Author Archives: Luke Errington

About Luke Errington

Luke fell in love with Patagonia when he first trekked through the Andes some 15 years ago. In 2009 he founded Swoop Patagonia and since then has trekked, ridden and paddled thousands of miles throughout the region. Back at home in Bristol he's a dad of three, and a keen trail runner and adventure racer. On his last visit Luke climbed to within 500m of the summit of Aconcagua and ran a 3 day ultra-marathon around the volcanoes of northern Patagonia.

Estancia hopping in Torres del Paine

Estancia hopping in Torres del Paine

There’s not much that beats the thrill of discovering Torres del Paine’s rugged landscapes on horseback – a method of travel that’s been used in the region for hundreds of years and is still favoured today.

In September of last year, I had the pleasure of staying at one of Chile’s biggest ranches, the Estancia Cerro Guido and one of Swoop’s customers, Barbara, recently visited another Chilean ranch for a similar getaway. Here, we both give a little insight of our experiences of life as a Patagonian gaucho (cowboy).SWOOP_3_LUKE-ERRINGTON_ALL_CERROGUIDOLANDSCAPE

Luke: “For anyone who enjoys horse riding, the Estancia Cerro Guido is one of the top spots in the region and offers a true slice of Patagonian history. You can experience life on a real working estancia (ranch), and head out with the gauchos to explore the surrounding pampas (grasslands). You can also ascend the peak of Cerro Guido from which the the estancia takes its name.

The ranch is the hub of a vast estate that reaches out some 100,000 hectares (that’s more or the less the size of a small county in the UK). It’s still a working estancia employing and housing a number of gauchos and their families. So, alongside the 100 year old house of its founders, you’ll also find more modern accommodation, a church and a school for this local community.SWOOP_3_LUKE-ERRINGTON_ALL_CERROGUIDOHORSE

If you book well in advance you can sleep in the old house, which is more museum than hotel, and will give you a wonderful sense of the lives of the people who originally owned and cultivated this land. There are some other rooms with ensuite bathrooms that are perfectly comfortable.

You’ll eat well in the dining room here (most of the food is grown / reared on the estate) but it’s the views out to the Paine Massif that I’ll always remember. This is a very special spot from which to see the sun set behind the famous towers of Torres del Paine.SWOOP_3_LUKE-ERRINGTON_ALL_CERROGUIDOSKYLINE

So, there are a number of reasons I’d recommend this particular ranch:

  • It offers the chance to see how a large-scale ranch really works in Patagonia today and so is a “must-visit” estancia for anyone horse riding in the Torres del Paine region.
  • It’s a great place for a couple or a smaller group of friends to spend a final night in Torres del Paine, after hiking in the main part of the national park.
  • Finally, it’s an authentic and convivial place in which to enjoy a private celebration; so ideal for a larger group ( 8-16 people) who want a night or two in their own place.”

Around 100km south of Estancia Cerro Guido, on the Peninsula Antonio Varas you will find another classic Patagonian ranch, Estancia Mercedes. Swoop customer Barbara visited with her daughter in January of this year.

Before their horse-riding adventure, they stayed at the Singular Hotel, a unique luxury hotel situated in a restored and renovated cold storage plant in Puerto Bories. The Estancia Mercedes then offered quite a contrast to the first part of their trip.CUS_2_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_MERCEDESYARD

Barbara:My experience on the estancia was like living in a National Geographic magazine! After three nights at the Singular Hotel, my daughter and I went to Estancia Mercedes. While everything is fancier at the Singular, Estancia Mercedes is authentic. If you want to step off the tourist route and live with a Chilean ranch family, look no further.CUS_3_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_CHILEHORSEMOUNTAIN

We were welcomed by the entire Inglesia family who have a long and rich history in Puerto Natales that they are happy to share.CUS_4_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_HORSE+RIDER

We came for horseback riding which exceeded our expectations but in the end this stay was about becoming part of the Inglesia family for a few days.CUS_3_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_GROUPMERCEDESESTANCIA

I’ll admit that at night I missed how I could watch the sunset from my bed at the Singular but sunsets fade away unlike Estancia Mercedes which will be forever in our hearts. GO!”

