Capture Patagonia’s wildlife highlights, tracking the elusive puma with photographer Nick Garbutt, combined with visits to Tierra del Fuego and the Straight of Magellan for close up encounters with king penguins and incredible whale watching.
Without question, Torres del Paine is Chile’s premier wildlife location and, together with its unsurpassable scenery, provides an excellent initial base for our puma tracking. We engage specialist local guides and trackers to maximise our chances of finding and photographing these sublime felines. Furthermore, the region also offers a chance of seeing and photographing many other species, some of which – like inquisitive guanacos and grey foxes – are surprisingly relaxed and approachable.
In combination with the contrasting species and wildlife at Useless Bay, Tierra del Fuego, and Carlos III Island, this tour offers an ideal balance of opportunities to fully appreciate Patagonian and sub-Antarctic wildlife. Not to mention the potential for the very best photographic experiences!
Teaming up with Nick Garbutt is Claudio Vidal, an accomplished Chilean photographer from Punta Arenas, who has documented much of the region’s botany and wildlife. and brings a wealth of knowledge of Patagonia's best kept secrets.
Day2: Arrive Santiago, fly onwards to Puerto Natales *
We arrive in Santiago in the morning and connect with a domestic flight (three hours) south to Puerto Natales. On arrival we meet our local naturalist guide, Claudio, and transfer to our hotel. En route we may see black-necked and coscoroba swans on the shores of Ultima Esperanza Fjord.
Accommodation: Hotel in Puerto Natales, 1-night
Day3: Puerto Natales & Torres del Paine
In the morning we visit Mylodon Cave Nature Reserve, an outstanding natural formation consisting of a huge cave, used as a shelter during the Ice Age by an array of extinct Pleistocene mammals. The paleontology of the area is fascinating.
Later we continue driving northwards to Torres del Paine National Park, passing through areas of southern beech forest and looking for guanaco, southern grey fox and Patagonian skunk. There will be plenty of opportunities to stop for photos along the way – including perhaps some of groups of vibrantly-coloured Chilean flamingos that can be seen on the alkaline pools. As we approach the park there will be splendid vistas of the hilly terrain, and if the weather is clear we will have views of the towering Paine Massif, a magnificent stand of rugged granitic peaks, in the distance.
In the afternoon we take our first walk in the vicinity of the hotel and start puma tracking. Hopefully this will provide the first of several productive photography sessions.
We have a further four days here with an intensive schedule of day and night outings in the best areas to search for pumas. Initially we concentrate on the immediate vicinity of the hotel, as this is a prime area and one of the cats’ major hunting grounds. The wider area is well-known for supporting one of the largest concentrations of pumas in the wild. In thecompany of our guide and puma tracker, we hope to watch and follow family groups on foot.
This area is also home to interesting mammals such as the elusive Geoffroy's cat, Patagonian weasel and Patagonian hairy armadillo, and we may be fortunate to see one or more of these species too. Each day we return to the lodge for lunch and dinner.
Day8: Torres del Paine & Lago Grey
We make an early start in order to be at a prime spot to photograph the Paine Massif at sunrise, when the sun flushes the rock with colour. Later we continue to explore the southern and western regions of the park.
We have ample opportunities to explore the southern beech forests, where birds such as Magellanic woodpecker and austral parakeet can be seen, and – if lucky – we may spot the shy Andean deer known locally as huemul.
From the southern shore of Lago Grey, we take a boat trip right up to the impressive mouth of Grey Glacier, in the hope of seeing an iceberg calving.
We continue exploring the alkaline ponds and reed-fringed lagoons located on the eastern side of the park, as well as returning to prime areas for pumas. The national park is home to approximately 120 bird species and we should see a considerable number of these during our stay. The flora and topography are also extremely interesting and provide great opportunities for macro and landscape photography. Each evening we have a further chance to photograph the mountains and clouds at sunset, and explore the rich creative possibilities.
Day10: Torres del Paine, drive to Punta Arenas
In the morning we further explore the park, perhaps returning to appropriate areas to look for pumas one more time, or alternatively investigate areas on the eastern side of the park such as Laguna Azul that offer different perspectives for photography. In the afternoon we drive to Punta Arenas at the very southern tip of Chile, for an overnight stay.
