Community-run tourism to celebrate the forgotten heritage of Patagonia’s indigenous people
While best known for its iconic glaciers and peaks, Torres del Paine and its gateway community of Puerto Natales also possess a rich cultural heritage. Much of this heritage is rooted in the history and traditions of the region’s indigenous people – the Kawésqar. A seafaring, nomadic people, the Kawésqar were among the first inhabitants of southern Chile’s channels and fjords. Today, only 13 Kawésqar communities remain across the Magallanes region.
Like many first peoples, the Kawesqár have been marginalized from the local tourism economy. Despite the fact that over 260,000 tourists visit Torres del Paine each year, few learn about the Kawésqar and their unique heritage. Traditions and stories of the past tend to be overshadowed by the dramatic natural landscapes the area is known for. The predominant historical narrative centers around the figure of the gaucho, cowboys descended from European immigrants.
The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is working with members of the Kawésqar pueblo to revitalize their culture through a series of capacity-building, tourism, and entrepreneurship trainings. Ultimately, this project will allow the participating communities to build a common narrative and create a space where Kawésqar can share their rich history and traditions with visitors and residents. The project imagines Kawésqar exchanging their traditions with tourists, and selling their food, art, and guide services. The Legacy Fund and its partners will equip Kawésqar communities with the necessary skills and knowledge to sustainably manage and develop their own tourism products.
This indigenous empowerment project aims to enhance destination sustainability by:
- Raising awareness and increasing appreciation of the region’s indigenous heritage
- Preserving and celebrating waning cultural traditions
- Expanding income generating opportunities for the Kawésqar people
- Providing a more diverse, immersive, and authentic visitor experience
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