One of the world’s greatest landscapes, Torres del Paine suffers from soil erosion on overused trails and challenges to wildlife due to encroachment on sensitive habitats. Increasing numbers of visitors have caused unintended problems. With limited resources, Torres del Paine National Park managers struggle to meet these challenges. Our volunteers help with trail building and trail maintenance, making a significant contribution to the protection of this marvelous landscape.
No prior trail maintenance experience is required — trip leaders provide the training — and past volunteers included a wide range of ages and abilities. Tasks vary, but you should be able to hike with a day pack, move soil or rock with a shovel, pull unwanted vegetation, or carry stones. Project sites range in altitude from 500 to 2,000 feet, so while the surrounding mountains are beautiful, elevation is generally not a problem. As always, your education and safety are our priorities.
A general description of activities you can expect on the Torres del Paine itinerary follows. Please note, however, that every trip is unique. Because local conditions and the Park’s needs continually evolve, detailed plans are often finalized or revised after the group arrives and the trip leaders review the conditions at the site in light of the capabilities and special interests of the volunteers. As volunteers successfully complete conservation and restoration activities, new activities or areas can be targeted, which may result in a modified itinerary.
Day 1: We begin in Punta Arenas (Sandy Point), at the southern tip of South America. Punta Arenas was an important seaport prior to the construction of the Panama Canal. In 1916, Captain Ernest Shackleton launched the successful rescue of his crew from here, after his ship, Endurance, was destroyed by Antarctic sea ice. We travel along the Strait of Magellan before heading north to the Cerro Negro Ranch, where we stop to see a sheep herding and shearing demonstration. Continuing north, we travel to Puerto Natales on La Ultima Esperanza sound, where we will spend the night in a hotel. Puerto Natales was founded early in the 20th century as a port for the sheep industry. There, we may see the black-necked swans floating in the sound and get our first glimpse of the snow-covered peaks to the north.
Day 2: We travel into Torres del Paine National Park. Along the way we may stop to take photographs of the magnificent mountains, as well as guanacos and other wildlife. We will take a 3-hour round trip boat ride on Lago Grey, to see a close-up view of the face of Grey Glacier. Then we will transfer by van and catamaran to Refugio Paine Grande, a mountain lodge with shared accommodations and meals where we will overnight and begin our volunteer trail work.
Days 3-11: This period is a combination of work days, travel to Domos and Premium Platform Camping Francés – where we will spend most of our nights in the park – and rest time when you can choose your own activity. We will begin with an orientation and training in all aspects of trail work before engaging in the volunteer work project.
We start the day with breakfast at the refugio. On work days, after picking up a bag lunch, we hike to the work site. Groups of 5-6 volunteers are teamed with an experienced leader. Training in all aspects of the work is provided. We may:
- build new boardwalk to protect fragile meadow
- rehabilitate (close) unauthorized trails
- cut and move vegetative plugs to camouflage and rehabilitate abandoned trails
- use a pick or shovel to out-slope the trails and build water bars to better shed water
- clip vegetation with a lopper or hand saw to widen trails for safety
- remove rocks from the trail tread with rock bars to reduce tripping hazards
- move crushed rock or stone to create a dry walking surface
During rest time, you are free to rest in the refugios or explore the area. Many of our volunteers use these days to hike in the Park. Experienced leaders will offer suggestions for shorter or longer explorations.
Day 12: We leave Torres del Paine and travel by boat and van to Puerto Natales where we share our farewell dinner.
Day 13: After an early breakfast, we depart for Punta Arenas by bus, in time to catch mid-day departures to Santiago and the United States.
Although we do our very best to adhere to this schedule, the itinerary is also subject to change for numerous reasons beyond our control, including weather.
(Note: Your trip expense may be tax-deductible. Please see our Frequently Asked Questions page and consult your tax advisor for details.)
- leadership and support staff for volunteer activities
- guide leadership on tours
- all meals from dinner on Day 1 through breakfast on the final day
- hotel accommodations in Puerto Natales
- refugio and deluxe platform camping accommodations in the Park
- all bus and boat transportation to/from Punta Arenas and within the Park
- group tools
- orientation and training
- park entrance fees
Price does not include:
- international airfare to/from Punta Arenas, Chile
- medical immunizations
- insurance (emergency medical and evacuation insurance is mandatory and can usually be purchased through REI Adventures)
- excess baggage charges
- airport taxes
- alcoholic beverages or soft drinks
- gratuities or personal items