While on her recent trip to Patagonia, Swoop’s Sally Dodge went on a kayaking expedition in the Northern fjords. Here she gives her day by day account of her experiences and tips for people who are interested in doing the same.
Sea-Kayak, Petrohue River & Relconcavi Fjord
An hours drive from Puerto Varas, around the shores of Llanquihue lake leads to the village of Ensenada where our kayaking partners have their main office and store all their equipment. Here, we sorted our possessions into dry bags, checked we all had the correct equipment and then headed off, kayaks on the roof, to drive to the drop in point about 30 minutes away.
At the drop in point, we changed into our wetsuits, received our safety briefing and instructions and then we were off; as we slipped into the river there were enormous salmons jumping out of the water.
The first day of this two day kayak took us down the emerald green Petrohue river which is boarded by thickly vegetated, sheer cliffs. As we paddled down, steering to avoid tree trunks and roots, we were passed frequently by vibrant blue Ringed Kingfishers and Dark Bellied Cinclodes.
We stopped for lunch on a beach before carrying on down stream to the Ralun hot springs. As the locals sat tucking into their picnics with toes dipped in the hot, steaming water, we certainly created a bit of a stir turning up in our kayaks.
The hot springs were very rustic – the type with a spade on the side to dig down for the heat.
Back in the kayaks we paddled down to the mouth of the river and out into the most northerly fjord of Chile, the Reloncanvi Fjord. Here the water opened up, the birds changed and the wind got up a little. Passing Peruvian Pelicans and Brown-Hooded Gulls, we paddled our way to the western bank of the fjord to Yoland’s farm. Our paddling work for the day was done.
Nestled amongst rolling hills and shrouded in forest is the achingly picturesque farmhouse of Señora Yolanda. We set up tents at the bottom of her garden and then walked up to the farmhouse for a cup of tea and a guided tour of the farm accompanied by Juan Carlos, her son and Muster, the dog.
Señora Yoland was a real treat. She was house proud and welcoming with a lively character and a beaming smile. Her house was filled with black and white photos of her pioneering ancestors and old calendars showing photos from the dry and sandy north of Chile – a world so far removed from the lush green mountains of Yolanda’s reality.
Our roast lamb dinner was really delicious, cooked in the wood burning oven and seasoned with local herbs; the conversation and experience were really humbling and the house so cosy.
Walking back down the garden, the stars were absolutely incredible.
As I snuggled down in my toasty warm sleeping bag I could hear the water lapping on the shore and nothing else – total and utter silence.
I woke up with the first light of the day at 07:15 and opened my tent door to absolute tranquility. The sun was just coming up and with not a breath of wind, the forested hills, clouds, low lying mist and a strip of already bright clear sky was totally mirrored in the fjord below.
The only noises were the cracklings of barnacles, a cormorant flapping its wings to take off and the lapping of water. As the sun rose the high clouds over head turned a beautiful shade of pink and the clouds on the horizon also. Just poking out above the clouds was the tip of the Volcon Yates at 2111m – its snow capped peak was illuminated pink.
As I sat writing peacefully, taking in the surrounding scenery, 3 dolphins appeared, playing in the morning calmness. The cloud cover was high and the sky blue so hopefully we were in for a beautifully sunny day.
Once the rest of the group had risen, we walked up to the farmhouse where the chimney was smoking, a sure sign that Señora Yolanda had made fresh bread. She welcomed us into the kitchen, the table had been set and sure enough there was fresh ‘pan amasado’, fresh eggs, scrambled ‘a la chilena’, and honey.
After breakfast, Juan Carlos took us for another walk around the property proudly showing off his apple press – it was like stepping back 100 years or going to a ‘medieval fair’ in the UK where they have re-enactments of what life was like! This was real, functioning and very much still in operation.
By 11:00, we’d packed up our tents, had said our goodbyes and then got back on the water. As we paddled off I could still see Muster tearing around the field, smoke coming from the chimney and Señora Yolanda tending to the garden – it felt very special to have seen into her world even if just for 1 night.
