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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tony came back from spending almost a month in Patagonia traveling through some extraordinary landscape on the way. Here he tells us about his experiences in Los Glaciares, Torres del Paine, and the Atacama, and in booking with Swoop Patagonia.
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. This was a great trip. Really wouldn’t have changed anything. Thank you so much.
Tony flew into Buenos Aires Airport and in his first full day did a short day hike in Chalten to get a feel for the place, before embarking on a group guided hike the next day to Laguna de Los tres where you can take in a breathtaking view of Fitzroy. The next day he made the most of his time there by enjoying a self guided hike.
While trekking through the park Tony stayed in supported camping at different points on the full circuit. He enjoyed a route that took 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 where a BBQ lunch was enjoyed.
Next up on his tour of Patagonia 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.
After the harshness of the desert it was back to Buenos Aires for a city tour before heading back home.
How did you find travelling during your trip?
All BA flights were great. Comfortable, excellent staff/service, reasonably good food, great choice of films. However I do think you should advise travellers to book in online beforehand as I didn’t (know) and had no choice of seat (only me so didn’t matter) BUT it was full on the way out and not having checked in on line meant I was potentially kicked off (there was some discussion before I was let through which I believe was to check if there was enough spaces for me). All Internal flights were fine and on time.
My Bus journey to Salta was 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 always felt very slow. A top tip though is to stop at the info centres that help you get orientated with walks available.
How did you find your hiking expeditions?
I really enjoyed the 3 day walks – Day one in Tumbado, day 2 Fitzroy ( which was guided) and day 2 Torres del Paine. Walk Patagonia were amazing with 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 Lagoons/Trip to Geyser 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 very (over an hour) late picking up for geyser trip and then the bus 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. 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. Although maybe punters should be warned that the path up is narrow, strewn with boulders with vertical drop down one side. For me it was better that I didn’t know however.
My trip to Fortaleza was full of highs and lows. I was a bit concerned when found nobody at the office when I first called in as per itinerary instructions but no big deal. The hike was just the guide, Jose, and myself. Jose was great and really got me through the trip. The conditions in exposed areas was very hairy and some travellers might have been concerned that they hadn’t been warned about how it could be. Personally it was best I didn’t know beforehand and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. It was tranquil, traumatic, challenging, and exciting/ Day 2’sa short paddle in the lagoon is a bit oversold I reckon and I opted not to bother. At night however 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. On my initial journey through the city, it really didn’t look like my sort of place but I loved walking around it on my return. I really enjoyed the marina area, waterfront parks and the Eco Park and it was all helped by the lovely weather and some great sightseeing opportunities.
Interested in a Patagonia adventure like Tony’s? Get in touch with us today.
In Torres del Paine the W trek is the classic route that many people hike that takes you to 3 magnificent valleys – the ascencio, Frances and Grey valleys. For more experienced hikers there are a number of different routes including the Paine Circuit and others that take you off the beaten track and allow you to see another side to the park. On my recent trip to Torres del Paine I wanted to see these routes that I hadn’t seen before.
Read here about my foray up to the Oggioni pass.
The second route was the Bader valley, a small valley that most hikers walk straight path. The turnoff isn’t obviously and it slices into the range between the Cuernos and the Torres giving you an extraordinary close up of the Cuernos and a different view of the south tower.
We took some camping kit and spent a day hanging out at the climbers camp there.
When you wander from the ascencio valley to refugio Cuernos you’d never notice the Bader valley or the path that takes you there.
But a teeny tiny path heads right at the Cuernos. Snow had fallen in the night and the Cuernos were white with a thin layer of snow
As we climbed the Nordenskjold lake lay below us …
…the fresh snow made the going tough at times.
…until our necks had to strain upwards to see them.
In a small thicket of trees we pitched our tents…
…and continued up the valley with just the lids of our rucksacks.
The path stops at the camp and to continue onwards we hopped from rock to rock which was made tricky by the fresh snow.
We continued to marvel at the Cuernos ( I really am obsessed with these fellas) as they changed shape and size. My guide Justin traced mental climbing routes up them with his eyes
A toothy ridge of pinnacles played in and out of the clouds up ahead, and the wind started to build.
The snow, boulders and wind made for slow going so we decided to leave exploration for the morning when better weather was forecast.
Bader camp is a climber’s camp with no facilities just a shelter made from branches, tarpaulins and string. A shovel for digging cat hole toilets hangs from a tree trunk in the centre of the shelter.
We prepare and consume an enormous pot of lentils and precooked pork with enough garlic to keep the vampires away.
