May 3 – 10, 2023: Price TBD
Come face to face with the Americas’ most elusive major predator: the puma!
The Wild Pumas of Patagonia photo tour will take you to heart of puma country in the rugged mountains of southern Chile. You’ll have an opportunity to track wild mountain lions in their natural environment, photographing them amidst the rolling hills and dramatic peaks of the southern Andes.
Thanks to a team of expert guides and trackers, our chance to get puma photos is virtually guaranteed. Our experienced tracking team (the same people who worked with the BBC on Seven Worlds, One Planet) has become familiar with many of these cats over the years, so they have insight into the different cats’ territories and behaviors, which only increases our chances of encountering a puma in the wild.
This week-long photo tour will be based both in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and on private land bordering the park. Thanks to an agreement with the land owner, our guided tour group will have greater flexibility to explore the estancia neighboring the national park, which gives us even better chances to see and photograph pumas up close.
In addition to pumas, we’ll be on the lookout for other wildlife and landscape photo opportunities during the week. Other potential species include:
- Gray fox
- Austral Pygmy Owl
- Andean Condor
- Chilean Flamingo
- Darwin’s Rhea
- Humboldt’s Hog-Nosed Skunk
- Large Hairy Armadillo
To get a taste for what we may see, check out the following photo galleries:
Tour Participants Must Be in Good Shape!
During my 2016 and 2017 trips, we walked a lot. As much as fifty miles in a week, in fact. In 2019, we didn’t walk as much, but had to climb more hills to reach the pumas. The terrain itself is not always challenging, but sometimes we may have to hike out 2-3 miles to a cat. Shorter walks may be in the half- to one mile range, but could be up or down a grade (and then the return leg). Do that for a week straight and it adds up!
The land in this region is covered in low scrub and rolling hills. Occasionally we may be forced to go up and down steeper hillsides, some covered in pebbles or skree that make footing a little more uncertain. But overall, this is not “technical” hiking. On the other hand, we are carrying our camera gear the whole time!
Hauling big lenses over several kilometers off and on throughout the week and potentially going up and down hills requires good balance and a fair level of fitness. Anyone who joins this adventure MUST be physically fit and prepared to carry their equipment over longer distances, potentially. If we encounter a cat that allows us to follow or walk with it, participants must be able to keep up. Otherwise, you’ll only get tail photos!
On certain occasions, our guide may urge members of the group to abandon their “big” lenses in favor of lighter zoom lenses that make hiking and walking easier. It’s very important to properly assess your physical condition and know what you’re capable of hauling around both during leisurely flat walks and slightly more strenuous climbs or faster paced pursuits. If you are able to keep up with a moving cat, the photo opportunities can be incredible.
In addition to being prepared for the hilly terrain, you need to be ready for Patagonia’s autumn weather… which can be a little unfriendly at times. May is the end of the fall season, so expect cold mornings. It’s less windy than in the Patagonian summer, so we actually have a chance to have better weather in terms of photography. But it could still be cold, rainy and there’s a remote chance of early winter weather. Be prepared for cooler temps and bring your rain gear, just in case.
On the plus side, May marks the end of the tourist season. Many of the park facilities shut down, and crowds thin out considerably. There are also fewer photo tours at this time, which increases our chances of having more private encounters with the big cats! While most tours aim for March/April in hopes of seeing cubs, we still have a good opportunities to see puma families even in May. We’ll also have an opportunity to see the region decorated in beautiful fall colors, which could enhance our landscape photo opportunities.
Each of my trips to this region in May has produced more puma sightings on average than most other groups experience. I believe our timing—smaller crowds in the park and less viewing competition for pumas—has something to do with our good fortune with the cats.
Optional Extension: King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego
There is a special opportunity to visit the only breeding colony of King penguins found near the South American mainland while you are in the area. We can help arrange a one day guided excursion for you to see and photograph the small colony of these beautiful birds. There are a couple things to keep in mind should you choose to undertake this excursion:
- I will not join you (but you will have a local naturalist guide with you)
- The setting is not the best for photography, since a perimeter has been set up to minimize disturbance of the penguins. It’s also located in former pasture land, so the environment consists of a lot of dirt and grass. However, this is your best chance to photograph this species if you don’t think you’ll ever get to South Georgia or the Falklands.
- Price will depend on the number of participants, since there is a charter flight involved.
Should you wish to visit the King penguins, let me know when you make your tour inquiry.
Interested? Here’s what you need to remember:
- You must be physically fit and able to carry your camera gear over hikes ranging from 2-6 miles round trip, potentially walking up to 10 miles in a day.
- You must be comfortable scaling hills and the occasional steep slope, with trails sometimes covered in slippery pebbles or skree (again, while carrying gear).
- You will want to have a minimum of 400mm to shoot with in order to get “close” photos. Combining a long lens with a lighter more versatile zoom that’s better for steep hiking or the occasional “puma walk” when we follow an active cat is best.
- Be prepared for inclement weather: namely, frosty mornings with possible rain or wind mixed in occasionally. Torres del Paine is beautiful, but it can put you to the test in autumn!
What’s Included in the Price of Your Tour
- All guiding and transportation from hotel pick-up in Punta Arenas on Day 1 to hotel drop-off on Day 8.
- Optional photo instruction by Max
- Lodging on “Day 0” (the night before we are picked up in Punta Arenas), as well as all lodging during the tour (Days 1 – 7).
- All food on Days 1 – 7, except for breakfast on Day 1. Breakfast and lunch of Day 8 are also included.
- Park/Ranch entrance fees.
What is NOT Included in the Price of Your Tour
- Flights to/from Punta Arenas, Chile.
- Transportation to/from the airport to the hotel in Punta Arenas at the beginning and end of the trip.
- Lodging on Day 8. If you need a hotel for this night we should be able to book it at added cost.
- Alcohol/bar tabs at our hotel during the week.
- Tips for guides/trackers/drivers/hotel staff.
- Single supplement lodging fee listed below.
- Optional King penguin extension.
2023 Prices TBD
This tour is limited to 6 guests. The 2023 tour has 3 spots left. I am currently accepting refundable pre-deposits for 2023.