A unique and special 13-day journey across the Andes, specially designed to discover the wealth of birds and landscapes of the central regions of Chile and Argentina.
This trip also focuses on the wines that have given these New World countries their well-deserved fame on the international scene.
This morning will drive a short distance north of Santiago airport to visit some lowland marshes. The conditions over the last decade have been very dry and consequently this has affected the extent of the marshland. Our targets here will be the rare South American Painted Snipe, Rosy-billed Pochard, White-cheeked Pintail and Cocoi Heron. During the afternoon, we will visit Viña Concha y Toro, located at the well-known Maipo Valley. This centenary winery is one of the oldest and largest operations in Chile; we will be delighted to learn about the variety of famed Cabernet Sauvignon and Carmenere they produce. One of their most famous wines, Casillero del Diablo – Devil’s Cellar–, honours the place we will visit, an old and impressive underground cellar where the landlord used to hide his best wines, telling his employees that the Devil himself dwelled in this dark and mysterious place. Overnight at Hotel Peumayen or similar, Santiago (Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
We will have a full day exploring the surroundings of El Yeso reservoir in the Andean foothills, where will hopefully be rewarded with sightings of the endemic Crag Chilia plus our first Andean Condors, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and several other Andean specialities such as Black-winged Ground Dove, Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant and Yellow-rumped Siskin. Careful scanning of grasslands and streams may produce the stunning Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, our main target species for the day. This is a lovely mountain spot where we will also have chances for Mountain Parakeet flocks. Overnight at Hotel Peumayen or similar, Santiago (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
Today we will continue our explorations south of Santiago, driving for at least 2 1/2 hours along the Panamerican Highway. Once we reach Talca, we will head eastwards to the majestic Andes once again. Altos de Lircay Nature Reserve – located in an area better known as Vilches – holds the northernmost southern beech (Nothofagus) forests. Nowadays, these woodlands, deriving from ancient tree lineage, are just found as relict communities in temperate regions of the Southern Hemisphere, in distant places like New Zealand, Australia and New Caledonia. These temperate woodlands are home for a number of unique forest-dwelling birds. Among others, today we shall be looking for Rufous-legged Owl, Magellanic Woodpecker, White-throated Hawk (and Rufous-tailed Hawk, if we are lucky), White-throated Treerunner and the quasi-endemic Chestnut-throated Huet-huet. Other tapaculos we will be trying to find are the striking Chucao Tapaculo and the skulking Magellanic Tapaculo. Overnight at Cabañas El Roble, Vilches (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
During the morning we will explore the nearby man-made Lake Colbun; here we will scan the rocky slopes looking for noisy flocks of the threatened endemic race of Burrowing Parrot. Later, we will descend to the central valley, to immerse ourselves in one of the most famous wine-making regions of Chile – the Colchagua Valley. Santa Cruz is literally the centre of the wine industry of this famed region and is a picturesque little town, where we will learn a lot of the culture of this part of the country. The lovely Hotel Santa Cruz will be our base for the following nights, providing us with the chance to explore the museum and its fascinating collections of the pre-history and history of Chile. During the afternoon we will explore the homonymous Santa Cruz vineyards to enjoy a sampling of reds and whites and the lovely vistas; we will be visiting the vineyards by the end of the growing season. Along the dirt roads, we will try to find the largest of the New World tyrant-flycatchers, the voracious Great Shrike-Tyrant. Overnight at Hotel Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
Colchagua Valley and its ‘terroir’ are synonymous to full-bodied and richly flavoured red wines, including Carmenere and Cabernet Sauvignon, although praised Merlot and Syrah have been produced in recent years. Today, we have planned to visit at least three top-quality wine properties of the valley including Montes, Viu Manent and Casa Silva for tastings. Overnight at Hotel Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
We will head north and to the coast in order to explore the Maipo river estuary and the productive coastal ponds and marshes nearby. At the tiny El Peral Nature Reserve, we will concentrate on finding the cryptic-coloured Stripe-backed Bittern, the brood-parasitic Black-headed Duck, and the striking Many-colored Rush Tyrant. We will also have a chance to find the scarce and restricted Ticking Doradito. After a rewarding morning, we will visit the splendid facility of Matetic vineyards, where a top-quality tasting of whites and interesting blends awaits us. Just before reaching our seaside hotel, we will inspect the rocky coast for the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes and a variety of Humboldt Current seabird specialities. Overnight at Hotel Oceanic, Viña del Mar (Breakfast, Box-lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
