Cloud Ridge Naturalists
spacer In Darwin’s Footsteps: Patagonia’s Atlantic Coast ...


November 5-23, 2016 18 Days/17 Nights
Carol & Carlos Passera, Geoff Hammerson,
Wendy Shattil & Bob Rozinski,
Audrey Benedict and Guest Lecturers

Permission to board! The year is 1831 and Captain Robert Fitzroy, commander of the HMS Beagle, is welcoming the newly appointed naturalist, 22-year-old Charles Darwin, to board her Majesty’s ship. Fitzroy’s instructions from the Admiralty are to continue the work begun on the Beagle’s first voyage and to survey the southern half of South America. Both men were inspired by naturalist Alexander von Humboldt’s epic travels in South America and are determined that their expedition exceed expectations. Darwin’s tasks as ship’s naturalist are to make detailed geological and biological observations and to collect specimens throughout the voyage. As the Beagle set sail for the Canary Islands and South America, neither man could have imagined that their five year circumnavigation of the globe would become the most important scientific voyage of all time.

Charles Darwin combined unique abilities as a naturalist with an intuitive sense of geology— puzzle-solving skills that enabled him to become one of the world’s great scientists. After returning to England, Darwin spent 20 years working through the Beagle’s journals and his own notebooks, looking at specimens, conducting experiments, and corresponding with colleagues. Despite the fact that Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace jointly presented their theory of natural selection to the Linnean Society in 1858, Darwin waited until 1869 to publish On the Origin of Species. His now-famous book set forth the framework for his theory of evolution—the multi-branched “tree of life”—and described the biological mechanisms responsible for the diversity of life on earth. This dazzling leap forward in science—the Darwinian Revolution—was also an unequivocal rebuttal of creationism. Darwin’s fossil evidence for pushing back earth’s antiquity shocked not only Europe’s most influential clerics but also many of the leading geologists of his day.



It has been 185 years since the HMS Beagle sailed from England’s shores to chart new waters in our understanding of biodiversity. In 2007, Cloud Ridge inaugurated the first of three groundbreaking voyages of discovery “In Darwin’s Footsteps.” This year’s land and sea-based journey traces Charles Darwin’s explorations along the remote Atlantic coastline of Patagonian Argentina and concludes in one the world’s most beautiful wilderness areas—Tierra del Fuego. Beginning in Buenos Aires, we tour the city that Darwin admired as much for its Spanish-Colonial architecture as for the exotic loveliness of its women. Flying to Comodoro Rivadavia, we head first to Bahia Bustamante and Malaspina Bay. From our beachfront cottages, we’ll explore this wild coastline, watching for southern right whales and killer whales, hiking through a petrified “forest” of 60-million-year-old trees, and photographing noisy colonies of South American sea lions, Magellanic penguins, kelp gulls, imperial cormorants, and royal terns.



Heading south to the remote coastal region of Puerto Deseado, we’ll watch for guanacos, rheas, and other wildlife. This starkly beautiful area offered Darwin a unique sampling of Patagonia’s biodiversity. At least 134 species of birds are recorded, including both Magellanic and rockhopper penguins, Darwin’s rheas, elegant crested tinamous, burrowing parrots, blacknecked swans, and Andean condors. Of the 28 mammal species recorded, we should have good looks at sea lions, elephant seals, guanacos, maras, hairy armadillos and perhaps catch a glimpse of a Patagonian skunk or a gray fox.

Cormorants (MH)

The remarkable estuary system here is home to a diversity of marine wildlife, including dolphins and noisy colonies of red-legged cormorants. Boating to Isla de los Pajaros, we’ll immerse ourselves in a colony of Magellanic penguins, snowy sheathbills, blackish oystercatchers, and giant petrels—a total sensory experience! If the seas permit, a landing at Isla Penguino gives us the chance to photograph both Magellanic and rock hopper penguins. We’ll also watch for the predatory skuas and petrels that opportunistically patrol these colonies. Gusty winds may give us the gift of black-browed albatrosses soaring over the waves. These seascapes and famous mariner’s landmarks like Cabo Blanco and Tower Rocks are featured in the paintings of Conrad Mertens, the Beagle’s artist. No matter how remote these landscapes may seem to us,“nowhere is a place”— emboldened with the sea’s magic.


