The first tourist to come to Torres del Paine was British Aristocrat Lady Florence Dixie, who arrived with her group in 1879. Led by Avelino Arias and other Baqueanos, Lady Dixie explored the park and published a book in 1880 called ‘Across Patagonia’, detailing her adventures in the region. Her observations of the native people are fascinating, as is her vivid description of her first sight of Torres del Paine “...now, as if by magic, from the bowels of the earth, a grand and glorious landscape had sprung up around us. . . . jagged peaks were cleft in the most fantastic fashion...” (Lady Florence Dixie, Across Patagonia, 1880).
Lady Dixie’s reasons for leaving London related to her boredom and desire to escape from mundane high society. “...nowhere else are you so completely alone. Nowhere else is there an area of 10,000 square miles which you may gallop over, and where…you are safe from the persecutions of fevers, friends…telegrams, letters and every other nuisance you are elsewhere liable to be exposed to”. (Lady Florence Dixie, Across Patagonia, 1880). Her thoughts still resonate today and are comparable to many people’s reasons for coming to Patagonia - to disconnect at the end of the world, switch of from the everyday busy routine and be completely immersed in nature.
Following Lady Dixie’s publication, a steady flow of explorers and scientists came to explore the region, interested in the geography and geology. Scientists Otto Nordenskjold, after whom Lake Nordenskjold is named, and Carl Skottberg, after whom Lake Skottberg is named, both visited the region at the turn of the century and made notable discoveries. This era also saw the arrival of missionaries in the region such as the Italian Alberto Maria de Agostini, a passionate explorer and mountaineer who had a very good relationship with the native Fuegians.
The area continued to be owned by the various landlords of the ‘estancias’ (cattle ranches) until 1959 when the need for land conservation was acknowledged, leading to the creation of Grey Lake National Park. In 1961 its borders were extended and in 1970 the 242,242 hectare park was declared a protected area and given the name Torres del Paine National Park. In 1975 the park administration was taken over by Chile’s National Forestry Service (CONAF) who manage the park today and run its visitor information centres.
An unfortunate incident resulted in 2005 when a Czech camper’s stove got knocked over in the wind in a non-camping zone and the surrounding area quickly caught on fire. The blaze went on for weeks and was only stopped because of heavy rainfall, after having destroyed 160 km² of the park. The tourist was made to pay a small fine and the Czech government have been donating money to the park since the incident.