Tag Archives: Whale Watching

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

If you’re a wildlife fanatic like me, the variety of magnificent creatures to be found in Patagonia makes it the ideal place for an outdoor adventure. From the apex predator: the Andean puma, to the gargantuan humpback whale, with a whole plethora of weird and wonderful birds and mammals in between. During my trip to Patagonia in April 2016, I was thrilled by sighting five pumas in one day, 34 humpback whales in two days, not to mention scuttling hairy armadillos, snuffly hog nosed skunks, hilariously clumsy penguins, and magnificent birds of prey.

Another bonus is that there is nothing too creepy or dangerous down in Patagonia either – even the pumas regard us humans as rather insignificant: neither a threat nor a meal! There are no dangerous snakes or spiders, and very few mosquitos.

So here’s a quick rundown of my top 5 wildlife experiences in Patagonia. I hope it fuels your love for Patagonia as much as it has mine, and inspires you to go out there and see it for yourself!

1 – The big hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus Villosus)

The hairy armadillo has been a long term obsession of mine – I had never seen any sort of armadillo before, and have been totally fascinated by the hairy Patagonian variety. It was my dream to spot one on this trip, and during my stay at a luxury lodge just outside of El Calafate, it became a reality. Just 10-20 metres stroll from the hotel, amongst the scrub land, a sudden scuttle could be heard on the other side of a bush. I dashed across to see what it was, and just a strange hairy yet armoured tail could be seen disappearing into the bush. I waited it out, and a few minutes later, this little guy appeared to greet me…

With a degree of caution at first, he sidled out of his cosy looking burrow, snuffling around for juicy bugs. Finally, he emerged fully, and walked up to me within about half a metre. They have terrible eyesight and I don’t think he even realised I was there!

2 – The Andean puma (Puma Concolor)

I’ve been a total big cat nut for as long as I can remember, and although I’ve been lucky to spot lions, cheetahs, leopards and caracals in South Africa, spotting pumas in Patagonia is a totally different experience. They are very elusive creatures, that are both solitary and magnificently well camouflaged against the sand coloured rocks and earth of the Patagonian landscape.

I only had two days (which in Puma tracking terms really only meant one evening and one morning) with an expert guide to try and spot one. Knowing how hard it can be to track them down, I didn’t set my expectations too high. The first afternoon/ evening was spent exploring the private land of Estancia Laguna Amarga. It was not until we returned back to the ranch just before dark, that someone came dashing in to say that a female with two cubs had just walked right past the estancia on the other side of the road! Unfortunately they had sloped off into the darkness by the time we had arrived, but it gave us new hope for the next day.

Departing in the pitch black early the next morning, we reached Laguna Amarga in time for sunrise. After exploring for a few hours we had almost given up (the pumas head for their siesta around 10am), when all of a sudden my guide reached for his binoculars; he had spotted a female with two young cubs, making their way up the ridge to our left. Then, just five minutes down the road, another female, this time with one older cub. I could not believe my luck to have seen five pumas in ten minutes! It spoke volumes though about the expertise of our local guides, and the health of the puma population of Torres del Paine. Two females with cubs sharing the same territory is a very encouraging sign. I left feeling extremely fortunate, and full of hope for the future of these pumas.

3 – The humpback whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

Whales are a particular favourite marine species of mine, I’m fascinated by their mystery: their sheer size, their intriguing songs and apparent sense of family bonds / community.

After eight hours navigating the choppy waters of the Magellan Strait in a small but fairly comfortable boat, I was pleased to make it to the more sheltered waters of the Barbara Channel. Here, a family of around 10 humpback whales were gathered and could be observed several at a time, blowing clouds of spray into the air, and showing off their dorsal fins and tail flukes.

The following day, in the same channel, we were surrounded almost constantly by the sounds of exhalations of water, tail flukes slapping the water, and occasionally the humongous crash of a full grown humpback leaping elegantly out of the water, and disappearing gracefully (with a huge splash!) beneath the surface again.

Humpback numbers have been increasing in these waters year on year, since whaling was banned. Many of the same individuals return each summer to feed in these calm and fruitful channels – I saw more than 30 individuals across those two days. Read more on Whale Watching in Patagonia.

