Patagonia is home to some incredible wildlife that we don't see at home, as well a few endangered (or soon-to-be-endangered) species. All of our local partners in Patagonia employ a "leave no trace" policy, in order to keep the natural environment of these animals as untouched as possible. The guides in Patagonia take enormous pleasure in sharing their knowledge and experiences of these animals.
The Richness and Diversity of Patagonia's Animals:
The Andean condor comes from the vulture family and can be found throughout Patagonia, but one of the places you're most likely to see it is circling the iconic Towers of Paine and swooping down to feast on the remains of lastnight's guanaco kill by a puma.
This impressive bird has a wing span of 3.2 metres, the largest of any land bird and has dark black feathers and a white ruffle neck. It's currently considered as 'nearly endangered' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. This Condor Route trip is specifically tailored to take you off-the-beaten track to known Condor nesting sites in Torres del Paine National Park.
The largest predator in Patagonia, this dangerous big cat is also known as a mountain lion, cougar, and catamount, in different parts of the Americas. The large, slender Patagonian puma, one of the now recognized 27 puma subspecies, is the southern-most dweller of all its relatives, and one of the largest. When sheep were first introduced to Patagonia in the late 19th century, they were easy prey for pumas. As a consequence, ranchers hired lion hunters to kill them but in 1980 the Chilean government made the hunting of pumas illegal and subsequently puma numbers have increased to unendangered levels.
Pumas take full advantage of the varied terrain of Torres del Paine National Park as they're able to live in the cold, warmth, forest and mountains. They're extremely difficult to spot and generally come out only at night to hunt Guanacos and other easy targets. Hunting is easy, they're extremely agile and can leap up to 20ft into the air if they need to. Although some tour operators may hint that you will see a puma whilst you're in Patagonia, it's pretty unlikely. So if you do catch a glimpse of one in Patagonia, count yourself as very lucky! One of the places where you're most likely to see them is up in the mountains in the northern part of Torres del Paine on the Full Circuit which is more remote than the southern part of the park, and only 5% of visitors to the park visit this part, so there are a lot fewer people.
This endangered South Andean deer has short legs and a stocky build, enabling it to live on rocky terrain and climb mountain passes with ease. It's one of the most elusive animals in Patagonia and became a Chilean National Natural Monument in 2006. Despite this status, it's currently under threat from changes in its natural habitat, predation from the puma and the planned HydroAysen projects to create hydroelectric dams in the Aysen region of Patagonia. It's thought that the project will destroy the huemul's natural habitat and contribute to its decline. During his hike in Torres del Paine in January 2011, Luke was lucky enough to come face to face with this majestic creature whilst trekking in Pingo Valley.
Patagonia is an incredible place to see penguins or 'pinguinos' in Spanish.You'll find penguin reserves throughout Chilean Patagonia including Seno Otway Penguin Reserve and Magdelana Island both of which are near Punta Arenas. 'Isla Magdalena' is characterised by its quaint red and white light house which was built to guide sailors through the Magellan Straits and still does today. It's also home to a huge colony of burrowing Magallanic penguins, which you can walk amongst up to the ropes which keep you from wandering too far in order to preserve the penguins habitat. You can watch the penguins waddle en masse across the path to reach the rocky beach and dive into the sea. But be careful not to move to close to their nests. These vigilant penguins don’t mess around when it comes to the safety of their family as they cock their heads from side to side as a warning signal to retreat! Peninsula Valdes on the Argentinian coast is also a great spot for watching penguins in their natural habitats. In fact there are over 40,000 active Magellanic Penguin nests in this area because of the abundance of food and the natural protection of the cliffs.
Don't forget there are many breeds of penguin and if you're desperate to see them all, then the best place to go is to The 'Great White Continent'. All of the Antarctic cruises that Swoop offers include visits to see the penguins. On many of the trips you can enjoy a landing on a Zodiac boat to get you up close the penguins. The most well known of these rookeries is at Brown Bluff - an old volcano and now nesting ground for thousands of Chinstrap, Gentoo and Adelie penguins.
There are thought to be over 1,500 of this descendent of the llama species in Torres del Paine National Park alone. They live in herds for protection and to rear their young. I had the pleasure of taking a two hour walk from the Lake Sarmiento entrance of the park to the Laguna Armarga entrance lodge and learning more about them from our guide, Chino. They're very energetic animals who run around chasing one another, and Chino taught me that the mothers a fiercely protective of their young so we weren't to get too close. Guanacos lower their heads and ears before charging at you if they feel under threat.
Elephant seals are common in Patagonia and get their name from the strange shape of the male's nose which looks like an elephant's trunk. Seals can be found throughout the islands of Patagonia and kayaking is a great way to get up close to this creature.
Two of the best places to find sea lion colonies are in Tierra del Fuego and the Peninsula Valdes UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can kayak with them along the coast and paddle right up to their colony. Alternatively, you can see them in abundance on an Antarctic cruise - especially on Elephant Island in the outer reaches of the South Shetland Islands.
There are two types of whales to be found in Patagonia: the Orca or Killer Whale and the Southern Right Whale. Both come to the protected waters of the Peninsula Valdes during the mating season (for the Orca (September to April), for the Southern Right (May to December)) to enjoy the abundance of elephant seals and sea lions. The Orca will actually go as far as to beach itself to catch its prey on shore and then drag it back out to sea.
In Peninsula Valdes it's possible to see these majestic sea creatures in their wild habitat, normally by kayak.
To get your own photos of the Guanaco, Nandu or Condor in their natural habitat, why not try some of our wildlife tours in Torres del Paine, Peninsula Valdes and Tierra del Fuego:
Tours of Patagonia
One way to see the very best that Patagonia offers is to join a tour that takes you to 2 or more different destinations in one trip. With these tours you'll be able to spend a few days in each area, hiking and exploring; and have all the logistics, transport and accommodation organised for you as you move around Patagonia. See all of our Patagonia Tours, or consider:
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Guide to Patagonia
Patagonia spans over 1,000 miles north to south and landscapes ranging from forests, to glaciers, to volcanoes and deserts. Read our Patagonia Guide to find out: how to get there, when to go, what to see and how to find the best trip. Or find out about:
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