Torres del Paine is a spectacular national park in Patagonia that is famous for its soaring mountains, bright blue icebergs, windswept forests, and golden grasslands. Most people come for the world-renowned trekking although the park offers excellent wildlife watching opportunities including guanacos, condors, foxes, huemul deer, skunks, flamingos, swans, and rheas. The park also has one of the highest puma population densities in the world and recently starred in the BBC’s One Planet series when a team was sent out to capture footage of the pumas in the area. The resulting film of a puma hunting a guanaco against the backdrop of the park is one of the standout moments of the series!
Average rating: 4.6 (very good)
Average cost: if you’re doing it yourself then food, equipment, travel, and entrance to the park for the 5-day W-trek can cost around $250. This does, however, depend on whether you’re sleeping or eating in the refugios and what type of equipment you hire. There’s a load of information on costs in this handy guide.
Best time to visit: you can visit year-round although for self-guided treks you can only visit from October to April. In general December to February are the warmest months, but also the busiest. The shoulder months of October and April are a good balance between weather and crowds. If you do go during peak season make sure you book ahead as it gets busy.
How to get there: the park is easily accessible by bus or car from the town of Puerto Natales in southern Chile.
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, boat trip, camping, hiking, trekking
Number of reports: 5
Wildlife in Torres del Paine
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are:
Puma – 20% of visitors (1/5) reported sightings
The good news is that Torres del Paine is one of the best places in the world to see pumas. With around 50 in the park the population density is one of the highest in the world. The bad news is that they aren’t called ‘ghost cats’ for nothing. Pumas are notoriously difficult to spot. You probably aren’t going to see any on the W-circuit, but you probably are going to meet someone who just has. The closest we came was finding a scat on the trail from Cuernos to Chileno. Still, the idea that they are watching you adds an extra thrill to an already breathtaking trek. The best place to see pumas is on the Avifauna trail from Amarga to Sarmiento where numbers are highest. This is free to do once you have paid for park entrance. The rangers at the entrance can show you the way.
Some tips: 1) visit in the shoulder season for fewer people and less disturbance (October and April); 2) watch out for the guanacos’ alarm cry, panicked running, or suddenly standing rigid when they sense a puma; 3) look out for vultures and eagles circling over kills; 4) get out early as pumas are most active at dawn and dusk – if you can spend an extra day to camp near to the Avifauna trail* then do it – Torre Central is a good spot for accessing the trail; 5) ask around for details on the latest sightings; 6) take some binoculars and some warm clothes – their camouflage is excellent and you may be sitting still for a while! You can also pay for dedicated puma safaris in the park to boost your chances even further. Reports on TripAdvisor recommend the puma tracking day at Las Torres.
*We have heard that the Avifauna trail is currently closed because of irresponsible behaviour.
Andean condor – 100% of visitors (5/5) reported sightings
There is a large population of condors in Torres del Paine which are easily viewable throughout the park. WildSide recommends doing a self-guided trek along the breathtakingly beautiful W-circuit. Or if you’re feeling adventurous the longer O-circuit! It’s a great way to see the spectacular scenery of the park as well as condors soaring overhead. We saw condors on each day of our 5-day trek. The condors are there year-round although the main circuits are closed during the winter months (May – September). The best times to see them are on warm, calm days. Take some binoculars for close up views of these magnificent birds!
Guanaco – 80% of visitors (4/5) reported sightings
Torres del Paine supports a population of around 3,000 guanacos and sightings are all but guaranteed. The best chance to see them is not on the W-circuit itself but around the Laguna Amarga entrance to the park where they gather at the nearby lakes. If you haven’t seen your fill of guanacos on the bus ride into the park, you can take the Avifauna trail from the entrance to Sarmiento Lake (~2 hours). This trail should take you in amongst the herds. They have little fear of humans and will allow you close enough for some great photos.
Black-necked swan – 40% of visitors (2/5) reported sightings
Black-necked swans are fairly common in Torres del Paine. If you look out for them they are regularly spotted at Laguna Amarga and Lake Pehoe throughout the summer. They can typically be found in lakes and ponds throughout the park. Here they feed on algae and aquatic plants – as well as occasional insects and fish spawn. In the winter these graceful, long-necked birds migrate further north to warmer regions such as southern Brazil and Paraguay.
Flamingo – 20% of visitors (1/5) reported sightings
The park is also home to a population of Chilean flamingos. These beautifully ethereal birds tend to congregate in flocks around shallow lakes and estuaries. These flocks can be up to thousands strong! They use their specially adapted bills to filter out algae and plankton from the water. In Torres del Paine they can be found in numerous lakes throughout the park. However, they are generally spotted gathering at Laguna Amarga during the Patagonian summer (December to February).
Huemul deer – 0% OF VISITORS (0/5) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
With a population of around 20 individuals, Torres Del Paine doesn’t have the largest number of huemuls in Patagonia. It is, however, one of the places where they are most frequently sighted given it’s one of the most visited national parks. While it’s possible to see one, sightings are rare given how endangered this species is. The best chances are likely to be in the more remote areas of the park – off the main circuits. There are some great tips on how to look out for huemul deer here.
Rhea – 40% OF VISITORS TO THE AREA (2/5) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Torres del Paine is also home to a population of Darwin’s rhea. Their name comes from the fact that they were first recorded by Charles Darwin on his visits to Patagonia during his time on the Beagle. While you are unlikely to spot them on the W-circuit, if you spend some time in the park away from the main trail you have a good chance of seeing them. Standing over a metre tall and travelling in flocks of up to 30 individuals, they are hard to miss! Being flightless, they are most often seen in open grasslands and scrub – we saw a number of them on the Avifauna trail when we visited.