Patagonia

Camels in the Americas? How crazy is that? Many millions of years ago, camelids (the camel family) were part of the fauna of North America. They existed and gradually evolved from tiny creatures the size of a domestic cat to animals the size of a goat...and eventually even much larger. The camels of North America survived until about 12,000 years ago, when humans crossed the Bering land bridge into North America.

As much of the world turns its attention to Brazil for World Cup 2014, we’re looking at the iconic wildlife of the teams facing off. Our Round 1 match-up pits Chile’s guanaco, a favorite species observed on our Patagonia tours, against Australia’s iconic kangaroo. 


Chile: Guanaco

The Humboldt penguin is very similar in both size and appearance to the more southerly Magellanic penguin. When observed from the front, they are quite easily distinguished by looking at the dark chest band or bands depending on the species. The Humboldt penguin has a single black chest band on an otherwise white chest and belly whereas the Magellanic penguin has two black chest bands.

There is little in nature as enduring as a penguin. They somewhat resemble little humans in tuxedos and walk like Charlie Chaplain of the silent movie era. Actually, penguins were walking on earth and ice and swimming in the southern Oceans long before the days of Charlie Chaplain, so it should be said he walked like a penguin as opposed to the other way around. There are a few species of penguins known to occur at the Southern tip of South America but only the Magellanic penguin is a common resident.  

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Central and South America, or Latin America, has long been considered one of the top destinations in the world for hiking. And not just those seemingly impossible hikes that only the fittest would undertake, such as Mt. Everest, but awe-inspiring hikes for everyone from the family of novice hikers to the experienced climber.

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International Expeditions’ Patagonia tour is expanding in 2013 and will allow guests an rare opportunity to visit Tierra del Fuego’s Porvenir, home to world’s most accessible colony of king penguins. King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second largest member of the family and probably the most beautiful and charismatic species of the penguin world.

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The landscapes of Chilean Patagonia are so impressive and brimming with sights that nature travel enthusiasts can’t absorb everything in just one trip. After you’ve explored the famed glaciers and landscapes of Torres del Paine, adventurers should consider venturing off of the beaten path to the Marble Cathedral near General Carrera glacial lake on the border of Chile and Argentina. The remoteness of this location makes it a bit complicated to reach, but once you get there, you'll be glad you made the effort.

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On your next Patagonia tour keep an eye out for the rufous-tailed hawk. The birds, which were first discovered by Charles Darwin on his famous voyage aboard the Beagle, have a variety of coloration in their bodies, but they all have rust-colored tails, often with black horizontal stripes. Official estimates place the entire population of this unique bird at less than 1,000.

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Most people tour Patagonia for the stunning hikes and nature travel experiences around the Andes. However, exploring the cultures of the people who have inhabited these rugged peaks for centuries adds a particular sense of beauty and connection to this vast wilderness.

At the extreme southern reaches of South American, people have been building civilizations for centuries. However, it was not until the 16th century that they first made contact with Europeans.

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Andean condors offer the ultimate in viewings for avid birders and amateurs alike. The massive birds are some of the largest flying creatures in the world, and are a highlight of nature travel through the Andes. A particularly good place to spot these awesome animals is at Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia.

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