Patagonia is a land where extraordinary wildlife meets breathtaking scenery in magnificent fashion. This southernmost region of the Americas is home to scores of endemic species, many of which can only be found in Patagonia.
Considering the fact that Patagonia is dominated by wilderness, any journey to Patagonia is, in essence, a wildlife safari. Whether you’re puma tracking in Torres del Paine or whale watching off the coast of the Valdes Peninsula, there is a diverse and enticing array of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife waiting to be discovered in Patagonia.
The Serengeti of the South
A well-crafted Tanzanian safari offers you a shot to see “The Big Five” in the wild. Similarly, a well-crafted Patagonia Expedition introduces you to what we refer to as “Patagonia’s Big Five:” the Andean condor, the guanaco, the Southern right whale, the orca, and the Magellanic penguin. Though Patagonia’s Big Five may not be as famous among wildlife enthusiasts, these unique species are every bit as magnificent in their own way, developing unique characteristics to help them adapt to life in this cold, windy frontier.
Steppe to the Andes
Torres del Paine and the El Calafate region are extremely wild territories and are home to a variety of native wildlife that can be encountered at any point. Perhaps the most prevalent is the Guanaco, a native Andean camelid that is closely related to the vicuñas and alpacas of Peru. On any of our Patagonia Expeditions to Santa Cruz or the Magallanes region, guests have a good chance to encounter large herds of guanacos grazing la estepa, a word used by locals in Patagonia to describe the vast, short-grass plains that dominate the region. This region is also a birding mecca, with lesser rhea roaming the steppe, and backcountry lakes providing a habitat for large numbers of black-necked swans, buff-necked ibis, and Chilean flamingos.
In addition to inland wildlife, Patagonia is also a marine wildlife haven. Of all the unique marine species that inhabit this region, none are more appealing to bird and wildlife lovers than the penguin. Named after the French explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who first spotted the species in the early 16th century, these notoriously cute, flightless birds are found on select Patagonian beaches and islands during their seasonal spawn. While large populations of these penguins still exist along Patagonia’s coastline, they are now recognized as a threatened species. Chilean Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego are home to dozens of Magellanic penguin colonies, with places such as Isla Magdalena providing a breeding ground for more than 50,000 penguins annually. Many wildlife enthusiasts believe that outside of Antarctica, Patagonia is one of the best places in the world to witness penguins in the wild.
A visit to the penguin colonies can easily be added to the end of a Patagonian Expedition upon request. Both Punta Arenas and Ushuaia make great hubs for those seeking to explore Patagonia’s penguin colonies. Those who prefer the maritime method of travel can visit penguin colonies on a Patagonia luxury cruise to Cape Horn.
Whale Watching Tours on the Valdes Peninsula
To the north of the penguin colonies, the sleepy town of Puerto Madryn on the Valdes Peninsula offers some of South America’s premiere whale watching experiences. While multiple species of whales and marine mammals roam Patagonia’s Atlantic coast, this region is most well known for its healthy populations of southern right whales. Approaching 50 ft. in length and weighing up to 47 tons, hundreds, even thousands of these extraordinary whales come here to breed during Patagonia’s summer months.
In addition to the Southern right whales, the Valdes Peninsula is also a great place to find orcas. Though not as prevalent in numbers as the orcas in Alaska, Patagonia’s killer whales are renowned for the masterful hunting techniques that they have developed, figuring out creative ways to prey on seal and sea lion pups in the shallows.
Some of our favorite wildlife experiences in Patagonia
- Journeying to the Magellanic penguin breeding grounds on Isla Magdalena
- Photographing the Southern right whale on a whale watching tour from Puerto Madryn
- Admiring Andean condors soar before Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in Los Glaciares National Park
- Following puma tracks on the Hunter’s Trail in Torres del Paine National Park