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In the Shadow of the Torres - finding puma in Chilean Patagonia


pomkiwi

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This report covers my trip to Patagonia between May 12th and 20th 2024. I'll start the report during the trip partly to make sure I actually do write it and partly because we have nights that are over 15 hours long and I can only fill so much of that time eating and drinking....

 

I'll start with a few practicalities.

I booked the puma tracking part of the trip with Far South, the company that @Tonyq used on his recent trip to Chile - with thanks to him for such an inspiring trip report. I arranged my own travel and returned to the Singular Hotel in Puerto Natales where I last  stayed in 2012 for 3 days before the puma portion started. Normally Far South provide transfers to and from Punta Arenas with the trip but were happy to pick me up from Puerto Natales. They were responsive to my questions and provided a good information pack and including guidance on clothing and cameras etc.

 

International flights were from London to Buenos Aires with Lufthansa via Frankfurt connecting to LATAM for Santiago, all sold by Lufthansa. All went well apart from a suggested schedule change that involved a self-transfer between the the two airports in Buenos Aires, 20 minutes on the phone to Lufthansa sorted the obvious alternative of a connection in the same airport which was shorter. I've no idea why I had to sort this out rather than it being done automatically but as always it pays to know your alternatives. I booked a room in the airport hotel at Santiago even though my planned arrival was around 2pm as I didn't want to rely on a short connection to a domestic flight - as it turned out a 90 minute delay arriving would have made it very stressful.

 

The airport Holiday Inn is welcoming and comfortable and i enjoyed a good meal there. I've no idea about breakfast as i was back in the airport by 4am for my 6am flight to Punta Arenas - not as bad as it sounds as the time difference made it feel like mid-morning in the UK.

 

Domestic fllghts were with LATAM. Some suggestions: 

Firstly if booking yourself do so via the local website (in this case Chile) as the fares at about 50% cheaper. Despite some internet reports otherwise I had no problems using a UK credit card and checking in with a UK (as opposed to Chilean) passport. Although everything is in Spanish, if you register in LATAM app you can manage your flights in English and you will be alerted of any changes.

 

Secondly allow some leeway as LATAM seems to change its schedules regularly and often only a few weeks ahead of time - possible consolidating under booked services. Although the changes are usually only an hour or two either way it helps if your plans can accommodate them.

 

Thirdly seriously consider investing some of the savings made by booking through the Chilean website in premium economy seats. Reasons are that the these fares are completely flexible, you get more space as the middle seat in the row of three is left vacant and you get a cabin baggage allowance of one 16kg bag plus a handbag/small rucksac. I never saw any checks of premium economy passengers but quite lot of economy pax were made to check their cabin bags (some fares do not include cabin baggage and those that do have a lower weight limit) - for anyone carrying significant amouts of photographic equipment this justifies premium economy in itself.

 

Fourthly when flying south to Punta Arenas you want a window seat on the left as you may get views of a number of volcanoes, Mt Fitzroy in Argentina and the Torres del Paine if the weather plays ball - truly a scenic flight. On the way north go for a window seat on the right.

 

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Mt Fitzroy in Argentinian Patagonia

 

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Torres del Paine, the pilot changed the course slightly to give us a close view, as he remarked, 'Those on the right hand side can look at the Torres del Paine and those of the left side can watch them looking'.

 

Packing:

Temperatures in the first 4 days here have ranged between -5 and +6, mainly calm but occasionally noticeably breezy - nothing like the wind that can occur especially in the summer. Rain and/or snow are almost certain - they had qite a heavy snowfall on the day before I arrived but nothing since and it is looking dry for the next few days (at the moment).  In summary bring layers with a good windproof and waterproof outer shell. Good and warm walking boots are essential. The good news is that even in somewhat smarter places it is completely acceptable to be in your walking clothing in the evening.

 

Photographic equipment. Difficult to predict but I think this is an ideal trip for zoom lenses as the wildlife is mobile and my be distant or very close - today we walked to within a couple of metres of an eagle feeding on the road. The sheer scale of the landscape makes telephoto zoom lenses useful for that as well as the more usual wide angle approach. My chosen kit is a Nikon Z9 with 180-600 attached and a Z6ii with 24-200 zoom. I do have a 1.4 T/C but our guide seems optimistic that it won't be needed. My indulgence was to bring a 20mm f/1.8 for some night skies. Although I missed the weekend aurora in a plane over the Atlantic I have had two good sessions here of milky way photography. Bring spare batteries - both because the cold may reduce their life but also because the landscape alone will almost certainly keep the shutter active.

