Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Our Patagonia wildlife safari tour begins in Buenos Aires where we will meet in the afternoon for a walk in an urban nature reserve followed by a hearty dinner. Costanera Sur is a renowned birding destination within the city where we can stretch our legs and look for species such as Horned Screamer, Masked Gnatcatcher and Wattled Jacana. We can see these subtropical birds while the tango scene unfolds on the waterfront promenade, and a myriad of restaurants beckon. We can discuss the upcoming trip over a bottle of malbec.
Days 2 – 4: Peninsula Valdes
A morning flight brings us to Trelew and our introduction to Patagonia. First we arrive at Punta Tombo, a pampas landscape on the coast where we walk amongst the world’s largest Magellanic Penguin colony. The birds go about their business, while we scan for other species such as Southern Martin, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Elegant-crested Tinamou and the endemic Chubut Steamer-Duck. Next we relocate to Puerto Madryn to relax and sample some local cuisine within walking distance of our hotel. En route we might see Burrowing Parakeets.
Peninsula Valdes is one of the world’s most significant marine sanctuaries and a UNESCO site. The highlight during this season is the large numbers of Southern Right Whales that appear in the bays of the peninsula. Based in a quaint fishing village, we’ll embark on three days of marine wildlife viewing, including a boat trip to view the whales and their calves up close. Whales can be so plentiful that we move between individuals simply to encounter different behaviours and backdrops.
With much luck, we’ll hope to see an incredible spectacle that happens only on Peninsula Valdes: orca attacking on the beach. At this time of year these apex predators turn their attention to elephant seals, and we’ll go on the hunt to a known hotspot to try and glimpse an attack. In the meantime, we’ll seek other interesting wildlife along the coast including Southern Giant Petrel and three species of Oystercatcher!
Other avian subjects include Alpomado Falcon, the endemic Carbonated Sierra-Finch, Burrowing Parakeet, earthcreepers and canasteros. We might become acquainted with camel-like guanacos, over-friendly armadillos, barking sea lions and other mammals too. Nights in Puerto Madryn and Puerto Piramides.
Days 5 – 7: Ushuaia
Today we end our northern Patagonia segment and transfer to the south. Ushuaia, famously known as the world’s most southerly city, is located on the island of Tierra del Fuego and is the sending-off point for Antarctic cruises. We won’t have to go that far to see exciting wildlife, as up to three species of penguins can be found regularly within a short distance of town. We’ll spend three days in Ushuaia and visit an island penguin rookery that features hundreds of Magellanic Penguins and a small number of Gentoos—the only South American colony of this species. King Penguins often hang out here. On other excursions in Ushuaia we’ll seek out a variety of birds such as Dolphin Gull, Flightless Steamer-duck, Correndera Pipit and Black-browed Albatross. With luck we’ll find an elusive Striated Caracara on the shores of Tierra del Fuego National Park, or Blackish Cinclodes on one particular island in the Beagle Channel. The Glacier Martial area is a chance for us to get above treeline and search for White-bellied Seedsnipe and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant. There will be a chance to shop for crafts made by local artisans and sample some centolla, or king crab. Three nights in Ushuaia.
Day 8: Onward to Chile
Today we say goodbye to Argentina and traverse Tierra del Fuego on a journey that will show the vast scale of Patagonia. Depending on our progress we will stop at various locations, including a designated reserve for Red Knot and other shorebirds, roadside vantages to scan for raptors, or ever-productive wetlands. There is also a back-up site for King Penguin. We cross into Chile today and finish the day at the edge of the Magellan Straight, poised to cross the next morning to the mainland. We’ll rest well tonight with the winnowing of South American Snipe outside of our hotel. Night in Cerro Sombrero.
Day 9: Pali Aike National Park
We’ll cross the windy Magellan Straight on a car ferry, staying on the lookout for Commerson’s and Dusky Dolphins, cormorants galore and, often, a diving petrel. The main focus of today’s efforts however, 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 magnificent birds such as Coscoroba Swan, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, White-bridled Finch and the endemic Ruddy-headed Goose. Other mammals may include both South American Gray Fox and Culpeo Fox, and Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk. After a steady drive we spend the night in Puerto Natales on the shores of the Pacific, our second ocean of the day. Night in Puerto Natales.
Day 10 – 12: Torres del Paine
A restful morning could involve a walk on the promenade near the hotel to see Black-necked Swans, or to catch up on sleep or photo editing. Next up is the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park. Arguably the single most scenic location in all of South America, this large and wild reserve is a nature lover’s dream and on the landscape photographer’s bucket list. Based at a cozy lodge, we’ll hook up with a local guide to help us track down a puma, or mountain lion. On previous trips we’ve seen up to four cats in several hours. This is the best place in the world to see them and with luck we’ll find them hunting among the herds of guanacos. Nothing is guaranteed but we have seen point-blank views of pumas eating their prey. Other highlights include Andean condors soaring overhead looking for scraps, and both Southern and Chimango Caracaras. The ostrich-like Darwin’s Rhea is another favourite denizen of the pampas as is the Huemul, a deer that is known as one of the rarest mammals in South America. Spectacled and Torrent Ducks, Magellanic Woodpecker, White-throated Treerunner and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle are just some of the exciting birds that round up the park’s list. Horseback riding is an optional excursion while here. Nights in Torres del Paine.
