Patagonia Photo Expedition
11 days with Natural Habitat Adventures Rating:
Day 1: El Calafate, Argentina
Arrive in El Calafate, where we meet our Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening. Our guide, an outstanding South American nature photographer, will provide an orientation to our itinerary with an overview of the many photography highlights that lie ahead.
Day 2: Lago Argentino / El Chalten
This morning, excellent bird photography opportunities await on Patagonia’s largest freshwater lake, fed by the glacial meltwater of several rivers. More than 40 migratory bird species frequent Lago Argentino, including black-necked swans, flamingos and silvery grebes. Later, we cross the broad expanse of Patagonian steppe that sprawls beyond El Calafate. Along our drive, there are possibilities for beautiful shots of sparkling Lago Argentino, vistas from several river valleys, and panoramas of the Southern Andes and Mount Fitz Roy. Continuing to El Chalten, we arrive in the small alpine-themed town known as the Trekking Capital of Patagonia.
Day 3: Mt. Fitz Roy Vista Hike
North of El Chalten, we take a scenic hike through the Magellanic subpolar forest—the southernmost forest ecosystem on Earth—emerging to magnificent mountain vistas. A gentle, rolling trail through the beech woodlands rewards our efforts a chance to get stunning photos of glaciers and the Fitz Roy massif’s evocative spires. Walking above the Rio Blanco, we hike to the Piedras Blancas lookout, offering a panorama over the glacier. Standing in silence, listen for the sound of the ice cracking and groaning as it grinds its way down the bedrock at the base of this hanging valley. After capturing some final images at our last vantage point, we retrace our steps down the trail, with more exhilarating views along the way. Tonight we enjoy dinner at one of the many hospitable restaurants in the charming mountain village of El Chalten.
Day 4: Mirador del Torre / El Calafate
Today we hike from town to a view of one of the most iconic photography subjects in Patagonia: the granite towers of Cerro Torre. A rolling trail through the valley rewards us with a stunning vista of the massif, easily identifiable by its vertical gray peaks. The highest point in the range is more than 10,000 feet, and the distinctive spires are a popular challenge for advanced rock and ice climbers. Cerro Torre itself was not successfully climbed until 1974. The surrounding glaciers, snowfields and pine-cloaked valleys provide equally glorious photo opportunities. We'll picnic with a box lunch along the way, then hike back this afternoon to the town of El Chalten, keeping an eye out for Andean condors gliding overhead. Continue to El Calafate to have dinner and spend the night.
Day 5: Los Glaciares National Park—Perito Moreno Glacier
A private boat cruise across Lago Argentino opens up dramatic photo possibilities at Perito Moreno Glacier. One of the most famous of the 48 outlet glaciers spilling from the nearly 6,500-square-mile mass of ice that comprises the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Perito Moreno terminates in an imposing blue face more than 3 miles across.This centerpiece of Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park is one of the few advancing glaciers on the planet. More than 200 feet high, it winds down from the perpetual snowfields of the Andes to its terminus in the vast lake, where it crowds the azure waters with huge floating rafts of ice that calve from its massive face.
Our adventure begins with a boat ride on the Brazo Rico, the southern arm of Lago Argentino. We disembark for a short hike along a secluded shoreline and through the forest to arrive at a photo vantage point on the southern face of Perito Moreno. Reboarding our small vessel, we get closer images of the glacier’s jagged ice walls, reflecting blue light. Back on shore, it's just a short distance to the official entrance for sightseeing at Perito Moreno, where boardwalks in the area offer varied viewpoints on the glacier and drifting icebergs.
Day 6: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Driving across pampas and steppe, we enter Chile and Torres del Paine National Park. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park is home to a host of wildlife including puma, guanaco, fox, huemule (South Andean deer) and armadillo. We find a remarkable array of birdlife here, too: look for eagles, hawks, lesser rheas, buzzards and South American condors returned from the brink of extinction. Dominating the horizon are the famous Torres del Paine—the "horns and towers of Paine"—igneous rock spires millions of years old.
