Because it blends so well into Chile’s premier national park, it’s easy to forget that Las Torres Reserve was born as a classic Patagonian cattle ranch before it slowly but surely evolved into a trekking icon and then a model of private/public environmental conservation.

In 1905 at the age of 15, Antonio Kusanovic Jercic boarded a ship in his native Croatia (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) and sailed to a far-off land called Patagonia at the bottom end of South America. Along with his son Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic — born in Chile in 1926 — they established a foothold in local ranching.

The son would eventually purchase Cerro Paine Ranch in a region that was considered remote even by Patagonian standards. Towering high above the hacienda’s rich grasslands were the spectacular Torres del Paine, massive granite spires flanked by glaciers, lakes and forest.

As backpacking and mountaineering became increasingly popular during the 1970s, Torres del Paine was soon discovered by outdoor enthusiasts looking for the next “big thing” to conquer. They blazed a trekking route along the base of the massif that would come to be called the “W” trail or circuit because of its shape on a map.

By the 1990s, Antonio and his wife Amor Eliana Marusic began offering overnight accommodation and home-cooked meals to tired trekkers. Going a step further, they converted part of the ranch into bedrooms and a restaurant, the humble birth of Hotel Las Torres.

Even though they had more than 600 head of cattle to look after, the intrepid couple started building refugios (mountain huts) along the “W” Trail to shelter hikers during their weeklong trek.

Focusing on a long-term commitment to conservation and sustainability, the family decided to remove all livestock from the ranch in 2013 followed by the construction of a visitor center that offers information on trekking as well as education on conservation and best practices. The transformation also included a change to Las Torres Reserve, a name that reflects the unique partnership between the Kusanovic family and Torres del Paine National Park.

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