Day 13: Punta Arenas
We spend the day making our way south to Punta Arenas, stopping to visit the Mylodon Cave, a massive cavern where these now-extinct mammals lived over 5,000 years ago. We’ll stop wherever possible for some more roadside birding to clean up on anything we haven’t seen. Night in Punta Arenas.
Day 14: Departure
Our Patagonia wildlife safari tour ends this morning in Punta Arenas. Regular flights leave for the north to Santiago and beyond.
Pre-tour Itinerary: Iguazu Falls Birding
Pretour Day 1 – Arrival in Buenos Aires
Meet for an evening meal if your flights allow to discuss our Iguazu Falls birding pre-tour. Night in Buenos Aires.
Pretour Day 2 – Flight to Iguazu
After breakfast we catch a morning flight to Iguazu. We arrive to the airport and we’ll head straight to the national park where most of the action is, including lunch. We may have our first glimpse of Toco Toucan in the parking lot and any number of other Atlantic rainforest specialties. This habitat is only a remnant of a once-vast forest and therefore many of the species we’ll encounter are endemic or difficult to find elsewhere. The Argentine side of Iguazu hosts a large, contiguous tract of intact Atlantic rainforest in a subtropical climate.
The falls themselves are a large, spectacular network of various cascades, some of which almost don’t seem real. We’ll choose one of numerous trails that best suits afternoon photography and wildlife viewing. Today we just get a taster of what these falls are all about. In the evening we’ll drive into town and enjoy a patio dinner at a quaint restaurant featuring some classic Argentine fare: beef and wine. Night in Puerto Iguazu.
Pretour Day 3 – Iguazu National Park
We’ll spend a full day exploring Iguazu National Park where over 350 bird species have been sighted, not to mention being the home of jaguars and other cats. We'll see other interesting wildlife such as the Argentine Tegu lizard and overly friendly coatis and monkeys too. Birds are abundant and include such Atlantic forest beauties as Surucua Trogon, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Green-headed Tanager, Blond-crested Woodpecker, and Black-fronted Piping-Guan. But none is more emblematic of the falls than the Great Dusky Swift, seen powering over and around the impressive cascades themselves. As for this magnificent spectacle, Iguazu Falls really is a must-see and we will be right in the heart of the action. Today we’ll explore at least two trails that lead us over the top or below the falls and coincidentally past some spectacular birding and photographic areas. When we don’t want to walk, there is a small train that can take us around the park.
Back in town, we’ll visit some excellent hummingbird gardens where Black Jacobin and Swallow-tailed Hummingbird can be found, among others. There is also a small wetland to explore. Night in Puerto Iguazu.
Pretour Day 4 – Urugua-í Provincial Park
Today we’ll travel farther afield, leaving the Iguazu Falls area to explore another large parcel of forest to the south, within Urugua-í Park. The commute will allow us to see some of the countryside of Misiones province.
Near the park headquarters we’ll choose a trail where we can enter the forest on the lookout for more exciting birds. One of these is the mysterious Spotted Bamboowren, which has recently been deemed a relative of the tapaculos (after variously being grouped with wrens, antbirds, and gnatcatchers). Either way, it’s another sought-after Atlantic forest endemic! Others that can be more easily found include Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Robust Woodpecker, White-browed Warbler, Tufted Antshrike and Rufous Gnateater. With much luck, we could encounter something rarer like the Helmeted Woodpecker or Bay-ringed Tyrannulet. Anything could lurk around the corner here, including mammals such as Jaguar, South American Tapir or Giant Anteater!
If road conditions and time permit, we may also explore the Karadya reserve, which offers a slightly different suite of flora and fauna. Night in Puerto Iguazu.
Pretour Day 5 - Route 101
A final morning on an excellent secondary road nearby the airport gives us a chance to clean up on some other interesting birds and wildlife. Harpy Eagle has been recorded here in recent years but for regular birds it is a particularly good location for Ochre-collared Piculet, Pavonine Cuckoo and up to five species of foliage-gleaner! Ocelot has been sighted in previous years. Before our afternoon flight back to Buenos Aires we may have a chance to view the falls one last time. Dinner and night in Buenos Aires.
Pretour Day 6 - Buenos Aires
This morning we are back in Buenos Aires for a relaxing breakfast before the main Patagonia Wildlife Safari tour starts later in the afternoon. You have the morning to explore downtown Buenos Aires. Lunch on your own.