Get in touch to book an unforgettable gaucho experience in Patagonia.

Peter and Natalie’s wintry Torres del Paine trek

Peter and Natalie’s wintry Torres del Paine trek

In May 2015, Peter and his girlfriend Natalie ventured to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile for a 5 day winter adventure, as part of a longer two month journey within South America. Here, Peter shares some of their highlights and tips for this challenging but exciting Patagonian experience.

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How was your winter trek?

The walk was great and we were really lucky with the weather; overall our timing could not have been better, yes we got some bad weather but it came at a ‘suitable’ time. Although it did make me realise that in winter we could have easily been unlucky; we met some people doing hikes who were at slightly different stages to us and unfortunately were unable to see the towers or other parts.

Overall, I would say that if you can face the cold, I would recommend you go in the winter. The lack of people in the region at that time was a real bonus – we practically had the trails to ourselves.

Our guide was great. We couldn’t fault him – he was very accommodating and understanding when Natalie unfortunately got sick. For me, my highlight was the walk into the French Valley. Obviously the view to the towers on the last day was also incredible. Natalie really enjoyed the Grey Glacier, as she had never seen one before.

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Peter’s and Natalie’s trip 

Peter and Natalie took a private transfer to Torres del Paine National Park and started with a hike to the shore of Lake Pehoe. The rest of their trip included a trek through forests to Glacier Grey, a night in a cozy cabin on the Serrano River, hiking to Torres del Paine lookout and of course Peter’s highlight, the walk around Paine Grande, to the French Valley viewpoint.

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Final tip from Peter and Natalie

We found once in Torres del Paine, that it was still possible, in winter, to get a bus from Puerto Natales to El Calafate to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. Had we known this beforehand, we would have definitely included a visit there in our itinerary.

Swoop can help you work out the tricky logistical arrangements of your trip, even in the more complicated winter months. Do get in touch to find out how.

 

Eric & Nancy’s Patagonian Dream

Eric & Nancy’s Patagonian Dream

“I had for many decades dreamt of travelling to Patagonia. Our five days hiking in Torres del Paine are five days that we will never forget. Thank you so much for your help in organizing this trip. It would have been most difficult for us to do on our own.”

Eric and Nancy had always wanted to visit Patagonia and Swoop helped them to arrange a classic hiking trip in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile. Eric gives us feedback from their unforgettable five day hike in the park and time spent in Puerto Natales:

How did you find the W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park?

Your partners and guides did an excellent job. Our guide was informed, an excellent communicator, read our group well and challenged us accordingly. He is a skilled guide who we would happily use again.

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How was your accommodation?

All of our connections worked out perfectly. The accommodations in the park were good, perhaps excepting the 2nd refugio, but we acknowledge that they were overwhelmed by adverse weather conditions on that night. Our hostels in Puerto Natales worked out well.

How was your experience of using Swoop Patagonia?

After floundering somewhat in our attempt to access travel information for hiking in Patagonia, we found your website indirectly through a blog. The information on that site was immediately helpful. Your prompt response to our questions and your questioning of our intentions and abilities were most helpful.

Swoop can help you book the Patagonia trip of a lifetime. Do get in touch to find out how.

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

In Spring 2016 Harriet, Chloe and Sally will be downing tools and heading to Patagonia. Regular trips like these ensure we stay close to our roots and maintain our in-depth knowledge of the region. We test out new trips, visit new parks, hike new routes and eat in new restaurants – all in the name of research, of course.

Harriet – Trekking, Mountaineering & Aysen Specialist

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On a Swoop recce to Reserva Cerro Castillo in 2015

I am focusing all three weeks of my trip on the little visited Aysen region of Chile. I am planning to follow the spine of the Andes from north to south: trekking from Lago Verde to Lago Palena, visiting the Queulat National Park, sightseeing and relaxing on the Lago General Carrera. The final week of my Aysen adventure will be spent in the Patagonia Park, getting to know the various treks and day hikes there.

