At the southern tip of South America lies one of the most sparsely inhabited and striking regions on earth—Patagonia. Our photographic workshop led by internationally renowned photographers Robert Holmes and Andrea Johnson journeys to both the Argentine and Chilean sides of Patagonia, exploring the stupendous granite-and-glacier realms of Paine and Fitzroy, two of the mountain masterpieces of the world. In Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, we’ll hike spectacular trails below the spires of the Fitzroy Massif, and as we cross into Chile’s phenomenal Paine National Park, we’ll be wowed by its unique wildlife and its azure lakes nestled beneath the soaring granite monoliths of Torres del Paine. Historic estancias and lodges welcome us along the way.
Participants should be capable of carrying whatever photo equipment they feel they need for moderate trails (the only way to get the classic “towers” shot in Paine is via an 11-mile round-trip hike with a small but steep moraine that must be climbed at the end). Much of our hiking will be much less strenuous, but this is a very active photographic tour, where inclement weather is always potentially part of the equation. Finally, Patagonia covers a large area and access is sometimes via poorly maintained dirt roads. We’ll have a comfortable private bus for our trip and it will be larger than we actually need to allow a bit of spreading out, but we sometimes must spend long periods of time traveling between key areas. The itinerary has been crafted to avoid constant bus travel and split our moves into manageable pieces, but you need to be capable of handling as much as six hours of bus travel on occasionally bumpy roads.
Morning arrival in Buenos Aires airport, where we are met for the transfer to our centrally located hotel. This afternoon, we take a tour of this cosmopolitan city, including La Recoleta Cemetery and La Boca, a barrio of brightly-colored houses and a haven for artists. Overnight Hotel Melia. All meals today are “on your own.”
Photographic opportunities: lots of opportunities for impromptu portraits, tango and cityscapes as we explore this vibrant cosmopolitan capital.
Ushuaia / Tierra del Fuego National Park
We take an early morning flight to El Calafate, a small town in the Santa Cruz Province on the banks of glacier-fed Lago Argentino. Small chunks of ice (“bergy bits” calved from glaciers) frequently drift across this blue lake, driven by the winds coming off South America’s massive continental icecap, or hielo continental, to come to rest on the town’s beaches. El Calafate is named for the thorny calafate bush, which blooms in the spring with yellow flowers and in summer with purple fruits (and it’s said if you eat the fruit, you’ll return to Patagonia!). An intriguing outpost on the edge of a great wilderness,
El Calafate has always had a bit of a Wild West feel to it. From El Calafate, a 4-hour drive brings us across the vast Patagonian steppes. We sightsee and look for wildlife en route to the small town of El Chaltén (1,325’), a world-famous climbing destination set within sight of the imposing walls of the Fitzroy Massif. El Chaltén serves as the gateway to the northern reaches of Glacier National Park. On arrival, we check into our lodge, with its great views of Fitzroy. The Fitzroy Massif and the surrounding peaks rise at spectacular and seemingly impossible angles, sculpted from solid granite into fantastic spires and towers by the tremendous force of the region’s glaciers. This complex of peaks and “needles” captivates mountain climbers and hikers from all over the world. Overnight at the El Pilar lodge.
Photographic opportunities: we’ll stop from time to time to grab shots as we drive north across the Patagonian steppe. As we approach the park in the late afternoon, there should be (weather permitting) dramatic silhouette shots of the Fitzroy Massif’s ridge directly in front of us (think of the Patagonia clothing company’s logo). Keep in mind that, with luck, we should enjoy direct early morning light from this same camera angle upon leaving the park three days hence.
Glacier National Park / Fitzroy Massif / El Chaltén
Based at our comfortable lodge situated in a delightfully private corner of the Glacier National Park, we’ll enjoy day hikes along the forested trails and enjoy stunning perspectives of Fitzroy (11,703’) and the needle-like spike called Cerro Torre (10,280’). Forty percent of this strikingly beautiful park is covered by the gigantic icefields of the Patagonian icecap, and there are some 47 major glaciers. Weather dictates our choice of hikes each day, but we’ll make the most of our time in this exquisite wild place. We are accompanied by two local guides, so a short and a long option should be available for each hike. Overnight at the Hosteria El Pilar.
Photographic: mostly scenics and closer detail shots within the extremely romantic alerce forest (these were the forests that gave Walt Disney the inspiration for his film Bambi).