Paddling across the fjord with the scenery moving much slower than on the river, it really did put into perspective the immense scale of the scenery.
We passed mussel farms and fishing houses made of corrugated iron – these did not look anywhere near as warm, cosy and weather resistant as Señora Yolanda’s house.
Lunch of tuna salad was served on a beach with a 15 minute siesta in the sunshine, how glorious. We then set off for the final hour of paddling rounding the peninsula to reach the village of Cochamo; charming, sleepy with coloured fishing boats and a traditional wooden church.
We’d made it – the weather had been kind, the scenery stunning and the hospitality humbling. The kayak trip was great fun, perfect for a beginner looking to gain some paddling experience, delve deep into the scenery and soak up some local culture.
Find out more about kayaking in the lake district here.
Ann and Karl returned in April 2015 from a 15 day trip to Argentina, designed and arranged by Swoop Patagonia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop Patagonia…
Ann & Karl’s feedback
‘We just wanted to say a big thank you for this memorable holiday. Thanks for your expertise of the area – we had an amazing time with virtually no hiccups with any of the pre-arranged tours or transfers. We had a great dose of adventure, photographed picturesque scenery, and met very nice local people. We now have 3 days in BA before flying home but couldn’t wait to express our gratitude.’
Ann & Karl’s Itinerary
Ann & Karl began their trip with a 3 night stay at Estancia Huechahue, a quintessential Patagonian ranch in the foothills of the Andes, where they took part in a variety of activities including horse riding and fly fishing.
Estancia Huechahue was excellent, an absolute highlight of the trip. It was quite different to what we imagined – a very rugged experience, but we would absolutely rush back again. The staff were very knowledgeable and the food was great. We were lucky enough to meet many of the owner (Jane) ‘s friends, and very much enjoyed making new friends and speaking to the local people.
The kayaking/ rafting was great. It was our first time kayaking, and luckily we did not find it too challenging so were able to soak up all of the scenery in this beautiful location.
Next, they travelled on to El Calafate for an ice hike on the Perito Moreno glacier, which was ‘rather tiring, but great fun, with great guides who were very knowledgeable’.
Their next two days were spent taking day hikes from El Chalten, which were ‘very enjoyable, and we were very lucky to have had great weather during our stay. We are not big hikers and we feel that 1.5 days is the ideal time to stay in this town.’
The trip superseded our expectations, we were really impressed and definitely needed your help! We would highly recommend Swoop to friends and family. Thanks, Karl & Ann.
Ben returned in January from a trip to Torres del Paine, during which he did some hiking ‘off the beaten track’, followed by a kayaking trip. Here he tells us a little about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…
‘The trip was simply amazing. Thanks for organizing and taking care of us. Your help was outstanding and I could not have asked for more.’
How was your experience of planning and arranging your trip with Swoop Patagonia?
Your help was outstanding and I could not have asked for more. I would definitely recommend you.
How were Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine?
Swoop’s partners were always great, everything was arranged for and the whole trip was an experience. The whole trip was well planned, exciting but also allowed for flexibility, and the guides were a lot of fun. Overall they are great guys over there.
What was the highlight of your trip?
The highlight of the trip was definitely hiking off the beaten path, spending nights in the middle of nowhere.
Brandon returned in February from a trip to Patagonia during which he took a Kayaking trip in Torres del Paine National Park, planned and arranged by Swoop Patagonia and our partners in Chile. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop…
How were Swoop Patagonia?
Swoop did a great job coordinating service with their kayaking partners in Torres del Paine.
How were Swoop’s Kayaking Partners in Torres del Paine?
Swoop’s partners provided excellent communication. They were far more informative and descriptive in their emails that other contacts we had in Chile.
What did you think of the Kayaking Itinerary?
