Behind the Landscape The Kawésqar and Tourism in Southern Chile
Words by Emily Hopcian + Image by Silvestre Seré
rom travel bucket lists, to world-renowned photos, to sto-
In truth, today there are more than 540 Kawésqar among 14 commu-
ries on climbing destinations that spark fire in alpinists’
nities in the region registered with CONADI, the National Corporation
eyes, you’re likely familiar with Parque Nacional Torres del
for Indigenous Development. They are the descendants of nomadic
Paine’s mountains, valleys, glaciers and lakes. And while
canoeists, fishermen, divers and hunter-gatherers who, according to
celebrating Torres del Paine for its natural beauty and larger-than-
archaeological records, arrived to the Región de Magallanes y de la
life adventures makes sense, this Chilean gem is more than what
Antártica Chilena roughly 6,500 years ago.
most people read about or even experience. Among Chileans and foreigners alike, there’s a lesser-known story folded within this
While the world is largely unfamiliar with the Kawésqar, should you
Patagonian park’s landscape: the cultural and human story of the
find yourself on a tour with González, 35 — a warm, welcoming soul
Kawésqar, the people who first inhabited, and continue to inhabit,
who dons jeans, a polo shirt and a cardigan when I meet up with him
the territory near Torres del Paine.
on a Saturday morning in March — you’ll likely learn about them. Of the 500 guides in Torres del Paine, only 10-15 are local to the region.
Of the roughly 250,000 visitors Torres del Paine welcomes annu-
Of that subset, González is the only Kawésqar guide.
ally, very few know who the Kawésqar are. Often, the narratives of the gauchos and European settlers are the only historical and
He says, “One of my goals as a guide is leave people feeling they
cultural context visitors receive. Francisco “Pancho” González says,
were here with a local and had a very local experience — to share
“Starting in the early 2000s, every so often the news will say, ‘The
local stories, teach them local ways, introduce them to local people.
last Kawésqar died.’ Some will say, ‘The last of what?’ Others will
At the end, I want them to return home feeling that in their time
accept it as fact, and that’s why many people think the Kawésqar
passing through Patagonia that it was Patagonia that was passing
no longer exist.”
through them.” Throughout our day together, González chats with the man working the counter in the shop where we meet, greets seemingly everyone we encounter around town and gracefully dives into a conversation,