Capture Stunning Images of Extraordinary Alpine and Glacial Landscapes—and Wildlife, Too!
Day 1: El Calafate, Argentina
Arrive in El Calafate, where we meet our Expedition Leader and enjoy a welcome dinner this evening. Our leader, an outstanding South American nature photographer, will provide an orientation to our itinerary with an overview of the photography highlights that lie ahead.
Day 2: La Leona Petrified Forest / El Chalten
We spend today traversing the broad expanse of the Patagonian steppe that sprawls northeast from El Calafate. Along our drive, there are possibilities for great shots of Lago Argentino, several broad river valleys and the panorama of the Southern Andes and Mount Fitz Roy. At La Leona Petrified Forest, we take a hike through fossilized remnants of a warm, humid prehistoric Patagonia. We'll see enormous tree trunks that date back millions of years, heaps of fossilized broken bones, and occasionally whole leg bones of large reptiles, some of which are still in the process of being identified. Wind and water erosion occur rapidly, so each season we encounter new surprises. Continuing to El Chalten, we arrive in the small alpine-themed town known as the Trekking Capital of Patagonia.
Day 3: Lago del Desierto
Today, we begin with a scenic drive from El Chalten through Los Glaciares National Park, a protected area and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Passing through the forest along Rio de las Vueltas, we reach Lago del Desierto, a vibrant turquoise lake perched among glaciers, waterfalls and the Fitz Roy and Torre mountains that offers an ideal spot for capturing exquisite landscape shots. While cruising across Lago del Desierto via excursion boat, we are able to photograph the expansive range of the Huemul and Creston glaciers. Upon reaching Glaciar Vespignani Reserve, we disembark for a short hike that traverses atop the rocks that comprise the moraine. Upon reaching the base of Vespignani Glacier, we pause to capture idyllic images of the imposing north face of Mount Fitz Roy towering above us. Vespignani Glacier is one of 48 outlet glaciers that flow down from a nearly 6,500-square-mile mass of ice known as the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. After taking a bounty of photos near the glacier, we hike back down and then return to El Chalten. Tonight we enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the modest, hospitable restaurants that abound in this charming town.
Day 4: El Chalten—Mount Fitz Roy Vista Hike / El Calafate
On this day, we set out on a scenic hike through the Magellanic forest north of El Chalten, stopping along the gently rolling trail to capture memorable images of the stunning glaciers and dramatic granite spires of Mount Fitz Roy. Hiking above the Rio Blanco, we move toward the Mirador Piedras Blancas, listening for the distinctive groan of glaciers as they slowly slide down the mountains, grinding against the bedrock beneath. The final viewpoint rewards our efforts with panoramic vistas before we retrace our steps back downhill, pausing to take advantage of the trail's plentiful photo opportunities. This afternoon we return to El Calafate for dinner and another stay at the Hotel Kosten Aike.
Day 5: Lago Argentino—Perito Moreno Glacier
This morning, we enjoy birdwatching on Patagonia’s largest freshwater lake, which is fed by several rivers sourced from melting glaciers. More than 40 photogenic bird species frequent Lago Argentino, including black-necked swans, flamingos and silvery grebes. Our next destination is among Patagonia’s most famous natural wonders: Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the few advancing glaciers on the planet. This nearly 200-foot glacier winds down from the Andean snowfields to Lago Argentino, where it fills the azure waters with massive floating icebergs. We’ll do some light hiking in the area to capture varied perspectives of this rugged natural grandeur.
Day 6: Upsala Glacier Cruise/Estancia Cristina
We cruise by catamaran across Lago Argentino to Upsala Glacier, which fills a large valley with a dramatic blue face nearly five miles across. Unlike Perito Moreno, this glacier is retreating rapidly, leaving behind a scattered collection of isolated ice floes. We disembark at Estancia Cristina, an early 20th-century sheep farm where the traditional gaucho way of life once prevailed. After a classic lunch of lamb roasted on a spit, we board 4-wheel-drive vehicles to reach a scenic lookout where we stop to photograph the surrounding peaks and sparkling Lago Argentino below.