4 – The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

At Tucker Islets during my cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, I got to experience the sheer comedy value of Patagonia’s Magellanic penguins. Waddling around seemingly aimlessly, going for a quick dip in the icy water, sunbathing to warm up afterwards and clearly bickering with one another, these penguins quickly had me hooked!

We were able to sail around a network of small islands in the Chilean Fjords, in small zodiac boats, and although we were not able to disembark and walk among the penguins (the islands are protected), you get within feet of them as they waddle along the shore line.

5 – Birds

There were so many unusual shapes, sizes, breeds, colours, and behaviours of bird to discover in Patagonia.

I was particularly keen to see was the Magellanic woodpecker, and whilst casually hiking through the Nothofagus forests in the Los Glaciares National Park, I was stopped in my tracks by the sound of tapping. I looked up and just a metre from my head, there was the gorgeous red and black woodpecker, busily tapping away at the tree trunk!

Not far from here, I also saw a gorgeous pair of vibrantly colourful Austral parakeets, all loved up and chirping away in the treetops above me.

I also spotted this majestic chimango caracara perched in a dead tree scouting for a dinner of mice.

Other wonderful creatures I met along the way included skunks, flamingos, guanacos, condors, sea lions, sea birds such as cormorants, albatross and geese, red and grey foxes and rheas. All in all, an incredible wildlife lover’s adventure that I will cherish forever, and would recommend to anyone who appreciates nature at its wildest.

In three weeks, I visited some of Patagonia’s most iconic sights including a visit to Perito Moreno glacier (where I did an ice-hike) and horse-riding on the Patagonian steppe. I kayaked and cruised my way along some beautiful stretches of water and of course I visited the iconic towers of Torres del Paine, witnessing the most amazing sunrises and sunsets. Read more about my incredible Patagonian adventure.

Get in touch with Swoop who can help you make your wildlife adventure dreams a reality and browse the wealth of wildlife information we have on our website.

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

In Spring 2016 Harriet, Chloe and Sally will be downing tools and heading to Patagonia. Regular trips like these ensure we stay close to our roots and maintain our in-depth knowledge of the region. We test out new trips, visit new parks, hike new routes and eat in new restaurants – all in the name of research, of course.

Harriet – Trekking, Mountaineering & Aysen Specialist

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On a Swoop recce to Reserva Cerro Castillo in 2015

I am focusing all three weeks of my trip on the little visited Aysen region of Chile. I am planning to follow the spine of the Andes from north to south: trekking from Lago Verde to Lago Palena, visiting the Queulat National Park, sightseeing and relaxing on the Lago General Carrera. The final week of my Aysen adventure will be spent in the Patagonia Park, getting to know the various treks and day hikes there.

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The Autumn colours of Aysen

I am very excited about the Patagonia Park. It’s an area that is receiving a large amount of coverage in the press at the moment, because of its link with the late Doug Tompkins, The North Face founder. I know a particular corner of Aysen fairly well, as in 2002 I spent 3 weeks in the Tamango Reserve volunteering on a biodiversity study.

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Admiring Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) in Queulat in 2010

The Tamango Reserve is now to be integrated into the New Patagonia National park. I am very keen for Swoop to be able to offer some new and exciting adventures within the national park and only by getting into the area and exploring it with our local partners will I be able to truly understand what I am offering our customers.

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Pedalling towards Lago General Carrera in 2010

The trek between Lago Verde and Lago Palena is reported to be one of the best in Aysen. I first discovered the trek on a friend’s blog, as the photos he took are absolutely incredible. I am entranced by the apparently enchanted forests and what looks like some great streams to swim in, but also the apparent remoteness and tranquility. I can’t wait to experience it for myself.

Chloe – Wildlife & Cruise Specialist

Prepping for the Patagonian winds on the Devonshire coast

My first ever trip to Patagonia – I’m SO excited! As Swoop’s cruise and wildlife specialist, I’m starting off with a 4 night ‘Wildlife, Glaciers and Cape Horn‘ cruise through the Chilean Fjords from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (pronounced ‘oosh – why – ah’). I will be heading out on a number of excursions to see glaciers and wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Penguins of Isla Magdalena

My next stop will be the mountain town of El Chalten, where I’ll take a 2 day hike to Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre and go rafting, before heading to El Calafate for an ice hike on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

Next – the absolute highlight for me – a Humpback Whale Watching trip in Chile, where I’ll be spending three days studying the whales that congregate in the waters of the Magellan strait from my base at an eco research camp on Carlos III Island.

