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Parque Nacional Torres del Paine

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Parque Nacional Torres del Paine Review

A raging inferno broke out in the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine on February 17, 2005, when a Czech trekker's gas camp stove was accidentally knocked over. At the time, he was camped in an unauthorized campsite in an area intended for grazing. The park's famous winds fanned the flames for more than a month, as 800 firefighters from Chile and Argentina tried to rein it in. According to reports by CONAF, the fire consumed 13,880 hectares, equivalent to 7% of the park. The tourist later apologized in an interview with El Mercurio newspaper, was fined $200 by authorities, and donated another $1,000 to the restoration fund. "What happened changed my life... I'll never forget the flames. I would like to express my most profound regret to the Chilean people for the damage caused." The Czech government has also taken responsibility for its citizen's mistake by donating 1 million dollars and recently planting 120,000 lenga trees. The main rehabilitation project was completed in 2010. CONAF asks that visitors respect the camping zones and the indications of park staff. The institution posts a series of recommendations for camping, and on how to prevent future disasters, on its Web page.

About 12 million years ago, lava flows pushed up through the thick sedimentary crust that covered the southwestern coast of South America, cooling to form a granite mass. Glaciers then swept through the region, grinding away all but the twisted ash-gray spire, the "towers" of Paine (pronounced "pie-nay"; it's the old Tehuelche word for "blue"), which rise over the landscape to create one of the world's most beautiful natural phenomena, now the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. The park was established in 1959. Snow and rock formations dazzle at every turn of road, and the sunset views are spectacular. The 2,420-square-km (934-square-mi) park's most astonishing attractions are its lakes of turquoise, aquamarine, and emerald waters; and the Cuernos del Paine ("Paine Horns"), the geological showpiece of the immense granite massif.

Another draw is the park's unusual wildlife. Creatures like the guanaco (a larger, woollier version of the llama) and the ñandú (a rhea, like a small ostrich) abound. They are acclimated to visitors, and don't seem to be bothered by approaching cars and people with cameras. Predators like the gray fox make less-frequent appearances. You may also spot the dramatic aerobatics of falcons and the graceful soaring of endangered condors. The beautiful puma, celebrated in a National Geographic video filmed here, is especially elusive, but sightings have grown more common. Pumas follow the guanaco herds and eat an estimated 40% of their young, so don't dress as one.

The vast majority of visitors come during the summer months of January and February, which means the trails can get congested. Early spring, when wildflowers add flashes of color to the meadows, is an ideal time to visit because the crowds have not yet arrived. In summer, the winds can be incredibly fierce. During the wintertime of June to September, the days are sunnier yet colder (averaging around freezing) and shorter, but the winds all but disappear. The park is open all year, and trails are almost always accessible. Storms can hit without warning, so be prepared for sudden rain or snow. The sight of the Paine peaks in clear weather is stunning; if you have any flexibility in your itinerary, visit the park on the first clear day.

Updated: 11-30-2011

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    Stuningly beautiful

    Torres del Paine is beautiful beyond words. I never believed I can be so taken by a place which is not a (or close to) beach. The beauty of the rugged "towers of blue" left me speachless.
    Rugged, majestic blocs of granite, shoot out towards the deep blue sky, their peaks embraced by gentle, fluffy clouds. To me it looked like they are guarding a fabled passage of gods - surreal.
    Azure lakes and crystal-clear rivers complete the incredible landscape and the wildlife, if not abundent, is visible. We've seen numerous rheas and guanacos, all undisturbed by the passing busses and minivans.... The group stoped for a picnic and while eating our sandwiches a cute red fox came within feet of us....
    I took an organized bus trip in November and loved it. Torres del Paine is a must if you go to Argentina/Patagonia.

    by GR4Ever, 12/30/08

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