RFI: Central Chile and Atacama

Hello, 

I’m going on a trip to Chile at the end of November for about 10 days with family, including non mammal enthusiasts. We’ll be spending a few days each in and around Santiago (likely including a full day trip to Yeso Valley), the Valparaiso area (with probably a short stop at La Campana National Park) and San Pedro de Atacama. I’ve gotten some great ideas from some of the reports posted on this site, but hoping to also tap into the broader knowledge of the mammal watching community.

– Would anyone be able to recommend any interesting mammal watching destinations/opportunities in or near any of these areas? Are there are any places that may provide any relatively reasonable chances of seeing Marine Otters, guanacos or vicuñas, foxes, viscachas and more.

– Can anyone share the names or contact info for local guides that may be knowledgeable about wildlife (mammals and/or  more) in any of these areas?

This is our first trip to Chile, so we’ll be excited to try for any local wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Some of the more professional guiding experiences seem to be out of our financial range, so in particular, seeking any budget alternatives, if they exist.

Appreciate any recommendations, and plan to report back after the trip. 

Mihir

7 Comments
  1. Kyle Finn 1 month ago

    Hi Mihir,
    I am currently in the Coquimbo region of Chile studying degus. Degus and foxes are fairly common near Fray Jorge National Park, as are coruros. Foxes come to the picnic area at Fray Jorge fairly frequently during the day. Degus can be seen around the ticket counter at the park entrance, usually seen darting between bushes. Sadly I can’t share the location of the degu study site. Degus are also in the bushes on the road leading to Fray Jorge. A stop in areas with open space between bushes (but not the large open “lawn-like” areas) would probably get you one foraging between 08h00-10h00. PS – most Chileans tend to stop on the roadside in this area for hour long picnics so don’t feel awkard doing it! Just wait and scan with binos because the degus tend to run when cars drive by, but come back out to forage.

    There are marine otters along the coast at Fray Jorge, the locals tell me, but there really is not any good access to the beach without a very long walk. Or a drive to Caleta el Sauce and then another long walk (the road by the windfarm there is private and closed). For coruros, stay at Viento Sur Astrocamping, they are all over the place on the south facing slopes of their property (there’s trails that go through). They are most active on the surface that time of year from 07h00-10h00, with possible activity between 16h00-17h00. Sadly I have not seen any yet, but I’ve really only had time during midday to watch their burrows. I have also seen foxes at Viento Sur both day and night. Not much in the way of kangaroo mice at night though, but there are some other small mice running around, plus mouse-eared opossums (which are difficult to see, they tend to keep to very bushy areas or steep hillsides)

    For guanacos, they can be seen at Fray Jorge, but my best views of them were on the way to Punta de Choros (roughly -29.3391729, -71.2004201). There are signs indicating the start of a reserve, and they were there the 3 times I visited the area, on the flat land on either side of the dry river valley. I would also recommend the penguin reserve at Choros, it’s on islands off the coast. Just note that since it’s a boat tour, it’s weather depending, if the waves are rough the boats don’t go out, that happened to us once. But the waves weres fine when we went on 15 October, even though it was completely overcast and threatening rain. The boat tour is about 3 hours, including an hour to walk around one of the islands, and then the boat takes you around the other islands with fantastic views of Turkey Vultures, Peruvian Diving Petrel, and colonies of Peruvian Booby, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants. Plus some other good birds along the shore there (Peruvian Pelicans, Blackish Oystercathcers, Seaside Cinclodes). Also stop at the dock at Coquimbo for Inca Terns (-29.9556,-71.3350).

  2. Kyle Finn 1 month ago

    Also I forgot to mention there are seal lions at both the Coquimbo harbour (Inca Tern spot) and on the boat tour of the penguin reserve. Also note that there are private tours of the reserve, but we just went to the ticket counter at the dock and got one for 15,000 CLP per person (plus about 7000 CLP for a permit from CONAF the park regulation office). The tours opperate from 08h30 to about 14h00. And I am pretty sure there are whale watching tours as well, blue whales are seen in the waters, and our guides for the penguin reserve said that it was beginning to be whale season, they seem them occassionally on the penguin tours, but the islands are rather close to the shore. I feel a dedicated whale tour would be more likely to get whales, or other seabirds (like albatross, skuas, petrels)