After a 12 hour sleep we wake to the roaring of the wind in the trees. The wind is so strong that we can’t walk in a straight line, it is certainly not great for boulder hopping. So we pack up camp and head down.
1Check out the squalls on Lago Nordenskjold!
There are beautiful blue skies and the Cuernos look spectacular!
…as we descend with legs braced against the wind.
If you want to know more about Paine’s hidden valley, get in touch today.
On Sally’s most recent visit to the Patagonia, she was fortunate to take a 2 day hike through the Tagua Tagua Park. Relatively new, this park is a Private Protected Area (PPA) not a National Park, dedicated to the preservation of biodiversity.
The Hike In
The entrance into the park is unlike any other I have seen before, reached by boat across the vast emerald waters of the Tagua Tagua Lake. As the El Salto River falls into the Tagua Tagua Lake the boat approached a cluster of rocks, here we clambered off and scrambled up onto the trail.
The trail starts from the information centre at 20 metres where you sign in. There was a pile of bamboo sticks which hikers can borrow to help them on their way as they head up into the valley.
The first hour, although forested, is through an area which has noticeably been inhabited as there is grass and introduced plants such as blackberries and apple tree. The only family to live in this area were the Melipillan Sanchez family between 1953 and 1994 who made a living from farming and also making the alerce shingles for building – a trade locally known as a tejueleria.
There was a lot of humming birds (green hooded fire crowns) activity in and amongst the fushias bushes – flitting from here to there, fighting and being really noisy. As there were no other hikers we were able to stand and admire these beautiful birds.
After the first hour of patchy forest and open grass land we then entered the dense forest where the vegetation becomes almost mythical with hanging lycans, trunks covered in creeping vegetation and the rain dripping through to create the illusion that the forest is moving! There were ferns of all shapes and sizes – giant ferns, monocell transparent ferns and umbrella ferns that looked like they were made of velvet.
Also funguses – some as large as dustbin lids – mostly mushroom type or enormous layers of yellows, oranges, purples, more abundant and bigger than I had ever seen.
After crossing various riverson newly built wooden bridges and climbing up to 535 metres, you reach the Refugio Alerces.
Looking out over the flooded Alerce forest, the Refugio Alerces sits 6.5km up the trail at 535 metres (the park guide says 4.5 hours but we had done it, taking our time in 3 hours). The refugio has sleeping space for 22 in open bunks and an open kitchen – it is really just 1 big room with bunks built into 1 wall – all in wood. As it is just 1 hut the heat from the wooden stove burner benefits all. There is an outdoor porch with a hammock and stunning views of the mountains behind.
This refugio is manned by Sol and Felipe, the park rangers, who live up here all year round maintaining the refugios, trails and park in general.
The next 2 kms heading out from the Refugio Alerces climbs almost 200 metres in a series of ladders. They are not totally vertical and could be described mearly as steep walkways resting on the ground below.
After 9 kms from the start you reach the valley top at 710 metres where the forest opens up to large patches of mallin (fragil, spongy ground cover), the large granite walls show themselves and the expansive forests of Alerce and Cypress trees. As it had rained all day, there were waterfalls appearing from everywhere.
You can easily track your progress along the path with handy signs every 500 metres .
We arrived at the Refugio Quetrus after about 5 hours hiking, absolutely soaking wet. Having worked previously as park ranger, Mauricio my guide was a dab hand at getting the fire going and the kettle on. This higher refugio is un-manned so was absolutely freezing!
This refugio, currently at the end of the trail but there is plans to extend the trail, sits at 710 metres so from the trail head you have gained 690 metres on the 10 km hike. There is sleeping room for 8 with a similar layout as the Alerces but the sleeping space is up a ladder on another floor. There is a porch with benches to sit out on and look out across the truly breath taking view of the Lake Quetrus, islands forested with cyprus trees, granite walls and waterfalls.
At both refugios the toilet is housed in a separate wooden hut, a 2-3 minute walk up another trail, deep in the woods. This hut is just a toilet which flushes with rain water (all toilet paper should be bagged up and carried out of the park). The refugios have a supply of fresh water in containers which the park rangers get from higher up the mountain and the sink has running water which is just rain water (for cleaning teeth etc). There are no other facilities or privacy.
All food that you have in the park has to be brought in and rubbish carried out. If you do the trek as a guided trek, the guide will provide food, stoke the fire and cook up a storm. On the menu during my trek we had a local dish called Cancato, a sort of pizza using Salmon as the base or better described as salmon stuffed with tomato, courgette, onions and cheese. Really delicious after a hard day in the rain.
