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Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes, Chile

GPS: -50.942254334777, -73.406588306806

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Torres del Paine National Park is one of the largest protected natural areas in South America. Almost uninhabited by humans (an average of one inhabitant per square kilometre), it is located on the southern tip of the Andes Mountains, at the foot of the Chilean Patagonian Steppe. In its northern part, Torres del Paine National Park is the territorial extension of Los Glaciares National Park, established in Argentina. It has several glaciers, some of which are part of the immense Southern Patagonian Ice Field (the third largest ice field in the world after Antarctica and Greenland, covering more than 15,000 km²).

Discovered by Magellan in 1520, this region of Patagonia was inhabited for thousands of years by the Tehuelche (or Aónikenk) and then the Mapuche peoples, before becoming a vast land of pastures devoted to cattle breeding. Only explored since the end of the 19th century, Torres del Paine National Park is a protected area that was founded in 1958 and covers more than 2,400 km². It was declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO twenty years later. For a long time, this territory was considered to be the end of the world, as evidenced by a sign in front of which hikers like to take pictures.

Rising to an altitude of almost 3,000 metres, this park of wide open spaces stretches around the Cordillera Paine mountain group. Its sharp peaks stand alongside wide glacial valleys teeming with a multitude of ecosystems. Every year, more than 150,000 visitors from all over the world come to discover the wilderness of Torres del Paine National Park through majestic walking trails, multi-day adventure hikes and remote unexplored mountains. They enjoy the striking contrasts between blue-green lakes and high granite cliffs in an environment untouched by human activity. Off the coast of the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica Region, karst islands in Western Patagonia hide one of the last unknown lands on the planet. Scattered in the Pacific Ocean, they were visited by the Kawésqars, a nomadic Amerindian people who are considered to be on the verge of extinction since the arrival of the first European settlers. The harsh environment of these uninhabited archipelagos abounds with limestone mountains, concretion caves, glaciers, waterfalls and Magellanic subpolar forests. It is only since the beginning of the 21st century that these remote islands of the modern world have been the subject of international expeditions and scientific studies.

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  • The spectacular and very diverse landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park (pine forests, steppes, valleys, mountains, glaciers, rivers, lagoons, lakes, Andean deserts…)
  • Grey, Pingo, Tyndall, Geikie, del Frances, los Perros, Olguín and Dickson glaciers
  • Lakes Pehoe, Nordenskjold, Sarmiento, del Toro, Dickson; lagoons Azul, Verden, Amarga and Sarmiento
  • The mountain ranges of Towers of Paine (three peaks in a row), Cerro Paine Grande (four peaks) and Mount Almirante Nieto belonging to the Cordillera Paine
  • Bader, Ascensio and del Francés valleys; the sun’s rays shining on the glacial lakes and the granite rock of the Cordillera Paine
  • Salto Chico and Salto Grande waterfalls; Rio Paine waterfall
  • Viewpoints from the Nordenskjöld, Cerro Dorotea and Las Torres lookouts
  • The great variety of animal species: guanacos (short-coated llamas), pumas, grey foxes, eagles, black vultures, Andean condors (the largest terrestrial bird on the planet); the many endemic species of flora (herbaceous plants, shrubs, rare plant species…)
  • Hiking through the mythical W and WO treks (for experienced people only); horseback riding and boat trips; kayaking, fishing, mountaineering, rafting, wildlife observation and ranching
  • According to recent studies, the Cordillera Paine is a young mountain (12 million years old) compared to the Andes (60 million years old), the Canadian Rockies (70 million years old) and the Appalachians (over 400 million years old). This mountain range was created by the movement of the Antarctic and Nazca tectonic plates.
  • All glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park are retreating due to global warming. Taken together, they represent one of the largest freshwater reserves in the world.
  • American businessman and founder of the North Face clothing brand, Douglas Tompkins, has sold shares in his successful company (which also owned the global brands Esprit and Patagonia) to devote himself to protecting Patagonia. Together with his wife Kristine Tompkins, the environmental philanthropist acquired 8,100 km² of large tracts of land in Chile and Argentina in the 1990s for environmental conservation purposes. After his death in 2015, his widow donated the vast majority of this land to the Chilean state at no cost, which committed to creating a network of five new national parks in the Patagonia region and expanding three others (namely Isla Magdalena National Park, Corcovado National Park and Hornopirén National Park). This act represents the largest donation of private land in history.
  • The park territory can be reached by bus or car from the city of Puerto Natales or by cruise ship from the cities of Puerto Montt (to the north), Puerto Natales (to the east) and Punta Arenas (to the south, in the Strait of Magellan).
  • The months of October to March offer the best conditions for visiting (the wind is lighter at this time of year).
  • If you wish to spend at least one night in one of the camps managed by CONAF (Chilean public office in charge of forest management), it is compulsory to book in advance.
  • The most popular adventure trek in Torres del Paine National Park is the W (about 80 kilometres of trails to be covered in 4 to 6 days; accommodation in tents or refuges possible if booked in advance) followed by the Paine Big Circuit, also called the O Circuit or WO (a longer and even more demanding circuit).
  • Beware of the unpredictable weather conditions in this mountainous area of Patagonia. Also, be aware of safety in this remote area. A hiker inadvertently started a fire here in 2011 that burned tens of thousands of hectares of forest.
  • It’s a 6-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales to the Argentine city of El Calafate if you want to explore Los Glaciares National Park on the other side of the border.

Where to eat

  • Base Camp
    (family atmosphere)
  • Bar Pionero
    (pleasant address)
  • The Singular Patagonia...
    (attentive service)

Where to go out

  • Estancia Puerto Consuelo
    (quiet farm)
  • Última Esperanza Sound
    (navigable sound)
  • Cueva del Milodón Natural...
    (network of caves)

Where to sleep

  • Estancia Cerro Guido
    (huge lonely farm)
  • Explora Patagonia Hotel Salto...
    (well-equipped complex)
  • The Singular Patagonia
    (exceptional estate)

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