  3. Lee 1 month ago

    I think you must go to Valdivia or further south for a chance at marine otter L. felina. Ditto for monito del monte (Dromiciops gliroides), a mouse-like marsupial that’s actually of Australian marsupial descent and unrelated to all South American marsupials. In Valdivia you can see instoduced American mink. In wetlands near Santiago/Valparaiso I’ve seen coypu. On the road to Portillo and elsewhere I saw Common Degu: look in rock piles. For Vicuña and Guanaco, as well as Ctenomys etc., fly to Calama in the Atacama desert, rent a car and drive to San Pedro de Atacama. The roads to El Tatio, the lakes Miscanti and Miñique and the Salar de Tara are great for those critters. Rodrigo Reyes is a great guide: http://www.birdwatchingchile.com, phone +56997186970 , facebook https://www.facebook.com/BirdwatchingChile?ref=hl. Also Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions, at rtapia@farsouthexpeditions.com.

  4. Alex Meyer 1 month ago

    Hi Mihir,

    I was in Chile in December of 2022. I saw Marine Otter reliably at Cuevas De Anzota which would realistically require a flight to Arica. And then vicuñas & viscachas at/around Las Cuevas Hot Springs (a few hours drive from Arica)

    I saw Cururo mounds at the Airbnb I stayed at outside Santiago at Mirador de Los Cóndores, but like Kyle Finn only had time to check the mounds in the middle of the day. I didn’t have luck with any other mammals around Santiago, although I did find Degu mounds and unsuccessfully tried for Chinchilla Rats (Abrocomidae) based on a few pins around Mirador de Los Cóndores found on the iNaturalist app.

    I got Monito Del Monte at my Airbnb on Chiloe Island and Kodkod at nearby mainland Petrohue but again that area would require another flight. Pudu Chilean Dolphin and Peale’s Dolphin were also seen on/en route to Chiloe.

    Guanaco I only saw all the way South at Torres del Paine NP (as well as Puma and Bunny Rat).

    Unfortunately I didn’t spend much time looking for wildlife in the Santiago area, but if you’d like further information on anything I mentioned above, don’t hesitate to email me at alexander.f.meyer@gmail.com

  5. Steve Firth 1 month ago

    Hi Mihir,

    I was in Chile in December 2019.

    Went to El Yeso independently (mainly looking for birds) and there was a “guard” with a makeshift barrier, stopping traffic going up the valley, due to the danger on the precipitous roads of the convoys of fully laden large quarry trucks coming down at speed. I did maange to persuade the “guard” to let us go up, but only after quite a long time using my limited knowledge of spanish.

    Further up there was a more permanent manned barrier, manned perhaps by a Park Employee, who absolutely would not let us past as we did not have a permit and the permits are issued in Santiago. It may be worth looking into this further before your visit. If my memory serves me correctly, I think that Rodrigo Reyes (mentioned by Lee in his reply) might be the person to contact for further info regarding how to obtain the permit, though I am not certain about this, sorry.

    We did have ‘scope views of Viscachas in the area that we were able to visit, on the lower rocky slope up from the valley on the east side of the valley, on the right hand side as you are driving up.

    We saw Marine Otters north of Valpairaiso. Cachagua is around 58km north of Valparaiso. There is a car park overlooking the beach at Cachagua with steps leading down to the beach. Walk north on the beach and when the beach comes to an end, walk the obvious path up the coast (the path is shown on maps.me) to a mirador (viewpoint) This is a rocky headland. Continuing past the mirador you will see an inlet, which is where we saw Marine Otter in the waves. There is a small island opposite this area and we saw the Marine Otters on this island.

    We walked off the path onto the rocks to get close to the sea i.e. to get closer to the island. We had seen Southern River Otters in Chiloe and attempted to imitate the “honking” calls we had heard from them (similar to short hippo grunts) and to our amazement we had 2 Marine Otters swim from the island to very close in front of us to check us out. Watched them for maybe 20-30 minutes in total.

    We had read that early morning or late afternoon were the optimum time to try to see them. Have checked our photographs and our sighting was between 9.00am and 9.30am. So not very early in the morning.

    If I have confused you with my directions, don’t hesitate to ask for clarification at stevefirth69@hotmail.com

  6. Nicolas 1 month ago

    Hi Mihir,
    I saw Marine Otters along the shore of the Santuario Punta de tralca, south of Valpairaiso in march 2022, in the middle of the day, not shy at all, if this could help.

  7. Author
    mzaveri 1 month ago

    Amazing, thank you everyone! Will report back.

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