NATIONAL PARKS: Torres del Paine National Park

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

This is the time of year when I struggle to recommend good photo destinations for winter travel. Even though we are a really big country, there are relatively few national parks to be found in our southerly latitudes.

So let’s try something a little different. Once we cross the Equator, the seasons are reversed. For example, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere arrives near summertime there owing to the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

Let’s take a look at Chilean Patagonia and famed Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Towers of Blue National Park). Don’t worry; you can get by just fine with English.

Torres del Paine, © Jerry Ginsberg

Torres del Paine, © Jerry Ginsberg

This is a vast park teeming with needle-sharp Andean peaks, rushing waterfalls, blue-white glaciers, sparkling lakes and exotic wildlife. It is not difficult to find spectacular and pristine vistas here. With the rugged Andes perched at their edges, the many crystal clear lakes make some of the best spots to find great compositions.

Some of my favorite locations include the shores of Lake Pehoe, (pronounced pay-way), Lake Gray, the adjacent Gray Glacier, Salto Grande and the views from just outside the Torres ranch (Estancia del Torres). The great variety of possible compositions will be best expressed with a choice of wide angle, telephoto and even normal focal lengths.

Las Cuernos (The Horns) and cloud

Las Cuernos (The Horns) and cloud © Jerry Ginsberg

For the most part, these spectacular mountains are best photographed in the very first rays of sunrise light, while the waterfalls get good light shortly afterward, making them great secondary morning shots. Carry some snacks in your pack because breakfast will just have to wait. We haven’t traveled this far to experience the cuisine.

In addition to the landscape, the resident wildlife includes the hump-less camelid guanacos and the many cougars. While the big cats will likely see you, their innate shyness will likely prevent you from getting a good look at them, so let’s concentrate on the guanacos.

It shouldn’t be difficult to find a co-operative group of these gentle creatures. They sometimes congregate close to the road. Being laid back, they are easily photographed with a telephoto zoom as long as you remain quiet and nonthreatening. The cute babies are called chellengos, and both babies and adults are identical. Each individual has exactly the same coloring and markings as the next.

Guanaco

Guanaco © Jerry Ginsberg

Perhaps the very best time to visit here is from mid-January through mid-March. Even though this is the time of the most mild weather on the steppe, the famed Patagonian winds still blow almost constantly, so make sure your tripod is plenty sturdy. To stay comfortable, pack a jacket and hat with wind-resistant membranes.

Within park boundaries you will find about a half-dozen lodging choices. The adequate yet cozy Hosteria Pehoe is on the economical end, and one of Chile’s finest hotels—the luxurious Explora Lodge—is on the high end. There are two types of campgrounds in Torres del Paine as well: free park campgrounds and fee-based camping areas. See more at: http://www.switchbacktravel.com/patagonia/camping-torres-del-paine#sthash.ViwKuK59.dpuf .

Getting to Torres del Paine will take some planning and a little effort. The gateway airport is at Punta Arenas, Chile, which is within view of the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of the continent. Most flights from the U.S. will involve connecting in Santiago, Chile, where you will need to go through immigration (tourist visa $100.), claim your luggage, go through customs and then re-check-in for your domestic flight to Punta Arenas. After renting a vehicle, drive the well maintained highway north to Porto Natales: then turn east to Torres del Paine. The entire drive takes about 4-5 hours. Add in some time for a brief stop at Porto Natales.


Jerry Ginsberg is a widely published freelance photographer whose images have graced the pages of hundreds of books and magazines. He has photographed all 59 U.S. national parks as well as most of South America with medium-format cameras. Jerry has been a national park artist in residence at Petrified Forest National Park. More of his work can be seen at www.JerryGinsberg.com. Email him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com.