Breaching humpback Whale off Carlos III Island

On the final leg of the trip I’ll be venturing to the famous Torres del Paine National Park to hike the W Trek, and try out some of the park’s hotels, eco yurt camps and luxury lodges.

The famous Towers or ‘Torres’ of Paine

Sally – Lake District & Bespoke Trip Specialist

Sally Lago Nordenskjold (1)

The flights are booked but unlike Chloe, there is really only a loose plan as to how I’ll be spending my 21 nights! One thing that is for sure though is that I am just as excited.

I absolutely love Chile and having spent so much time there over the years it always feels like going home. On this trip I will have the opportunity to visit the new Tantauco Park in the southern part of Chiloe Island. It’s a private park of 118,000 hectares with a new network of hiking refugios, virgin forests, exquisite bird life and wonderful flora.

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The Bay of Ancud, Chiloe Island

I am utterly obsessed with Chiloe Island. It is charming, quaint, relaxing, captivating, intoxicating – time simply slows down. Whenever I visit, I am always filled with the sensation that I simply just don’t want to leave. As I was on the ferry leaving the island after my last visit I wrote a few words in my diary…

There is something about Chiloe that grabs me every time I visit, it sounds silly but something reaches deep down inside and touches my soul. It fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction for having been here, experiencing the tranquility, calmness and simplicity to life. Thank you Chiloe.

I simply can’t wait to discover this new part of the island.

For the second part of my trip I am hoping to white water raft down the mighty Futaleufu river, then cross into Argentina to either hike, kayak or mountain bike (or all 3!), using the small town of San Martin de Los Andes as my base.

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If we’ve inspired you with our passion for Patagonia and you’re interested in any of the trips or activities on which we’re embarking, then we’d love to hear from you to help you plan your incredible adventure. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at our Itinerary Selector to help you decide what sort of trip might suit you best.

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Eddie’s El Chalten experience

Eddie’s El Chalten experience

Eddie returned in March 2016 from a trip to Patagonia where he visited Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine national parks, cruised through the Chilean fjords and glaciers, and was fortunate enough to spot 40 whales on a Whale Watching trip! Here he talks about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop.

Eddie’s Feedback:

I cannot really fault anything- the way that Swoop and their partners organised the experience, the people I met, and the places I went to were just amazing. I would visit again in a heartbeat.
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Eddies Itinerary

Eddie started his journey in El Calafate where he stayed in the Hotel Kosten Aike. His first day was spent on an excursion to the impressive Perito Moreno glacier. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESNext was some group treks to Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre, where he took in some incredible views of Fitz Roy.
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Then he spent a couple of days based from an Eco Yurt Camp in Torres del Paine, choosing  from their various excursions and activities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEddie then spent four days whale watching, travelling through the Magellan Strait to Carlos III Island – a great trip where you can see penguins, birdlife, whales and sea lions a plenty.

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Finally, he took an Adventure Cruise cruise to Ainsworth Bay & Tucker Islets, Pia Glacier & Glacier Alley  ending with a trip to Cape Horn and Wulaia Bay.

How was your trip overall and how did you find your itinerary?

What can I say but well organised and what a treat! The whole experience was more than I could have anticipated, people who I will always remember, Zoe, Pablo, Nicholas In El Chalten where I fell and cut my hand on the second day of walking great people. THANKS TO ALL OF THEM.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow was your adventure cruise?

The cruise was as I expected, very well organised perfect staff and food, the outings were brilliant, walks and activities for all levels of fitness.

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I sat on table 6 & met two lovely people and a French family. Everybody were great, with like minds, nice company.

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On the final night there was an auction for the navigation map, signed by the Captain, I was determined to have it and outbid all others, the chart is now being framed and will be in a point of prominence in my lounge.

How was your whale watching trip

The Whale Watching was incredible, be saw over 40 whales in just 3 days!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The campsite was rather tired, and the platform on the entrance to my ‘yurt’ had some rotten wood, but this was quickly forgotten when out amongst the whales!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESInterested in doing a similar trip? Get in touch with us today to find out more.