We chatted by candle light, read back copies of the Patagon Journal and had an early night listening to the howling wind and sound of the rain.
During the middle of the night I was aware that the autumn rains had definitely begun – I thought it had been raining hard the previous day but this was nothing, just a passing shower, in comparison to what we woke up to hear in the middle of the night. Since 3 am there had been thundering rain on the roof and we woke up to a curtain of rain outside; there were waterfalls cascading down the granite walls which surrounded us (in fact, the weather was so bad that I couldn’t see the granite walls just the white water) and the lake in front, Lago Quetrus, had risen significantly. The water had flooded the firewood store but luckily Mauricio had brought in enough the night before so within just a few minutes in the morning, we were nice and toasty with hot tea & toast.
What an adventure the descent turned into – the footpath and river had become indecipherable! Knee deep in water, using trees to keep us up right, we waded out and back down the valley. Luckily the Refugios have their own store of rubber boots so I borrowed these instead of getting my own boots wet.
On reaching the valley decent back at KM 9, we could see that there was bright light on the horizon, this gave us great hope that the rain might stop…and it did! The sky cleared and the sun came out, what a treat. On the descent we took various side paths out to see hidden waterfalls and a stunning viewpoint which gave us views out over the whole valley.
As we neared the end of the hike, the Tagua Tagua Lake suddenly came into view and with the sun shining on it that turquoise colour of the water seemed even more intense. As we sat on the rocks waiting for the boat to collect us, I felt totally exhilarated. The trek had been quite challenging, not because of the distance, more for the rain, slippery terrain, basic facilities and the thick dense jungle forest that literally breath air back into my lungs. On the opposite shore of the lake I could see the Mitico Puelo Lodge and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the hot shower and pisco sour.
Ian and Sue returned in December from a 24 day trip to Chile and Argentina that was designed and arranged by Swoop Patagonia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop.
‘We had the best holiday of our lives and would recommend it (and Swoop) to anyone!’
Ian and Sue Feedback
The package you put together for us exceeded our expectations in every way. The quality of the accommodation and guides was very high, and the choice of locations and activities was spot on for us. We would recommend Swoop to anyone (and have done so). The varied and unspoiled landscapes, the geology, and the incredibly rich variety of wildlife made Patagonia our perfect destination. If we are able to return to South America, I hope it will be under your auspices!
Ian and Sue’s Itinerary
Ian and Sue began their trip with a city tour of Santiago, followed by a night in the Hotel Boutique Oporto.
[Read Swoop’s list of recommended hotels in Santiago]
The city tour was faultless- a conversation with the courier led to an instant change to our afternoon itinerary, substituting a poet’s house with the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, and providing a driver to give us more time.
Our guide had been a guide in the museum, so was amazingly knowledgeable. We ate at Como Agua Para Chocolate, and loved it.
[Read swoop’s top picks for restaurants throughout Patagonia]
The next morning they flew on to Puerto Montt, and the nearby island of Chiloe for a 3 night stay at Chil Hue, for 3 days of excursions to take in the local scenery, wildlife, fishing villages and penguin colony.
Our guide met us on arrival and drove us to Ancud, stopping several times on the way to show us birds etc.
He was a fantastic guide with a wide knowledge of natural history, and the history of the island. We had a great day out – including a short trip out to the penguin colony where we saw Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins.
The next day, our itinerary was to have been a visit to several of Chiloe’s wooden churches. We had already visited a couple, and knowing our interest in natural history, our guide (Jamie) proposed a visit to a private national park owned by a friend of his (Parque Tepuhueico).
After visiting Castro en route, we had a fantastic trek in the temperate rainforest. Jaime had helped set up the trails, and had translated the interpretation boards into English, so was the perfect guide.
On our last night, we went out for a traditional meal in Ancud. Needless to say, we loved Chiloe!
On arrival at Punta Arenas, we were met by our guide, who dealt faultlessly with our questions. Hotel Ilia was one of the nicest and friendliest places we stayed. The room was large, light and airy. The decor was attractively modern and arty, and the breakfasts were great.
Punta Arenas exceeded our expectations. It was a friendly and characterful Chilean city: a bit ramshackle in places, but full of charm (and feral dogs…). O’Higgins provided a wealth of restaurants to choose between. We ended up going to Brocolino both nights, and enjoyed it very much.
Our day trip to see the King Penguins on Tierra del Fuego was a great success. It was a full day, but very variable and enjoyable. We were in a small group in a mini-bus, which stayed with us all day.
Porvenir was an attractive (v small!) city with a surprisingly good museum. The penguin site (not yet referred to as a “colony” as they hadn’t bred successfully yet) was great – with interesting plants as well as birds.
