Patagonia Wildlife 2017

Wildlife Mad Travellers’ search for Pumas!

Just a few months before this trip we were walking with polar bears, this next adventure would see us returning to Patagonia for our first serious attempt at seeing a wild puma.

 

Pumas, more commonly known in North America as cougars or mountain lions, are usually a secretive cat, but in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park some of the park’s 50 puma population have become habituated to humans allowing people to watch them hunt, eat and sleep. There are never any absolute guarantees with wildlife viewing, however, Patagonia’s pumas are gaining a reputation as being the next virtually guaranteed big cat experience. It wasn’t long ago that jaguars were thought to be elusive and difficult for your average Joe to view in the wild, but the Pantanal can and did deliver amazing jaguar sightings for us. Could Torres del Paine National Park live up to the hype and deliver our first puma sighting? Read on to find out…

Overview of our Patagonia wildlife adventure

Following our successful Naturetrek Just Jaguars tour we decided to book their Just Pumas tour, we also added some extras to see Andean condors, king penguins and humpback whales so our itinerary was as follows:

 

Day 1 - Flight from UK direct (non-stop) to Santiago

Day 2 - Arrived Santiago and flew on to Punta Arenas arriving in the evening

Day 3 – Tour to Olga Teresa Ranch to view Andean Condor roost site and in the evening we joined the Just Puma tour

Day 4 – We were driven to Torres Del Paine National Park to stay at Hotel Pehoe for the next six nights

Day 5 to Day 9 – Puma trekking and tracking

Day 10 – returned to Punta Arenas for our last night with the Just Puma group

Day 11 – We took a 12 minute flight from Punta Arenas across the Straits of Magellan to visit Useless Bay to see king penguins

Day 12 – After a day exploring some of Tierra del Fuego we returned by ferry to Punta Arenas

Day 13 – We joined Whalesound for a three day adventure by boat to Carlos III Island to look for humpback whales at Francisco Coloane Marine Park

Day 14 – Morning and afternoon whale watching

Day 15 – Boat trip back to Punta Arenas

Day 16 – We started our journey home via Santiago

Day 17 – We arrived home

Weather

Torres del Paine is one of those places that you can say “if you don’t like the current weather wait 10 minutes and it’ll change”! Rain & snow are possible any time of the year, but March and April are the peak months for precipitation… our visit was during March.

 

Windy weather is virtually guaranteed at some point during a visit to the park and can reach up to 100mph, literally strong enough to knock you of your feet! With the strong west-to-east air currents caused by the combination of air being displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole, the Earth's rotation and with few landmasses to serve as windbreaks, the Roaring Forties & Furious Fifties are born – the park’s latitude is 51 degrees.

 

Those winds are the reason why the weather is so unpredictable, so by the time you have put on your waterproofs the sun may be back out again! For a guide on likely temperatures, the average high & low for March range between 13C and 4C (56F and 39F), but depending on where you are in the park the winds can make it feel a lot colder.

 

Sunrise was around 7:40am and sunset was around 8:20pm during our March visit.

 

We were fortunate with the weather we experienced, most of the windy weather happened over night and we only had one part of a morning that we were grateful for our waterproofs.

Camera Equipment

For this trip we took both our 7D MII’s & their 100-400mm MII lenses (including Alan’s 1.4x extender III, which we removed after the first day of Puma viewing) plus the 7D MI & its 15-85mm lens (for landscape shots). We also took our Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and the new head Manfrotto MHXPRO-2W (to help improve Liz’s videography). Alan used his new monopod Manfrotto 679B with a new Manfrotto 234RC head.

 

I used my lowepro camera bag with its chest harnesses to allow me to hike with my arms free on one occasion. But mostly we hiked with our cameras round our necks ready to take shots.

 

We also took our lens/camera covers to help protect against rain, which we really needed for the one Puma sighting and for the whale watching portion of our trip.

Pre-tour Preparation

As with all our trips we think ahead of the trip and start gathering up together the essentials to reduce the chances of last minute panics when something can’t be found!

 

The unpredictable weather suits a layered approach and the following were the items we considered essential before we did the trip (with some comments on whether they actually proved themselves essential!)

 

 

Feet

 

Waterproof Hiking Boots - ankle support essential - wore every day!

 

Second pair of shoes/boots - wore in Punta Arenas and evenings.