 

Currency - everywhere seems to accept credit cards for everything. I have Chilean Pesos for tipping as this is apparently much easier for Chilean staff.

 

Hopefully that's given a good background guide - please ask if I've forgotten anything.

 

I'll move on the an account of the first day or two next.

Edited by pomkiwi
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You set a high bar @pomkiwi in starting your trip report early in the trip!     Lucky you to get such good views and photos of Torres del Paine.

 

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Getting to Patagonia

 

The threat of strike action at Heathrow (lifted the day before I left) and the train drivers work to rule meant i left for my 4pm flight to Frankfurt earlier than was necessary. As it turned out all went smoothly and I had an uneventful (and auroraless flights to Frankfurt and onward to Buenos Aires). In Buenos Aires my 4 hour stopover became nearly 6 but the journey into Santiago was smooth with some good views of the Andes:

 

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Immigration and customs were smooth (just remember to declare any food you bring into Chile - even wrapped items such as biscuits or chocolate). It was only a 5 minute walk to the hotel and after a couple of circuits of the rather nice raised outdoor walkways linking the terminals (with a few glimpses of the mountains) an early dinner and bed.

Self check-in at 4am the next day was unsurprisingly quiet and my flight south left on time. Unfortunately my window was not particular clean on the outside but I did manage good views of a succession of volcanoes and the southern Patagonian icefield:

 

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The approach into Punta Arenas involved a turn over the sea witht he low sun creating an almost surreal effect:

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I was met by a driver from the hotel and driven the 3 hours north west to Puerto Natales. The general theme of this area is summed up by the fact that I travelled through the province of Ultimo Esperanza (Last Hope) on the Ruta del Fin del Mundo (Route of the End of the World). There was a lot of snow on the ground and during the drive I got good sightings of condor, rhea, southern caracara and guanacco - unfortunately there was no way to stop and get photographs.

 

Finally I arrived at my hotel some 54 hours after leaving home - it is a long way to the end of the world....

 

 

Edited by pomkiwi
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The aerial shots are unreal and so is 54 hours of traveling!  Thanks for the hint to declare any chocolate one might have packed.  Looking forward to the rest of the report!

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11 minutes ago, Atravelynn said:

The aerial shots are unreal and so is 54 hours of traveling!  Thanks for the hint to declare any chocolate one might have packed.  Looking forward to the rest of the report!

To be fair the 54 hours did include 14 hours or so at the Santiago airport hotel!

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54 hours and you were flying from London too! at least you had a bit of rest in Santiago. 

Very useful info and details in the introductory summary that will be most helpful to us next year!

 

Stunning views from the plane that promise an equally stunning TR. Did you take the photos with the camera? 

 

Looking forward to all the instalments!

Edited by Kitsafari
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Wow amazing that you started your trip report WHILE on the trip, that may be a first for SafariTalk!  I'm impressed :)

 

And also excited because I'm following in your footsteps in the fall, as you know!  In fact as you've advised I had our Chilean agent book our domestic flights on LATAM--it was much cheaper than booking them myself--and Premium Economy for the same reasons you mention (that extra carry on weight is crucial for the camera gear.) But I'll need to check which side of the plane our seats are on :)  And we are also planning on booking that airport Holiday Inn, although I haven't done that yet.   Update--just checked and our seats are on the left both ways. That's okay.

 

Anyway can't wait to follow along in your adventure. 

Edited by janzin
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7 hours ago, Kitsafari said:

54 hours and you were flying from London too! at least you had a bit of rest in Santiago. 

Very useful info and details in the introductory summary that will be most helpful to us next year!

 

Stunning views from the plane that promise an equally stunning TR. Did you take the photos with the camera? 

 

Looking forward to all the instalments!

Thanks @Kitsafari The pictures coming into Santiago were with my iPhone as I couldn’t be bothered to unpack the camera. The flight to Punta Arenas I used a mixture, the camera and with 24-200 was definitely better for zoomed in shots while both seemed pretty equal for wide angle views. If only I could have got outside and cleaned the window!
It’s close to 4 hours with amazing views all the way - worthy having a play.

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@pomkiwia great start.I am very impressed that you have started your report while still on your trip!

Excellent photos from the plane, and good practical advice for people.

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Thanks for sharing these stunning landscape photos. Looking forward to hearing more about your trip.

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Fabulous photography from the plane! Almost as if you opened a window and stuck the camera out.

Can't wait to see Puma.

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michael-ibk

Excellent start, I really appreciate all the practical helpful details!

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