A stay at renowned EcoCamp Patagonia offers low-impact luxury accommodations in the wilderness. Domed suites are modeled on traditional Kawesqa native huts, blending artfully with the wild landscape. Warm and wind-resistant, these nomad-style dwellings offer outstanding views and a complete immersion in nature. There are plenty of hours ahead to capture photos of this stunning landscape. At the height of the southern summer, the sun doesn't set till around 11 pm, offering magical evening light by which to photograph furry guanacos grazing on the steppe and the mythical-looking peaks on the horizon, bathed in rosy alpenglow.
Days 7–9: Exploring Torres del Paine
Spend three full days photographing Torres del Paine National Park. Our schedule allows flexibility for the whims of weather and maximizing our views and best light for photography at the planet’s southern reaches. Traveling through the park, we’ll admire the Paine mountain range from varying angles, observing herds of guanacos, Andean condors and interesting flora along the way. All the classic species of a Magellanic subarctic forest are on display here—lenga, ñire and coihue, a tall evergreen that can grow to 140 feet. If we’re lucky, we may spy the Magellanic woodpecker and a rare Chilean deer called the huemel, a national symbol found on the coat of arms on Chile's flag.
Our Expedition Leader crafts each day’s itinerary with our local guide based upon weather conditions and visibility. Hike to a viewpoint overlooking Los Cuernos, famed for its dark granite horn-like spires. See brilliant blue Lake Pehoe reflect the serrated peaks like a mirror, and follow its shoreline to Salto Grande Falls, a thunderous cataract that pours into the lake from Lake Nordenskjold above. In the northern part of the park, clear days at Laguna Azul give us a view of the famous Torres del Paine from a completely different angle. We may also stop at Cascada del Rio Paine to view of this series of beautiful terraced waterfalls.
During our journey, we’ll seek out the resident puma, following the sendero de la fauna—the animals' trail—so dubbed for the many guanacos frequently seen along the route. It winds through a favorite puma hunting area where we may see the remains of camelids that the big, tawny cats have preyed upon. "Puma" is the name the Incas gave to this feline predator also known as a cougar or mountain lion. High rock formations flank the path, serving as dwellings and lookout points for the pumas. While these stealthy cats are notoriously elusive, we have been seeing more of them in the past few seasons. We'll hope to further that luck on a nature walk through territory they are known to frequent regularly, as our Expedition Leader helps us scout for signs of their presence. Each day, we return to EcoCamp Patagonia to spend the night.
Day 10: Puerto Natales / Punta Arenas
Our grand Patagonia photo adventure continues as we depart the park today and travel to one of the world's southernmost cities, Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. Along our leisurely drive, we'll stop for lunch and exploring in Puerto Natales, an attractive town on Ultima Esperanza Sound that serves as a gateway for trips into Chilean Patagonia. The town is backdropped by the Riesco mountain range, the Paine Massif and glaciers of the Southern Ice Field, while in the foreground, black-necked swans and gulls bob on the misty waters of the sound. Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate all we have experienced.
Day 11: Punta Arenas / Depart
A transfer to the airport in Punta Arenas is provided for homeward flights.
Please Note: This itinerary is meant as a guideline and can change due to the unpredictable nature of the wind and weather in Patagonia. On some occasions, conditions may require us to deviate from our intended itinerary, in which case we will provide the best available alternative. And we'll make a great adventure of it!
All This Included
It’s no wonder Patagonia has seduced photographers for as long as there have been cameras to capture its wild and evocative landscapes. Our photo expedition to the remote southern reaches of Chile and Argentina puts you in full view of some of the most iconic mountains on Earth. Granite peaks rise in carved spires to the sky. Massive glaciers flow down from the perpetual ice fields that blanket Patagonia’s vast massifs. Turquoise lakes are laden with drifting icebergs. Sunrise casts rosy alpenglow on rock and ice. A host of Andean wildlife is at home here, too, from condors and guanacos to stealthy pumas. Discover it all on our expertly guided small-group odyssey designed especially for nature photographers.
El Calafate: Hotel Kosten Aike or Mirador del Lago
El Chalten: Destino Sur
Torres del Paine National Park: EcoCamp Patagonia
Punta Arenas: La Yegua Loca or Hotel Cabo de Hornos
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