 

Medium-weight synthetic socks with cushioned soles - essential

 

Liner socks - added warmth for out on the boat.

 

 

Legs

 

Synthetic underwear

 

Long thermal leggings (1 pair just in case it was really cold) - wore on the boat.

 

Trousers (craghoppers) with lots of pockets - we also took a pair of fleece lined pair of trousers that were great for the windy days & out on the boat.

 

Waterproof trousers (more pockets) - wore on our rainy morning & out on the boat.

 

 

Upper body

 

Base layers (synthetic fabric to help draw perspiration away from the body) both long and short sleeves.

 

Thermal base layer (1 pair just in case it was really cold) - used out on the boat.

 

Insulating layer (1 thin fleece and 1 medium fleece) - we wore both the thin & medium fleeces but not together.

 

Rain & wind proof layer - rain jacket is essential for windproofing!

 

 

Hands

 

Thin gloves - wore in the mornings & on windy days.

 

Waterproof gloves - wore out on the boat.

 

 

Head & neck

 

Buffs (thermal & thin buffs) - wore both.

 

Hat (woollen hat & baseball cap) - wore both.

 

Sunglasses

 

 

Other ‘essential’ items

 

Binoculars - didn't use as we had our cameras with us at all times.

 

Day pack for hiking and storing those layers! - essential.

 

Sunscreen/lip balm

 

Dry bags / Ziploc bags

 

Camera covers

Just Pumas Tour Review

This summary review covers only the Naturetrek ‘Just Pumas’ tour. We have reviewed the ‘add-ons’ to the tour (condors, king penguins & whales) within the main trip report itself – for the full report, photos & videos see the links further down this page.

 

The Just Pumas tour included 6 nights in Torres del Paine National Park giving us 5 full days of potential puma viewings and one night either side in Punta Arenas to aid with travelling in and out of the region.

 

There were 6 guests on the tour (including us) all couples. Age range from 35 to 75 years old.

 

Our tour guide was Sebastian Saiter – a local guide that was very familiar with the area and very knowledgeable of the local wildlife. Our driver, Cesar, was very considerate of our more elderly group members (he was also a good fun!). Our tracker was Jorge, an American, he had good knowledge of the pumas’ history and gave us excellent advice during the puma viewing, getting us in the right places at the right times to ensure we got awesome sightings without disturbing the natural behaviour of the cats.

 

The accommodation was fine (see photos in main trip report). In general the food was a little bland, but perfectly edible. Both hotels had hairdryers, although they were lacklustre in power, so if you have thick, long hair, you may wish to bring a hairdryer with you! If you can get hold of a three pin Type N adaptor this was the type of socket in all rooms, but two pin (plug type C) should also work in the three pin sockets. Note there are two types of European adopters, make sure you get the thinner pins of the two types.

 

Travel to, around and back from Torres del Paine was in a min-bus that could have seated 15 people. The six of us were able to spread out nicely, giving us plenty of space for our gear. The majority of wildlife viewing was done on foot, there were a few occasions Cesar couldn’t safely park the vehicle, so we took a very small number of shots through the open door or window. The tour rating for walking is low, meaning easy hikes, however, it should be noted when a puma was spotted the pace of walking would quicken and there were several occasions where we walked up some steep & rocky inclines. Everyone was able to do those walks but it was a lot tougher on the two more elderly members of our group.

 

The usual pattern of the day was up & ready to head out at 6:30am, work with tracker to find puma/s. Have packed breakfast while out. Back to hotel around 11 am, packed lunch at hotel. Out again around 3pm work with tracker to find puma/s. Back to hotel around 8pm for hot dinner.

 

Overall the tour was well organised, the accommodation as described, the guide & tracker really good and the wildlife viewing excellent, we saw 15 different pumas during our 5 days in the National Park.

 

Do read the trip report (links below) for the details, photos & videos.

Trip Report

Part 1

Days 1 to 3

London to Santiago to Punta Arenas

 

Andean Condors roost site - Olga Teresa Ranch

Part 2

Days 4 to 10

Just Puma Tour Torres del Paine

Part 3

Days 11 to 12

King Penguins Useless Bay

Part 4

Days 13 to 17

Humpback Whales Magellan Straits

Comments or Questions?

If you have any questions about our Patagonia adventure or just want to say hi, please visit our contact page... please remember we are not a travel agent, we can only give you information on adventures that we have done ourselves :)

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