Hiking Options: On one of our days at Glacier National Park, we offer the classic hike to Laguna Torre. The full hike is 11 miles round trip on a well-established trail and takes 6 to 7 hours round trip. There are magnificent views of the three spires of the Torres after on an hour and a half or so on the trail, so those doing the shorter option will not be disappointed. Those going all the way to the lagoon at the head of the valley will certainly feel their efforts have been worth it. The total elevation gain is about 800 feet with a descent of the same amount on the return. There is quite a bit of up and down to start, but the majority of the hike is at a relatively gentle incline.
There are a variety of possible choices for our second day, including walking directly from the lodge’s door through a magnificent forest and past the nearby Piedras Blancas Glacier. After about four miles of rolling countryside, we reach a point that offers beautiful views of the huge rock walls of Mt. Fitzroy high above us. With stops for rest and plenty of photography, this might take 4 or 5 hours round trip. Those willing to embark on a slightly longer option could add some streams and lake vistas to their compositions. The decision as to which hike or excursion to do will likely be made at the time, based on the dictates of the weather and the leader’s guesstimate as to what is likely to offer the best photos and group experience.
A morning drive of four hours brings us to Estancia Helsingfors in the western region of Glacier National Park, and we arrive in time for lunch. Once a sheep ranch, the lodge was built in a spectacular location by Finnish pioneer Alfred Ramstrom at the turn of the century. It lies on the shore of Lago Viedma, with wonderful vistas of the Fitzroy Massif. On the drive in, we stand wonderful chances of seeing wildlife along the road, including armadillos, hares, and a variety of birds, from rheas to caracara hawks and even Andean condors. With its welcoming warmth, delicious cuisine, and historic ambiance, Estancia Helsingfors is, for many, a highlight of the trip. This afternoon can be spent simply enjoying the grounds of the estancia and possibly swimming in the lake, or those who wish can enjoy a hike up the narrow arm of Lago Viedma with views of the towering nearby peaks. Overnight at Estancia Helsingfors.
Hiking Time: About 3 hours, 4 miles
Photographic opportunities: grab shots during the drive keeping a good telephoto handy for wildlife sightings. In the afternoon, you’ll have a variety of photographic opportunities, from scenic panoramas to close-ups of flowers to bird photography, to…it’s up to your imagination!
Estancia Helsingfors / Lago Azul
Magnificent views of the distant Fitzroy Massif are in store as we hike past waterfalls, mountain streams, and through old-growth forest up to stunning Lago Azul, with its vibrant turquoise waters and a stunning glacier hanging above it. This is a world-class hike on a great trail with easy footing. We may also glimpse our first guanacos along the way, and previous groups have commonly seen large flocks of Austral parakeets. Those who wish can choose to ride the estancia’s well-behaved horses on this day. Overnight at Estancia Helsingfors.
Hiking Time: 5-7 hours, 10 miles; 1,000-foot elevation gain.
Photographic opportunities: panoramics looking back toward Lago Viedma and Fitzroy, hopefully wildlife shots on the hike, and the goal of our hike, Lago Azul, can only be described as stunning. A wide angle would be helpful.
EL Calafate / Lago Argentino / Moreno Glacier
We enjoy fine vistas of the steppes and watch for wildlife, including rheas (Patagonia’s large flightless bird), the elusive Patagonian fox, and Andean condors as we drive back to El Calafate and onward to the eastern shores of beautiful Lago Argentino. Here we discover a spectacular sight: the massive Moreno Glacier, one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing. The sounds here are as amazing as the sight of the glacier’s 10-story-high icewall dropping huge chunks of ice into Canal de los Témpanos (Iceberg Channel) below. We walk along a boardwalk with phenomenal views of the towering wall of ice and the immense Patagonian Ice Cap stretching into the distance, then return to El Calafate in the late afternoon. (Dinner is on your own tonight).
Photographic opportunities: grab shots during our drive. You’ll want to experiment with your full complement of lenses once we arrive at Moreno Glacier—including perhaps taking some video footage of the chunks of ice that fairly regularly fall from the glacier’s face.
To Paine National Park, Chile
A long but very scAt the southern tip of South America lies one of the most sparsely inhabited and striking regions on earth—Patagonia. We journey to both the Argentine and Chilean sides of Patagonia, exploring the stupendous granite-and-glacier realms of Paine and Fitzroy, two of the mountain masterpieces of the world. In Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, we’ll hike spectacular trails below the spires of the Fitzroy Massif, and as we cross into Chile’s phenomenal Paine National Park, we’ll be wowed by its unique wildlife and its azure lakes nestled beneath the soaring granite monoliths of Torres del Paine. Historic estancias and lodges welcome us along the way.
