What can I see in Torres del Paine?
The puma population is thriving in Torres del Paine, and in recent years this has become one of the top places in the world to see them. Take a tour up to the mountain lookouts to see condors, and those with keen eyes may spot endangered Huemul deer around the more remote trails. Far less camera-shy are the numerous guanacos which are almost guaranteed to be on your horizon.
- If wildlife photography is your focus, consider a dedicated wildlife spotting trip. You'll have more opportunity to search for a specific species and can take your time getting the perfect shot.
- Condor and puma spotting takes time, so to get the perfect photograph be prepared to spend a day or two at the lookouts and on the trails.
- Use your time getting to and from the park to tick off some of Patagonia's other famous wildlife: trips to see penguins, sea lions, whales and dolphins depart from nearby Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales.
Wildlife in Torres del Paine
Powerful, solitary and elusive, pumas are some of Torres del Paine's most interesting mammals to encounter. Their numbers are particularly high in the eastern side of the park, but you still need at least a few days with a dedicated guide to be sure of a sighting.
Pumas used to be a huge threat to the livelihood of the farming communities here, and changing hearts and minds to stop hunting has been a long, ongoing process. Hunting pumas here has been banned since 1972, and this decision, plus the benefits of tourism, is helping encourage hunters to put down their guns and retrain as puma tracking guides.
With a wingspan of up to 3.2 metres, the Andean condor is one of the largest species of bird on earth. Numbers had been declining across South America in recent years, however a plentiful supply of guanacos in Torres del Paine has kept their numbers healthy here.
You're most likely to see them soaring around the highest cliff faces in the park, but up close experiences are better in the late evening when they come home to roost. Take a dedicated trip to a lookout point to view these magnificent birds at close range.
Critically endangered and easily spooked, the skittish Huemul deer is a rare sighting in Torres del Paine. With stocky builds and unusually large ears, they're well suited to life in the Patagonian wilderness, and are always on the lookout for danger. Most sightings have been in the west of the National Park; in areas off-the-beaten-track, where the trails are quietest and you can take your time looking out for them.
Huemul deer are the national animal of Chile, and fierce animal protection programs are now in place to try to bring numbers up, tackling over-hunting, diseases from domestic livestock and loss of habitat.
Smaller mammals and birds
You don't have to go on a wildlife watching trip to encounter some of Torres del Paine's native wildlife, lots of mammals and birds can be seen while out on the trails. Skunks, armadillos, foxes, swans, there's more than enough to be on the lookout for. However, if you do want to see something in particular, or want wildlife to be your focus, a dedicated guide will help you find the best of what the park has to offer.
Best trips to encounter wildlife in Torres del Paine
If you've got particular species in mind, a dedicated wildlife guide is a must. My puma guide was able to spot 2 mothers and 3 cubs in the space of 30 mins, and I would never have never noticed them without his expertise!
Chloe O'Keeffe Patagonia Specialist
What else can I see nearby?
The two gateways to Torres del Paine, Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, are also important hubs for wildlife spotting trips. On your way into the park, stop off for a few days to kayak with humpbacks, orcas and dolphins, or to seek out noisy sea-lions. Or, after a week's hiking in the national park, visit a colony of penguins for a more leisurely stroll amongst the nests.
Head south-east from Torres del Paine and you'll find two particularly special penguin colonies. The first is at Useless Bay, the unfortunately named spit of land which is far more exciting than it seems, as it is the only place you can find King Penguins outside of the sub antarctic islands.
A purpose-built hide will keep you out of sight, so you can take your time watching their routines. Visit the King Penguins on a day trip by plane from Punta Arenas, or a two-day ferry trip.
Further north is a colony of 120,000 Magellanic penguins, which have made their home on Isla Magdalena. These birds are closely related to African penguins, and migrate north in the winter months. In summer, take a day or half-day trip from Punta Arenas to walk among them on the island.
Sail out into the wilderness of the Chilean Fjords to be surrounded by breaching humpback whales at Francisco Coloane Marine Park. Sightings are almost guaranteed here, and some people generally see 20 to 40 individual whales on a two-night boat trip.
For an even more immersive experience, get off the boat and into a kayak to paddle right up close to these magnificent creatures. The park is only accessible by boat from Punta Arenas, and trips range from 1-7 days.
Very occasionally orcas have also been spotted in the area, so keep a careful eye out for their startling black and white colours. Your chances are highest in November.
There's so much wild, nature-filled landscape around Torres del Paine, and it's too easy to zoom right through it on your way to the national park. But here lie some of the region's most extraordinary wildlife, so be sure to break up your journey with a day or two encountering humpback whales, sea lions, penguins and dolphins.
On a wildlife watching trip around the Chilean Fjords or Magellan Straight, you can sail or kayak with huge pods of Austral and Commerson's dolphins. With the stunning wilderness landscape in the background, watching these playful creatures leap out of the water will bring a smile to anyone's face. Commerson's dolphins especially are incredibly active and fast-paced swimmers, but given they stay in pods of up to 100, spotting them won't be a problem.
Sail from Punta Arenas to Isla Marta, home to over 1,000 noisy, burly sea lions. They can grow up to 3 metres in length, males can weigh up to 800 lbs, and they're not afraid to push their weight around. Much more graceful in the water and very inquisitive, they're curious enough to swim up and around the boat to get to know you a bit better.
If you want to see as much as possible in one trip, double up your wildlife spotting and see sea lions in the Chilean Fjiords on a whale watching trip.
Wildlife trips in and around Torres del Paine
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