Jump on board as we explore untamed Patagonia, where some of the world’s most picturesque landscapes are filled with abundant marine and terrestrial wildlife. Southern Chile and Argentina offer exceptional close-up viewing of coastal species such as Southern Right Whales and Elephant Seals in the area around Peninsula Valdes, while further south one can find King, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins in the straights of Tierra del Fuego. As many species of penguins can be found here as one can hope to see on an average Antarctic journey, and even Leopard Seals are a possibility!
Further inland we find the best puma (or mountain lion) viewing on the planet. With the impressive Torres del Paine as towering backdrops we’ll be guaranteed to observe and photograph guanacos, rheas, and condors roaming free in their natural settings, and with some patience we hope to see puma up close.
It’s springtime in Patagonia and all of the breeding birds will be showing their best. These include Austral Parakeet, Chilean Flamingo, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Flightless Steamer-Duck and perhaps the endangered Magellanic Plover.
The UNESCO-designated Peninsula Valdes is where orcas haul out on the beach to have a go at Elephant Seal pups (a la National Geographic!), however this is a very rare event.
In Argentina we’ll enjoy the food and wine culture that this modern destination offers, while in Chile the quaint atmosphere and friendly locals will further enrich our experience.
Overall this is an enjoyable jaunt through a stark and jaw-dropping landscape full of history, culture and of course, wild animals.
We also offer a Pre-tour to Iguazu Falls – see connecting tours below.
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 Southern 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. As the plane lands, it is possible to view clouds of pink in a turquoise lake near the airport—these are Chilean Flamingoes. Once we land we’ll head for a closer look. Here, we can also see three species of coot, Lake Duck, Red Shoveler, White-tufted Grebe and other wetland birds including migrant shorebirds. The Many-colored Rush-Tyrant is a possibility.
Next we relocate to Puerto Piramides, but enroute we’ll stop by a life-sized monument to the largest dinosaur on earth, the Patagotitan, discovered in this area.
Peninsula Valdes is one of the world’s most significant marine sanctuaries and a UNESCO world heritage site. The highlight during this season is the large numbers of Southern Right Whales that appear in the bays of the peninsula. Upwards of 2000 of these cetaceans ply the waters of Gulfo Nuevo.
We’ll embark on a short boat trip to view the whales and their calves up close. During this navigation we’ll also see sheathbills, terns, cormorants, sea lions and other marine life, but the whales steal the show. In fact, they can be so plentiful that the boat moves among individuals simply to encounter different behaviours and backdrops.
Amid the seemingly barren shrub-steppe a myriad of bird species can be found such as the endemic Carbonated Sierra-Finch and Patagonian Canastero. Others include Burrowing Parakeet, Chiguango Thrush, Elegant-crested Tinamou, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Southern Martin and various earthcreepers, monjitas, cachalotes and more.
Southern Elephant Seals lounge on the beaches around the peninsula, while camel-like guanacos, over-friendly armadillos, and the rabbit-like Patagonian mara inhabit the uplands. This is just the beginning of the wildlife spectacle yet to come. Two nights in Puerto Piramides, one night in Puerto Madryn.
Days 5 – 6: Ushuaia
Today we end our northern Patagonia segment and transfer to the south. Ushuaia, famously (but erroneously) known as the world’s most southerly city, is located on the island of Tierra del Fuego and is the sending-off point for most 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.
On our first day here we’ll 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 and Leopard Seals have started recolonizing the area. We’ll visit an interesting whale museum.
On other excursions in Ushuaia we’ll seek out a variety of birds such as Dolphin Gull, Flightless Steamer-duck, Magellanic Snipe, Correndera Pipit and Black-browed Albatross. With luck we’ll find an elusive Striated Caracara at the penguin colony, or Blackish Cinclodes on one particular island in the Beagle Channel. There will be a chance to shop for crafts made by local artisans and sample some more Argentine foods. Two nights in Ushuaia.
Day 7: Ushuaia to Rio Grande
In the morning, we’ll hike up to the Glacier Martial area for a chance to get above treeline and search for both Dark-faced and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants, and the difficult Gray-flanked Cinclodes. After this we have a relatively short drive, traversing a mountainous section of Tierra del Fuego into the flatlands, showing us the vast scale of Patagonia.
