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Patagonia Photo Expedition

Itinerary

Day 1: El Calafate, Argentina
Arrive in El Calafate, where we meet our Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening. Our guide, an outstanding South American nature photographer, will provide an orientation to our itinerary with an overview of the many photography highlights that lie ahead.

Day 2: Lago Argentino / El Chalten
This morning, excellent bird photography opportunities await on Patagonia’s largest freshwater lake, fed by the glacial meltwater of several rivers. More than 40 migratory bird species frequent Lago Argentino, including black-necked swans, flamingos and silvery grebes. Later, we cross the broad expanse of Patagonian steppe that sprawls beyond El Calafate. Along our drive, there are possibilities for beautiful shots of sparkling Lago Argentino, vistas from several river valleys, and panoramas of the Southern Andes and Mount Fitz Roy. Continuing to El Chalten, we arrive in the small alpine-themed town known as the Trekking Capital of Patagonia.

Day 3: Mt. Fitz Roy Vista Hike
North of El Chalten, we take a scenic hike through the Magellanic subpolar forest—the southernmost forest ecosystem on Earth—emerging to magnificent mountain vistas. A gentle, rolling trail through the beech woodlands rewards our efforts a chance to get stunning photos of glaciers and the Fitz Roy massif’s evocative spires. Walking above the Rio Blanco, we hike to the Piedras Blancas lookout, offering a panorama over the glacier. Standing in silence, listen for the sound of the ice cracking and groaning as it grinds its way down the bedrock at the base of this hanging valley. After capturing some final images at our last vantage point, we retrace our steps down the trail, with more exhilarating views along the way. Tonight we enjoy dinner at one of the many hospitable restaurants in the charming mountain village of El Chalten.

Day 4: Mirador del Torre / El Calafate
Today we hike from town to a view of one of the most iconic photography subjects in Patagonia: the granite towers of Cerro Torre. A rolling trail through the valley rewards us with a stunning vista of the massif, easily identifiable by its vertical gray peaks. The highest point in the range is more than 10,000 feet, and the distinctive spires are a popular challenge for advanced rock and ice climbers. Cerro Torre itself was not successfully climbed until 1974. The surrounding glaciers, snowfields and pine-cloaked valleys provide equally glorious photo opportunities. We'll picnic with a box lunch along the way, then hike back this afternoon to the town of El Chalten, keeping an eye out for Andean condors gliding overhead. Continue to El Calafate to have dinner and spend the night.

Day 5: Los Glaciares National Park—Perito Moreno Glacier
A private boat cruise across Lago Argentino opens up dramatic photo possibilities at Perito Moreno Glacier. One of the most famous of the 48 outlet glaciers spilling from the nearly 6,500-square-mile mass of ice that comprises the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Perito Moreno terminates in an imposing blue face more than 3 miles across.This centerpiece of Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park is one of the few advancing glaciers on the planet. More than 200 feet high, it winds down from the perpetual snowfields of the Andes to its terminus in the vast lake, where it crowds the azure waters with huge floating rafts of ice that calve from its massive face.

Our adventure begins with a boat ride on the Brazo Rico, the southern arm of Lago Argentino. We disembark for a short hike along a secluded shoreline and through the forest to arrive at a photo vantage point on the southern face of Perito Moreno. Reboarding our small vessel, we get closer images of the glacier’s jagged ice walls, reflecting blue light. Back on shore, it's just a short distance to the official entrance for sightseeing at Perito Moreno, where boardwalks in the area offer varied viewpoints on the glacier and drifting icebergs.

Day 6: Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Driving across pampas and steppe, we enter Chile and Torres del Paine National Park, where we'll spend the next three days exploring. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the park is home to a host of wildlife including puma, guanaco, fox, huemule (South Andean deer) and armadillo. We find a remarkable array of birdlife here, too: look for eagles, hawks, lesser rheas, buzzards and South American condors returned from the brink of extinction. Dominating the horizon are the famous Torres del Paine—the "horns and towers of Paine"—igneous rock spires millions of years old.

A stay at renowned EcoCamp Patagonia offers low-impact luxury accommodations in the wilderness. Domed suites are modeled on traditional Kawesqa native huts, blending artfully with the wild landscape. Warm and wind-resistant, these nomad-style dwellings offer outstanding views and a complete immersion in nature. There are plenty of hours ahead to capture photos of this stunning landscape. At the height of the southern summer, the sun doesn't set till around 11 pm, offering magical evening light by which to photograph furry guanacos grazing on the steppe and the mythical-looking peaks on the horizon, bathed in rosy alpenglow.

Day 7: Lake Pehoe & Salto Grande Falls
Our day begins early with a drive to the southern part of Torres del Paine National Park, watching overhead for Andean condors and eagles hunting hares and small rodents. As we traverse the park, we stop at an array of famous viewpoints. Capture bold images of the snow-clad massif of Paine Grande, highest in the range, and Los Cuernos, famed for its 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 that pours into the lake from Lake Nordenskjold above. After a day of extraordinary scenic grandeur, a hearty dinner awaits back at EcoCamp.

Day 8: 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 often seen 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 the name the Incas gave to this feline 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 few seasons, and we'll hope to further that luck on a nature walk through territory they are known to frequent regularly. Our Expedition Leader helps us scout for signs of their presence—keep your camera poised, in case we get a sudden glimpse.

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 famous Towers of Paine from a completely different angle. We also stop at Cascada del Rio Paine—a series of terraced waterfalls—for photos of one of the most beautiful views on this side of the park.

Day 9: Forest Walk to Grey Lake
On the drive across Torres del Paine National Park this morning, shoot the Paine mountain range from varying angles and photograph herds of guanacos, Andean condors and interesting flora along the way. Once we reach our destination, we cross a hanging bridge into a tract of Magellanic subarctic forest that provides fascinating insight into the diversity of endemic austral trees. All the classic species are on display here—lenga, ñire and coihue, a tall evergreen that can grow to 140 feet. If we’re lucky, we may get photos of the Magellanic woodpecker and a rare Chilean deer called the huemel, a national symbol found on the coat of arms on Chile's flag. Our forest trail emerges onto the windy beach at Lake Grey, where icebergs rest on the shore. In the distance, capture photos of Grey Glacier, a tongue of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field that feeds the lake. After a day of magnificent vistas on the western side of the park, return by road to Ecocamp Patagonia to spend a final night.

Day 10: Puerto Natales / Punta Arenas
Our grand Patagonia photo adventure continues as we depart the park today and travel to one of the world's southernmost cities, Punta Arenas on the Strait of Magellan. Along our leisurely drive, we'll stop for lunch and exploring in Puerto Natales, an attractive town on Ultima Esperanza Sound that serves as a gateway for trips into Chilean Patagonia. The town is backdropped by the Riesco mountain range, the Paine Massif and glaciers of the Southern Ice Field, while in the foreground, black-necked swans and gulls bob on the misty waters of the sound. Tonight we enjoy a farewell dinner to celebrate all we have experienced.

Day 11: 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

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