Accommodation: Hotel Rey Don Felipe, 1 night
Day11: Tierra del Fuego & Useless Bay King Penguin Colony
Today we take a ferry to Tierra del Fuego, with the crossing taking around two and a half hours. The Strait of Magellan, one of the world’s most famous seaways, provides a rich and interesting array of seabirds to look for, and perhaps photograph in flight, such as black-browed albatross, southern giant petrel, southern fulmar and South American tern. We are also likely to see interesting marine mammals such as pods of Peale's dolphins and inquisitive South American sea lions.
On arrival we stop for lunch and then drive along the shores of Bahia Inutil (Useless Bay), where the flat windswept steppes and rolling hills of Tierra del Fuego are dominated by tussock grass and low shrubs. Along the way we should see an array of wildlife including guanacos, southern grey fox, the ubiquitous upland goose, Chilean flamingo and a diversity of waterfowl. Out to sea there may be further views of albatross, petrels, gulls and skuas patrolling the turbulent waters of the bay.
Parque Pingüino Rey is a private nature reserve that provides refuge to the only known continental colony of king penguins. We have ample opportunities here to observe and photograph the penguins from a reasonable distance.
Day12: Birdwatching at Laguna de los Cisnes, ferry to Punta Arenas
During the morning we visit some alkaline lagoons and ponds in the vicinity. These areas provide habitat for the rare and locally endemic Magellanic plover, which looks more akin to a small dove rather than to any other typical shorebird. Other birds generally seen in the area include two-banded plover, Wilson’s phalarope, the abundant white-rumped sandpiper, short-billed miner and the ubiquitous Austral negrito. After lunch we return to Punta Arenas across the Strait of Magellan by ferry.
Accommodation: Hotel Rey Don Felipe, 1-night
Day13: Strait of Magellan to Carlos III Island
We begin early for the drive south towards Punta Carrera, where we board our vessel, 'Tanu', and begin sailing along the scenic southern portion of the Brunswick Peninsula. The journey from Punta Carrera to Francisco Coloane Marine Park takes eight to ten hours.
Sea bird watching along the way is always fruitful, with more opportunities to see and perhaps photograph black-browed albatross, southern giant petrel, Magellanic diving-petrel, king cormorant, Chilean skua, dolphin gull and South American tern. Pods of constant playful Peale’s dolphin often come along side as well.
Carlos III Island and its surrounding waters are the core whale-watching locations in the western branch of the Strait of Magellan, and once we reach this area, we should have good chances of spotting our first humpback whales. Other potential species include sei whale, more frequent in recent years, as well as pods of orcas.
We land at the island to spend two nights based at the biological station and eco-camp. At dinner we meet researcher Juan Capella and his team and learn more about their long-term studies on whale populations..
Day14: Carlos III Island & Seno Ballena (Whale Sound)
We have a full day of whale watching activities aboard the ‘Tanu’ and Zodiac inflatables. Accompanying the resident scientists in the field, we receive in-depth introduction to their work and the ecology of the whales, and enjoy plenty of close encounters.
Day15: Return to Punta Arenas
We return aboard the ‘Tanu’ to Punta Carrera, enjoying further whale and birdwatching en route. From Punta Carrera we drive back to Punta Arenas.
Accommodation: Hotel Rey Don Felipe, 1-night
Day16: Andean condor excursion, fly to Santiago
In the morning we drive to Olga Teresa Ranch, renowned as one of the most accessible locations in the world to see and photograph the Andean condor. The ranch is entirely dedicated to protect, research and showcase a population of 100 individuals that we can observe as they soar, socialize and fly over a 20-metre tall rock face. Naturalists and scientists are on hand to explain further about these majestic creatures, their skills and behaviour, and we use a powerful spotting scope for good views of these fascinating high-flying birds.
In the afternoon we return to Punta Arenas for a flight back to Santiago, and the remainder of the day is free.
Today is free to explore the historical city Santiago de Chile before heading to the airport in time to check in for an overnight flight back to the UK.
