Chile stretches nearly 2,700 miles from north to south, running the length of over half the continent, from the Atacama Desert in the north to Patagonia in the south. The climatic variety is staggering: from the driest desert on Earth to towering snow-capped mountains and glaciers, and from volcanoes and geysers to lakes and fjords, not to mention the enigmatic wonder that is Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The adventure starts with a pre-extension to the Atacama Desert. Basing ourselves in the charming village of San Pedro de Atacama, we visit the spectacular Tatio Geysers, high altitude lagoons on the Altiplano which are home to three species of flamingo, as well as pre-Colombian archaeological sites.
From the Atacama region we fly south to Puerto Montt in the Lakes Region to start the main tour. Our first stop is Chiloé Island, a remote land of outstanding natural and cultural riches. We spend four days here exploring the island’s attractions, both marine and terrestrial, including blue whale, Peale’s dolphin and southern sea otter, as well as Darwin’s fox and the endangered southern river otter. We then travel to the spectacular Torres del Paine massif, where we look for wildlife including guanaco, Patagonian fox, Patagonian hog-nosed skunk, Darwin’s rhea and Andean condor. This is also one of the best areas to find puma, and we will dedicate much of our time (both during the day and on night drives) to looking for this beautiful cat. We then journey further south, taking a ferry to Tierra del Fuego to visit a king penguin colony and to marvel at this windswept island at the end of the world. We end with a post-tour extension to Easter Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and home to nearly 900 monumental statues or moai carved by the early Rapanui inhabitants.
Day 01; March 15th
Arrive in Puerto Montt, and transfer to our hotel. This evening we meet for our Welcome Dinner.
Day 02; March 16th
This morning we travel to Chiloé Island by road and ferry. Chiloé Island is part of a remote archipelago lushly forested by Valdivian temperate rainforest. Even though the island is only separated from the mainland by a narrow, 2km wide channel, we can expect to see a variety of mammals and birds during the ferry crossing, including Peale’s dolphin and South American sea lion, as well as Antarctic giant petrel, imperial and red-legged cormorants, Peruvian pelican and South American terns, while black-necked swans feed near the shore. Other mammals we look for include Darwin’s fox, a small deer called a pudu, the critically endangered southern river otter and kodkod (a small, extremely rare wild cat). This afternoon we take a boat trip to Puñihuil Islets to see the only mixed breeding colony of Humboldt and Magellanic penguins. Southern marine otter is also resident here, together with rock cormorant, kelp goose and flightless steamer duck. In addition to the wildlife Chiloé Island is culturally fascinating, with wooden churches and stilt houses set on its rocky shore.
Day 03; March 17th
After breakfast we take a boat trip to explore the Chepu River. The river is bordered by dense rainforest, and is the best place to look for southern river otter. In this area we also hope to see the coypu, as well as the rare rufous-tailed hawk and endemic slender-billed parakeet. Our destination this afternoon is Tepuhueico, whose lush rainforest is home to much of the wildlife of Chiloé Island. En route we stop at the mudflats of Caulin Bay, winter home of Hudsonian godwit, red knot and a variety of other shorebirds
Day 04; March 18th
We have a full day to explore the beautiful Tepuhueico forest, part of the endemic Valdivian temperate rainforest. While here we look for an array of mammals and birds, including Darwin’s fox, the critically-endangered Chilean endemic, as well as pudu (second smallest deer in the world) and kodkod. Birds are abundant in this area, and include black-throated huet-huet, Des Murs wiretail, Magellanic woodpecker and green-backed firecrown hummingbird.
Day 05; March 19th
Today we venture to the southern coast of the island, looking for whales, dolphins and seabirds offshore. There is a recently discovered nursery for the world’s largest mammal, blue whale, in this area. Humpback whales, orcas, Chilean and Peale’s dolphins are also possible, as well as black-browed albatross, pink-footed and sooty shearwaters and a recently discovered (and as yet unnamed) storm petrel that breeds in the Chiloé archipelago.
Day 06; March 20th
This morning we return to Puerto Montt, and fly two hours south to Punta Arenas, Chile’s most southerly city. From here we drive to the stunning Torres del Paine National Park, a protected area since 1959 and a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve since 1978.
Days 07 to 10; March 21st to 24th
The Torres del Paine massif at the southern end of the Andes range is one of the most spectacular places on the planet. As well as being scenically beautiful Torres del Paine National Park is home to a wonderful variety of wildlife, and we have four days to explore everything it has to offer. We hope to see Patagonian and culpeo foxes, endangered huemul deer, Patagonian hog-nosed skunk, and guanacos silhouetted against the breathtaking backdrop of Los Cuernos. It is also one of the best places to find the elusive puma. The puma (also known as cougar or mountain lion) has an enormous range, from Canada right down to southern Chile, but is difficult to see throughout its range. The population in Torres del Paine has been protected for many years, as has its favourite prey, the guanaco, and so we have a good chance of finding one. This itinerary has been timed for when female pumas are most active, hunting to provide food for their growing cubs, and so we are giving ourselves the best chance possible.
While looking for mammals we explore different areas of the National Park, keeping our eyes open for some of the many birds that live here. There are 11 species of raptor, including the mighty Andean condor, black-chested buzzard-eagle, chimango caracara and cinereous harrier, as well as Chilean flicker, Magellanic woodpecker, Austral pygmy owl and thorn-tailed rayadito.
Day 11; March 25th
Today we leave Torres del Paine and cross the windswept steppes of Patagonia to the island of Tierra del Fuego. Crossing on the ferry to Tierra del Fuego we have a good chance of seeing the striking black and white Commerson’s dolphin. On the island we go in search of Chilean flamingo, upland and ruddy-headed geese, coscoroba swan, tawny-throated dotterel and chocolate-vented tyrant. Thousands of waders including Wilson’s phalarope and white-rumped sandpiper feed in the wetlands along the roadside. In addition to looking for wildlife we enjoy the stark beauty of this open country.
Day 12; March 26th
Today we explore Useless Bay, looking for a variety of seabirds, including flightless and flying steamer-ducks, kelp goose, king, imperial and rock cormorants, and dolphin gull. This afternoon we visit a small king penguin colony. King penguins were considered accidental visitors to the South American mainland until 2009 when some birds established a colony. Their numbers have increased year upon year, and in 2012 the colony produced chicks for the first time.
Day 13; March 27th
After a leisurely breakfast we transfer to the International Airport for our flights home, or continue on to the Easter Island extension.