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The Autumn colours of Aysen

I am very excited about the Patagonia Park. It’s an area that is receiving a large amount of coverage in the press at the moment, because of its link with the late Doug Tompkins, The North Face founder. I know a particular corner of Aysen fairly well, as in 2002 I spent 3 weeks in the Tamango Reserve volunteering on a biodiversity study.

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Admiring Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) in Queulat in 2010

The Tamango Reserve is now to be integrated into the New Patagonia National park. I am very keen for Swoop to be able to offer some new and exciting adventures within the national park and only by getting into the area and exploring it with our local partners will I be able to truly understand what I am offering our customers.

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Pedalling towards Lago General Carrera in 2010

The trek between Lago Verde and Lago Palena is reported to be one of the best in Aysen. I first discovered the trek on a friend’s blog, as the photos he took are absolutely incredible. I am entranced by the apparently enchanted forests and what looks like some great streams to swim in, but also the apparent remoteness and tranquility. I can’t wait to experience it for myself.

Chloe – Wildlife & Cruise Specialist

Prepping for the Patagonian winds on the Devonshire coast

My first ever trip to Patagonia – I’m SO excited! As Swoop’s cruise and wildlife specialist, I’m starting off with a 4 night ‘Wildlife, Glaciers and Cape Horn‘ cruise through the Chilean Fjords from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (pronounced ‘oosh – why – ah’). I will be heading out on a number of excursions to see glaciers and wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Penguins of Isla Magdalena

My next stop will be the mountain town of El Chalten, where I’ll take a 2 day hike to Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre and go rafting, before heading to El Calafate for an ice hike on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

Next – the absolute highlight for me – a Humpback Whale Watching trip in Chile, where I’ll be spending three days studying the whales that congregate in the waters of the Magellan strait from my base at an eco research camp on Carlos III Island.

Breaching humpback Whale off Carlos III Island

On the final leg of the trip I’ll be venturing to the famous Torres del Paine National Park to hike the W Trek, and try out some of the park’s hotels, eco yurt camps and luxury lodges.

The famous Towers or ‘Torres’ of Paine

Sally – Lake District & Bespoke Trip Specialist

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The flights are booked but unlike Chloe, there is really only a loose plan as to how I’ll be spending my 21 nights! One thing that is for sure though is that I am just as excited.

I absolutely love Chile and having spent so much time there over the years it always feels like going home. On this trip I will have the opportunity to visit the new Tantauco Park in the southern part of Chiloe Island. It’s a private park of 118,000 hectares with a new network of hiking refugios, virgin forests, exquisite bird life and wonderful flora.

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The Bay of Ancud, Chiloe Island

I am utterly obsessed with Chiloe Island. It is charming, quaint, relaxing, captivating, intoxicating – time simply slows down. Whenever I visit, I am always filled with the sensation that I simply just don’t want to leave. As I was on the ferry leaving the island after my last visit I wrote a few words in my diary…

There is something about Chiloe that grabs me every time I visit, it sounds silly but something reaches deep down inside and touches my soul. It fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction for having been here, experiencing the tranquility, calmness and simplicity to life. Thank you Chiloe.

I simply can’t wait to discover this new part of the island.

For the second part of my trip I am hoping to white water raft down the mighty Futaleufu river, then cross into Argentina to either hike, kayak or mountain bike (or all 3!), using the small town of San Martin de Los Andes as my base.

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If we’ve inspired you with our passion for Patagonia and you’re interested in any of the trips or activities on which we’re embarking, then we’d love to hear from you to help you plan your incredible adventure. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at our Itinerary Selector to help you decide what sort of trip might suit you best.

