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. It is accessible by bus or car from the town of Puerto Natales in southern Chile. Most people come for the world renowned trekking although the park offers excellent wildlife watching opportunities including guanaco, condor, foxes, skunks, flamingos, swans, and rhea. The park also has one of the highest puma population densities in the world and was (unofficially) voted the 8th Wonder of the World after receiving 5 million votes on VirtualTourist.com.
Average rating: 4.7 (very good)
Average spend per person: $102 ($20 – $230)
Number of reports: 3
Best time to visit: October – April
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, boat trip, camping, hiking
Wildlife in Torres del Paine
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are as follows:
Andean condor – 100% of visitors (3/3) 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!
Black-necked swan – 67% of visitors (2/3) reported sightings
Black-necked swans are fairly common in Torres del Paine and 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 – 33% of visitors (1/3) reported sightings
The park is 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).
Guanaco – 100% of visitors (3/3) 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 (~2 hours) to Sarmiento Lake. 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.
Puma – 33% of visitors (1/3) 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 to boost your chances: 1) visit in the shoulder season for fewer people and less disturbance (Oct/Nov and Mar/Apr); 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 – people will be happy to share them with you; 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.