Torres del Paine National Park
Preserving one of the world’s natural gems and giving back to the community in Chilean Patagonia
Torres del Paine National Park, located in the extreme south of Chilean Patagonia, is world-renowned for its spectacular views, formidable mountain ranges, and unpredictable weather. Small, stunning valleys separate mesmerizing geological features, glaciers, and lakes of impossible blues. Every turn reveals a kind of beauty that is hard to process and a visceral fear of the jagged peaks above. Prior to the late 1800s, this hostile environment was solely inhabited by the native fauna of the region, including guanacos, pumas and condors, and the indigenous tribes that braved the harsh weather.
These days, a different resident is increasingly common. The park is now a playground for explorers and a retreat for over 200,000 visitors each year. CONAF, the Chilean National Forest Service, expects this figure to increase by over 10% each year.
The rapid growth in visitors to the region has put enormous strain on the resources of the park, as well as its gateway community, Puerto Natales. The infrastructure, energy and waste systems in the region were designed for far fewer people than they currently serve.
The consequences from increased visitors and lack of sustainable tourism practices over the years can be seen throughout the park. The park has suffered three major man-made forest fires since 1985, devastating Lenga tree forests that will take at least a century to fully recover. Increasing foot traffic from the growing number of travelers has put the trails and other infrastructure in need of repair. Without intervention, the damage, and the needs will only grow, yet the region lacks both the financial and human resources to support the necessary improvement projects.
What We're Doing
Torres del Paine Legacy Fund
When handled properly, tourism growth presents a tremendous opportunity for creating positive impact within a destination. To address the growing needs and opportunities in the Torres del Paine region, Sustainable Travel International partnered with the Fink Family Foundation to develop and manage the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund.
With a goal of enhancing both the visitor experience and long-term health of Torres del Paine National Park and its surrounding communities, the Legacy Fund serves as a mechanism for travelers and tourism businesses to give back to the destination. One hundred percent of contributions to the Legacy Fund directly support local community development and conservation projects including Lenga tree reforestation, trail restoration on the iconic W circuit, and the first municipal recycling program in Puerto Natales. The Legacy Fund partners with local NGO, business, and government stakeholders to implement these projects and is working towards a long term goal of empowering members of the local community to carry out their own projects.
Aiding park reforestation effortsSince 1985, the park has lost one-fifth of its forest to man-made fires. In 2015, the Legacy Fund provided $18,000 to help construct a lenga tree nursery that will aid reforestation of native species and raise awareness of local ecology and human impacts in the park.
Aiding park reforestation effortsThe Legacy Fund also engaged local Puerto Natales high school students in park reforestation efforts. Sixty-eight students participated, planting over 3,800 lenga trees.
Restoring worn down trailsIn 2016, the Legacy Fund provided $3,500 for project tools and partnered with Conservation VIP, the National Forest Corporation, and local businesses to restore a segment of the popular W trail.
Restoring worn down trailsVolunteers installed 95m of new boardwalk, restored 27m of existing boardwalk and constructed 26 waterbars. In addition, nearly 1km of trail was brushed and another 1/5km of tread restored.
Enhancing the local tourism productIn 2014, the Legacy Fund provided $1,000 to help convert a historically significant warehouse into the first local arts and culture-based community events venue in Puerto Natales. The new cultural center enhances the local tourism product offering and improves access to art and cultural expression in the region.