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TORRES DEL PAINE
It is a vast geographical area with innumerable natural attractions. It covers from the worldwide famous biosphere reserve Torres del Paine National Park, up to the border with Última Esperanza and Magellan provinces, located approximately 150 km south of the city of Puerto Natales. The Fairway lighthouse, which is located in the mouth of the Strait of Magellan toward the Pacific Ocean, constitutes the south-west extreme of the area.
TORRES DEL PAINE NATIONAL PARK
Created in 1959, its current surface was only established at the beginning of the 70s. Years later, in 1978, it was declared Biosphere Reserve by the UNESCO. It is located in the province of Última Esperanza, 145 km north of the city of Puerto Natales.
Torres del Paine constitutes the most impressive landscape in the south of Chile. The area, which is completely deserted, comprises infinite glaciers, lakes and knotty Magellanic trees. It also allows for the possibility of going on truly inspiring walks.
The area offers three different accesses: Portería Sarmiento, Amarga Lagoon and Azul Lagoon. It covers an area of 242.242 hectares and it is located at an altitude that goes from 200 meters to 3050 meters (Del Paine massifs).
Paine Mountain Range
It is an impressive mountain range governed by steep granite towers, the photogenic Cuernos ("horns") and the imposing Paine Grande. The massif is surrounded by glaciers and breathtaking aquamarine, emerald, turquoise, sapphire and lapis lazuli lakes.
An attractive microclimate supports a rich flora and fauna, which freely grow around lagoons and beautiful forests of "bearded" trees. It is thus not surprising that the site has been declared National Park by the Chilean State and Biosphere World Reserve by the UNESCO.
Numerous well-kept pathways, with distanced shelters, offer access to the most mysterious spots, and have made of Torres del Paine a favorite site for trekking fans.
Besides, there are diverse accommodations options that go from camping grounds to well-equipped hotels, which make of Torres del Paine the climax of every trip to South America. It is then that people think it is worth venturing to the edge of the world in itself.
Cuernos del Paine
The characteristic black rock found in Cuernos del Paine ("Paine horns") is a clear evidence of the tectonic and glacial force which sculpted this massif. Over 10 million years ago, this type of sedimentary rock covered vast areas of the region. At some point, those rocks had been in contact with the magma in the interior of the earth, which later shaped the granite rocks. Some time later, the colossal pressures from within the earth caused this impressive mountains to rise forming the startling site now called Torres del Paine.
During the Ice Age, the whole region was covered with ice and the only visible thing were the peaks of highest mountains. When the ice melted, granite was left exposed, preserving the black rock which had not been covered by the glaciation. Thanks to this natural phenomenon, today we can appreciate huge towers of various colors in a single massif, which surely constitutes one of the most impressive silent sights of Patagonian.
Vans and buses leave from Puerto Natales toward the park, every morning during summer and several times a week during the rest of the year. The trip lasts three hours over an unpaved road which winds through the mountain passes, before descending to the foot of the Andes, from which tourists can appreciate the twisted columns of gray granite known as Cuernos del Paine.
The best time to travel is from January to April, although even then clear skies are rare and clouds may cover the sky in only a few minutes. The well-known Torres del Paine, which are even more impressive than the Cuernos, may not always be visible because of the clouds. The only thing that remains constant is the Patagonian breeze which blows from the steppes in the West.
Every tourist that wishes to get into the park should register beforehand at the administration, where the park rangers will inform them about the condition of the roads. From Puerto Natales, it is possible to contemplate the typical landscapes of the park leaving by car in the morning and returning on the same day.
If you want to spend the night, it is essential to book in advance.
There are several small hotels, among which we find "Pehoé" on the shores of the lake and "Río Serrano", an old eccentric ranch recently restored, whose restaurant boasts a beautiful fireplace and dissected animals' heads hanging from the walls. There is also a display of numerous sculptures carved in bulbous roots from park.
The "Explora", a new luxurious hotel by the lake, offers the most interesting guided excursions.
Any hotel in the area constitutes a good starting point for various one-day excursions as well as for more ambitious expeditions. The park offers over 250 km of pathways, including a classic circuit which takes seven days to be covered.
There are also several shelters, which are often precarious wood constructions or structures with corrugated metal roofs which barely protect from the wind and the rain, so that it is essential to carry a good sleeping bag and a burner.
If you are thinking of going on the seven day excursion, you should also carry a tent with you, since the shelters may be packed at times.
The route starts at the administration office, on the south banks of Lake Pehoé and it allows spectacular sights of the Cuernos from various angles. It may turn out to be an exhausting walk, the most demanding stretch to be covered in one day being 30 km long.
Many tourists choose to walk just for three or four days, instead of seven. An alternative option is to walk up to the first shelter, by Lake Grey, spend the night there, approach Grey Glacier on the next day and return to the administrative building on the third day. It is also possible to walk up to Ventisquero del Francés Glacier or up to Lake Pingo, where there shelter is less visited.
