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Chile - Atacama Desert and Patagonia


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I have recently returned from a 12 day trip to Chile and went to both the Atacama and Patagonia. This was a family holiday with my wife and our adult daughters with a focus on being outdoors rather than specifically on wildlife. However although the main photographic interest was the stunning scenery a few animals were sighted and recorded!


We took the new direct flight with British Airways from London to Santiago and then flew up to Calama which is a mining town on the southern side of the desert. I took my Nikon D7200 but compromised on using a 18-300mm lens both for portability and to avoid too much family irritation with changing lenses etc!


We began our trip in the Atacama, staying in San Pedro which is at an altitude of 2400m. We did a number of hikes at increasing altitudes before spending a day in the altiplano at 4000m which is where we saw most of the wildlife for this section of the trip.


There was a white tailed hawk in one of the canyons lower down.



On the altiplano we saw a large Andean Fox (or Culpeo) which was hunting in the salt flat for mice - on this occasion successfully (and a kill is a kill!)








We saw a few flamingo but my lens and technique struggled to get a good picture.






We saw a family group of vicugna. These are members of the same group as llama and live between 3200m and 4800m. They are apparently highly tolerant to salt.








Finally we found a smaller fox huddilng down from the cold breeze.






I will add some images from Patagonia in my next post.



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Looking very much forward to this report from an area I've long been interested in visiting. Your photos of this rugged land are great.

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Wow. Amazing start and look forward to patagonia. Absolutely loved the fox pic in the mountain landscape - having smaller lens help us see the big picture sometimes !

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Great batch of images. High on my bucket list, so I am looking forward to seeing more.

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Thanks to all for the positive comments. I'm afraid there is not too much to be looking forward to as there was not a huge amount of wildlife sighted. I do have some further sightings from Patagonia but to tide us over I will risk the wrath of the moderators by posting a couple more of the amazing vistas in the Atacama.






The white deposits are not snow or frost - they are salt.




The pathway visible in the picture is part of the ancient Inca Trail which runs between mountains of special significance to that culture.



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"The Wrath of the Moderators" is clearly the title of the next avengers superhero movie @@pomkiwi and beautifully shot it seems

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Thanks for posting the pics of amazing landscape, with or without wildlife. High in my bucket list.

Safari literally means a journey, no mention of wildlife there. At the risk of sounding pedantic/literal and incurring the wrath of the moderators I have no prolems learning more about your "journey" even if you haven't managed to see any wildlife other than flies. Keep going.

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Emboldened by the comments and the lack of moderator disapproval I will risk continuing -although wildlife will feature a little at the end..


A last picture from the altiplano shows the salt flat and the fabulous colouration of the surrounding mountains due to the salt being blown on to them - it is so dry that it is rarely washed off.




We then flew south to Santiago and then on to Punta Arenas. This is a contender for the award of most scenic scheduled flight. Even the take off from Santiago is spectacular as you fly towrds the wall of the Andes. As the flight proceeds south it overflies active volcanoes.




Then there is the Southern Patagonia Icefield which is huge and remined me of flights over Greenland.






Punta Arenas is a long way south (although it claims to be the southernmost city in the world Wikipedia informs me there are 5 settlements further south - although all are much smaller). There is a large colony of Imperial Comorants on one of the disused jetties in the town.






Sunrise the following morning gave us one reason why Tierra del Fuego is so named.





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From Punta Arenas we drove north to Puerto Natales which is a small town on the 'Last Hope' sound.






We then headed up to the Torres del Paine national park and our hotel which was on a large estancia just north of the park. In total we had come about 300km north of Punta Arenas. Once we had packed we set off up the steep hill behind the hotel although we kept an eye on the weather which was changing by the minute.




High above we had our first sight of Andean Condors circling around the nesting site. Surprisingly this was to be our last sighting.




As we headed downhill we came across evidence of recent puma activity and Caracaras scavenging - apologies for the quality but the light was fading fast.




We were rewarded with an amazing sunset.



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While we were at the national park we hiked every day, generally around 15-20 km.

On our second day we witnessed sunrise turn the towers pink for about 90 seconds - quite spectacular.




We hiked up to the base of the towers but onward progress would have required climbing skills beyond our capabilities. The towers themselves are the remnants of a large volcanic outflow which being granite have survived the weathering of the softer rocks around them over millions of years. The whole area is like being in a geology textbook




A caracara was very relaxed around people on our descent.




The following day we spent half an hour observing a family group of guanaco. One of the group remained on the ridge acting as a sentry.




Two youngsters practiced sparring






We were told that the dominant male obtains his position by fighting his rivals which is a concept I am familiar with. What I didn't know is that the fight establishes a permanent dominance as the victor castrates the loser - this probably explains why the focus of the wrestling youngsters is so low to the ground.


Finally a reminder of the fire that burnt over 10% of the park a few years ago. Recovery is very slow and you come across large areas of skeletal trees. Fire will generally spread quickly as the wind is usually very strong - our guide told us that he quite often has to move through the spot this photo was taken on his hands and knees due to the wind - he had never seen it still before.




However regrowth is occurring slowly









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Spectacular landscapes, from the smoking, snow-capped volcano to the towers in Torres del Paine. It almost looks otherworldly.

