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Torres del Paine National Park
Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrTorres del Paine National Park comprises some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes on Earth, from towering mountains and jagged peaks, to luminous glaciers and reflective lakes. Located in Chile’s Patagonia in the far south, its rivers and fjords cut through ancient forests which are home to Guanacos, Foxes, Pumas, and a vast array of birds.
HistoryComprising more than 242,000 hectares, Torres del Paine is part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado de Chile or National System of Protected Forested Areas of Chile. Originally, the park was named ‘Parque Nacional de Turismo Lago Grey’ in 1959, but was renamed ‘Parque Nacional Torres del Paine’ in 1970. The park is named after the peaks of the mountain, Cerro Paine, that rise 3,050 meters above sea level. Before it was designated a park, the area was part of a large sheep estancia where overgrazing had decimated its pastures, forests, and wildlife.
In 1978, UNESCO declared the area a World Biosphere Reserve, promoting its approach to conserving biological diversity and economic development by living and working in harmony with nature.
The peaks are a result of millions of years of sediment compression over a bed of magma-cooled granite. Tectonic pressures forced the area to rise, followed by glacial retreat that carved back the softer sedimentary layers, exposing the hard granite below.
WeatherThe mountain topography results in complex and variable weather conditions. Summers (December to February) are relatively cool with maximum temperatures around 16° Celsius (61° Farenheit), while winter highs drop to around 5° Celsius (41° Fahrenheit). Autumn months see the most rainfall with monthly averages around 80 mm. The park can be visited year-round with each season offering unique highlights. The most popular time to visit is during the summer months when the colors are most vibrant, although the preceding spring months can also be beautiful as wildflowers begin to bloom and animals are breeding. The park takes on orange and yellow hues in autumn as the leaves change colors, before snow blankets the landscape in winter.
Flora and FaunaTorres del Paine National Park is home to more than 100 bird species including Andean Condor, Flamingo, and Rhea (ostrich-like creatures). South Andean Deer and Puma are among the park’s 26 mammal species. Guanacos, which were severely poached prior to the park’s designation, have bounced back in numbers as a result of conservation efforts and an expansive open steppe that allows them to graze without the threat of predatory pumas.
Four different vegetation types are found within the park. Patagonian Steppe is comprised of resistant desert shrubs and tuft grass while Pre-Andean Shrubland features more substantial evergreen shrubs. Andean desert exhibits species tolerant to low temperatures and high precipitation. Magnificent Antarctic Beech feature in the Magellanic Deciduous Forests that line river gorges throughout the park.
TrekkingConservation efforts to protect fauna and flora include low impact infrastructure and raised wooden walkways to reduce erosion and the disturbance of plant species.
Top sites to visit within the park include watching the sunrise over the Paine Towers, sending the granite a brilliant pink hue, listening to the rumbling groans of the Grey Glacier , and exploring the French Valley where glaciers hang between mountain peaks, and waterfalls cascade down the cliff sides.
More than 100,000 people visit the park each year, most completing the 3-7 day ‘W’ trek, so called for the shape it marks, or the longer Paine or ‘O’ Circuit, which adds in the remote backside of the cordillera. The trek is challenging in parts but extraordinarily beautiful and rewarding, traversing open steppes, roaring rivers, and rugged mountain terrain.
The park manages free campgrounds (included in the 18,000 CLP entrance fee) with basic toilet facilities and cooking shelters (although no campfires), or more serviced facilities are available at the ‘refugios’ which not only offer campgrounds ($8- $ 18 USD ), but also rooms and meals. For those that don’t want to carry their own supplies, tents, sleeping bags, and mats, these can also be hired at the ‘refugios’.
Remember that temperatures can drop dramatically at night (even during summer) so plenty of warm clothes, wet weather gear, and a well-graded sleeping bag are essential.
AccessDaily flights from Santiago stop at Punta Arenas from where it’s a 3-hour bus ride to Punta Natales, the gateway town for Torres del Paine. Daily shuttles take trekkers the further 113 km (2 hours) to the Laguna Amarga ranger station, the Pudeto catamaran landing, and the park administration center.
The park suffered extensive bushfires in 2011, when a campfire burned out of control, destroying 40,000 acres, including old growth forest and wildlife.
The nearby Los Glaciares National Park to the north offers more spectacular hiking in UNESCO World Heritage Listed wilderness, while trekking to Laguna de Los Tres features incredible views of Cerro Fitz roy to the north. The Perito Moreno Glacier is another spectacular landmark easily accessible from the nearby town of El Chalten where you can watch ice dramatically break away from the glacier wall on board safari boats.
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Author: Pip23. Last updated: May 02, 2015