Traveling inland across the vast Patagonian steppe, we visit Petrified Forest National Park, where Darwin found the fossilized remnants of a once-flourishing tropical forest. His journal devotes several pages to nearby San Julian and the Rio Santa Cruz valley, where he discovered a fossilized seashore extending more than 500 miles along the coast and inland to an elevation of 3,000 feet. Attempting to solve these and other geologic mysteries, Darwin proposed that the southern portion of South America must have been massively uplifted during “some epoch of extreme violence!” It would take geologists another 100 years to realize that Darwin’s dynamic earth perspective—mountains rising, climates changing—paved the way for our modern understanding of the forces of plate tectonics, continental drift and mountain-building.

Darwin marveled at the braided network of rivers the men encountered as they explored the arid steppe. Guessing that meltwater torrents from enormous glaciers in the high Andes must feed these rivers, Darwin and Fitzroy embarked on a 19-day small boat expedition up the Rio Santa Cruz. Having misjudged the distances and the supplies needed, the men were forced to turn back. In 1876, naturalist Perito Moreno would discover the Santa Cruz’s icy stronghold—today’s Los Glaciares National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site embraces a giant ice cap that sits astride the spectacular spine of the Andes and feeds 47 glaciers. As Darwin surmised, meltwater from 13 of these glaciers flows toward the Atlantic Ocean. Darwin will be with us in spirit as we explore the park and discuss the impacts of global warming on the world’s glaciers.

Flying to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, we begin our land-based exploration of Tierra del Fuego with a visit to historic Estancia Harberton and its Akatashun Bone Museum. We’ll then shift our focus to Hammer Island, which is home to nesting Magellanic and gentoo penguins. Hiking the coast trail in spectacular Tierra del Fuego National Park, we’ll experience the wildlife magic of the subantarctic Magellanic beech forest. Our sea-based expedition begins aboard the Chilean ship Mare Australis. Our 3-day voyage promises far greater comforts than Darwin experienced aboard the Beagle. We’ll travel through the Beagle and Murray channels and spend our days cruising the glacier-carved fjords of the Tierra del Fuego archipelago. We’ll explore and hike in Garibaldi and Pia fjords and navigate through spectacular Glacier Alley. Weather permitting, we’ll sail across Nassau Bay to Cape Horn National Park. Landing at Islas Hornos, we’ll climb to the monument at the Cape Horn summit. At Wulaia Bay, where Darwin landed in 1833, we’ll visit a former Yámana aboriginal settlement and hike through another stunning forest. To experience—by ship, Zodiac, and on foot—the dramatic fjords, magnificent glaciers, tumbling waterfalls, and verdant beech forests of Tierra del Fuego is an unparalleled opportunity. Disembarking at Ushuaia, we fly back to Buenos Aires, spending our final night celebrating our voyage In Darwin’s Footsteps!

Price: $12,995 (includes a $1,000 deposit)
Group Size: 14 Trip Rating: 2
Price includes:
18 days/17 nights, including all hotel/airport transfers, all ground transportation, all lodging, 3-day cruise in Tierra del Fuego (Mare Australis), all meals, services of 5 guides, all local guides/lecturers, all national park and museum entrance fees, and all gratuities.

Does not include roundtrip airfare to Buenos Aires from your point of departure (overnight flights depart US on 11/5 and arrive BA on 11/6; return flight from BA leaves on 11/22 and arrives in the US on 11/23), internal flights/airport taxes (≈$800), or trip insurance. Trip cost is based on double occupancy; single accommodations are not available for this trip.


Magellanic penguins (MH)

Magellanic penguins (MH)

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