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Iconic Creatures of Patagonia: What, When, and Where to to See Them

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Andean Condor

The Andean condor is the most iconic of all Patagonia creatures. It plays a huge role in the folklore of South America and is the national symbol of Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. With a wingspan of over 10 feet, these massive birds are often seen circling in the sky, perhaps above a puma's kill.  The largest living land bird capable of flight, it's part of the vulture family and is considered a scavenger, feeding mostly on carrion. While they can be seen anytime of the year, they are easiest to spot in the summer (Sept to April) or the shoulder seasons, when the weather is nice and it's easier to get into the mountains. Home to over 460 birds, Patagonia is a bird lovers paradise and many more amazing birds can be seen, including flamingos, magellanic woodpecker, lesser rhea, austral pygmy-owl, black-necked swan, black-faced ibis, upland goose, and many more

Guanaco

While you may not know them by name, Guanacos are probably the first animals you picture when you think of South America. Though they look very similar, they are actually the wild cousins of the llama and are found all over the plains and in the mountains of Patagonia. They roam in herds, of either females with one dominant male, or in "bachelor" herds of all males. They are incredible animals, having extremely high red blood cell counts (4 times that of humans!) which allows them to live at high elevation where the oxygen is low. They are easiest to see in Torres del Paine National Park during the summer (Sept to April) and shoulder seasons. Many other animals can be seen in Patagonia, such as vicuna, huemul deer, and pudu deer, the smallest deer in the world.

Penguins

Some of the most adored and sought after creatures in Patagonia are the penguins. While many people have seen them in captivity, it's always more rewarding to see them thriving in their natural habitat. 5 different types of penguins live along the shores of Patagonia. 

  • Gentoo and king penguins live in colonies around Tierra del Fuego year round but due to weather can be seen best from Sept to April. 
  • Humboldt penguins live around Puerto Montt and the island of Chiloe, on the northwestern edge of Patagonia and are easiest to see Sept to April.
  • Magellanic penguin are migratory and can be seen in the Strait of Magellan, throughout Tierra del Fuego, Chiloé Island and Peninsula Valdés in Argentina, September through May. The best place to see them is on Megdalena Island, where visitors can walk among them and see one of the biggest breeding grounds in the world! Magellanic penguins migrate north during the winter where they can be seen as far as Peru or Brazil. 
  • Rockhopper penguins can also be spotted around Patagonia but are easiest to find in huge colonies in the Falkland Islands, east of Patagonia.

 Whales

Because of their migration patterns, the whales that frequent the waters of Patagonia can change a lot with the seasons. While these much loved mammals have been the subject of countless films and documentaries, until you are floating a few yards away from one, it's hard to grasp their scale and magnitude. The fjords, bays, and oceans surroundings Patagonia are frequented by 4 different types of whales. 

  • From December to May you can see humpback whales along the Chilean side of Patagonia but the best place to spot them is along the bottom end of Chile and in the fjords west of Punta Arenas. 
  • From December to May you can also see blue whales along the Chilean side of Patagonia but you best bet is around Chiloé Island, towards the northwestern edge of Patagonia
  • From June to September southern right whales frequent Argentinian waters, especially near Peninsula Valdés in the northeast. 
  • Orca whales can also be seen near Peninsula Valdés from March to April and in Chilean waters in December. 


Depending on the time and location, some whales are harder to find than others,
 so choose an experienced guide and allow for a few days in your schedule to see these magnificent creatures!  Many other marine mammals can be spotted in the bays and ocean surrounding Patagonia, such as dolphins, otters, sea lions, and seals. 

Puma

Puma are the most elusive animals in Patagonia. Also known as mountain lions, cougars, or panthers, depending on their location in the Americas, they live throughout the Andean mountains. They are easiest to spot in Torres del Paine National Park where there is a high population of guanaco, their main food source. Although they are protected, they are still classified as nearly threatened in Chile, as they were once heavily hunted by farmers protecting their livestock. Pumas are most active at night but are often spotted at dawn or dusk, so prepare to get up early to see these large elusive cats and allow for a few days with experienced guides. Like condors, they are around all year but much easier to see in the summer (Sept to April) or shoulder season when the mountains are easier to navigate.

If you're interested in seeing whales and penguins, our Wake of Magellan trip is the best way to see them. If you want to see condors, guanaco or puma check out our Best of Patagonia trip, or Argentina Wildlife Adventure. We can also customize any trip and add on specific destinations our experiences if there is something special you want to see! If you want to learn more about the best time to go read Kelsey's blog, 5 reasons to travel to Patagonia in the shoulder seasons.

For more information contact Kelsey, our Patagonia expert, about the ins and outs of travel to Patagonia. 




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