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 lovely walk in a nature reserve followed by a hearty dinner. Costanera Sur is a renowned birding destination within the heart of 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. A two-hour drive brings us to Punta Tombo, a gorgeous landscape 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 the endemic Chubut Steamer-Duck or a Brown Skua. Next we relocate to Puerto Madryn to relax and sample some local cuisine.
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. However, sometimes the best viewing comes from shore—certain whales may curiously approach shoreline viewers within several metres!
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 Parrot, 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.
Days 5 – 6: 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 two 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 and White-bellied Seedsnipe. With luck we’ll find an elusive Striated Caracara or more likely a Blackish Cinclodes. There will be a chance to shop for crafts made by local artisans. Two nights in Ushuaia.
Day 7: 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 Chilean Hawk and other forest birds, or ever-productive wetlands. 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 beside our hotel. Night in Cerro Sombrero.
Day 8: 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, with luck, 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 good 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 9 – 11: 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. Based at a cozy lodge, we’ll hook up with a local guide to help us track down a puma, or mountain lion. This is easily the best place in the world to see these cats and with luck we’ll see them hunting among the herds of guanacos that populate the pampas. 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. 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 in the park. Nights in Torres del Paine.
Day 12: 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.
Day 13: Departure
Our Patagonia wildlife safari tour ends today in Punta Arenas. Regular flights go north to Santiago and beyond.
Pre-tour Itinerary: Iguazu
Pretour Day 1 – Night in Buenos Aires
Meet for evening meal if flights allow.
Pretour Day 2 – Flight to Iguazu
We arrive to the airport and if time permits, walk a nearby road that passes through primary rainforest. We may have our first glimpse of Toco Toucan here, 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. Iguazu hosts a large, contiguous tract of intact Atlantic rainforest.
Soon we settle into the area's subtropical climate and enjoy a patio dinner at a quaint restaurant featuring some classic Argentine fare: beef and wine. We’ll relax at our hotel in front of the falls.
Pretour Day 3 – Iguazu National Park
We’ll spend two days exploring Iguazu National Park, where over 350 bird species have been sighted, not to mention a jungle where jaguars still prowl. Although the chance of seeing this elusive cat is low, we will encounter other interesting species such as the Argentine Tegu lizard and friendly Coatis more or less carpeting the trails. Birds are abundant and include such Atlantic forest beauties as Surucua Trogon, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Green-headed Tanager, Blond-crested Woodpecker, and Purple-crowned Plovercrest. 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. Various walkways lead us over the top of the falls and coincidentally past some spectacular birding and photographic areas.
In town, we’ll visit some excellent hummingbird gardens where Black Jacobin and Swallow-tailed Hummingbird can be found, among others. Night at Melia 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 at Melia Iguazu.
Pretour Day 5 - Departure
A final morning birding inside the park near the hotel before we take a midday flight to Buenos Aires.