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Torres del Paine: The Day I Saw a Puma on a Wildlife Safari

When you set out on a Patagonia Wildlife Safari in Torres del Paine National Park, spotting a puma - Patagonia’s only big cat and top predator - is at the top of most people’s wish list. It’s also one of the most difficult animals to see, staying away from humans and usually hunting during the twilight hours. But once in a while a few lucky individuals are treated to a breathtaking sight that the rest of us can only dream about. Here’s a first-hand account of what it feels like when that lucky individual is you!

 

“Of course deep down I knew I wanted to see a puma on our Wildlife Safari in Patagonia, but did I actually let myself hope that it would happen? Not for a moment! I knew that visiting during the quieter autumn season gave us the best chance of seeing a puma in the wilds of Torres del Paine National Park. I knew that being out and about in the early morning would boost our chances of seeing a puma too. And I knew that our EcoCamp Patagonia guides were experts at their job and would go all out to achieve the impossible. But I also knew that very few visitors actually get to see a puma in the wild. One of our guides, the lovely Isi, had been working in Torres del Paine National Park for six years and had never seen a puma.

Wildlife SafariFor the first two days of our Patagonia tour we’d been hiking through valleys and up mountains, across moraines and over pillowy grasslands. We’d seen guanacos, ñandus, eagles, condors, foxes, frogs and a dazzling array of other animals and birds, but there was no sign of the puma. Now, on our very last day, we were setting off from EcoCamp Patagonia before the sun had even risen, to spend the day visiting Grey Glacier by boat. We weren’t likely to see a puma on the boat, so even as an optimist I had to admit that our chances of seeing a puma had gone from slim to none.
 
For half an hour or so we bobbled along the potholed roads in near complete darkness, trying to stay awake for the sunrise but drifting ever back to sleep, bundled up in cosy layers of fleece and woolly hats. As the sky lightened I was amazed to see what I thought was a huge silver lake turn out to be a fluffy bank of cloud lounging in the valley. The light and the landscape of Patagonia constantly plays tricks on sleepy eyes and in the next moment my eyelids were drooping shut.
 
Then came the shout: “Puma, puma, puma, puma!” 
 
Our guide Roberto Carlos up in the front of the van is 100% on duty even at this early hour and has somehow done the impossible, he’s found us a puma.
 
In a single instant we go from half-asleep to completely awake, faces pressed against the steamy windows of the van, rubbing away condensation with sleeves, gloves, bare hands... anything to get a better view out onto the rocky verge as the van comes to a stop at the side of the road.
Puma in Torres del Paine
It may be blurry, but it's still a puma!
 

There’s an anxious moment as we scan the rocks, and then at last, there he is! Padding along quite casually on the other side of the road, barely metres away. He seems completely unconcerned by the mini bus full of excited visitors watching his every move. He pauses for a moment and turns his head to look at us. From inside the van we can see every feature of his face from his deep black nose to the sweeping outlines of his eyes. We are mesmerised.

After a quick look he apparently decides we’re not worth his concern and carries on his way along the rocky roadside, swishing his black-tipped tail as he goes. Every set of eyes is trained on this perfectly camouflaged cat, beige on beige. Every time we blink we risk losing him again against the background and waste precious seconds relocating him, shouting to each other “he’s there by the rock!”, “he’s just by that bush!”, “he’s on the move again!”.

Ever so slowly, our driver Gabriel eases to the van into drive and cruises alongside so we can keep watching the puma prowl. For an endless moment he disappears behind a huge boulder and it feels like we’ve seen all we’re going to see. But then he emerges from the other side, padding on his way as we try to take a clear photo through the blurry glass window. We fail, but it doesn’t matter, we’ve been granted a few moments more to look on with our own eyes.
 
After a another tantalising minute or so the puma turns to take one last look at us and enough is enough. This private cat is done with performing for today. He turns and slowly but effortlessly climbs the steep rocky cliff behind him, disappearing over the top and out of sight with a final flick of his tail.
 
Torres del Paine RainbowAfter a beat of stunned silence, a spontaneous round of applause and cheering rippled through the van as Gabriel revved the engine and continued the journey to Grey Glacier. We didn’t get far. Around the corner a full rainbow spanned the horizon from end to end as the autumnal morning light cast a pink glow across the mountains. It was impossible to pass by without stopping again for a quick photo, but we’d have taken any excuse to get out of the van and jump around. There was no going back to sleep now. It was the perfect ending to the perfect morning in Torres del Paine National Park and it wasn’t even 9am!”
 
 
Now book your own Patagonia Wildlife Safari to have a chance of spotting a puma for yourself!