Today we will make an unforgettable visit to the cold and rich waters of the Humboldt Current, considered to be one of the world’s finest pelagic birding locations. We can expect to see a great variety of tubenoses such as Black-browed and Salvin’s Albatrosses. On recent trips we have often recorded Buller’s, Chatham, Wandering (Antipodean) and both Northern and Southern Royal albatrosses. We should also find Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Pintado, Masatierra, Juan Fernandez, White-chinned and Westland Petrels, Pink-footed, Buller’s and Sooty Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, and Peruvian Diving Petrel. Other seabirds we may encounter include Red (Grey) Phalarope, Sabine’s Gull and Chilean Skua. Regarding marine mammals, although difficult to predict, Orca, Sperm Whale and large pods of Dusky and Southern Righ-Whale Dolphins are often spotted. We will have repeated sightings of the abundant South American Sea Lion. During the afternoon we will continue exploring the coastal areas, visiting a protected breeding colony of Humboldt Penguin; we hope to be able to see the scarce and range-restricted Southern Sea Otter here, too. Before ending the day we’ll stop at a coastal marsh to see a variety of waterfowl including Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon, all three lowland coot species, Spot-flanked Gallinule and Plumbeous Rail, which surprisingly for a rail is quite easy to spot as it often walks in the open. Overnight at Hotel Oceanic, Viña del Mar (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
La Campana National Park and its scrub community, Chilean Palm-tree groves and dry forests will be the scenarios for today’s birding adventures. Mount La Campana (The Bell), after which the park is named, is one of the most prominent peaks of the whole Coastal Range, and was also one of the many interesting places that young Charles Darwin explored during his long stay in Chile in the 1830s. Here we will look for an interesting array of passerines, all endemic to Chile, including Chilean Mockingbird, Dusky-tailed Canastero, Moustached Turca, Dusky Tapaculo and White-throated Tapaculo. Chilean Pigeon, Striped Woodpecker, Austral Pygmy Owl, Giant Hummingbird and Green-backed Firecrown are also regulars here. We will also look for the endemic Chilean Tinamou. Overnight at Hotel Oceanic, Viña del Mar (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
The Great Day - time to make our Andes crossing! Today we will drive along the International road towards Argentina. At this latitude the majestic Andes Range reaches its maximum altitude and forms a really impressive geological boundary between the two countries. The mountains divide not just their cultures but also their biodiversity, and we will witness this as the day progresses. The ‘Snail’ or Caracol, is a portion of the road consisting of multiple ascending bends that will give us access to Cristo Redentor tunnel and eventually into Argentina. After the border formalities, we will have the chance to bird the eastern foothills of the Andes. The bird assemblage is similar to Chile’s, although it drastically changes as we descend in altitude. We hope to enjoy impressive views of the highest peak in the Americas and both Southern and Western Hemispheres, Mount Aconcagua (22,837 ft – 6,961 m). The birding will be quite productive here; Mountain Caracara, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded and Creamy-rumped Miners, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Cinereous, Black-fronted, White-browed and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants plus Greater Yellow Finch, Band-tailed Sierra Finch and Yellow-rumped Siskin can all be found in this setting. Andean Condor, a true icon of the Andes, is also quite abundant here. The Valley of Uspallata will offer a proper birding welcome to this ‘Gaucho’ nation. The orchards and poplar groves hold a number of species that are absent in the Chilean side. Among the species that we hope to see this afternoon, will be White-collared Swift, the striking Red-tailed Comet, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Chaco Earthcreeper, Patagonian Mockingbird, White-tipped Plantcutter, and the delightful Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch. Overnight at Pueblo del Rio, near Uspallata (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
Welcome to the land of Malbec! Two thirds of the whole Argentine wine is produced in the Mendoza province, and the Malbec is certainly its best ambassador in the international scene. We will spend the morning exploring a couple of vineyards in the area surrounding Mendoza city, San Lujan de Cuyo. This wine region of Argentina has no influence from the ocean and has more continental weather patterns, the summers being hotter and having much cooler winters than in Chile. There is plenty of water coming from the mountains and these offer ideal conditions for the production of interesting wines with unique features. Together with the Malbecs, other fine wines are produced here including Cabernets and Tempranillo. Overnight: Hotel Huentala, Mendoza (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
The ‘Monte Desert’ is a vast scrub community extending broadly throughout the length and breadth of Argentina and of course, holds a lot of goodies for the bird enthusiast. We will explore the plains located east of Mendoza, into the adjacent province of San Luis, to discover the well-supplied array of specialities of this scrub desert; this includes unique tapaculos such as Crested and Sandy Gallitos plus other interesting passerines including the endemic Steinbach’s Canastero, White-throated Cacholote, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, the recently-described Straneck’s Tyrannulet and the lovely Cinnamon Warbling-Finch, among several others. Overnight at Hotel Huentala, Mendoza (Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
Today we will be driving back to Santiago and we will cross the Andes once again. This will be a great opportunity to re-visit the area of Uspallata, having plenty of time to stop, to bird and to fill our list gaps. Overnight at Hotel Galerias or similar, Santiago (Breakfast, Box-Lunch, Dinner) (Guide)
Breakfast completes our tour ready for your onward travel arrangements.