The history of inhabitants in Torres del Paine dates back to over a thousand years ago, when the first indigenous groups arrived in the region. Eco Camp’s design is a tribute to the Kaweskar tribe’s dome-style dwellings and nomadic life in Torres del Paine. Europeans had set up camp by the late 19th century and this marked the end of the indigenous era and the start of Chilean ‘Baqueano’ exploration and tourism, with tourists ranging from British aristocrats to scientists and missionaries. In 1959 the National Park was created, and in 1970 it was given the name Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Today the park is managed by Chile’s National Forestry Service (CONAF).
In the latter half of the first millennium the Tehuelche (Aonikenk) people arrived in Patagonia. They were nomadic hunter-gatherers and as they migrated north through Patagonia they saw the silhouette of an incredible rock formation in the distance and called it ‘Paine’, meaning ‘blue’ in their language (the predominant colour they saw in the distance).
Other ancient indigenous inhabitants include the nomadic hunters Selk’nam (Ona) and the Yaghan (Yamana) people, who canoed between islands to collect food. The Yaghan were originally referred to as Fuegians, due to their presence in Tierra del Fuego, but nowadays the term Fuegian can refer to any indigenous group who lived in the region.
The Kaweskars were another group of nomadic Patagonian inhabitants whose presence in Torres del Paine is documented. They arrived by canoe in the 15th century and made no demands on natural resources as they travelled from place to place, setting up and dismantling their semi-circular huts built from simple materials, leaving no trace behind. To keep warm they lit fires inside the domes.
Eco Camp is a tribute to the ancient Kaweskar dwellings and way of life and the essence of their dome homes has been kept by maintaining a simple nomadic design in the midst of natural surroundings. Just like the Kaweskars, Eco Camp respects nature’s well-being and aims to leaves no footprint behind in the wilderness.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Torres del Paine started being explored by ‘Baqueanos’ (horsemen from southern Chile, commonly translated as Chilean cowboys). The Baqueanos were based around Punta Arenas and began exploring the region more extensively in the 1870s on hunting quests, selling animals skins and feathers to the colonial market.
One of the most famous Baqueanos was Santiago Zamora, known simply as ‘el baqueano Zamora’. Originally from central Chile, Zamora arrived in Punta Arenas in 1868 and integrated himself with colonists in the region. He spent his life exploring the region north of Punta Arenas, including Torres del Paine, acting as a guide for travellers and explorers.
Other notable Baqueanos who guided and explored the region include Francisco Poivre and Augusto Guillaume (both French), Guillermo Greenwood (English) and Avelino Arias, Luis Navarro and Juan Alvarado (all Chilean).
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).
The best months to trek the circuit is between November and March.