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Ted and Rick visit Torres Del Paine

Ted and Rick visit Torres Del Paine

In November, Ted and Rick and a group of their friends took on a seven day circuit in Chile’s iconic Torres Del Paine National Park. They recount their trip and experiences of booking travel with Swoop Patagonia.

TedBrna1Ted’s feedback

“Many thanks for supervising a terrific and memorable trek. I would absolutely recommend you, certainly over other groups I contacted before selected your agency to organize our tour. Swoop always sent accurate communication – no question was left unanswered.  I really can’t think of anything you may have neglected.

IMG_5682Probably the best part of our trek was our trekking guide, Nicholas.  He was a perfect fit for our group of 5 with superb social skills, direction, knowledge base and flexibility. It was a shame that the wildfire had wiped out a lot of the native beech trees on the hike but that certainly did not detract much from the amazing beauty of the Park!  The highlight to me was the hike to the Towers and view there though the entire 5 day trek was awesome.“

Rick’s feedback

Trip went like clockwork and as planned. Swoop’s recommendations were spot on. Would definitely recommend Swoop and use them if I go back. Swoop’s local partners could have not been better or more helpful. Zoe and her team were great.

IMG_1536Self guided hikes were great, trails well marked. There was plenty of reading material for each hike so you knew what to look for on the hike. Reaching the Mirador base at Las Torres and Lago de los Tres at Fitzroy were certainly the highlights. Incredible views.

Ted & Rick’s itinerary

IMG_5741The group’s trip began in Punta Arenas, where we arranged a transfer for them to Torres Del Paine National Park. Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine then took Ted, Rick and their friends on a five day hike around the famous W circuit staying at refugios along the way. Of his time spent in the refugios, Ted said “Food was generally very good and better than expected – I personally was very satisfied. Our guide also carried probably 10 lbs of avocados on the trek and personally enhanced our lunches daily with them! The refugios also provided plentiful hot water for washing/showers and adequate toilet facilities”

Ted’s top tip would be to take a towel along as not all refugios provide towels (although it’s something Swoop Patagonia are currently working hard to ensure!):  “I wish I had brought a microfiber quick dry towel for the trip – the other 2 guys said you recommended a towel in your list but I missed that!”

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Doug Tompkins

Doug Tompkins

All of us at Swoop were very sad to hear the news this morning that Doug Tompkins had died in a kayaking accident on Lago General Carrera in Aysen. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.
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In October this year I was lucky enough to meet Doug and hear him talk about his conservation projects in Chile and Argentina. Besides his fundamental role in the sustainability of Patagonia’s ecosytems, he’s also an inspiration to myself and myriad others as a businessman (founder of North Face) and as a mountaineer (finding a new route up Cerro Fitzroy in 1968).

For those that don’t know about Doug you may find the following interesting:

http://www.180south.com/
http://www.conservacionpatagonica.org/home.htm

Luke Errington
Founder & MD
Swoop Patagonia

Tony’s Patagonia experience

Tony came back from spending almost a month in Patagonia traveling through some extraordinary landscape on the way, here he gives us his thoughts on his time in the region.

Tony’s Feedback

Overall the trip went perfectly. Everything happened as it was supposed to. The route work really well with hardly any travelling back over the same ground, and the amount of time in each part was just right. Although I think you could have done better with the weather it was actually a lot better than I had been expecting from the forecasts just beforehand. It was a great trip and I really wouldn’t have changed anything. Thank you so much.

Tony’s Itinerary

Tony flew into Buenos Aires Airport and headed straight to Los Glaciares National Park, where he took a mixture and guided and self guided day hikes from the mountain town of El Chalten.

He then headed to El Calafate to visit the stunning Perito Moreno glacier before getting ready to embark on the Full Circuit trek in Torres del Paine National Park.

While trekking through the park Tony stayed in supported camping at different points on the full circuit trail, taking him through the Ascencio Valley , around Lake Paine , following the Los Perros river before hiking alongside the Grey Glacier and ending up back in the French Valley and spending a night in the Hotel Rio Serrano. After all that hiking it was time to hit the water and paddle to the serrano waterfall and to the Serrano Glacier for a BBQ lunch.

