Chile: Atacama to Tierra del Fuego - Birding Tour
While its birdlist may be smaller than that of its tropical neighbors, Chile’s habitat diversity, spectacular birds, and breathtaking scenery more than make up for it. If scouring high Andean bogs for Diademed Sandpiper-Plovers, stalking huet-huets in lichen draped forest, or sifting through vast flocks of seabirds in the Humboldt Current sounds like fun, check out this fascinating tour. Wine lovers will also have ample chances to sample the exquisite local harvests.
13 - 30 October ($9890; single supplement: $930)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 18 days
Starting City: Santiago
Ending City: Santiago
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Group size: 11-12 + 2 leaders
Please note that this itinerary may be adjusted due to flight schedules and other logisitical factors.
Day 1: Santiago
The tour begins this evening in Santiago. Santiago is a modern, cosmopolitan city and the main starting point to travel throughout Chile. Located in the central valley, on the east it is flanked by the imposing high Andes and to the west by the coastal mountain range. We’ll spend one night in a hotel near the airport.
Day 2: Santiago to Arica
Early in the morning we will fly from Santiago to the city of Arica, very close to the Peruvian border. This portion of the far North of Chile hosts the vast Atacama Desert and the high altitude Andean steppe, or Altiplano. Our birding will start around Arica, where rivers fed by the runoff from the High Andes have created fertile valleys and well-cultivated oases in this otherwise harsh environment. Some of the most important birds in this area will be the hummingbirds: Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail and the endemic and critically endangered Chilean Woodstar. Other possibilities include Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant, Tamarugo Conebill, and Raimondi’s Yellow-Finch. We can also check out the estuary of the Lluta river for various shorebirds, gulls, terns, and more. We’ll spend the night in Arica.
Day 3: Lauca National Park
We’ll leave early and drive high up into the Andes to this gorgeous park renowned for its spectacular scenery. Along the way we may see species like like Peruvian Thick-knee, Croaking Ground- Dove, Andean Swift, Rufescent Flycatcher (split from Bran-colored), Chestnut-throated Seedeater, and Slender-billed Finch before reaching Chungara Lake, the highest altitude lake in the world, home to Silvery Grebe, various ducks including Puna Teal, Giant Coot, Andean Gull, and up to three species of flamingo: Andean, Chilean, and James’s. We will also scour high altitude bogs for the stunning and difficult-to-find Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. Other target birds for this area include Puna Rhea, Andean Flicker, White-winged Cinclodes, Black Siskin, Puna Tinamou, Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Mountain Caracara, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Andean Avocet, Puna Miner, Puna and White-fronted Ground-Tyrants, Andean Negrito, White-winged Diuca-Finch, and White-throated Sierra-Finch. In the afternoon, we will descend to the village of Putre, where we spend a single night.
Day 4: Putre to Arica
We’ll spend the morning around this small Andean village looking for a variety of birds like Ornate Tinamou. Bare-faced Ground-Dove, White-throated Earthcreeper, Yellow-billed Tit Tyrant, Canyon and Dark-winged Canastero, White-winged Cinclodes, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, D’Orbigny’s and White-browed Chat -Tyrants, Black-throated Flower-Piercer, Golden-billed Saltator, Black-hooded and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches, Greenish Yellow-Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, and Spot-winged Pigeon. Later in the day, we’ll start descending back towards Arica, looking for anything we missed on the way up yesterday, before spending another night in Arica.
Day 5: Arica to Santiago
Flight schedules can be variable, but we may have time to more birding around Arica before catching a flight back to Santiago, where we spend the next two nights.
Day 6: Yeso Valley
This famous birding area in the High Andes east of the city gives us another chance to see the unique Diademed Sandpiper-Plover if we didn’t find it in Lauca. The scenery here is simply superb and some of the most spectacular in Central Chile. High mountains, turquoise lakes, hanging glaciers and white-water rivers combine to make a magnificent spectacle. It is also home to a superb variety of high elevation birds including Crag Chilia, Moustached Turca, Torrent Duck, White-sided Hillstar, Andean Goose, Scale- throated Earthcreeper, Black-fronted and White-browed Ground-Tyrants, Greater Yellowfinch, Yellow-rumped Siskin, Andean Condor, Mountain Caracara, Creamy-rumped Miner, and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe.
Day 7: Pacific Coast
Leaving early from Santiago we will head towards as recently created reserve on the Maipo river estuary. This reserve protects one of the most important wetlands in central Chile. Here we’ll be able to enjoy large flocks of gulls, Black Skimmers, terns, pelicans, and shorebirds. After scanning the masses of shorebirds on the mudflats, we will look for the rare Ticking Doradito along with Spectacled Tyrant, Correndera Pipit, and the Chilean endemics Dusky Tapaculo and Dusky-tailed Canastero. The reedbeds at the reserve entrance are a great place to see the stunning Many-colored Rush Tyrant, the often skulky Wren-like Rushbird, as well as Yellow- winged Blackbird and Grass Wren. Along the coast we may find Guanay Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, Chilean Skua, and Seaside Cinclodes. In the afternoon we will visit more protected wetlands, looking for Spot-flanked Gallinule, Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Plumbeous Rail, Black-headed Duck and maybe even the secretive Stripe-backed Bittern. The night will be spent in Valparaíso.
