Wildfoot Travel ambassador and good friend, Cynthia Bressani went on a wildlife adventure in Chile recently, in search of the illusive Puma. Here Cynthia treats us to a first hand account of her experience, along with a few lovely photographs and some incredible video footage.
I left Punta Arenas, and after a lunch (spit-roasted lamb) at Cerro Negro Ranch and a sheep shearing demonstration on the way, I approached Torres del Paine National Park. My excitement mounted as the spectacular mountains came into view. The peaks were partially covered by cloud, but it was evident how high and dramatic they were.
Las Torres Hotel
At the base of the mountains, the hotel was outstanding, consisting of a series of wooden buildings – two-storied blocks of rooms, a central bar and separate restaurant with delicious menus. I had a spacious superior room, and the all-inclusive rate, with free WiFi, meant my 4 night stay was extremely comfortable.
Puma Encounter Programme – our Guides
I was joined by an English couple on the programme, and we had a guide, Filipe, a driver, Josue, and the spotter, Roberto, who always left in his own car before us to find the puma. I found out from talking to him that Roberto had been the puma spotter for the BBC “Seven Worlds One Planet”.
On this three-day programme into Torres del Paine National Park and Cerro Paine Reserve we set off each morning at 6am in the minibus, with our ample breakfast in a cloth bag. We stayed out until midday when we returned to the hotel for lunch. At 4pm we set off again until about 8pm. During each session Filipe took out of his rucksack a flask of hot coffee, and boxes containing slices of cake, biscuits and fruit to sustain us as we searched for or watched pumas.
On the first morning Roberto was already on the mountain, and within the first hour, he radioed us with a sighting of a puma. In the far distance was a puma and as it moved onto the skyline, we saw its small outline – our first puma! The weather was cloudless with blue skies, giving us superb mountain photographs. We enjoyed short walks while looking at the birds and flowers.
Our afternoon excursion gave us the exciting views of a mother and two cubs. At first they were resting in trees and we watched them from above. As they moved, we too moved our position to get better views. It was difficult walking for me on the mountainside, even with my walking pole, but Filipe gave me a lot of help, (he was determined that I should not miss anything). We watched this family for three and a half hours. What a privilege!
On the second day, again no sooner had we set off than Roberto radioed that he had found a puma. It was heading downhill to the road. Josue drove as fast as he could on the narrow road, and we arrived as the puma had crossed the road and was now crossing the river. We watched it climb up the far bank and walk into the trees. The weather again was superb. We drove further around the park, stopping frequently. We enjoyed watching grey fox, then guanacos and admired the dramatic scenery. We came across a marvellous reflection of the mountain Torres (towers) in a lake.
In the afternoon we thought we were going to be disappointed. But after two hours, under a cloudy sky, a puma was spotted sitting on a rocky ledge in bushes. We left it still sitting there.
Day three took us to an area where, on the hillside, was a freshly killed guanaco. Not far away was a juvenile puma, looking very well fed, resting beside a rock and bushes. We left it, to drive along the road, where we found a large group of guanacos playing and chasing each other. Then hearing from Roberto that the puma was on the move, we drove to a position where we could watch it moving downhill. As it reached the road in front of us it went into a culvert under the road and then passed quickly into the trees. Here we managed a short video of the close encounter.
Our afternoon took us to a mountainside within sight of the hotel. It was a very difficult climb for me, but worth it, as eventually a puma headed downhill not too far from us, crossed the road and walked along a grassy trail beside the road.
Success on each outing. How incredible! An unforgettable experience!