Torres del Paine National Park was on our bucket list for a long time. We’d love to say the reason was for the park’s commitment to sustainability, but really… what could compete with its jagged mountains, glacier giants, and blue lagoons?
We’d also love to espouse our intrepid natures by telling you how remote the park is (and it is, in the deep south of Chile) but 200,000 people traipse its tracks every year.
Despite the strain tourists put on the park’s resources and its growing popularity, the Chilean National Forest Service (CONAF) is committed to sustainability in the area.
“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. “ https://sustainabletravel.org/places/torres-del-paine-national-park
We’ve detailed below the actions CONAF has taken to protect Torres del Paine’s environment and how you can enjoy the park responsibly as a traveller.
Torres del Paine’s commitment to sustainability:
● The Torres del Paine Legacy Fund aims to protect the long-term health of the park and surrounding communities, as well as enhance visitor experience.
● Trail restoration, boardwalks, and waterbars on the W Circuit to protect flora and fauna
● Native Lenga tree reforestation following devastating park fires
● the first municipal recycling program in Puerto Natales. Recycling has increased by 600% since 2015.
● Biomass filters (worms) are used to manage waystewater, protecting the park from pollution at El Chileno and Los Cuernos Refugios. Waste water from toilets and kitchens goes to tanks containing sawdust and worms, which turn organic matter into compost
● Los Cuernos Camp has three hydraulic turbines providing 100% of the camp’s energy, stored in batteries
● El Chileno Camp has a wind turbine, from which energy is stored in batteries
● Las Torres Camp uses a diesel motor to charge batteries, which supplies 50% of its energy
● All water comes from rivers and waterfalls in the park
● All garbage is separated then taken by horseback or boat to Las Torres (the closest camp to town) then by truck to Puerto Natales
● Tourists must show their booked accommodation for every night in the park before entering. You can’t camp just anywhere; you must have a booking.
● Absolutely no fires are permitted anywhere except designated cooking areas within camp sites.
● Most refrigerators run on gas
● Buildings use energy saving lightbulbs
● No electrical plugs in guest rooms
“Recycling has increased by 600% since 2015.”
How you can travel sustainably in Torres del Paine National Park
● Bring your own food. All Refugio and hotel produce comes Punta Arenas or Puerto Natales. Few fruits are grown locally so most fruit consumed in park comes from central Chile by truck, about a 3,000km journey. By bringing your own food, you decrease the demand for food transport.
● Camp Grey has a rubbish bin in the kitchen but no other sites have rubbish facilities. Be prepared to take your waste with you throughout your hike. We used reusable plastic containers and packed garbage bags (which we used for waterproofing our gear too). Store your rubbish properly so it doesn’t fly away in the wind.
● Don’t flush your toilet paper down the toilet. Put it in the bins provided.
● Turn off lights and taps
● Limit your showers to five minutes.
● Bring batteries or solar chargers for your devices instead of using the scant plugs at camps.
● Stay on the tracks. Going off the path may harm fauna and flora and you may get lost.
● Don’t feed animals. Keep your food in a waterproof bag in a tree overnight, otherwise mice will chew threw your tent to get to your food. It seems extreme but we had food in my backpack we forgot to put in the tree bag and found it chewed to pieces in the morning. Paine Grande Camp also has foxes.
With the increasing accessibility of travel, it’s becoming more important for both destinations and travellers to implement sustainable tourism. Can you think of any other actions that could protect these stunning national parks and their communities?