Patagonia's Mountain Landscapes 2017 Trip Report

By Jeff Vanuga on May 17, 2017

Patagonia certainly fits the description of a “Living Eden” as it was called in the PBS film documentary.  A place of extraordinary beauty, with majestic mountains, impressive glaciers and abundant wildlife, it remains a favorite place of mine even after leading six trips in this part of the world.  Patagonia has everything to offer the nature photographer—from stunning mountain scenery, to birds and mammals, to photogenic details right down to the macro level.  No matter your preference, you find yourself shooting everything because it is such a special location.
Buenos Aires churchWe began our journey in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  There, participants had the choice of a nature tour to Costanera Sur/Palermo Lake for bird photography or a city tour.  Since I live in the sticks in Wyoming I prefer the city tour, where we visit famous landmarks, such as the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Steel Flower sculpture, and the famous Recoleta Cemetery.  Although we spend a minimum amount of time at these locations, my favorite is the Recoleta Cemetery.  Considered one of the ten most beautiful cemeteries in the world, it contains graves of many notable people, including presidents, Nobel Prize winners, the granddaughter of Napoleon, and—probably most famous of all—Eva Peron, the first lady of Argentina from 1946 to 1952.  Later in the evening both groups met for our welcome dinner in a restaurant overlooking the Puerto Madero Waterfront.  The barrio was originally constructed as a port, but after cargo ships became too large to use it, the main docks were relocated in the early 1900s.  What remains today are beautifully restored buildings, fine dining spots, high rises and scenic parks.  Our restaurant was located across from the Puente de la Mujer, a beautiful piece of architecture spanning the Rio de la Plata along the riverwalk.  A great start to our journey!
Fitzroy Massif PatagoniaThe next day we are on the road.  We flew to El Calafate and then made the several hours drive north to El Chalten, where we spent the next four days photographing the Fitz Roy Massif, Chorrillo del Salto Waterfall, Lago del Desierto and the fall-colored Patagonian beech forests that surround the countryside.  Our group spent sunrise and sunset shooting the majestic mountain range of the Fitz Roy Massif, where we had spectacular views from every location.  One thing that was different on this portion of the trip was the lack of wind.  Patagonia is notorious for the high winds coming off the Andes onto the steppes, but his year there was absolutely zero wind.  This is highly unusual for this part of the world.  What came with the calm weather, however, were clear blue skies and views of the mountains during our entire stay.  For clients who are in good physical condition, I like to do a little side trip.  We take a 4-mile walk, in the dark before dawn and with 1,600 feet of elevation gain, to access a secret waterfall.  Since half of the group was up to the challenge, we divided into two smaller groups—half would do the hike while the others went with the van to another scenic location.  After leaving our lodging at 5:00 AM, we were getting near our destination by pre-dawn when we noticed the reflections on a mountain lake along our route.  To take advantage of Fitz Roy reflected in this mountain scene, we changed plans and decided to spend the morning working with reflections of Fitz Roy and fall-colored beech trees.  Our mountain guide Cecelia, who travels with us throughout the trip and lives in El Chalten, commented that in 20 years she has only seen this lake calm twice.  For us, it was like hitting the lottery!
Fall color in PatagoniaAfter four days in El Chalten, we continued our journey by driving back to El Calafate, which is the half-way point on the way to Torres del Paine.  We spent two nights here and visited the famous Perito Moreno Glacier, which is the only glacier in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field that is not shrinking due to the effects of global warming.  We spent the day photographing the glacier from numerous viewpoints, and later we took a boat cruise along the glacier face.  Up-close and personal!
Next we cross the border into Chile to photograph in world renowned Torres del Paine National Park.  The highlight of the park is the Paine Massif, rising to 8,202 feet (2,500 meters) above sea level and surrounded by breathtaking glaciers of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, mountain lakes and winding rivers.  Much of the geology of the Paine Massif area consists of Cretaceous sedimentary rocks that have been intruded by a Miocene-aged laccolith.  The result is the central and bottom bands of exposed granite contrast with the dark Cretaceous sedimentary rocks on top.  Photographically stunning!  We happily spent the next several days in the northern area of the park shooting the massif, as well as guanacos, foxes, Andean condors and other species that inhabit this region.  
Torres del Paine National ParkOur final photographic location during our last days in Torres del Paine are spent at Lago Grey.  The Grey Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field to the west of the Codillera Paine and flows into the lake of the same name.  The lake is grey in color due to the large amount of sediment carried down by the glacier.  The ice in the glacier contains many sections where sediment lies within alternating layers of ice—providing some contrast.  For many in our group this was one of the highlights of the trip—a close inspection of a glacier over 98 feet (30 meters) high and occupying an area of 100 square miles (270 square kilometers).  After retracing our steps to El Calafate we flew back to Buenos Aires and continued homeward.  
Patagonia never disappoints and no matter the weather, from blue sky to rain, there is always something to photograph.  After leading several trips in this part of the world, I am ready for number seven in 2018.  There is always something new to bring home photographically and I hope to see you on my next photographic adventure in the mountains of Patagonia!
Jeff Vanuga and Cecilia Costa will once again co-lead our Patagonia photo tour April 9–25, 2018. You can get full trip details HERE.