Day 8: Pelagic Boat Trip
We’ll leave the port just before sunrise and navigate around 20 km (12 miles) out into the Humboldt Current; the whole excursion usually lasts roughly 6 hours. Chile has more than 4,000 kilometers of coastline and is considered as one of the best places in the world for pelagic birding thanks to the upwelling of nutrients brought by the current. While activity varies from trip to trip, some outing have produced dozens of species of seabirds including albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, diving-petrels, cormorants, gulls, and terns. Albatrosses are definitely the star of the show – likely species include Salvin’s, Black-browed, and Royal. Buller’s and Chatham are seen less frequently. Other noteworthy tubenoses we can see are Masatierra, Juan Fernandez, White-chinned, and Westland Petrels, Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Northern Giant Petrel, and Wilson’s Storm-Petrel. We can also see Red Phalarope, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, Kelp Gull, and South American Tern. After the pelagic, we’ll have lunch and then look for any coastal species we missed yesterday before returning to Santiago for another two nights.
Day 9: Farellones and Valle Nevado
Today we will explore the Mediterranean scrub in the Andes Mountains, making stops at different altitudes. In the foothills we’ll look for several endemics including Chilean Tinamou, Moustached Turca, White-throated and Dusky Tapaculos, Crag Chilia, and Dusky-tailed Canastero. Numerous other species are possibly at the higher elevations like Greater Yellowfinch, Creamy-rumped Miner, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded Miner, Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch, Andean Condor, Variable Hawk, Black chested Buzzard Eagle, and Mountain Caracara.
Day 10: Colbún Lake and Vilches
Today we’ll drive south on our way to Talca and towards Colbún Lake. At first, we’ll still be in the drier Mediterranean habitat where some targets will be the colorful Burrowing Parakeet and odd Spectacled Duck. At Colbún Lake, we can scan for a number of other interesting ducks and grebe species and have more chances to see Spectacled Tyrant and Andean Gull. We’ll spend the rest of the afternoon and part of the next day in the magnificent Altos de Lircay National Reserve. We’ll spend two nights in a lodge not far from the reserve.
Day 11: Altos de Lircay
This reserve park is in the ecotone between temperate rainforest and the Mediterranean scrub, and we’ll have our first chance to experience the verdant Nothofagus forests that this region is known for. We’ll search Chile’s least known tapaculo, the Chestnut-throated Huet-huet along with other specialties like Chucao and Magellanic Tapaculos, Austral Parakeet, Patagonian Sierra-Finch, the spectacular Magellanic Woodpecker, and the rare Chilean Hawk.
Day 12: Cerro Ñielol and Temuco
Today we’ll head south towards Temuco, the capital city of the Araucanía Region, where we have a single night. Along the way we’ll stop by some agricultural areas to look for Screaming Cowbird, Hellmayr’s Pipit and Chilean Tinamou. By the time we reach Temuco, the Mediterranean habitat will have been left behind completely and been replaced by lush temperate rainforest. Not far from Temuco is Cerro Ñielol, where we can look for understory species like Black-throated Huet-Huet, Des Mur’s Wiretail, Chucao Tapaculo, Ochre-Flanked Tapaculo, Rufous-tailed Hawk, and the near endemic Slender-billed Parakeet.
Day 13: Araucaria Forest
We’ll spend the morning at higher elevations where Araucaria/Nothofagus forest dominates. Here we hope to find the scarce Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper along with more common birds like Magellanic Tapaculo, Austral Parakeet, Striped Woodpecker, Chilean Flicker, White-throated Treerunner, and others. In the afternoon, we’ll catch a flight back to Santiago, where we spend the night.
Day 14: Santiago to Punta Arenas
Today we fly to Punta Arenas in far southern Chile to begin the final segment of our tour. After arrival, we’ll bird south along the coast for Flying and Flightless Steamer-Ducks, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Imperial Cormorant, Upland, Ruddy-headed, and Kelp Goose, Chilean Skua, Dolphin Gull, and the tiny Austral Negrito. The night will be spent in a hotel in Punta Arenas.
