Patagonia's Mountain Landscapes 2016 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on May 01, 2016

This year I led a couple of photo tours in Chile just prior to the Patagonia Mountain Landscapes trip in April, so I had an extra day to enjoy some of the sights and sounds of Argentina’s capital, Buenos Aires.  Working with Alejandro, our local guide, I decided to take in a Tango Dinner Show at the Esquina Homero Manzi.  Homero Manzi was a lyricist of many famous tangos.  The tango house that bears Manzi’s name is one of the most famous and historical in all of Buenos Aires.  The real attraction for me was the fact that it is the only tango house in Buenos Aires that allows photography and customers can casually roam about the theater and take photos without flash.  The evening was so enjoyable it may become part of our future tours as the location for the introductory dinner.  Time will tell!

My first meeting with participants was in Buenos Aires at our tour hotel.  During the afternoon some members of the group chose to take a nature tour at Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve and Palermo Lake or a city tour.  Later in the day we had our welcome dinner, enjoying very fine dining at the Rodizio, located in the Puerto Madero Waterfront barrio district of the city.  Here we experienced some of the foods Buenos Aires has to offer as we dined in front of the Rio de la Plata riverbank.  The Puerto Madero area has the largest and most active urban renewal projects in Buenos Aires and is by itself very photogenic.
The next morning it was off to El Calafate and, from there, our drive to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.  For the next four days we enjoyed shooting around Torres del Paine while staying at several key locations.  Each area, such as Lago Pehoe, Rio Serrano and Lago Grey, has its own unique quality for photographing: reflective lakes, waterfalls, glaciers, rivers and wildlife.  Regardless of our location, we never lost sight of the majestic focal point of the park—the Cordillera Paine.  We spent time shooting mountain scenes of the Towers and Horns, mixing it with some wildlife photography, including guanaco, rhea, Patagonian fox, Andean condor, torrent ducks, caracara and eagles.  To add another dimension to our photography, we arranged for a late morning gaucho shoot.  Gauchos are the equivalent of our cowboys here in North America and are often seen herding sheep on the steppes of Patagonia.  Our resident gauchos performed horseback riding skills for us and then treated us to a traditional Patagonian barbeque.

On our last day in Torres del Paine we visited the scenic Grey Glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field where we got an intimate view of this now receding glacier.  One special treat was finding a crystal clear floating iceberg in Lago Grey that had rolled and presented itself with some of the clearest and bluest colored ice I have ever seen. Generally found and exited from the bottom of glaciers, these icebergs are formed from clear water with all the gases compressed out by the tons of ice above, creating a crystal-like appearance.  As we approached this unique scene the cameras were burning through the pixels as our boat edged as close as safely possible for some incredible blue ice imagery. 

After saying our goodbyes to Torres del Paine we headed back across the border from Chile to El Calafate, Argentina, where we based our operations for the next couple of days.  At dinnertime we were treated to a meal at La Cocina restaurant which specializes in homemade pastas with a variety of savory sauces.  The only thing I can say is that the food was a feast for the palate and everyone raved about it.  The next morning we were back on schedule for our drive to Perito Moreno Glacier.  Here, we caught a few rays of morning light on the glacier and, later in the day, participated in a boat ride along the wall of the glacier.  During our time there many people witnessed and photographed calving glaciers—which is always a thrill to experience both visually and acoustically as they tear off from the glacier face.  After another night in El Calafate we departed for our final destination, El Chalten and the Fitz Roy Massif in Los Glaciares National Park.

Mount Fitz Roy’s original name is Chalten and, in the native Tehuelche dialect, means “smoking mountain.”  It is impressive and people come from all over the world to photograph, hike and climb the majestic mountains in the area.  Mount Fitz Roy even inspired Yvon Chouinard of the Patagonia® clothing company to use it as their logo after he climbed it in 1968.  On our first morning out to photograph the “smoking mountain” we hit pay dirt as the mountain gods were on our side with a beautiful sunrise and steaming clouds framing the highest peaks.  This was our best morning of the trip, and although we saw the mountain again on a couple of other mornings, it did not present itself in quite the same splendor as on that first morning. 

During the end of our time in El Chalten we experienced a fair amount of rain and overcast skies and took advantage of the weather to concentrate our efforts on visiting Rio de las Vueltas Canyon and the country north of El Chalten.  Our trip coincides with fall colors and the Patagonian beech forests were electric with hues.  We spent many hours shooting fall colors, waterfalls and the torrent ducks that inhabit these mountain streams and rivers.  The overcast light is ideal for photographing woods and waterfalls, so from a photographic viewpoint, the weather gods were again on our side.
After a wonderful few days in El Chalten we were transported back to the airport in El Calafate for our journey back to Buenos Aires.  The following morning was relaxing and we did not have to meet as a group until noon.  Always nice to get to sleep in every once in a while!  We had lunch on the Puerto Moreno Waterfront and feasted on an incredible buffet lunch fit for royalty.  The rest of the afternoon was spent in the La Boca district of Buenos Aires where we had a pre-arranged tango shoot.  We moved around some of the side streets of the barrio and used colorful framed doorways along with graffiti-covered walls as backdrops for our private tango show.  The climax of the show came at the end when both men and women of our group posed with the tango dancers to have their pictures taken.  Always good for a few laughs!

Overall, it was another fantastic trip to Patagonia and our participants came away with some world class photographs and experiences.  I will be leading this photo safari again next year along with our resident guide Cecelia Costa and their amazing staff.  If you cannot make this one I will also be leading a trip to Bolivia a month earlier.  Either way, mark it on your calendars.  I hope to see you next year!