Day 1 – Arrival in Ushuaia, Argentina
Our Patagonia photo tour begins in Ushuaia where we will meet in the evening for a hearty dinner and discuss the upcoming trip. Most people know Ushuaia as the “World’s most southerly city,” however we know it as a penguin hotspot. After dinner we can take a short walk down to the waterfront and warm up our cameras on Dolphin Gulls and Flying Steamer Ducks. Night in Ushuaia.
Day 2 – Beagle Channel
Today we will be visiting an island penguin rookery that features hundreds of Magellanic Penguins and a small number of Gentoos—the only South American colony of this species. With luck, the long-standing (no pun intended) pair of King Penguins will also be waiting for us on the beach. But first, we ply the waters of the Beagle Channel aboard a stable, covered cruiser, stopping by a Sea Lion colony where Snowy Sheathbills and Imperial Coromorants also hang out. We may also spot rare birds such as Blackish Cincloides and Striated Caracara. Black-browed Albatross should be flying around, while in the background towering peaks in both Chile and Argentina may have their first dustings of snow. It’s tough to begin a tour in better fashion. We can stop by a top-notch cetacean museum with an impressive collection of local whales and dolphins. Night in Ushuaia.
Day 3 – Tierra del Fuego
Ushuaia lies at the southern end of the island of Tierra del Fuego. Today we’ll commute south to north across this stark landmass with its sprawling pampas and thousands of sheep. En route, we’ll have opportunities to stop and photograph which may include Chilean Flamingo, Southern Giant Petrel, Red Knot, South American Gray Fox, and perhaps some gauchos rounding up their flocks. We may have a chance to see Southern Rockhopper Penguins should they arrive along the Atlantic coast from the Falklands, as they have in recent years. If we don’t already have point-blank photos of King Penguin we will stop by a colony about an hour from our hotel. Night in Cerro Sombrero.
Day 4 – Pali Aike
Via ferry, this morning we’ll cross 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 look for the endemic Ruddy-headed Goose and perhaps a Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk. The main focus of today is to venture into the remote Pali Aike National Park where terrestrial wildlife abounds. This is the guanaco’s domain, where herds roam freely and frequently on the slow-going roads within the park. We’ll literally rub shoulders with dozens of them. Where there are guanacos, there are pumas, and we’ll be on the lookout for these elusive cats. Several caves in the park present interesting archaeological history and we can enter one of them. On the roads in Pali Aike we can see some photogenic birds such as Tawny-throated Dotterel, Chocolate-vented Tyrant and Southern Caracara. After a good drive we spend the night in Puerto Natales on the shores of the Pacific, our second ocean of the day. Anywhere along the way we can get out for some scenic landscapes. Night in Puerto Natales.
Days 5-7 –Torres del Paine
A restful morning may include a sleep-in and/or photographing Black-necked Swans in front of the hotel. After this we pack up and head north toward the jaw-dropping Torres del Paine, on the lookout for another large black-and-white bird, the Andean Condor. We shouldn’t have any problem seeing these majestic birds soaring along the roadside cliffs. The drive will present other “pull over!” moments because the scenery is outstanding all around us. It only takes a bit of patience to frame some of it with a soaring condor in the foreground.
Arguably the single most scenic location in all of South America, Torres del Paine is a photographer’s dream. We’ll spend three 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. Magellanic Woodpeckers are a possibility. Horseback riding is an option. Nights in Torres del Paine.
Day 8– Back to Argentina
We’ll have one last drive along the slow backroads of Torres del Paine, which could finish with a prime puma sighting. Then we’ll leave the park and cross back into Argentina at another small border crossing. After this, we’ll have several hours of scenic driving to El Calafate, where we’ll settle in and have some time to shop, rest and edit. If the weather cooperates it’s possible to see the Southern Patagonian Icecap from town. A steak dinner awaits. Night in El Calafate.
Day 9– Perito Moreno
Perito Moreno glacier, one of Argentina’s top attractions is located in Los Glaciares National Park just outside of town. We get amazing views of this behemoth 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 in hand. After we’ve had our fill we return to Calafate and continue onward to the towering spires of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. Night in El Chalten.
Day 10– El Chalten
Sunrise on the Fitzroy massif is our pre-breakfast target this morning. 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. This scene of Cerro Fitzroy (or “Chalten) epitomizes the stark landscape of Patagonia. After breakfast we’ll roam this northern section of Los Glaciares 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 Chilean Flickers, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and both 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.
Day 11 – Departure north
Flights from El Calafate aren’t until the afternoon so we’ll have some time fine-tune our Fitzroy imagery before heading to the airport. We’ll drive past the turquoise Lagos Viedma, Argentina, which may be our final images of the trip. Those on the orca extension will catch an afternoon flight to Trelew.
A tour of this region may not be complete without hunkering down in Punta Norte’s attack channel—a permit-only photo blind that allows exclusive viewing of the world-famous orcas that beach themselves to gorge on sea lion pups. The action happens less than thirty metres away! This is a special opportunity that provides no guarantees, but may offer an immeasurable reward to those with patience, persistence, and luck.
We arrive in the late afternoon 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. Local research has shown that only seven individuals in the entire world exhibit this learned behaviour, and they will be the focus of our efforts over the next four 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, or if conditions prohibit attacks, we’ll explore the beautiful pampas and shorelines that make Peninsula Valdes such an attraction. Possible avian subjects include Alpomado Falcon, Burrowing Owl, Burrowing Parakeet, Blackish Oystercatcher, and the endemic Chubut Steamer Duck, while guanacos, armadillos, sea lions and other mammals round out the portfolio. Nights in Puerto Piramides (except final night in Trelew).