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Using virtual imagery to connect people to nature in Torres del Paine

One of the most remote corners of the world can now be experienced like never before. Thanks to a partnership between the Torres del Paine Legacy Fund and Google Trekker, 360-degree imagery of Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park can be accessed online via Google Maps. Now, anyone, anywhere can virtually wander the trails through the park and explore the region’s rugged natural beauty.

In March 2017, a group of Legacy Fund staff, partners, and volunteers hit the trails of Torres del Paine, taking turns with a Google Trekker camera strapped to their back. Navigating the park’s steep, wet, and rocky terrain is challenging under any circumstance. Imagine doing it with a 42-pound sphere on your back. The camera’s 15 lenses face in different directions, taking photos every 2.5 seconds. Because the device can be carried on foot, it is able to capture panoramic images of places that would otherwise be difficult to reach. In just four days, the Legacy Fund team captured a total of 9,099 3D panoramic photos. These are now pieced together on Google Maps, showcasing the grandeur of Torres del Paine.

While nothing beats exploring the Patagonian wilderness in person, the new images are a nevertheless awe-inspiring alternative. By using Google Maps’ Street View, even those who can’t journey to southern Chile can still witness the incredible landscapes that make this such an iconic destination. Virtual adventurers can hop aboard a ferry to cross Lago Grey or view the Cuernos del Paine from Paine Grande campground. One of the most impressive segments is undoubtedly the trek atop Grey Glacier, a thick mass of ice stretching 3.7 miles wide and 98 feet high.

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund

The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund is a travel philanthropy fund established by Sustainable Travel International in partnership with the Fink Family Foundation. Sustainable Travel International continues to manage the Legacy Fund’s on-the-ground efforts to ensure a more sustainable future for Chilean Patagonia.

While the images primarily showcase the park’s beauty, they also expose some of the environmental wear and tear that has occurred throughout the park. Scarred tree limbs serve as a reminder of the damage left behind from recent forest fires, while eroded trails are the result of heavy use and limited maintenance resources.

A sense of resilience and hope also pervades the images, which capture some of the park’s ongoing conservation efforts. Keep an eye out for the lenga tree nursery tucked along the interpretive trail at the Reserva Cerro Paine. Built with support from the Legacy Fund, this nursery provides a sanctuary for lenga seedlings until they are ready to be planted for reforestation.

A unique awareness raising and conservation tool

We believe that connecting people with our planet’s natural diversity is one of the best ways to inspire them to protect it. We hope that by giving people all around the world a close-up look at this spectacular destination, that this project will ignite an ever broader appreciation of Torres del Paine and compel more people to take action to protect this magnificent, but fragile environment.

The new imagery could also serve as a useful tool for conservation efforts. By comparing the images to current conditions, park managers and conservationists can see how the park’s ecosystems and infrastructure changes over the years. When paired with supplementary data, this type of visual reference point could be helpful for prioritizing needs and evaluating progress.

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Related Work

Engaging Students In Reforestation

Involving local schools in restoring Torres del Paine National Park’s native ecosystem after damage caused by several man-made forest fires

Puerto Natales Recycling Program

Installing and supporting the expansion of the first recycling system in Puerto Natales, the gateway community to Torres del Paine National Park