While one might be tempted to think the name of the granite mountains has something to do with the English word “pain” (after all, isn’t it painful to climb them?), it’s actually a mash-up of the Spanish word for towers (torres) and the Tehuelche Indian term for the color blue (paine).
So Towers of Blue — which is exactly what the 8,000-foot peaks look like in certain light, a sort of gray blue when the sun isn’t directly on them.
But locals will also tell you the name refers to the color of the glaciers that hang high on the granite spires and that flank them on the west (Grey Glacier). Taking that a step further, it might also reflect the hue of the Patagonia sky above and the half dozen lakes below that reflect the mighty massif.
Once upon a time, the towers and their national park had very different names.
Reaching the mountains by horse in 1879, the intrepid Scottish traveler and writer Lady Florence Dixie dubbed them Cleopatra’s Needles because she thought they resembled the granite obelisks of ancient Egypt.
When the conservation area was first established in 1959, it was called Grey Lake National Tourism Park (Parque Nacional de Turismo Lago Grey) because in those early days the lake and its glacier were the focus of most visitation.
It wasn’t until 1970, when people began to realize that the granite towers were actually the main attraction, that the Chilean government switched to Torres del Paine National Park.