Mammal-watching tour of Southern Chile: Puma, Kodkod, Darwin’s Fox, Pygmy Blue Whales. Torres del Paine and Chiloe Island
You will know the feeling of anticipation when searching for your first sighting of a major predator… Walking and driving the roads and tracks and trails around Lago Sarmiento will see us all hardly able to appreciate the stupendous scenery around us. However such is the combination of landscape and number of animals here that it will likely not be long before that moment arrives – Puma!
This big cat is found throughout the Torres del Paine and indeed we’ve a chance of finding one even before we get there, however it is in the dry rolling hill country around Lago Sarmiento so beloved of the Guancacos that so many Puma reside. Our first was found by watching two Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles dive bomb something near their nest – a Puma. Our next – Guanaco’s calling loudly that there was a Puma nearby. These lithe and athletic cats are not at all bothered by the passing humans (a la Africa…) and so once spotted there’s a good chance of both watching them for a while and likely there will be good photographic opportunities. You might even get those famous ‘Paine Towers’ in the background. The reasons for the Pumas abundance in this area is a combination of protection and of food availability. They enjoy Hare, which are abundant here, and Guanaco. During our visit we’ll see hundreds of Guanacos, characterful animals who go about their rather active and interesting daily lives again with barely a care for us observers just metres away.
The Torres del Paine is not just all about the mammals! The scenery is quite staggering. Fabulously bright Torrent Ducks emerge from cascading waters, Rheas wander across the road in small groups oblivious to the human presence and very often we’ll see the characteristic shape of Andean Condors drifting overhead. But back to the mammals! Foxes are quite often encountered, mostly the little Chillas, whilst dawn and dusk are likely to bring encounters with Big Hairy Armadillos (that is the species name!) and Humboldt’s Skunk. The rare Huemel deer is found the Southern Beech woodlands. Further south we’ll look for the Culpeo, a larger Fox, around Punta Arenas and visit the wonderful Isla Magdalena Penguin colonies. Three hundred thousand Humboldt’s Penguins nest here. The boat journey to and from the island will allow us to see beautiful black and white Commerson’s Dolphins as well as so many Albatrosses and Giant Petrels.
Moving to Chiloe Island and its temperate rainforests we’ll spend several days enjoying the hospitality of Patricio and his family who have for generations owned a huge chunk of the island and have turned twenty thousand hectares of it into the private Tepuhueico Reserve. This lovely place has no roads into it, one has to travel by boat across a lake to the lovely lodge. Inside the reserve the only roads are a few tracks that we can drive or walk looking for the tiny Southern Pudu deer and a host of interesting birds including Des Murs’s Wiretail. Our main mammal targets here are the very rare Darwin’s Fox, there being only 250 or so left in the wild, and the Kodkod, or Guigna, one of the World’s smallest cats. Both frequent the area around the lodge, though they may still require some work to find them. Another attraction here is the rarely encountered Monitos del Monte, a primitive marsupial whose nearest relatives are found across the Pacific in Australia. Southern River Otters are sometimes seen in the lake and if we don’t see them here we’ll look for them further north when we explore the northwest of the island where we’ll look for Marine Otters, South American Sea Lions and Peale’s Dolphins. We’ll have another chance to enjoy close-up Humboldt’s & Magellanic Penguins, whilst offshore we’ll take a boat trip to look for Sei Whales and Blue Whales, the form occurring here often known as the Pygmy Blue Whale!
Mammals. Also Birds and Landscapes.
Fairly easy though the kilometres in a day may add up. Observation is either from road or trackside vantage points or by walking, and the walks are never long, not more than three or four kilometres. However you may do a couple of these in a day on some days especially if walking at night too.
Included in the Price
All flights. Transport, accommodation and all meals in Chile. Services of your leaders. Entrance fees to national parks. Please note: Travel insurance, drinks, tips and items of a personal nature, are not included.
The minimum is 4 and the maximum is 7.
We start with two nights a the characterful La Casa Escondida in Punta Arenas. This wooden-built property nestles in a nice little patch of Southern Beach woodland. The rooms are very comfortable and the meals excellent. Magellanic Woodpeckers in the grounds! Next are five nights at the Hotel Torres del Paine. It is not usual that we say this on a tour description but this hotel is seriously over-priced – and the overall price of the tour reflects this! However it is essential to the aims of the tour as this hotel is the only one (there are a couple of primitive ranch-hotels that charge almost as much) in the right location – in the middle of prime Puma land. They can even be seen around the hotel sometimes. The hotel itself is of course a very nice place, nice rooms, unbelievable views, and good food. We return to La Casa Escondida in Punta Arenas late afternoon so as to catch the morning flight to Puerto Montt and then spend four nights at the excellent Hotel Parque Tepuhueico. This is quite an unusual place! The rooms are very comfortable and the dining really quite superb, the chef here produces some truly wonderful meals. It is a very small hotel, and we’ll be the only ones staying. The hotel is reached by boat across a large lake, and is in a true wilderness, the surrounding 20,000 hectares of wild land has no other accommodation and the only tracks are the ones that start from the hotel. We’ll finish the tour with two nights at the lovely Vertientes de Pumillahue, a guesthouse whose cabin-style rooms have the most unbelievable views over the bay below – it is quite possible to see Marine Otters from your balcony. All rooms on this tour are en suite.
UK return flights are from London Heathrow to Santiago. We then fly from Santiago down to Punta Arenas, later from there to Puerto Montt and later still from Puerto Mont to Santiago. Other indirect routes from regional UK Airports* may be available.
*These routes may incur a supplement.
Pleasantly warm throughout even in Punta Arenas though this is in the sun, and it can feel a lot cooler both there and in Torres del Paine when the sun is not out and the wind is strong! Rainfall is minimal in the south though expect some in Chiloe.
How to Book
Contact us to check there is availability for the number of places you require. Download a booking form or contact us and we will send one to you. Complete and send to us. You will receive confirmation of your place and then a detailed information pack will be dispatched to you about twelve weeks before departure. This will contain up-to-date health information. Mammal and bird checklists are available.