The Cordillera del Paine, a spectacular mountain range that includes the Torres del Paine peaks, lies between the Andes Mountains and the Patagonian steppe in southern Chile. It is an area of great scenic beauty, with many glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and lagoons.
Cordillera del Paine
The Cordillera del Paine is an extension of the main range of the Southern Patagonian Andes in Chilean Patagonia. It is located to the north of Punta Arenas, the capital city of Chile's southernmost region, Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena. Paine means "blue" in the native Tehuelche (Aonikenk) language and is pronounced PIE-nay.
The southern Andes form the backbone of Patagonia. The Cordillera del Paine rises sharply above the eastern foreland basin and is dissected into several mountain groups.
The westernmost Paine Grande is the highest of the range. The most prominent peaks are those of the Cuernos del Paine (Paine’s horns) which are separated from the Paine Grande by the deep glacial Vallé Francés.
Nestling in the heart of the range, the gigantic natural cathedrals of the Torres del Paine are the most famous highlight of the massif. The entire area is protected through the Torres del Paine National Park.
The granite summits of the Torres del Paine, Cerro Torre, and Monte Fitz Roy dominate the landscapes through their pronounced shapes.
Torres del Paine
The Torres del Paine are the distinctive three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range or Paine Massif. They represent the central part of the Cordillera del Paine. They are joined by the Cuernos del Paine.
The landscape is dominated by the Paine massif, which is an eastern spur of the Andes Mountains located on the east side of the Grey Glacier, rising dramatically above the Patagonian steppe. The highest mountain of the group is Paine Grande at 2,884 m (9,462 ft).
Small valleys separate the spectacular granite spires and mountains of the massif: Valle del Francés (French Valley), Valle Bader, Valle Ascencio, and Valle del Silencio (Silence Valley).
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers in southern Chilean Patagonia. The Cordillera del Paine is the centerpiece of the park.
The National Park is situated 112 km (70 mi) north of Puerto Natales and 312 km (194 mi) north of Punta Arenas. It borders Bernardo O'Higgins National Park to the west and Los Glaciares National Park to the north in Argentina.
Torres del Paine National Park, along with Bernardo O'Higgins National Park, occupies over 90% of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field; the remainder of it, across the border in Argentina, is included within Los Glaciares National Park.
Glaciers include the Dickson, the Grey, and the Tyndall. Among the lakes are Dickson Lake, Nordenskjöld Lake, Lake Pehoé, Grey Lake, Sarmiento Lake, and Del Toro Lake. Only a portion of the latter is within the borders of the park. All are vividly colored, most due to rock flour suspended in their waters.
The main river flowing through the park is the Paine River. Most of the rivers and lakes of the park drain into Última Esperanza Sound via the Serrano River.
Route of Parks
Torres del Paine National Park is part of Chile's scenic 2,800 km (1,700 mi) "Route of Parks of Patagonia" that stretches from Puerto Montt in the north to Cape Horn in the south.
Spanning 17 national parks, the Route of Parks of Patagonia encompasses one-third of Chile and protects over 11.8 million hectares (28 million acres).
Chile's Route of Parks map - Thompson Conservation
Together, Torres del Paine National Park and Bernardo O'Higgins National Park are included on the UNESCO Tentative List of Sites, for inclusion in the World Heritage List.
Torres del Paine National Park is part of the Sistema Nacional de Áreas Silvestres Protegidas del Estado de Chile (National System of Protected Forested Areas of Chile). In 2013, it measured approximately 181,414 ha (448,284 acres). It is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile. The park averages around 250,000+ visitors a year, of which over 50% are foreign tourists.
The park is one of the 11 protected areas of the Magallanes Region and Chilean Antarctica (together with four national parks, three national reserves, and three national monuments). Together, the protected forested areas comprise over 50% of the land of the region (6,728,744 ha or 16,627,088 acres).
Torres del Paine Biosphere Reserve
The Torres del Paine Biosphere Reserve lies between the Andes Mountains and the Patagonian Steppe in southern Chile continuing on to the Atlantic coast. It is an area of great scenic beauty, with many ridges, crags, glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and lagoons.
The Grey, Tyndall, and Balmaceda glaciers are remains of a once much more extensive system. The tablelands and plains are part of the Patagonian-Fuegian steppe. The evergreen forests of Verano extend to the west as far as the foot of the Andes mountains, which wise up to a treeless alpine zone.
The Biosphere Reserve covers over 770,000 ha (1,900,000 acres) and has four well-defined ecological zones:
Pre-Andean Scrubland: present in the plains and plateau-like formations, the species found here are mostly adapted to economizing water due to their exposure to strong winds.
Deciduous Magellan Forest: all the tree and shrub communities in this community belong to this ecosystem, where Lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) is the dominating species.
Patagonian Steppe: to be found in the plains and plateau-like formations, with a semi-arid cold climate and rainfall of up to 400 mm (16 in) per year. Here perennial medium to low-height grass communities is to be found, growing in ditch-like depressions.
Andean Desert: corresponds to a zone where vegetation only develops up to a height of 1,500 m (4,900 ft), with cover ranging from 30% to 0% due to the extreme climatic conditions and the altitude. Some of the flora is exclusive to the Biosphere Reserve and the Province of Ultima Esperanza, with Adesmia campestris as a rare and exclusive species.
There are about 106 species of birds, some of which are endangered, such as Coscoroba Swan (Coscoroba coscoroba) and Darwin-Nandu (Pterocnemia pennata).
There are 24 species of mammals of which the puma (Felis concolor) found in well-protected wooded areas, is key in controlling the population of smaller mammals. Some 570 guanacoes (Lama guanicoe) are also found.
The site is designed and managed as a National Park, with no permanent inhabitants. More than 20,000 national and 40,000 international tourists visit the site annually (1999) and both national and international researchers are sporadically involved in research activities.
Lands cleared in the past for rearing domestic stock, are now being restored. Research is currently being carried out on plant succession, the reintroduction of South Andean Deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus), the population structure, and the ecological impact of the introduced European hare.
Geological research and the preparation of a geological map are envisaged, and studies are planned on species such as the condor, eagle, Magellan ostrich, Coscoroba swan, black-necked swan, flamingo, and fish.