Our destination is Rio Grande—the mouth of the largest river on the island and the area where a large percentage of North America's Red Knots and Hudsonian Godwits spend the winter. We’ll time it right for the best tides when we visit a special reserve dedicated to these and other long-distant migrants. Some of the knots even have colour bands and can be followed on the internet! Night in Rio Grande.
Day 8: Onward to Chile
In the morning, we’ll head to a private estancia to look for a rare bird species: Magellanic Plover, a Patagonian endemic in its own family (Pluvianellidae) most closely related to the sheathbills. There’s a chance to find Ruddy-headed Goose, another endemic bird species.
After this, we say goodbye to Argentina and cross into Chile to continue with another highlight: the country’s only King Penguin colony. Hosting around one hundred adults and a few fuzzy adolescents, the site is a great example of a well-managed tourism and conservation initiative, and it always brings smiles. 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 should find some nice-looking birds such as Coscoroba Swan, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, White-bridled Finch and Tawny-throated Dotterel. 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 work hard to track down a puma, or mountain lion. On previous trips we’ve seen up to nine 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 and heard kittens mewing from a bush.
Other highlights include Andean Condors soaring overhead looking for scraps, and Crested, White-throated and Chimango Caracaras. The ostrich-like Lesser 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, although they hang around the hotel parking lot. Spectacled and Torrent Ducks, Magellanic Woodpecker, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, 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: Puerto Natales
We return south to Puerto Natales, stopping to visit the Mylodon Cave, a massive cavern where these now-extinct mammals lived over 5,000 years ago. We’ll pull over wherever possible for some more roadside birding to clean up on anything we haven’t seen. Night in Puerto Natales.
Day 14: Departure, Puerto Natales
Our Patagonia wildlife safari tour ends this morning in Puerto Natales. You can depart anytime. There are usually several flights to Santiago where you can connect to flights home.
Departures & Prices
- All accommodation
- All meals
- Ground transportation
- Guides: 4 - 8 participants with 1 guide, 9 - 12 with 2 guides
- All park, conservation and entrance fees
Tour Does Not Include
- Travel to and from start/end location
- Two internal flights are additional (approx. US$560 total)
- Travel Insurance
- Items of a personal nature
What to Expect
What to Expect
Our daily travel schedule on this tour will vary to account for weather, opening times and other variables. However, as travel distances are relatively long we’ll stick to the schedule as much as possible. Bear in mind we have two internal flights on this tour (Buenos Aires to Trelew and Trelew to Ushuaia). We also make a land border crossing into Chile, which requires a couple of short waits.
Dinners are served late, especially in Argentina. Due to this, we won’t undertake more than a couple of early morning walks and these will be optional. Breakfast is also served late, but once we embark on our day we are moving steadily. Meat is always an option on this tour but we have had vegetarians enjoy the tour happily. On the day we leave Tierra del Fuego we explore a more remote area and may have a long drive between establishments. Puma viewing may require an early, pre-dawn start (or a late evening finish) but sometimes we see them in mid-day.
The tour generally involves easy to moderate walking; there is some hill-climbing (in particular, the Martial Glacier walk to just over 1200m elevation, the highest on the tour, where folks can wait at the base or at the hotel). We hike at a mellow birding pace. In general, we keep all our nature study to a pleasant stroll, maximizing the number of things we see but allowing enough time to properly enjoy them. If we have two leaders we may split into "faster" and "slower" groups.
For lunch we generally try to stop somewhere pleasant— but not for too long— and a picnic may be an option.
We embark on two separate boat trips that are generally on calm seas. On the longer one (Beagle Channel), participants who brave the cooler winds on the outer deck see more albatrosses!
Weather is usually fairly pleasant but we can encounter some strong winds and possibly rain while exploring. During the day it can be warm but unlikely hot, and participants should be prepared for some cool days and cold mornings. Gloves and warm hats are useful and comfortable hiking footwear is fine (no rubber boots).
In the evenings, we discuss the day's activities and review the list of birds and wildlife seen, and outline events for the next day.
Even though we cannot guarantee a sighting of the animals below, we feel quite confident that an encounter with the ones listed below is quite likely.
- Austral Parakeets
- Chilean Flamingoes
- three species of steamer duck
- Magellanic Plover
- King, Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins
- Puma (Mountain Lion)
- Southern Right Whales
- Elephant Seals
Past Tour Checklists & Reports
Past Tour Checklists
View the list of birds and other wildlife we encountered on our past tours.