Torres del Paine

10 Reviews

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October, 2019

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An alternative title might have been.. ‘Near the end of the world’. At least from the UK it is only a relatively short leap to Antarctica. From the southern end of Chile; there lies what some have described as the most beautiful national park in the world, Torres Del Paine. It is a wonderful mixture of snow capped mountains, rivers and lakes, holding a magnetic attraction where tourists soon understand what unspoilt really means.

To get there is not for the faint hearted, approx. 14 hours non-stop to Santiago from LHR, roughly halfway down that thin strip of land that forms the western coast of South America and is overall more that 2000 miles top to bottom. Then near to the bottom, we took an internal flight of 3.5 hours to the small town of Puntas Arenas; nothing exciting but a welcome overnight stop at a decent hotel. Interestingly only a couple of other guests at dinner, which bade the question… was there going to be any other like travellers here on the same quest as us?

Oh yes, why we there….. Mary and I are passionate wildlife conservationists and photographers. We have travelled to many so-called exotic places in the last 12 years, including parts of Africa, India and South America, primarily in search of big cats. Whilst most tourists go the Torres Del Paine for the sheer beauty and trekking opportunities that abounds there, it is also one of the last refuges of the Puma. Otherwise know as cougar or mountain lion.

So, an early start the following morning, meeting up with our like-minded (thank goodness, it’s not always the case on group trips) enthusiasts staying at other hotels, we travelled a further 3 hours by mini-bus to the Park itself. We were not disappointed.
Staying in one place, literally in the middle of nowhere, was extremely comfortable and surprisingly so. The food was almost gourmet standard every evening and the actual accommodation was hotel /lodge style and equal to 4*. The 7 intrepid travellers in our group were accompanied by a local guide and driver with limited English, but just enough.

However, the 4 days intensive ‘hunting’ (I used the term advisedly) were orchestrated by the best tracker in the business, so we were to find very quickly. As with all our wildlife ventures, we adopt the attitude that you are privileged to be there in their home and actual viewing the primary species is a bonus….. if you believe that !!… Realistically though, we hoped for one or two encounters in the time period and hopefully just a few half decent photos. We tell people in our illustrated talks that wildlife /safari type holidays are not like a zoo; the sheer joy of seeing a truly wild animal in its own home behaving naturally is second to none.

And so it was, on our first drive out along the dusty roads, we were of course admiring the breathtaking scenery, when within the first hour, we quickly ground to a halt, our guide (we found out later) was on the crackling short wave radio to Jorge the tracker.
We had been approaching a steep gorge approx 100 yds away….. and there walking slowly but purposefully down one side was our first puma. We scrambled out of the mini bus and started taking pictures of this stunning creature. She paused for a moment in the middle of the road and continued casually into the rough grass and heathland on the other side. We were all very excited and joked that we could all go home now. What a pleasure as well to be able to be on terra firma with the animal; so often you are in a jeep or vehicle of some sort…. Wow!…. But, it didn’t end there, suddenly Jorge the tracker appeared and said.. ‘follow me’. And thus, a real first for all of us, we followed this beautiful girl at a very safe distance for a couple of miles, while she hunted and finally disappeared; probably bored with all those stupid people following her. What an experience.

Over the next 4 days we found and photographed 13 different pumas…. yes 13! This including Rupestre ( yes,they are named) and her 4 cubs up high on a mountain ridge, which was a magical experience. We followed the golden rules of safe distancing and keeping quiet and were able to get within 30 – 40 yards at times. Interestingly we shared some time with the BBC film crew who seems to think they had priority and did not take kindly to us being there, probably because I suggested they were getting too close to the animals.

There is other wildlife ( see photos), but it is not like Africa or India where there is an abundant variety wherever you look. Guanacos, llama-like creatures, are the main prey animal for the puma and you will see many of these. Other mammals, like Culpeo and Grey fox are often seen, and we did see Hares, similar to our own, in the grounds of our lodge. On separate walks we managed to photograph some interesting birds, but sadly no great sighting of one of the world’s largest birds, the Andean Condor.

Overall, it was mission accomplished. Quite expensive, and very tiring scrambling up and down 45 degree slopes needs a good level of fitness.

Would we do it again? … probably not, because of age, but definitely a once-in-a- lifetime for ardent wildlifers.

It is thoroughly well organised by a specialist wildlife travel company. This is essential.

This is the company to go with…


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