Tag Archives: chile

Sierra Baguales, Torres del Paine

Sierra Baguales, Torres del Paine

Great views of Torres del Paine, authentic estancias, big Patagonian landscapes … and no-one else around.
East of the official national park boundary, and before you reach the Argentine border lies an area where you have superb views of the Cordillera Paine, huge open landscapes, and the dramatic mountain range known as Sierra Baguales. This is a superb place for horse riding, hiking and fossil-hunting. These plains, peaks and estancias offer the best riding opportunities in the Torres del Paine region.
It’s no coincidence that the luxury lodges of Awasi and Tierra Patagonia are located on this side of the national park. However there are other accommodation options as well in the form of real working estancias that offer accommodation to visitors such as the Cerro Guido Estancia.
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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.

 

Greg and Michelle’s Off The Beaten Track Adventure

Greg and Michelle’s Off The Beaten Track Adventure

Greg, along with his sister Michelle and two other friends, asked Swoop to help them explore some of the more unknown destinations in Patagonia. Their jam-packed itinerary took them to many of the well-known highlights but via routes that enabled them to truly discover Patagonia’s wild beauty. We put together a challenging, action-packed programme with some of our most trusted partners to deliver an unforgettable adventure.

Greg’s itinerary

Greg and Michelle flew from New York to Santiago in Chile. A connecting flight took them on to Punta Arenas where they had two bus transfers, first to Puerto Natales and finally arriving in Torres del Paine National Park to embark on the avid hiker circuit.

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Dramatic skies in Torres del Paine National Park

Hardly pausing for breath, they ventured out on their first hike to see the famous granite towers that give the park its name. From there they hiked on to Japones Camp – a climbers only campsite near to the towers at the far end of Valle Ascensio. A night at the camp was followed by a hike of the Oggioni Pass. This trek is one of the more challenging and technical in the region. Climbing Oggioni highlighted that even within a group of friends on a tour of Patagonia, different people appreciate different things. Greg explains:

“In Torres del Paine we found the trails in particular on the W trek a little bit crowded. We loved the Oggioni Pass and this was a highlight-especially descending from the pass. However Liz and Marc, who were also on our trek, didn’t enjoy the Oggioni and didn’t really mind the crowds on the W trek, so it is a matter of taste.”

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Crossing a river on the Oggioni trek

After the strenuous Oggioni pass crossing, the group rejoined the traditional Paine cirsuit route at Dickson camp headed across to Perros Camp and then completed the John Gardiner pass with some ice hiking (read about Swoop’s Harriet and her ice hiking experience). From there, it was down into the French Valley via Lago Grey, and the group had completed their full circuit of the Torres Del Paine National Park.

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Celebrating the beauty of wilderness

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Taking a quiet moment alongside Lago Grey

After their trek, the group had a 2 day kayak along the Serrano river planned which was unfortunately cancelled due to high winds and so they headed on, to Puerto Natales and finally into Argentina, to the town of El Calafate, to see the Perito Moreno glacier.

A bus from El Calafate to El Chalten took Greg and his friends to the highlight of their trip: the Fitzroy range to see some of Patagonia’s most dramatic mountain and glacial landscapes. Two days of self-guided hiking straight out of town took the group to see Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre. They were well fed during their time in El Chalten too; using Harriet from Swoop’s handy El Chalten restaurant guide, the group made their way around town, particularly enjoying the vegetarian options.

After their warm up, they embarked on the tough but rewarding four day Huemul Circuit.

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Greg and his sister Michelle on Paso del Viento

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Trekking past a refugio on the Huemul Circuit

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The second zip-line crossing on the Huemul Circuit

Elated as opposed to exhausted, the group ended their epic trip in El Chalten and from there a series of transfers arranged by Swoop took them back to Buenos Aires and home to the United States.

We asked Greg a few questions about his adventure and for his top tips. Here’s what he said:

How were Swoop Patagonia?

“We would absolutely recommend Swoop. We really valued Swoop’s expertise, the fact that you had been to the places we were going and could link together all the different treks with local buses. All the buses worked out really well and we were happy with how it all worked out. When our kayaking trip was cancelled due to high winds our guide went out of his way to find alternative activities for us.”

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On a day hike out of El Chalten

What would you say to others considering a similar trip?

“In our opinion, El Chalten is much better and you should forget Torres del Paine and go straight to Fitzroy! The local operators were great and it was just a much nicer environment. Make sure you do your research on the various trekking options out of El Chalten to get the most out of your time there.

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The group day hiking around El Chalten

We would recommend you take the trip to Estancia Cristina near El Chalten, (we took the hiking option which included a 3 hour boat ride with a trip to the Upsala glacier), then we were driven up to a viewpoint and hiked back for 7 miles. We really enjoyed it and saw fossils along the way. Having visited both, I would say the lesser known Upsala glacier is much more enjoyable to visit than Perito Moreno with far fewer people fighting to see it.”

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Spectacular ice formations

“In terms of places that we stayed, in Torres del Paine, we liked Refugio Grey but didn’t like the dorms at Cuernos and Dickson refugios. One thing worth remembering is that we would have preferred to have camped every night rather than having stayed in refugios and this is possible, so think about that choice before you book.

We thought the buffs that Swoop sent were essential and would not go to Patagonia without one – it is so windy! We’d also recommend you take your own snacks on the treks to liven up the food a little.”

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Michelle sporting her Swoop buff

What was the highlight of your trip?

El Chalten and the Fitzroy range were the definite highlights of the trip – we loved the Huemul Circuit.