Next up was a desert adventure in the Salar Atacama, the driest desert in the world, which is surrounded by imposing volcanoes and is home to unexpected wildlife like flamingos and other birds. While in the Salar Atacama he visited the geothermal fields that are flanked by soaring peaks, as well as visiting several towns and villages.

After the harshness of the desert it was back to Buenos Aires to  for a city tour before heading back home.

Below, Tony tells us some more about his trip…

How did you find travelling during your trip?

All BA flights were great. Comfortable, excellent staff/service, reasonably good food, great choice of films. I do think you should advise travellers to check in online beforehand as I didn’t know to do this and therefore had no choice of seat. All Internal flights were fine and on time.

My Bus journey to Salta wa s great. Thanks so much for getting me the good seats – so comfortable – could have stayed on for another 10 hours, watching the stunning scenery pass by. The buses always provided good views and a nice drive but they did feel rather slow. A top tip is to stop at the info centres that help you get orientated by taking short walks.

How did you find your hiking expeditions? 

I really enjoyed the 3 day walks – Day one in Tumbado, day 2 at Fitzroy (which was guided) and day 2 Torres del Paine.

Swoop’s partners in Los Glaciares were amazing – lovely staff and the guide was excellent on my walk.

My Torres del Paine trek was most excellent despite some poor weather. We were lucky to have great views of the towers as we approached them and great views in and from the French Valley on our last day.

The trip to the Lagoons and Geyser in the Atacama were okay but I think it would be better to try and do all of this type of stuff in one day and with an English speaking group. The bus was late picking us up for the geyser trip, and then broke down en route so we almost missed the geyser activity.

What were the other excursions on your trip like?

I went on quite a few different activities while in Patagonia.

In the Atacama, we went Mountain Biking to Death Valley one afternoon and Moon Valley the next morning, which was a lot of fun and we missed all of the crowds. Horse riding was amazing and I absolutely loved it. We rode 5 hours along and up to and over Death Valley then over the cliff and down the sand dunes. I had only been on a horse for 2 hours walking on the flat before but I was really pleased to be doing something so exciting and there were some incredible views. Some people may have wanted prior warning that the path up is narrow, strewn with boulders with vertical drop down one side… but for me it was better that I didn’t know!

My time in Torres del Paine was full of highs and lows. On the Full Circuit, it was just the guide (Jose) and myself- Jose was great and really got me through the trip. The conditions in exposed areas felt somewhat hairy, so it could be worth warning travellers might have been concerned about this. Again, it was best for me that I didn’t know beforehand, and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It was tranquil, traumatic, challenging, and exciting all in one!

At night,  Jose did me proud with his food preparation and we had a lovely evening even though it rained. The boat trip back to Natales was fine but weather was poor so not quite what it could have been otherwise.

My time in the city of Buenos Aires was lovely. I thought on the way through that it really would not be my sort of place, but on my way back at the end of the trip I loved walking around there. I particularly enjoyed the marina area, waterfront parks  and the Eco Park and it was all helped by the lovely weather.

Charles and Eva’s Patagonia walking adventure.

Charles and Eva’s Patagonia walking adventure.

Charles and Eva returned in January from a two-week trip to Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and share some tips for other people planning a trip.

Charles and Eva’s Feedback:

We would give you five out of five! Our main worry before the trip was the complicated logistics; especially in Torres del Paine in the middle of the busy season. Swoop handled it extremely well; there was always a spot reserved for us on crowded buses and a warm bed waiting for us in the refugios bursting in the seams on a rainy cold day.

Do not do anything differently; you are doing just fine!

We will recommend you to anybody who likes the mountains, is fit enough for some serious walking and understands that life there is still a bit more simple than in Paris or New York.