The guide was excellent, stopping the bus to show us foxes, guanacos and rheas, and pointing out the dolphins on the short ferry crossing on the way back to the mainland. On return, the bus dropped us off at O’Higgins for a meal as it was getting late.
We were picked us up in the afternoon, and driven to our accommodation, stopping several times en route to look at features, wildlife etc. The eco friendly camp we stayed at exceeded all our expectations. We had the nearest yurt to the lake with distant views of the “Horns”.
On arrival, the staff explained the options available for the next day. The evening meal was great, with as much of the house wine as we wanted to drink (and the offer of a bottle to take back to the yurt) together with unwise quantities of pisco sour before and after the meal.
For our first day of excursions we elected to go on the Fauna Trail Hike. This was ideal for us, providing a good introduction to the scenery, flora and fauna of the area, together with an unexpected view of the rock paintings (see their wine label – and visit Majestic in the UK).
We were also introduced to the lavish picnics provided by the camp.
The next day, some of the trips could not run due to high winds. The guides asked us if we would like to go on a trek they hadn’t included in their list for some years, and the three guides, and just the two of us, had a great day out.
They shared their maté with us, explaining the simple ceremony involved, and we felt very included. We had a fantastic view of an Austral pygmy owl.
The last section of the walk was very challenging for me – a narrow path on loose scree – and they seemed to have forgotten my vertigo. They admitted that if this section of the walk had been longer, they would have graded the walk as “Difficult” rather than “Moderate”!
On our final day at the camp, four of us had elected to go on the Grey Lake Boat Trip, but on arrival at the jetty, we found that the boat had been cancelled due to high winds. Instead, we did the Grey Beach Hike in the morning (very close views of a pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers), together with a short hike to the Lake Toro viewpoint in the afternoon.
This provided a great day out, and showed off the guides’ ability to think on their feet. We rounded the day off with a self guided walk to the local waterfall.
Our stay at the eco friendly camp was the high spot of our holiday. The accommodation and surroundings were great, and the guides were all of the highest quality: we felt really looked after.
Following their stay in Torres del Paine, Ian and Sue headed across the border to the town of El Calafate, where they visited the Perito Moreno Glacier, and took some day hikes from the nearby town of El Chalten.
The hotel in El Calafate was friendly, comfortable and stylish. We were directed to the Laguna Nimez, which was a must (we ended up going there again the next evening). Not feeling able to face the queues at La Tablita, we ate at La Zaina, which was very good.
The day excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier was a great success. The guide was, as usual, everything we could ask for. Although the viewpoints provided great views of the glacier, we found the boat trip well worth it, providing closer views of the ice walls, together with the sculpted icebergs floating in the lake.
The boat lingered at each viewpoint long enough for everybody to get the photos they wanted.
On our excursion to the Petrified Forest, our guide was very knowledgeable, both geologically and botanically.
In addition to the geology, this trip provided our best views of the flora of the steppe.
Following the excursion, we were taken to El Chalten. Hotel Lunajuim was very friendly- the room was great, full of quirky modern art produced by the owner’s wife: we enjoyed our stay very much. We ate at the Estepa, which we liked very much, and returned to on our last night.
Our excellent guide took us (together with a picnic) to Laguna Capri. This was an ideal trek for us, culminating in a satisfying view of the glacier. We ate at La Tapera – very good again, with a great choice of wines displayed in the wine racks with price tags tied round the necks.
The following day our guide Zoe took us to Lago del Desierto. She was a great guide, and managed to show us torrent ducks, which had been on my list of “hope to sees” (and give us an excellent picnic).
That evening, we ate at La Vineria, which must be one of the best wine bars in the world! Their smoked platter was worth a mention as well as the wine.
On our last day in El Chalten we took a self guided trek towards Laguna Torre – we only made it to the three viewpoints en route, but the views were spectacular, and the route easy to follow.
The next stop was Tierra del Fuego, for a few days exploring the birds and wildlife of the National Park.
Hotel Tierra del Fuego was a good place to stay – quite central and fairly near the waterfront. We ate at Le Estancia – the food was quite good, but the service was patchy – much of their efforts seemed to be directed towards rich Americans presumably on their way to Antarctica.
The guided excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park was enjoyable. Our guide was knowledgeable, and urged us to suggest any changes to the itinerary we wanted, although we did find him a little impatient. We ate at Moustacchio for the next two nights. We found it very friendly, with a wide menu of well-cooked food (as Sue is allergic to crab, we tended to avoid predominantly fishy restaurants).