Participants should be capable of carrying whatever photo equipment they feel they need for as much as 11 miles on moderate trails (the only way to get the classic “towers” shot in Paine is via an 11-mile round-trip hike with a small but steep moraine that must be climbed at the end). Much of our hiking will be much less strenuous, but this is a very active photographic tour, where inclement weather is always potentially part of the equation. Finally, Patagonia covers a large area and access is sometimes via poorly maintained dirt roads. We’ll have a comfortable private bus for our trip and it will be larger than we actually need to allow a bit of spreading out, but we sometimes must spend long periods of time traveling between key areas. The itinerary has been crafted to avoid constant bus travel and split our moves into manageable pieces, enic drive brings us across the vast Patagonian steppes, and we stop along the way to view wildlife such as rheas and guanacos. Crossing into Chile, we enter spectacular Paine National Park, where granite spires tower above the steppes. Our accommodation is a small, comfortable lodge just outside the park boundary with fantastic views of the Paine mountains. The lodge is also a working estancia (ranch) and the family that owns and operates it is delightfully welcoming.
Overnight at Estancia Lazo (aka Hosteria Mirador del Paine).
Driving Time: 7 hours
Photographic opportunities: we’ll stop from time to time to grab shots as we drive southeast across the Patagonian steppe and eventually cross the border into Chile. As we approach Paine National Park will in the late afternoon, upon reaching Lago Sarmiento we’ll stop to photograph the fascinating stromatolite mounds found along the shore.
Day 9 – 10
Paine National Park
Paine National Park, one of the scenic masterpieces of our planet, was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1978. The park protects a breathtaking landscape of stupendous granite towers, huge azure glacier lakes, tumbling waterfalls, massive glaciers, and unique wildlife. The most famous peaks are known as cuernos (horns) for their knife-edge ridges and torres (towers) for their sheer vertical walls—a world of stone carved by ice. The Paine Massif tops 10,000 feet, its steep rock pinnacles rising from snow and ice, and at its east end are three magnificent rock towers with staggeringly steep faces. The east face of the Central Tower of the Paine Massif has a 4,000-foot-high sheer rock wall that challenges the world’s big wall climbers.
Hiking Options: There are a wide variety of possible hikes available to us in Paine, including a delightful 5-to-6 hour hike that leaves directly from the door of our lodge and provides a great overview of the park. Setting off directly from the lodge, we hike through lovely rolling terrain studded with small blue lakes. Weather permitting, we should enjoy fantastic views of the Paine Massif most of the way as we make a gradual ascent of about 800 feet in the first few hours. When we reach Mirador Toro, a lookout point, we can feast our eyes on grand vistas that stretch 360 degrees across Paine’s stunning landscape of braided rivers and sparkling glacial lakes all the way to Mt. Balmaceda. From here, we descend steeply to the Paine River, where we are met by our bus for the drive back to Estancia Lazo.
There are numerous other hikes and excursion possibilities throughout the park, including possibly the “Guanaco Hike” from Porteria Lago Sarmiento to Porteria Laguna Amarga, which also offers views of the Paine Massif and over the last several years has been an area of the park where herds of guanaco have been congregating in large numbers. The decision as to which hike or excursion to do this day will likely be made at the time, based on the dictates of the weather and the leader’s guesstimate as to what is likely to offer the best photos and group experience.
Overnights at Estancia Lazo and Cerro Guido.
Photographic Opportunities: span everything from grand scenics with multiple lakes and rivers in the foreground and Paine mountains in the background to close-ups of flowers. A telephoto would be useful for shots of the mountains.
Punta Arenas (via Puerto Natales)
A scenic drive of about six or seven hours takes us to Punta Arenas, set on the shores of the legendary Strait of Magellan. Punta Arenas began as a stopping off point for clipper ships during the California Gold Rush. Although its importance declined after the construction of the Panama Canal, it is still a thriving port town reflecting the many nationalities that settled in this remote corner of the world. En route, we’ll stop for lunch at the small port town of Puerto Natales. Overnight at Hotel Cabo Hornos. (Dinner is on your own tonight).
Punta Arenas / Depart
Morning or midday transfer to the airport in Punta Arenas to connect with homeward flights via Santiago (those that wish might want to consider extending their vacation for a few days in the Santiago region).
Includes all accommodation, most meals, all ground transportation in Argentina and Chile, all local guide services. Airfares are NOT included.