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Fitzroy

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Greg bathing in a glacial lake

If you’re looking for a unique experience in Patagonia and would like help planning your adventure, we’d love to help; get in touch!

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.

Jenny’s Torres del Paine dream trip

Jenny’s Torres del Paine dream trip

In September, Jenny took a memorable trip to Torres Del Paine National Park in Chile. Jenny does an amazing job below of telling us all about her experiences, the trip highlights and what is was like travelling with Swoop Patagonia and our partners.

Jenny’s feedback

Out of all the places I have seen in Chile during my trip (Santiago, Valparaiso, Atacama Desert, Torres del Paine), Torres del Paine was absolutely the highlight.

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Not only was I excited about being in Patagonia, a wish that has been on my list for quite a while, but choosing an organised hike with a tour operator was a very good choice as well. You can certainly do the trip by yourself; you will meet many people, the paths are marked very well, you can probably buy books that guide you through the park and its characteristics. But having a local guide just gives you the opportunity to learn so much more about what you see, about Torres del Paine National Park, its geology, flora, fauna and history, and getting this first-hand information right away, with the chance to get answers to more detailed questions as well, is a clear advantage in my eyes.

The trip on the W trek was organised perfectly by a tour agency recommended by Swoop Patagonia. The operation manager and one of the main organisers there were always very friendly and helpful whenever there were questions arising prior to the trip or even when urgent support was needed just the night before the trip.

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During the trip itself, even though parts of the hike were unexpectedly demanding (but still a big joy!), we always had enough time so we didn’t need to rush through the park, but enjoy the scenery whenever we wanted. The Torres del Paine National Park is a very special place, and I’m glad we were able to fully enjoy its beauty!

The trip was a big joy not least because of our very professional and pleasant guide! Whenever we had questions about things we saw he was able to give us an answer. Whenever we needed a break or wanted to spend some more time at a certain spot, he would understand and make that happen. He was very caring and always gave us the information we needed about what was going to happen the day. He had a good sense of humour on top of it all, which made the trip special as well.

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I’m thankful Swoop Patagonia put me in contact with their local partners in Torres del Paine! I would definitely recommend Swoop to friends and family, because I think first-hand advice from people who know the region just makes planning so much easier. And Swoop is doing their job very well, as far as I can tell from my experiences.

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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Hotel Review:  Mitico Puelo – relaxing, tranquil, idyllic

Hotel Review: Mitico Puelo – relaxing, tranquil, idyllic

Sally returned from her trip in Patagonia and came back with even more knowledge about the region, along with some tales of bird watching, she wrote about her different experiences of hotels in the region.  Here she talks about the idyllic Mitico Puelo.

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The Mitico Puelo lodge sits on the shores of the Tagua Tagua Lake, accessible only by boat which makes getting to the lodge an adventure in itself. The drive to reach the lake takes you past lakes, volcanoes and fjords giving you a feeling of gradually leaving civilisation behind and reaching somewhere very special indeed.

The setting of the lodge is utterly idyllic surrounded by steep sided, thickly forested mountains, emerald waters and an abundance of birds. At night the only noise is the wind whistling through the trees and the sound of lapping water.

On the lake.

The building itself is beautifully built with large wooden beams, spacious lounges, big windows, large landings and open staircases. The rooms and bathrooms are very spacious and those on the first floor have large wooden balconies that look out over the lake and gardens in front. The interior decorations and fittings are all a little tired and old fashioned but this sense of faded glory does some how add to its charm.
By the fire

As I sat eating breakfast I was fascinated to watch some ‘Green-Backed Fire Crowns’ – a hummingbird native to the area, gorging themselves on the fuchsia bushes in front of the lodge. Morning and evening, there was a roaring fire in the lounge, a lovely space to sit, relax and take in the view. Dinner was served from 8pm, a 3 course set menu of wholesome local dishes – although there is no choice as to the menu, they are very good at catering for clients with specific dietary needs.
Dining/ lounge

The staff live on site and have quite a relaxed approach but do ensure that all clients feel totally at home; this is obvious from the comments made in the guest book.

The lodge is a great base for fly fishing, a jumping off point to the Tagua Tagua National Park and other excursions by boat and on foot up the Puelo river valley. This is an area visited by little so you really do feel like you are getting quite far off of the beaten track.

Swimming

If you are looking for somewhere to relax, surrounded by incredible scenery with the possibility of some activities but not looking for 5* luxury or service, then this lodge is the perfect option; a rustic choice in an idyllic setting.

Marcel’s 3 day Winter Trek in Torres del Paine

Marcel’s 3 day Winter Trek in Torres del Paine

Marcel returned in May from a 3 day Winter Trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Here he tells us a little about his trip, and his experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

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What was the highlight of the trip?

The highlight was our second day hike to the base of the Towers! This was supposed to be day one, but horizontal hail and gale force like winds made us change the itinerary and stay low the first day (good decision!).

How were your guides on the trip?

The guide (Carlos) was great, very good English, nice, knew great hikes, would want to have him as guide again in a heartbeat. All in all 3 great days.

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Is there anything you would have liked to happen differently?

If we had to choose something, it would probably be the accommodation. We experienced some troubles with hot water and heating, which was not ideal after returning from a day’s hiking in very cold temperatures! Compared to the very high level of everything else on the tour, this was the only area that fell a little short I think.

Overall…

Overall we had a very good time, beautiful park, nature absolutely great, transport there and back, all very well organized. We’d like to come back next year!

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