happy about our choice. The rooms are not very big but very clean. The hotel has lovely sitting areas with full glass walls that the staff will heat with toasty fireplace. We sat in the spacious sitting areas in the evening, admiring mists floating through the cuarnos and watching the double rainbow that sprung up.
The hotel also provides wonderful buffet breakfast with many different types of bread, fresh eggs, sausages, thick yogurt, fruit, tea, coffee, cocoa, different types of juices and cereal. It is included for lodge rooms and additional charge for cabins. They also provide lunch boxes at reasonable charge. We had enough food that we had purchased in PN.
The dining area overlooks curanos with walls of glass and the morning was super clear weather with cuarnos and other peaks glistening in the sunlight. I would highly recommend lodge rooms here. i am surprised at some of the negative reviews but these folks had stayed in cabins.
After checking out of the hotel, we drove to pehoe lookout to capture the scenery we had missed the day before because of drizzle. We walked across the bridge and around the property with its geese and goslings.
We then drove to salto chico and walked the boardwalk trail. we were the only ones there and spotted a deer that was napping in the grass :)
We drove to lago grey glacier trail parking lot (separate from lago grey hotel). Trail across the beach was windy but not as bad as experienced by some. We had decided that we would not take the boat trip since we have seen glaciers in Alaska as well as the amazing Perito Moreno in Argentina just a few days ago. You see the glacier in the distance and there are some icebergs floating around. Among all places we visited in Torres del Paine, this is a place I would skip.
When we got back to the car we found that the battery was completely dead because we had forgotten to turn the lights off. there were no jumper cables in the car. We frantically searched for somebody to help us with jump start. One of the tour operators "patagonia tours" volunteered to drive to hotel lago grey to borrow jumper cables. The ranger station at the parking lot has nothing on premises to help people with their car trouble. We then noticed construction crew working on section of parking lot. When we explained our predicament, he helped us push the car a little distance to get it started. We kept circling the parking lot for 20 min until the "patagonia tours" van returned so we could thank him for his trip.
We found Chileans to be very friendly, very helpful. Nowhere else would somebody have volunteered to drive for 1/2 hr to help a stranger.
We wanted to walk the Mirador lago toro but must have missed the trail head because we got out of the park. We found an amazing location overlooking the lago toro and cuarnos so parked there and had a picnic lunch, enjoying the scenery!
Since we had some time we stopped at Milodon caves but there is nothing much to see except giant statue of sloth and explanation about the sloths.
Back at Puerto Natales, we filled the gas tank and returned the car, got on our bus to Punta Arenas for our adventure to see the penguin colony.
Thanks to NATURE and advice from TA experts, we had the most amazing trip to this wonderful destination!