Torres del Paine National Park
Situated between the Patagonian steppe and the Campo de Hielo Sur (Southern Ice Field), the largest contiguous ice field outside the polar regions, the Torres del Paine National Park is one of the world’s most popular trekking destinations due to its spectacular landscapes and unspoilt nature.
On an area of 242,242 hectares around the granite massif of the Torres, which rises up to 3000 meters, you will find glaciers such as the Grey Glacier, turquoise lakes and black lagoons, interspersed with rivers and waterfalls, and finally, with the steeply rising “Cuernos del Paine”, the landmark of the national park. Its fauna, which is one of the richest in the country, comprises 106 bird species, including condors, eagles, the endangered Coscoroba swans and Darwin’s rheas. Among the 24 mammal species, the puma, which is mainly native to the protected and wooded areas of the park, plays a key role in controlling the populations of the smaller mammals. Several hundred guanacos, those dainty wildlamas, and Patagonian foxes, called Zorro, also live in Torres del Paine.
Although the Torres del Paine are located in the close vicinity of the Andes, they are an independent geological formation. It was created three million years ago when boiling magma broke through the earth’s crust and pushed a thick layer of sediment upwards. Glaciation and the harsh climate caused the softer rock to weather until only the granite of the Paine massif remained. On the steep flanks of the three salmon-coloured torres, the layer of black sedimentary rock that rests on the two “cuernos” (horns) like a crest is still clearly visible. “Paine” means “blue” in the language of the indigenous Tehuelche, and considering the countless shades of blue and turquoise in which the lakes and glaciers, as well as the mountain massif, shine from afar or the sky above them, one cannot imagine a more appropriate name.
The climate of the national park is harsh and influenced by the ice of the nearby glaciers. In the summer months you have to expect strong winds. The average temperature is around 11°C, with lowest temperatures at zero and highest well above 20°C. The average rainfall is 700 mm per year and the altitudes range from 50 to 3000 metres above sea level.
Fires: In December 2011, for the third time after 1985 and 2005, a major fire in the park was caused by foreign tourists’ negligence. While in 1985 it was the carelessly worn out cigarette butt of a Japanese and in 2005 the overturned camping stove of a young Czech, it is suspected that the cause of the last fire was a young Israeli who set fire to toilet paper in order to light a campfire. As a result of the last fire, 14,000 hectares of wooded land (and thus the habitat of numerous animal and plant species) were devastated. Their regeneration will probably take decades. Because of the often severe cold and the icy wind, plants in the national park have a hard time: they grow only slowly here. In mid-January 2012, the northern part of the park was reopened to tourists, and the southern part, which was mainly affected by the fire, was gradually made accessible to the public again.