The itinerary was great: we took a 2-day kayaking trip along the Serrano River. We spent the perfect amount of time on the water, with a good combination of work and relaxation. The views were incredible and we really lucked out with the weather. We also appreciated how flexible the itinerary was for day 2.
How was your kayaking guide?
Dan was an excellent guide. We had complete confidence in his skills and he was a pleasure to spend our trip with. He does an excellent job of adapting the timeline and style of trip for the individual group.
Is there anything you would change about your trip?
The dinner was a little interesting. We probably would have preferred to not have tuna in the pasta – it would have been great with just the vegetables. Perhaps they might consider adding something local like pre-packaged smoked salmon or trout to make the meal seem a little fancier.
Peter returned in January from a Multi Activity Trip in Torres del Paine where he hiked, biked and kayaked the W Trek. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…
‘We had a great trip and everything worked really well’
How did you find Swoop and our partners?
I would recommend both Swoop and your partners. I thought your partners in Torres del Paine were great and definitely went beyond the extra mile to help! Their staff were excellent, especially in Chile- super enthusiastic and helpful.
What did you think of your itinerary, is there anything you would change about it?
The Mountain Biking was harder than we expected, and actually, for the non-mountain biker, was probably more of a day trip.
The walking part of the trip was brilliant – fantastic advice – we could not fault this part of the trip. I only wish that day 2 could have been longer so that we could have made the whole of the French Valley on day 3.
The boat trip at the end of day 3 was a tight squeeze – it might be worth warning people to arrive early – we nearly didn’t get on and it would have been another hour’s wait until the next one!
How was the accommodation on your trip?
We managed on two nights out of three in the refugios once we were there. Lago Grey hotel was a bit chaotic – they kept trying to charge us for pre-booked meals and refused to provide lunch boxes as we had not booked excursions – so bit of a shambles! The hotel itself was lovely, and the staff were very friendly, just rather confused!
What was the highlight of your trip?
Our highlight was the hike on day 1 up to Torres Del Paine – this was on my bucket list!!
‘The experience was AMAZING – I absolutely loved our group and Swoop and their partners were wonderful!’
What did you think of your itinerary?
The Extended Paine Circuit itinerary was great! The John Garner pass day was super long and super hard but glad that we chose to keep going and not stay at the El Paso campgrounds.
The glacier hike was amazing – it was shocking to me that many people that we were hiking the Full Circuit with were unaware of that option and were very disappointed that they hadn’t put it in their itinerary.
How was your guide and accommodation on your trip?
Our guide (Eduardo) was PHENOMENAL: super knowledgeable and patient with us, and a huge enhancement to the trip! I would definitely recommend him to anyone!
My celiac disease was well tended to well and many of the refugios were great! I hated the Refugio Paine Grande where the boat was located – I felt like I was at Disney and it took away from the experience.
Did you manage to visit anywhere else on your trip?
I continued to travel in Chile – but just to Santiago and to a yoga retreat. I also hiked the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu – the entire trip was amazing!
What was the highlight of your trip?
The highlight of the trip was the John Gardner pass and the Glacier hike – they are very hard to beat!
Adam returned in March from a Trek in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop Patagonia…
What did Swoop do well?
Swoop Patagonia was fantastic to work with. Prior to the trip, Chloe and Luke responded to my questions quickly and with detailed responses. They helped us pick the right trip based on our travel schedule. I’d recommend using their services for anyone traveling to Patagonia.
What could we have done differently?
This was probably due to the info I provided about our experience and questions I asked, but I wish they had pushed me more toward the Self-Guided W Trek. During and after the trip, we realized that we could have done it all on our own. Our concern was always what we’d do if the weather changed abruptly, how safe the paths were and how easy it was to remain on the correct path without getting lost. The latter definitely isn’t an issue. We also thought we would encounter fewer people than we actually did. We had great weather, but I realize it could always be worse. Maybe providing more info about the number of other travellers/guides out there to help you, the safety of the paths and how well marked the paths are would help travellers choose the right trip for them.
How did you enjoy the itinerary our partners in Torres del Paine provided?
