Like so many of our clients, Naturetrek has always had a fascination for cats, and over the years we have played an instrumental role in pioneering new tours in search of such iconic felines as Tiger, Jaguar, Snow Leopard, Leopard and Iberian Lynx, often in some of the most remote and spectacular parts of the world. With the continuing success of our ‘South Africa — Just Cats!’, ‘Just Tigers!’ and ‘Brazil — Just Jaguars!’ tours, amongst others, we have been on the look out for the next ‘big cat opportunity’. Having monitored sightings very closely, we are now in the position to launch our latest specialist big cat tour, ‘Chile — Just Pumas!’. Located in one of the most beautiful regions of Patagonia, the Torres del Paine National Park has developed a reputation as the best area in the world to see Chile’s apex predator, the Puma. Working alongside guides with over 25 years’ experience of tracking Pumas, this tour has been specifically designed to give us the very best chance of seeing these enigmatic cats amidst a truly stunning landscape. While Pumas will be the principal focus of this tour, the abundance of wildlife in southern Chile ensures an exciting supporting cast that includes huge Andean Condors, herds of Guanacos, South American Grey Fox, Culpeo (Southern Red Fox), Patagonian Hognosed Skunk, South Andean Deer and Hairy Armadillo.
Our holiday begins with a flight to Chile’s capital, Santiago, from where we will venture into the heart of the Andes in search of our first afternoon of Chilean wildlife. In the skies above us we should see our first Andean Condors as they soar majestically amongst the high mountain summits, and we’ll also hope for other Andean species such as Mountain Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded and Creamyrumped Miners, a variety of Groundtyrants, Greater Yellow-finch, Grey-hooded Sierra-finch and the endemic Chilean Tinamou and Chilean Mockingbird. Mammals, too, are possible including the endemic burrowing rodent, the Cururo. The following morning we will fly south to the town of Punta Arenas before embarking on a scenic drive to Torres del Paine National Park. Journeying through expanses of open Pampas, we will stop en route to enjoy flamingo-lined lakes and the first of many encounters with the herds of Guanaco which will be a frequent sight during this holiday. Torres del Paine National Park is dominated by three stunning mountain peaks — the ‘Towers of Paine’ — and we will stay deep in the heart of the park at the charmingly rustic Hotel las Torres, situated at the foot of Mount Almirante Nieto. This hotel provides an ideal base for our daily (and night-time) wildlife excursions as it has excellent access to the park’s main trails. With an abundance of large windows we’ll be able to enjoy the magnificent scenery surrounding us from the hotel, while its slate floors and log fires create a cosy ambience that provides the perfect retreat at the end of each day’s Puma quest.
Working to an itinerary that will be dictated by the latest Puma sightings, and guided by expert trackers, over the following five days we will make day and night-time outings, exploring a variety of habitats and covering multiple Puma territories within the park. At this time of the year, with growing cubs to feed, the hard-pressed females are more likely to be seen hunting during daylight hours and with Guanacos a favourite prey, we’ll keep a close eye on the herds in the hope of spotting a hunting Puma. In particular we will explore the immediate surroundings of our hotel, spotlighting at night, since it lies within a known Puma territory. We will also venture to the Puma hunting grounds on the eastern flank of the park, as well as to the area comprising the northern coast of Sarmiento Lake, Laguna Amarga and Laguna Azul, which holds one of the highest concentrations of Pumas in the world. Our quest for Pumas in this stunning landscape will bring us into contact with a variety of other mammals and birds. In addition to the ubiquitous Guanacos, we will hope to see the local South Andean Deer or ‘Huemul’, Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk and the two canid species present in the park, South American Grey Fox and Culpeo. Andean Condors are a relatively common sight here, and we should get some close views of these magnificent birds. Other avian highlights may include Darwin’s Rhea, Black-chested Buzzard, Crested Caracara, Cinereous Harrier and Magellanic Woodpecker.
After enjoying five full days exploring this spectacular landscape we will begin our return journey to Punta Arenas and from there to Santiago, where we’ll share one last evening in the city, exchanging our personal highlights of this very special trip, before flying to London the following morning. For those who wish to extend their stay and explore the wildlife of this exciting region further we can offer a wide choice of options, including whalewatching off Chiloe Island (in search of Blue Whales especially), the wildlife and birds of the Atacama Desert, and tours to Easter Island.