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I am amazed at the quality of the photographs taken from the aircraft of the volcano and ice fields. What camera/lens did you use? It must have been flying very low to get that detail and the window must have been free of the usual scratches etc?


I took a similar flight earlier this year and we were flying way too high to get such detail. Thanks Pen

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@@penolva Thank-you Pen. The photos were taken using my Nikon D7200 and 18-300mm lens with the VR on. The photo of the volcano was at a focal length of 135mm and the ice-field shots at around 40-50mm. They have not been cropped. I think we were flying at the 'usual' cruising altitude of somewhere around 9000m. The subjects are massive objects - the volcano is Villarrica which is 2860m high.


I think the lack of atmospheric pollution over southern Chile helps. The windows were clean and not significantly scratched - I did polish the inside. The other thing that helps is the use of the dehaze tool in Lightroom.


I attach an original file of another volcano from the same flight:



This is the same photo with the dehaze applied:



There is a small amount of distortion from the curvature of the window in the bottom right which I would need to crop out.

Edited by pomkiwi
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Yes The dehaze tool is indeed looking more and more useful. I could do it before in photoshop but it took many clicks and use of filters , now much less work involved. I wish it was that easy when I flew over Namib desert a few years back.

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Wow thank you @@pomkiwi! Dehaze tool, that's a new one for me. Will be looking into that tomorrow. Excellent photos well done. Pen

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Before this trip I posted in the planning section that I hoped to see some puma. I didn't get to devote any serious time to this (as previously mentioned this was a family trip and other priorities existed). We did pass a few vehicles and some serious cameras by one of the roads as we were travelling and our guide told us that they often wait several hours for a brief sighting - maybe another time!


However the estancia we were staying on had regular sightings, almost certainly helped by the fact that the sheep tended to spend a lot of time around the rooms. We were there for 4 nights and a puma was seen on 3 of them - interestingly although staff were clearly nervous of the cats we were never advised to have an escort to or from our rooms - very different from Africa. We didn't see any but the closest we got was when we were sitting in our hot-tub whilst one walked past another couple in their hot tub 50m up the hill from us.


A few more scenic shots including Lago Grey and one of the icebergs that calve from the glacier at it's head.



Another caracara on the scrounge




One of the many boring sunsets.



All too soon we returned to Puerto Natales on the way home. I liked the feel of the comorants on the ruined quay when converted to black and white.






Finally a lone black-necked swan with a last view of the mountains.





Thanks for reading and for the comments and 'likes'. I promise my next report (from the Timbavati in a few weeks) will contain rather more animals and rather less scenery.

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Lovely photos, which brought back some fond memories for me. Other memories, of a different sort, are of watching one member of our walking group crawling round an exposed corner on his hands and knees, because of the wind!

What rotten luck to just miss out on seeing the puma, hope you have better luck in the Timbavati.

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Absolutely stunning scenery!! Beautiful photos

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Really lovely photos, those from TdP really bring back memories from my trip a few years ago. We also missed on the pumas as our trip wasn't wildlife focused; I guess that's a good excuse to go back! Thanks for sharing.

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You managed a few rest stops for phoitos then. :mellow: Great, great scenery and the Atacama Desert is such a photogenic place - what amazinfg colours. You really got some excellent shots, especially of the volcano. A kill too! Patagonia has never appealed as much to me personally - too European or South Island New Zealand (despite the promise of pumas) and all the exercise doesn't excite me - but it does look very beautiful.


Thanks for posting - no problem here with having scenery in reports!

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  • 1 month later...

Breathtaking scenery. Great wildlife. That castration thing seems so vicious for such cute creatures. I guess it works for them. The two locations work so well together. There must be some more, when you have time.

Edited by Atravelynn
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  • 4 weeks later...

Thank you for posting this. I was researching a possible trip to Atacama and Patagonia for 2018 and to my surprise a google search lead me to this forum. Didn't expect that. Excellent trip report, enjoyed it very much.


I am currently looking at the logistics of going from Calama to Punta Arenas. It looks like the only route is through Santiago. But the prices all seem outrageous. One way ticket around $US1300 one way for each person. Is this typical? Any advice along these lines will be great. Thank you.

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@Gilgamesh Thank-you for your kind words.  The flight options between Calama and Punta Arenas are pretty much exclusively with LAN (Sky definately go to Punta Arenas and I think Calama as well but reviews are very mixed). I'm not sure when you are looking at travelling but LAN are very poor at loading up flights until a few months before the departure dates - options increase and prices decrease typically about 4 months in advance. That being said when I try a dummy booking one way in February it is around US$900 but if I make it a return trip it falls to around $300 per person. The joys of airline economics. I would just book a return and throw away the return leg if not needed.


It is also worth comparing prices for Calama to Punta Arenas return with prices for 2 separate trips between Santiago and Calama and Santiago and Punta Arenas.  Try pricing it as a multi-city booking as well (Santiago- Calama - Punta Arenas - Santiago) assuming you will start and finish in Santiago.


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Thank you!


I hope I didn't miss this detail amongst the trip report,...did you rent a car?

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