Charles and Eva’s Itinerary:

Charles and Eva started their journey in El Calafate, where they enjoyed an excursion to the to the Perito Moreno Glacier before heading off to a 6 day hike through Torres del Paine.  While hiking Torres del Paine they took in the sights of Valle Frances, Lago Nordenskjold, Lago Grey and the Towers of Paine. After that they spent 5 days on some self guided day hikes from El Chalten, where they took in some fantastic views of Fitz Roy and came back to the Hostal Los Nires each night to relax and enjoy the evening.

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How were Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares?

Both Laura in Puerto Natales and Zoe in El Chalten were warm and helpful. We had only one or two very minor issues to deal with and both were handled promptly and with competence. In Dittmar we especially appreciated their detailed day-to- day itinerary with the instructions for the dummies. Whenever we were not quite sure about something, we just looked (in Torres Charles was wearing it in a waterproof plastic bag around his neck) and there was always an answer. Good job!

The itinerary was lovely; again, we would not change anything.

We used guide services only during the trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier. The guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and bilingual in English and French.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

It is hard to single out just one or two things; the overall experience was very special. We had rain and shine; experienced wind that made us crawl on the belly and a whiteout like in January in the Rockies, but also some incredibly perfect, glorious days with blue skies and jaw-dropping views. We saw condors and vicunas, lovely lenga and nire beech trees, orchids, beautiful tiny alpine wildflowers and more. I think every day there was precious.

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Our tips to other people:

  • Use the wonderful Swoop flexibility and get an extra day or two wherever possible, especially in El Chalten as a backup for a rainy day. We did the Fitz Roy hike twice and it was worth every penny.
  • Learn some Spanish – it really helps.
  • Do not go cheap on GoreTex – it is nice to be dry.
  • We spent five fun days in Buenos Aires. We stayed in a nice hotel in the Microcentro (American Towers; ca $100 a night with all taxes included via Expedia) and did all the touristy things we could think of. We also gained ca 6 pounds each.

Thanks for everything!

Want to have your own walking adventure in Patagonia? Talk to us today. 

Steve and Annie’s hiking adventure in Torres del Paine

Steve and Annie’s hiking adventure in Torres del Paine

Steve and Annie recently came back from Patagonia where they visited the Queulat National Park and Torres del Paine. Read their advice for other travellers planning on doing a similar kind of trip.

Steve and Annie’s feedback:

All in all a great trip.  Your ability to customize the itinerary to meet our schedule was really good.  I would definitely recommend Swoop!  

Steve and Annie’s itinerary:

Steve and Annie started their Patagonia adventure in Puerto Marin Balmaceda, where they were driven to the The Queulat National Park, located in the Aysen Region of Patagonia. They enjoyed a day and a half in the wildlife rich park before leaving for Punta Arenas and making their way to Tierra Patagonia within Torres del Paine. Tierra Patagonia is a little bit of luxury within the wilderness and you can often spot guanaco, foxes, ñandú and a wide variety of birds from the comfort of your room. From this haven they enjoyed multiple activities and particularly enjoyed a hike called ‘Dagostino’ before heading back home via El Calafate.

How did you find your itinerary?

The 1 night in Raul Marin was not worth the extra hours to get there and back.  Fundos Los Leones is a lovely place…but I would recommend a 3 night minimum….there is not a lot to do there, (aside from the water) so it would have to be for someone who wants to chill for a few days.

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What were your highlights and how did you find our partners?

Quelat is a gorgeous place and 1 1/2 days were not enough time….  Especially since Ruta 7 was shut down from 1pm -5pm daily ( and will be for quite some time).  For us on this trip with the limited number of days en route from Futaleufu to Tierra Patagonia I would have skipped this bit and stayed in Futaleufu another day or two and then gone to Chaiten and ferried to Puerto Montt.  We completely enjoyed Tierra Patagonia.

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The guides were well trained and the excursions well designed and matched the descriptions in the materials.  I would especially recommend the hike called Dagostino as it is not as taxing as the French Valley or to the base of the Paines, and has even more stunning views.