Torres del Paine National Park covers more than 181,000 hectares of the Magallanes Region, the largest, southernmost, and most sparsely populated of Chile’s 16 administrative divisions.The three ‘towers’ of the range — Torres d’Agostini, Torres Central, and Torres Monzino — preside over a string of lakes, including Lake Grey, Lake Pehoé, and Lake Nordenskjöld, and the grey-tongued glaciers of the Southern Ice Fields. Over a fifth of Chilean territory falls within the borders of its 41 national parks, and Torres del Paine is one of its largest and most visited.
Patagonia occupies the tip of the Americas. It is separated from the Pampas to the north by the curved line of the Huincul Fault, and is washed to the east by the Atlantic, and to the west by the chilly waters of the Humboldt Current. Its high, windswept plateaus stretch southwards towards the ice fields and the islands of Tierra del Fuego. It is divided between Chile and Argentina into two unequal halves by the third longest land border on the planet — only the frontiers between the USA and Canada, and Russia and Kazakhstan are longer. While just a 10th of the Patagonian landmass lies to the west within Chilean territory, it is precisely here that the topography is at its most varied, the plant life at its lushest, and the wildlife at its most abundant. Eastern Patagonia is a vast, flat volcanic plain of shingle, so arid in parts as to be all but devoid of vegetation. It rises in a series of escarpments to the foothills of the Andes. To the west of this soaring wall of rock in Chilean Patagonia, meanwhile, green mountain passes descend to a narrow, fertile coastal plain. As much as Eastern Patagonia is defined by its aridity, Western Patagonia is shaped by its relationship to water. Its peaks and valleys are soaked in copious rainfall and cut through by streams and rivers that run to a deeply indented puzzle of inlets, islets, channels, and fjords.
- words: R Aslan
- photos: Richard Gaston