Day 7: Torres del Paine National Park
Driving across pampas and steppe, we enter Chile and Torres del Paine National Park. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, beautiful and pristine, the park is home to a host of wildlife, including pumas and guanacos. A remarkable array of birds lives here, too: we may get photos of eagles, hawks, lesser rheas, buzzards and South American condors returned from the brink of extinction. Dominating the horizon are the famous "horns and towers of Paine," igneous rock spires millions of years old.
Renowned EcoCamp Patagonia offers low-impact luxury in the wilderness. Our domed suites are modeled on traditional Kawesqa
native huts, blending artfully with the wild landscape. Warm and wind-resistant, these nomad-style dwellings afford superlative views and an unparalleled immersion in nature. There are plenty of hours ahead to capture photos of this stunning landscape. During the southern summer, the sun sets around 11 pm, offering magical evening light by which to photograph the furry guanacos grazing on the steppe and the mythical-looking peaks on the horizon, bathed in the alpenglow of a late sunset.
Day 8: Torres del Paine—Salto Grande
Our day begins early with a drive to the southern part of Torres del Paine National Park, as we watch overhead for Andean condors and eagles hunting hares and small rodents. Our main destinations today are the most famous viewpoints on this astounding range. During our traverse of the park, we'll survey the snow-clad massif of Paine Grande, highest in the range, and Los Cuernos, famed for their dark granite horn-like spires. On a calm day, brilliant blue Lake Pehoe reflects the serrated peaks like a mirror. We follow its shoreline to Salto Grande Falls, a thunderous cataract pouring into the lake from Lake Nordenskjold above. After a full day of exceptional scenic grandeur, a hearty dinner is served back at EcoCamp.
Day 9: Torres del Paine—Puma Tracking / Laguna Azul
Travel to the eastern side of the park this morning to follow the sendero de la fauna
—the animals' trail—so dubbed for the many guanacos we often see along the way. It winds through a favorite puma hunting area where we may see the remains of camelids that the big, tawny cats have preyed upon. "Puma" is what the Incas called this animal that's also known as a cougar or mountain lion. High rock formations flank the path, serving as dwellings and lookout points for the pumas. While these stealthy cats are notoriously elusive, we have been seeing more of them in the past couple of seasons, and we'll hope to further that luck today on a nature walk through territory they are known to frequent regularly.
Then, if time permits, we’ll visit a nearby cave with ancient paintings decorating the walls, mostly representing guanacos. Our day continues with a drive to Laguna Azul in the northern part of the park, where on a clear day we can get photos of the iconic Towers of Paine from a completely different angle. Before we return to our camp, we stop at Cascada Paine to capture images of one of the most beautiful views on this side of the park.
Day 10: Puerto Natales / Punta Arenas
Our grand adventure continues as we set out for one of the southernmost cities in the world, Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. Along our leisurely drive, we'll stop for lunch and exploration time in Puerto Natales, an attractive town on Ultima Esperanza Sound that serves as a gateway for trips into Chilean Patagonia. From town one can see the Riesco Mountain Range, the Paine Massif
and the Southern Ice Field glaciers, while in the foreground, black-necked swans and gulls bob on the often-misty
waters of the sound. Once we reach Punta Arenas, we gather for dinner at a restaurant near the town's main square.
Day 11: Magdalena Island Penguin Colony
A thrilling photo opportunity is in store today as we visit one of the largest penguin colonies in South America. We travel by Zodiac across the Strait of Magellan to uninhabited Magdalena Island, where thousands of Magellanic penguins come to breed each summer. We'll capture all their antics with our cameras, watching them waddle and fall flat on their faces as they negotiate obstacles on land. Yet they are agile swimmers, remarkably graceful in the water. En route we may also see sea lions that inhabit nearby Marta Island. Our Patagonia sojourn concludes in Punta Arenas, where we enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate all we have seen and experienced.
Day 12: Punta Arenas / Depart
A transfer to the airport in Punta Arenas is provided for homeward flights.
Please Note: This itinerary is meant as a guideline and can change due to the unpredictable nature of the wind and weather in Patagonia. On some occasions conditions may require us to deviate from our intended itinerary, in which case we will provide the best available alternative. And we'll make a great adventure of it!
Physical Rating: Moderate