We thoroughly enjoyed our Trek, Kayak & Ice Hike trip. It was great that everything was taken care of for us. We really only had to worry about taking pictures and enjoying the views. Each day was exciting and offered amazing experiences and views. The kayaking and glacier trekking were truly amazing experiences that aren’t to be missed.
How were your guides?
Our guide, Sandra, and the driver were both fantastic. Sandra spoke great English and was full of information about the areas we were trekking. She always had a big smile on her face and laughed at our jokes, even if she often didn’t understand our American sense of humour. She really made the trip very easy for us. I’d recommend Sandra to anyone looking for an amazing guide who will make your trip easier and more enjoyable.
Is there anything you would have changed about your trip?
After completing the treks and meeting other non-guided travelers, I realized that we could have done all of it on our own. But, it was nice to have that added security of a knowledgeable and experienced guide just in case something happened. We also wouldn’t have met Sandra if we did it that way.
What was the highlight of your trip?
All of the amazing scenery and the ice trekking.
Do you have any tips for other people planning a trip?
Ask as many questions as possible prior to booking your trip. We saw plenty of solo travellers and groups without a guide, so think hard about going that route. I could have done the trekking part without a guide and I only hike occasionally and am terrible with navigating. Unless you want to do a lot of research, I’d s
till suggest the self-guided option since everything is taken care of for you minus the guide.
[Take a look at our Before You Go page for some pre-trip planning tips]
Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Chile or Argentina?
John and his friends returned in February from an off the beaten track trekking and kayaking expedition out of Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his trip and his experiences in booking with Swoop and our local partners…
Did the itinerary fit with your plans and aspirations for the trip?
Yes the itinerary was as I had hoped and fitted our aspirations.
How would you describe the route, and terrain?
The route was manageable in general; we had one hard day of 10 to 12 hours, followed by an easier day of 6 hours. It was demanding overall due to the fact we trekked for 2-3 weeks overall, camping throughout.
The Oggioni Pass was demanding, but not overly so, and took us about 10 hours. Cristian did say he might change the plan to go to Perros Camp rather than Dickson on coming down the pass but in my opinion it would be a pity to miss Dickson Camp, which is a lovely setting.
How was your guide?
One error from our guides was to try and take us ‘off piste’ to a higher track when going over the John Garner pass. This was a bit much for us on an already long day. He did learn from it but could have discussed it with us beforehand. I think he felt we were going well and were up for a challenge and felt as we had a guide we should make use of him by going off the track. In reality, Perros Camp to Lago Grey Camp is a long enough day without adding a couple of hours detour.
The Pingo Valley was blissfully quiet although Zapata Camp had lots of mosquitos. Climbing Zapata was a demanding day and we were on the hill for 15 hours (5am to 8pm), partly because we started at Zapata Camp, not the Base Camp, and this did add and hour at the start and end of the day. Personally I think this was sensible and cannot see the sense of moving camp an hour nearer the mountain and taking a day to do so.
The river crossing was also difficult and the usual crossing point was impassable. The crossing point used was above the lake and involved 2 smaller river crossings. I would have thought this was a more sensible and reliable route to use. Our guide had not used it before himself but I suspect he may do so in the future.
The day on Zapata was windy and at times it looked doubtful if we could continue. To the credit of Cristian, we did plough on through difficult winds when it may have been tempting to stop and did make the summit.
The 2 older members of our partly (aged 60) did not do Zapata but did have a long and rewarding day in the Fossil area around the mouth of the Tyndall Glacier. Having done Zapata, I feel their decision was a good one, as they would not have managed to last the day or move fast enough over the ground. To do Zapata you need to be able to sustain a long day in the mountains and move promptly over uneven ground.
Our 2 guides were both very good and spoke excellent English. Cristian was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife especially the birds and knew all the English names and their calls. For me that was a real bonus.
Jamie, the cook, made some excellent food and this was very much appreciated by us all but especially by Richard, who sometimes feels ill on extreme exertion if not fed well but did not at all on this trip.