The following day, our guide had booked us onto a Beagle Channel cruise, which culminated in a visit to an estancia, followed by a two hour minibus transfer home. We decided to stay on the boat to return to Ushuaia rather than take the bus.
This was one of our favourite days. The weather was cold and wet but, on arrival at the penguin island, the sun came out, and the boat beached on the sand, giving us the best views we had ever had of penguins going about their normal lives.
In addition to the Magellanic penguins, there were a few Gentoo, and three King Penguins.
For their final few days, Ian and Sue visited Buenos Aires, where they spend time exploring the city; it’s museums and art galleries.
[Read Swoop’s blog post about things to do in Buenos Aires]
On our departure day, our guide had already taken our details, and checked us in on line for our flight: this was a great idea- I wish other operators had done the same. After checking in at our hotel, we visited MALBA (a fantastic gallery).
The Hotel Esplendor was friendly and helpful. That evening we went to a nearby Parilla recommended by the hotel – it was OK, but I think I will stick to your recommendations in future!
Our group tour of Buenos Aires in the morning was excellent. The guide was very informative, and when one of the passengers expressed an interest in visiting Evita’s grave, she just added it to the itinerary. At the end of the tour, she dropped the passengers off wherever they wanted.
A warning to other travellers: we were squirted with something outside the National Gallery, but when people offered to “assist”, we shouted at them until they went away (successfully avoiding robbery – although my mobile was later pinched on the underground: but that’s another story).
A visit to El Ateneo, a bookshop in a converted theatre, should be on everyone’s to do list: there is even a cafe on the stage. As an alternative to steak, we ate an Italian restaurant highly rated by the hotel (Il Gran Caruso): this was excellent.
On our final day, we had a tour of the Opera House (very good), and spent the rest of the day at the San Telmo Market. We really enjoyed ourselves, but are still kicking ourselves that we bought so little – everything was amazingly cheap and stylish.
Our Iberia flight home arrived back early, and we managed to catch an earlier coach home.
A satisfying end to the best holiday we have ever had. Thank you, Sally!
Sarah & Michael returned in April from a trekking holiday in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…
Thanks so much for all your help and information which allowed us to have a wonderful W trek! We had an unforgettable time in Patagonia and the itinerary created by Harriet was spot on.
We took our W Trek from 5th-9th April and we were so lucky- we had lovely weather! Not a drop of rain!
Puerto NatalesWe got on great with our guide Victor who met us on Sunday at your partners’ office in – the whole experience was very positive- we enjoyed the refugios, the food, the lunches.
The route was well planned and we were comfortable with the distances each day. There were some fabulous views too- Patagonia is such a lovely part of the world.
Thanks you too Harriet for the itinerary you prepared for us before we left, and for suggesting Perito Moreno and El Chalten– we took a day trip to Perito Moreno from El Calafate as you suggested and did the mini ice hiking which was a great experience. Again we had a beautiful sunny day for it which was lovely.
We weren’t so lucky in El Chalten where it poured rain for our day hike to Laguna de Los Tres- but we had a better day for Laguna Torres. We really enjoyed them- it’s a great town, lovely hiking, lovely views and met lovely people.
And Chloe thank you so much for the thoughtful presents you sent just before we left- they’ve been with us on all our treks & we’d be lost without them!!
Thanks again for all your help!
Harriet from Swoop recently returned from Torres del Paine where she spent an afternoon ice hiking on Glacier Grey. The ice hike lasts 5 hours and there are departures in the morning and afternoon from November until March. Harriet thinks this is a great activity and everyone should add it onto a trek in Torres del Paine!
Embarking on our adventure near Refugio Grey…
…and zooming across the water to the ice!
We disembarked on a nunatak that straddles the Grey Lake and Glacier…
…and it took just under an hour to walk from the drop off point to start the ice hike.
The going is a little difficult, so ladders have been put in place to assist you.
The striated rock is fascinating, and the view towards the Cordon Olguin and Paso John Garner is captivating.
Hey Mum! Look at me!
We then descended to the ice…
…where we put on helmets, harnesses…
We were instructed on how to walk on the ice…
…getting onto and off of the ice is the most challenging part…
…but then we were off!
Staying in single file at all times…
…leaping across little streams…
…& guzzling hot chocolate…
…whilst the sound of gurgling water and cracking ice made us appreciate the dynamic nature if the glacier.
Up we went…
…peering into huge crevasses…
…and wondering how deep they were!
Two and a half hours of ice hiking went very quickly…
…followed by an hour’s walk back to the boat…
…and the end of our Glacier Grey experience.