Land of Ice and Fire

Argentina may not have the Amazon Rainforest or a Caribbean coastline like many of its neighbours in South America, but that’s not to say it doesn’t offer a wildlife bonanza all of its own…

Argentina deserves to be on the map of any natural world and wildlife enthusiast. The eighth largest country in the world is so geographically diverse that within the same trip visitors can immerse themselves in the wildlife-rich Iberá Wetlands – home to jaguars, caiman, capybaras and giant river otters – marvel at the largest colony of penguins in South America and admire the immense force of Perito Moreno Glacier as it caves under 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) of pressure.

Tristan Whitworth, Natural World Safaris

 

Lose yourself in the Patagonian wilderness

Shared with its neighbour Chile, people come from the world over to enjoy Patagonia’s mvast open spaces and epic Game of Thrones- worthy scenery, replete with snowy peaks and spearmint-blue glaciers. But even in what feels like an endless expanse like this, some areas get more foot-traffic than others.

One reserve still largely off the tourist map (it gets under 2,000 visitors a year) is Perito Moreno National Park near the Chilean border. (A word of warning: Perito Moreno Glacier does not reside here but in Los Glaciares National Park further south.) Only open to the public from October to April, there are a couple of estancias where you can lodge and camping grounds to pitch a tent, but other than that you’d best come well stocked because there’s little in the way of shops or other conveniences. Also be prepared for notoriously unpredictable weather: icy winds and sudden snowstorms aren’t unheard of even in the summer in these parts.

What the area might lack in facilities and reliable weather it more than makes up for in pure nature. In the numerous lakes live aquatic birds like flamingos, ducks and grebes. On the steppe grasslands are some of the Andes’ biggest stars, including huge guanaco herds, pumas, viscachas (a member of the chinchilla family) and pampas cats. Heading up into the mountains that encircle the park, condors – the world’s largest birds of prey – glide in the air currents, and, if luck’s on your side, you could even catch a glimpse of the endangered huemul deer, which is exclusive to Patagonia.

 

Mingle with the Magellanic masses

Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, is the most southerly city in the world and a popular departure point for intrepid travellers en route to the frozen continent of Antarctica. However, you don’t have to endure sub-zero temperatures and rough seas – or fork out the hefty fee for a cruise – if your driving force is to see penguins in the wild.

For a small entrance charge (under £5), in the far more temperate climes of Punta Tombo on the Atlantic coast of Chubut Province, you can hang out with an entire colony of these amazing birds. Between September and March each year, more than a million Magellanic penguins migrate to this gravelly peninsula to breed and raise their young; it’s worth noting that chicks start hatching around November, so coincide your visit from then till spring for the extra cute factor. Amazing close-up photos are guaranteed as there are no fences or barriers – just respect the designated paths and don’t harass the penguins for that perfect selfie.

On the way back from Punta Tombo be sure to pull in at the Celtic towns of Trelew and Gaiman, where you can learn about the fascinating story behind the arrival of settlers from Wales in the mid-1800s. If you’re peckish, why not p-p-pick up a traditional Welsh tea?

 

Stop by Argentina’s ‘ocean motel’

Fans of marine and coastal wildlife need to put Peninsula Valdés at the top of their go-to list. This unusual promontory of land juts out into the Atlantic, midway up the country’s eastern seaboard. It offers not only some 400 kilometres (248.5 miles) of UNESCO-protected coastline but also two huge natural bays that harbour all manner of sea creatures seeking refuge from the turbulent oceanic waters or on the hunt for prey. While not all species can be seen year-round, it does mean that whatever time your trip falls, you’ve got a good chance of seeing something.

Among the largest guests that call by here are southern right whales, filter-feeding giants that can reach the same length as a double-decker bus! Their prime season is from June to December, and it’s even possible to spot them from the shore at El Doradillo Beach. Predatory orcas, meanwhile, are most commonly sighted between September and April; this is one of the few places in the world where these cunning dolphins have been observed intentionally beaching themselves to pluck hapless sea lions from the surf. Killer whale fans should focus their search on the large sea lion colony at Punta Norte, particularly around high tide.

 

There are even more bullet points for your travel bucket list in Issue 63 of World of Animals – make sure you get your hands on a copy!