Whichever option they choose, tourists who make the effort to explore the pathways on foot are later rewarded with breathtaking landscapes of snowed peaks, turquoise lakes and exuberant valleys. The pathways are surrounded by thousands of flowers. Some stretches go through wide meadows and others go up the mountains or through dense forests.
The majority of the routes in the park allow trekkers to contemplate a great number of animal species, mainly guanacos. Unlike their "relatives" in other parts of Latin America, these animals do not seem to be afraid of people and it is fairly easy to get pictures of them at very short distances.
Condors glide in the skies, while hares and foxes run through the bushes and swans and flamingos may be observed in most of the lakes. Although the sun may give way to stormy clouds in just a few minutes, the memories from the park will remain in visitors' minds long after their clothes get dry. Many people who arrive planning to stay for a couple of days only, end up staying for a week or more.
Los Pingüinos Natural Monument
Located within the Strait of Magellan, 35 km north of the city of Punta Arenas, it was created in August 1966 as a National Park and later re-ranked as Natural Monument in 1982. Its main objective is the protection of bird species indigenous to the place: penguins, cormorants and penguin rookeries in Southern Chile. The penguin colony has been estimated in over 60 thousand "couples" of Magellanic penguins (Sphenicus Magallanicus), which constitute over 95 per cent of the bird fauna. One may get to this monument, after a two-hour sail through the Strait.
De los Cisnes Lagoon Natural Monument
It is located north of Porvenir, in Tierra del Fuego. In this area, tourists can find colonies of beautiful flamingos and other bird species.
Milodon Cave Natural Monument
It was declared Historical Monument in 1968 and is currently in the process of being declared Natural Monument. It is located about 3 km away from the waters of the Eberhard fjord and 24 km north of Puerto Natales.
This natural monument consists of three caverns and a rocky conglomerate called "Silla del Diablo" ("Devil's chair"). The biggest cavern, which is 30 meters high by 50 meters wide and 200 meters deep, is found at 150 meters above sea level.
The scientific interest in this place dates back to 1896, when bones, skin and other remains of the extinct animal, the MILODON (Mylodon darwini) were found. This animal was a huge herbivorous which probably got extinct towards the end of the Pleistocene.
Research made it possible to determine that the Milodon's survival goes back around 5000 years ago and to confirm the existence of other animal species, such as the "Caballo Enano" ("dwarf" horse), the "Tigre Dientes de Sable" (saber-toothed tiger) and the "Gran Guanaco" (great guanaco), also called Macraucheria.
Sernatur, through a research project into the existing antecedents of the Milodon, made a real-size model of this herbivorous, which is exhibited in the place where the remains were found.
Strait of Magellan
Located on the southern tip of the American continent, the area covers the homonymous strait and all the channels and fjords surrounding the Brunswick peninsula, including the Otwaybay, Riesco island and the Skyring bay on the western side of the peninsula, and Magdalena island, the Pali-Aike National Park up to the borderline of the Punta Dungeness lighthouse on the eastern side.
The tourist macro-area known as Strait of Magellan was named after the Portuguese sailor Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered this southern pass in 1520.
The Strait of Magellan is of vital importance for inter-oceanic navigation and the internal maritime communications. The strait separates the American continent from the island of Tierra del Fuego. It is 560 km long, stretching from the Dungeness Lighthouse up to the western inlet, where the Pacific ocean meets the southern part of the Atlantic ocean. At the same time it constitutes the gate to the Antarctic Continent.
It is currently used by domestic merchant ships, liners carrying imported goods, as well as scientific ships operating in Antarctica, giant tourist cruisers and fishing fleets operating in the area.
City of Punta Arenas
It is the capital of the Magellanic and Chilean Antarctic region. This city is not only the neuralgic center of the majority of the routes of access to southern Chile, but also the capital city of Chilean Patagonia.
The tourist attraction in this macro-region are various: the city of Punta Arenas with its neighboring penguin rookeries, Bulnes Fort and several trekking paths through the native forests. Near the town of Río Verde, well-known for its particular beauty and various bird species, there is a wide range of rural tourism possibilities. Towards the east of the Strait of Magellan, tourists can visit Pali Aike National Park, the Dungeness lighthouse where the two oceans meet, ancient shipwrecks and the pioneer town of San Gregorio.
Accommodations & Meals
There are different alternatives to spend the night in the park, ranging from luxurious and expensive hotels to low-price refuges and camping grounds. It is essential to remember that it is highly convenient to book in advance, specially during the high season, since accommodations spots are usually full. Bookings can be made from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas.
As regards meals in the park, tourists may either get food and drinks at very low prices in Puerto Natales or eat at the shelters.