Day 15: Tierra del Fuego and King Penguins
We’ll take the early morning ferry to Tierra del Fuego, which lasts around two hours and offers a great chance to see Southern Giant-Petrel, Magellanic Diving-Petrel, Chilean Skua, Black-browed Albatross and Peale’s Dolphin. After disembarking, we’ll bird around a couple of lakes looking in particular for Magellanic Plover, a monotypic family restricted to far southern South America. Other species we may find include Ashy-Headed and Upland Goose, Two-banded Plover, Short-billed Miner, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Flightless Steamer-Duck, and Crested Duck. After lunch we’ll drive to Bahia Inútil to visit a colony of magnificent King Penguins, sure to be a trip highlight, before driving to Cerro Sombrero for the night. Along the way to our hotel we may find some birds typical of Patagonian steppe like Rufous-chested Dotterel, Chocolate-vented Tyrant and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant.
Day 16: Cerro Sombrero to Puerto Natales
After breakfast, we’ll continue birding the Patagonian steppe on our way to the northern tip of Tierra del Fuego, then take a short ferry back to the continental mainland. This is a quicker ferry crossing (20 minutes) with good chances of seeing Commerson’s Dolphin, Magellanic Diving-Petrel, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and White-chinned Petrel. Back on the mainland, we will make a stop at a wetland for a variety of waterfowl, including Silver Teal, Rosy-billed Pochard, Chiloe Wigeon, White-cheeked Pintail, Coscoroba Swan, and variety of shorebirds. In this area we’ll also try our luck finding the elusive Patagonian Tinamou. We’ll continue our trip towards Puerto Natales making our way across the vast steppe looking for Darwin’s Rhea, Austral Canastero, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Common Miner, Patagonian Yellowfinch, and the stunning White-bridled Finch. We’ll spend two nights in Puerto Natales.
Day 17: Torres del Paine and Sierra Baguales
On clear days, Torres del Paine has some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet. Mammals may feature as much as or more than the birds here, with Guanaco, Gray Fox, and Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk often seen, and there is even a chance for Puma. The park is famous as a location to try for Austral Rail but it can be very hard to find. We’ll also do some birding outside the park around Sierra Baguales, looking for Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Patagonian Mockingbird, the gorgeous Yellow-bridled Finch, and occasionally even White-throated Caracara and the very rare Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant. Andean Condors are common here and large flocks often can be seen circling overhead.
Day 18: Puerto Natales to Punta Arenas
Today we will drive back to Punta Arenas and catch a flight back to Santiago, where this magnificent trip will come to a close. Flight schedules can change, but we intend to be back in Santiago in time to catch evening overnight flights out of the country, but please check with our office before buying your ticket for the latest information.
PACE: Moderate. This tour will especially target the endemics and other regional specialties of Chile. Diversity is not as high as more tropical areas of the continent, so we still have time to find a very high proportion of the more common and widespread species as well. Early starts are sometimes necessary since a few of the hotels are a long way from the birding sites.
PHYSICAL DIFFICULTY: Moderate. Nearly all of the birding is done from flat or only slightly inclined roads and wide tracks, and you can expect to walk around 2-3 miles on most days. One day of the tour will reach very high elevations of around 14500 ft (4500 m). However only part of the day will be spent that high, and the hotel is lower at about 11500 ft (3500 m). The tour includes a six-hour pelagic boat trip, and participants are advised to take anti-seasickness measures.
CLIMATE: Chilly in the far south and at the highest elevations, but otherwise quite pleasant and usually never very hot. Mostly dry, though light rain is possible in a few places.
ACCOMMODATION: Good to excellent throughout with all the typical amenities.
TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS: A valid passport is required; the passport must be valid for at least six months past your intended stay. Tourist visas are currently not required for citizens of the US, Canada, UK, EU, New Zealand, South Africa, among others. Australians must get an online visa before visiting Chile. Visas are required for citizens of most countries in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Reciprocity fees are no longer charged. Travel requirements are subject to change; please double check with the nearest embassy or consulate, or ask our office staff if you are unsure.
WHAT’S INCLUDED?: Accommodation from the night of day 1 to the night day 17; meals from dinner on day 1 to lunch on day 18; reasonable non-alcoholic drinks during meals; safe drinking water only between meals; roundtrip flight Santiago-Arica; one way flight Temuco-Santiago; roundtrip flight Santiago-Punta Arenas; tour leader(s) from the evening of Day 1 to the afternoon of Day 18 (for small groups the tour will be led by a bilingual Chilean bird guide and for larger groups a Tropical Birding guide will also co-lead the trip; ground transport for the group to all sites in the itinerary; entrance fees to the sites mentioned in the itinerary; a printed and bound checklist to keep track of your sightings (given to you at the start of the tour – only electronic copies can be provided in advance).
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED?: Tips (we do not include tips on this tour since for small groups it will be led only by a local Chilean bilingual bird guide and there will not be any TB leader present to dole out tips); your international flights to Santiago; excess luggage charges; snacks; additional drinks apart from those included; alcoholic beverages; travel insurance; excursions not included in the tour itinerary; extras in hotels such as laundry service, minibar, room service, telephone calls, and personal items; medical fees; other items or services not specifically mentioned as being included.
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