Day18: Arrive UK
You should note: * This itinerary is based on current airline schedules, which airlines reserve the right to change without notice. As a result there is no guarantee that we will be able to follow this exact itinerary. In particular, flights to Puerto Natales are a relatively new route and at this time we cannot guarantee that they will operate (in which case we will fly to Punta Arenas and transfer to Torrres del Paine from there.
Duration and price including flights from/to UK: 18 daysfrom £11,295 pp
Duration and price excluding international flights: 16 daysfrom £10,195 pp
Single supplement: From £1,270
Group size: 10
Included in the price/package:
Return flights between Santiago de Chile & Punta Arenas/Puerto Natales
1 night hotel in Santiago de Chile
1 night hotel in Puerto Natales
5 nights hotel & 2 nights guesthouse in Torres del Paine
3 nights hotel in Punta Arenas
2 nights Eco-camp on Carlos III Island
Guided activities as indicated
Photography tuition from Nick Garbutt and professional Chilean photographer
Services of naturalist guide
An award-winning photographer and author, with a background in zoology, Nick has forged a career by combining these skills with leading tours and lecturing.
Nick has written and photographed several critically acclaimed books, including: ‘100 Animals to See Before They Die’, ‘Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide’, ‘Wild Borneo’, and ‘Chameleons’. He is a regular contributor to international magazines such as National Geographic, BBC Wildlife, Africa Geographic and Geographical.
Nick has twice been a winner in the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition. In 2000, he won the prestigious Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife. His photographs appear widely in books, calendars and other publications worldwide. He is a Special Lecturer on the MSc course in the Wildlife Photography and Imaging at Nottingham University, where he studied.
Claudio is an accomplished photographer and currently accompanies photo safaris and wildlife tours throughout Patagonia and elsewhere in South America.
He has been interested in birding from an early age and has documented much of the region’s botany and wildlife. He is part of a team that is currently putting the finishing touches to the eagerly-awaited Field Guide to the Birds of Chile, and is co-author of 20 further titles. Claudio lives in Punta Arenas.
Chilean Patagonia’s premier attraction is a scenic mix of craggy peaks, glacial lakes, icefields and green valleys – a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The omnipresent Paine Massif, a magnificent set of rocky spires formed from granite and sedimentary rock, dominates the landscape.
Where: Última Esperanza Province
Ideal for viewing: Andean condor, South American grey fox, guanaco, puma, South Andean deer
Excellent for: Wildlife photography
The Chilean portion of Patagonia is called Magellanes after its Portuguese explorer. On the Pacific side glacial action has excavated a complex coastline of fjords and islands. Between the mainland and Tierra del Fuego, the Strait of Magellan has Chile’s first and only marine reserve, Francisco Coloane Marine Park.
Where: Magallanes Province
Ideal for viewing: Andean condor, firecrown hummingbird, guanaco, humpback whale, king penguin
Excellent for: Whale watching, Penguin watching
Chile’s capital and its largest city is located in the central valley, with the snow-capped Andes to the east, and the coastal range to the west. A lively and dynamic place, it is one of Latin America’s most sophisticated locations, and here is lots to see in the city and surrounding Andes.
Where: Santiago Metropolitan Region
Excellent for: City stopover, History & culture
Located on an island the far side of Lago Pehoé, and linked to the mainland by a narrow footbridge, this traditional, timber-built, mountain lodge enjoys one of the most impressive five-star panoramas imaginable, with views across the lake to Los Cuernos and Paine Grande in the Paine Massif.
Located right in the heart of Torres del Paine National Park, with commanding views and stunning scenery all around, this 4-star hotel allows you to connect instantly with surrounding nature. Hotel Las Torres offers a range of rooms, all of which are spacious and comfortable with private bathrooms.
This elegant boutique property occupies a four-floor building – a national monument – whose original French architecture has been exquisitely restored to combine the traditional with the modern. Located in the elegant neighbourhood of Providencia, la Rêve is close to several restaurants and visitor attractions.
Situated within the marine reserve on Carlos III Island, Whale Sound Eco-Camp is an intimate accommodation for a maximum of ten people in comfortable twin bedded double dome tents. It was originally founded by scientists and there is plenty of opportunity to watch whales and learn about them from researchers.