Day 1: Arrival in Ushuaia, Argentina
Our Patagonia photo tour begins in Ushuaia, famously known as the world’s most southerly city. You will arrive here after a three-hour flight from Buenos Aires. Ushuaia also happens to be the only Argentine community on the west side of the Andes and as you fly over these majestic peaks on our approach we might see the crimson colours of Nothofagus forests highlighting the onset of autumn. We will meet in the evening for a hearty dinner and discuss the upcoming trip. Night in Ushuaia.
Days 2: Ushuaia
Given its location on the shores of the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia is an ideal location to start our photo frenzy with coastal subjects such as Dolphin Gull and Flying Steamer-duck, both found at the city’s waterfront. We’ll embark on a half-day trip to an island penguin rookery featuring hundreds of Magellanic Penguins and a small number of Gentoos—the only South American colony of this species. These aren’t elusive subjects—the rule is we can’t approach closer than several feet! We will also try to track down White-bellied Seedsnipe and other upland species while exploring the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego and the Glacier Martial areas. Night in Ushuaia.
Day 3: Onward to Chile
Today we traverse the island of Tierra del Fuego and so leave Ushuaia early to give ourselves plenty of time to stop en route for photo opportunities. These may include the chance to see Southern Rockhopper Penguins should they arrive along the Atlantic coast from the Falklands, as they have in recent years. However, our main stop will be another penguin highlight—a relatively new colony of King Penguins just across the border in Chile. This will be the focus of our day, finishing at the edge of the Magellan Straight poised to cross the next morning. Night in Cerro Sombrero.
Day 4: El Calafate
Via ferry, this morning we’ll navigate on a short ferry ride across the windy Magellan Straight staying on the lookout for Commerson’s and Dusky Dolphins, and Magellanic Penguins in their marine environment. We’ll stop on the other side to photograph a colony of Rock Cormorants. From here we spend some time on the main highway going back into Argentina near Rio Gallegos and continuing along the famous Ruta 40 across wonderfully stark pampas to El Calafate. En route we may encounter some gauchos and their trusty canines rounding up sheep, all potentially spirited subjects for some portrait work. Many exciting photo subjects can be encountered on this trip just by pulling off to the side of the road. Once in Calafate we relax and enjoy the amenities of this touristic hub. For us that might mean photographing Black-necked Swans from a promenade near our hotel before dining in style on Calafate’s main street.
Day 5: Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno glacier, one of Argentina’s top attractions is located in Los Glaciares National Park. This is truly a site where you can’t really go wrong by just pointing your camera and shooting. We get amazing views of this behemoth glacier spilling chunks of ice into Lago Argentina, while fall colours reveal themselves at treeline above. We have plenty of time here to capture the majesty of this gigantic glacier as it advances toward the elaborate viewing platforms. Austral Parakeets, Fiery-eyed Diucons and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos might dictate keeping the long lenses on hand. From here we return to El Calafate and continue onward to the towering spires of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. Night in El Chalten.
Day 6: El Chalten
The scenery now reaches another level in this northern section of Los Glacieres National Park. Sunrise on the Fitzroy massif is our pre-breakfast target this morning and with luck we’ll frame pampas, colourful lenga trees and towering spires not far from roadside and with coffees in hand. On site we’ll discuss the use of filters and lens techniques to capture images as crisp as the autumn air. There is perhaps no better scene than that of Cerro Fitzroy (or “Chalten) to epitomize the stark landscape of Patagonia. After breakfast we’ll roam the area for more images, including a stunning waterfall that provides more scenic opportunities if there’s any more room on our memory cards. For the long lens the area hosts Magellanic Woodpeckers, Chilean Flickers and perhaps Spectacled and Torrent Ducks. Puma or their prey (the huemul, an endangered deer) are always possibilities. The backdrop of Fitzroy is not to be missed, and we’ll hope for clear vistas that so often materialize at this time of year. Night in El Chalten.
Days 7 – 10: Torres del Paine
In the morning we hope that more sunrise images of the Fitzroy spires await us, and perhaps other peaks such as Cerro Torre or Cerro Electrico will reveal themselves. After this we pack up and traverse back into Chile to visit another jaw-dropping national park, Torres del Paine. The drive will present many “pull over!” moments because the scenery is outstanding all around us. Flocks of Least Seedsnipe fluttering over coiron grass might be a target on the commute, or the coiron grass itself!
Arguably the single most scenic location in all of South America, Torres del Paine is a photographer’s dream. We’ll spend three full days here to get our fill of incredible landscapes and wildlife, combining the two when possible. It is here we’ll have our best chance at photographing a puma, however many other subjects will beckon, including a sudden proliferation of condors, guanacos and rheas on the protected pampas. We’ll have a sunrise hike, waterfall session and a trip to Lago Grey with its icebergs and lenga forest. Short hikes lead to lakes, glaciers, and stunning sunrises on these days in the park. Horseback riding, starlight photography and relaxing at the luxury lodge are all options. Nights in Torres del Paine except the last night in Puerto Natales.
Day 11: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas
After our last day in the park we head to Puerto Natales, perched on the shores of Seno Ultima Esperanza protected from the wild Pacific. Birdy subjects such as ducks, gulls, swans and cormorants are common on the shoreline. On this last full day we’ll enjoy a comfortable cruise (weather permitting) to view the cascading Balmaceda and Serrano glaciers, where azure icefalls tumble through dense rainforest. If this finale isn’t enough to round out our portfolio we’ll finish up on our last drive down to Punta Arenas, through lenga forests that should by now be ablaze in the reds and yellows of autumn. Night in Punta Arenas.
Day 12: Departure or continue on the extension
Our Patagonia photo tour ends after breakfast in Punta Arenas. This southern port city is a quaint place to wind down for a few days and explore old forts and Chilean countryside, but those eager to return home can catch a direct flight to Santiago anytime today and continue back to home base.
For those continuing on for the extension we’ll ferry back across to Tierra del Fuego and drive to Ushuaia to catch a connection to Peninsula Valdes. Night in Ushuaia.
Orca Photography Extension
Days 13 – 17: Peninsula Valdes
We board an early afternoon flight to Trelew in northern Patagonia, from where we’ll transfer to Peninsula Valdes, a UNESCO site that is one of the world’s most important marine sanctuaries. Thousands of southern sea lions choose to reproduce on these shores, a draw not only for tourists but also another species of sophisticated and social mammal. Here, on a small stretch of beach the behaviour known as “intentional stranding” is practised by a select group of orcas, or killer whales. Local research has shown that only eleven individuals in the entire world exhibit this learned behaviour, and they will be the focus of our efforts over the next five days.
We’ll have three days of exclusive, permitted access to the attack channel—the best place to witness attacks when conditions align. Between the action we’ll explore the beautiful pampas and shorelines that make Peninsula Valdes such an attraction. Possible avian subjects include Alpomado Falcon, colourful Burrowing Parrots, Magellanic Penguin and Southern Giant Petrel, while guanacos, armadillos, sea lions and other mammals round out the portfolio. Nights in Puerto Piramides except last night in Trelew.
Day 18: Departure
Our Orca photography tour ends today. You can transfer to the airport anytime today for a flight to Buenos Aires to connect with flights home.