Torres del Paine National Park is a national park encompassing ancient forests, glaciers, lakes, rivers and fjords.
Torres del Paine National Park was founded in 1959 and is located in the southernmost and largest region of Chile called Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica.
Torres del Paine National Park covers approximately 242,242 hectares (598,593 acres). It is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile.
The main attractions are Cordillera del Paine, Los Cuernos, French Valley and Grey Glacier.
Cordillera del Paine is a small but spectacular set of mountains. Referred to as the Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine), the three massive summits are gigantic granite monoliths that are UNESCO-declared biosphere reserves.The highest summit of the range is Cerro Paine Grande, at 2,884 meters (9,461 feet).
Los Cuernos, or “the Horns,” is part of the Paine Massif, an outcropping of granite peaks nestled comfortably within the heart of the southern Andes and Patagonia. It is a spectacle of erosion and a probe into the depths of time.They are a particular spectacle mostly due to their shape and colouring.
Grey Glacier is a glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (world’s second largest contiguous ice field outside of the poles), just west of the Cordillera del Paine. With 19 kilometers (11.8 miles) of extension, Grey Glacier is a massive natural ice construction, of unique beauty.It flows southward into the lake of the same name.
The landscape of the park is dominated by the Paine massif, which is an eastern spur of the Andes located on the east side of the Grey Glacier, rising dramatically above the Patagonian steppe.Small valleys separate the spectacular granite spires and mountains of the massif.These are: French Valley (Valle del Francés), Valle Bader, Valle Ascencio, and Valle del Silencio (Silence Valley).
There are many large lakes lining the park, reaching up to 90 square kilometers (35 square miles) in surface area. Many are an intense turquoise color as a result of rock flour particles left from glacial erosion, making the water look milky.The well-known lakes include Grey, Pehoé, Nordenskiöld, and Sarmiento.
The most highly trekked route in Torres del Paine National Park is called the ‘W’.Total length of the circuit is 4 to 6 days and total distance is approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles).The “W” circuit often gets mentioned among the world’s top trails.
The Torres del Paine “O” Circuit (6–10 days) is the full loop around the Cordillera del Paine—the “W” plus the more remote backside that gets fewer trekkers. All told, the total distance of the “O” is approximately 110 kilometers (68 miles) depending on side hikes.
Not only does Torres del Paine boast several distinct ecosystems; each ecosystem contains a wealth of landscapes, flora, and fauna found nowhere else in world.
About 25 species of mammal make their home in the park, including the guanaco, puma, Patagonian gray fox, Chilean Huemul and Wild Horses.
Birdlife is abundant, with over 115 species recorded including the Andean condor, crested cara cara, black vulture and black-chested buzzard-eagle among them.
Torres del Paine National Park is adorned with beautiful vegetation, including the evergreen Embothrium coccineum, which produces vivid red flowers grouped in corymbs, Calceolaria uniflora, of striking shape & colors, and Lupinus, commonly known as lupin or lupine.There is also 7 documented species of Orchidaceae.
The park contains four vegetation zones: Patagonian Steppe – Desert shrubs and tuft grasses resistant to harsh winds & weather, Pre-Andean Shrubland – Evergreen shrubs like the edible calafate, Magellanic Deciduous forest – Deciduous Antarctic Beech trees lining the park’s gorges and Andean Desert – Species tolerant to low temperatures and high precipitation.
The park averages around 150,000 visitors a year, of which 60% are foreign tourists, who come from all over the world.
Lady Florence Dixie, in her book published in 1880, gave one of the first descriptions of the area and referred to the three towers as Cleopatra’s Needles.
In 1976, British mountaineer John Gardner and two Torres del Paine rangers, Pepe Alarcon, and Oscar Guineo pioneered the Circuit trail which circles the Paine massif.
In 1977, Guido Monzino donated 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) to the Chilean Government when its definitive limits were established.
In June 2014, scientists uncovered fossils of at least 46 ancient specimens of nearly complete skeletons of dolphin-like creatures called Ichthyosaurs which lived between 245 and 90 million years ago. The finding came after melting glaciers revealed new rock faces beneath.