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Torres Del Paine National Park Before The Burn (PHOTOS)

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I have just returned from a multi-week stay in Chile, which included several days near the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. On December 27, a fire broke out near the southern end of Lake Grey in the heart of the park. Abetted by drought conditions and strong winds, it was not brought under control until early January and destroyed close to 40,000 acres of pristine grasslands and old-growth forests.

Several hotels, including the beautiful new Tierra Patagonia on the eastern end of Lake Sarmiento and the highly respected Salto Chico, were evacuated. The Tierra Patagonia, far from the range of the fire, reopened on January 4. The Salto Chico, which was miraculously spared but did suffer smoke damage to some of its interior, announced recently that it will officially reopen on February 23.

A large section of the eastern part of the park was reopened on January 4, and during my stay, I was able to visit those sections with their breathtaking views of the impressive Torres -- the unique granite towers that are the iconic sight of the park -- as well as the striking snowcapped Massif. I also went on several beautiful hikes that took us through untouched landscape with its bounty of birdlife (multiple condor sightings) and animals, including the llama-like guanacos, foxes, wild hares and more. Although the heart of the park was closed, I in no way felt that I had been shortchanged.

On January 17, the president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera, announced the opening of the southern part of the park, which in effect means that most of it is now open to visitors (the hiking and mountain trails most severely affected will remain closed for the time being). This means that you can now get to popular spots such as the French Valley and the adjacent so-called British and Italian camping sites, and there will be vehicular access to Lake Grey, with is stunning glacier.

From my experience in the park area just after the fire and the partial reopening, and based on the announcement by President Pinera, I would say that travelers can visit the Torres del Paine area with the certainty of having unforgettable experiences.

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