Jose, our Kayak guide was perhaps the most impressive as he did all of the cooking and guiding himself.
Did our partners in Torres del Paine do a good job with the planning and logistics?
I could not really fault the operator’s planning and logistics, which was very flexible throughout the trip. For example they managed to get a food dump to Camp Dickson for us to pick up to avoid too much food being carried over the Oggioni Pass and arranged for wine to be carried into Zapata Camp and fresh coffee for the kayaking when we said we found Chilean coffee poor.
The kayak down the river was a lovely way to finish. At times it was windy and the single lady who joined us needed a tow at one point and the two Germans who joined us on the first day fell in, which must have been miserable we had wet suits which were fine the guide had dry suits and I know Cristian was considering dry suits for future multi day trips.
Would you recommend Swoop for its help in finding the right trekking route, guide and operator for your trip?
The benefit of Swoop from our point of view was a contact in the UK and an ability to arrange a bespoke tour. Most companies just want to sell the W trek and are not interested in any other options.
Lyndsay and her partner returned in February from a trekking holiday in Patagonia where she first did some day hikes from El Chalten. Next she embarked on a W Trek in Torres del Paine, finished off with a Kayaking trip out of the national park. The final segment of her adventure was a Trek Across Tierra del Fuego, finished off with a visit to a penguin colony. Here she tells us about each part of her trip, and her experiences in booking through Swoop and our partners…
‘We had an amazing time, it was so much more than we thought it would be, and such a beautiful place to be, it was a privilege to spend time in that part of the world.’
El Chalten: Personalised Trekking Itinerary
The personalised itinerary was great as it gave us a good feeling for the area and allowed us to feel comfortable to hike independently. The day we spent with the guide was great as we went to an area outside the national park, somewhere we would have not gone by ourselves, and the guide was very knowledgeable and friendly.
W Trek & Kayaking in Torres del Paine
The operator who ran our Self Guided W Trek and Kayak trip in Torres del Paine provided an excellent service. The guide for the kayaking part of the trip was very good, and was from the US so language was not a problem, he was very knowledgeable took us to a great campsite. All of the equipment provided was in excellent condition.
The only suggestion we would make about this trip is perhaps to walk the W Trek in the reverse direction, as you would then have a great view of the mountains as you walked.
The only hiccup here (and indeed of the trip as a whole) was that our hotel at the end of the kayaking trip had not been booked (I’m not sure if this was down to the hotel or the operator). The hotel moved us to another hotel, which unfortunately was not great, it had no hot water, or heating, and breakfast was not available early in the morning, and we had to leave early to get the bus to Rio Grande. Although not a major issue, an apology from them would have been nice.
I would recommend taking a padlock with you so that you can store your luggage in the lockers at the refugios. You can leave luggage at Refugio Torre, Refugio Paine Grande and at Campo Italiano whist you walk up the valleys, this is useful as it eases the amount you needed to carry during the day.
We would have loved to spend an extra day in Puerto Natales after this part of the trip, but unfortunately we were on a tight schedule.
Tierra del Fuego Crossing
This was an amazing part of the trip, if somewhat hard work at times, an excellent trek. It may have been good to make the trekking each day more equal in time, but the nature of the terrain and the type of trip it is would make this very difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, it may be something that could be born in mind.
Our guide was knowledgeable, competent, friendly, amusing and inspired confidence when we where in the middle of nowhere and made us feel very comfortable with what we where doing. He looked after us very well and had even brought a Spanish /English dictionary along for times of miscommunication.
It was a great trip, however I do think an extra day after crossing the Beban Pass to camp in the valley would have been brilliant as the mountains where just so wonderful to look at.
Swoop provided a great service; you were so helpful and knowledgeable. Your partners were very professional and provided the service they said they would- there was no hassle!
The service provided by yourselves was second to none and we could have not asked for anything more, you were always ready and able to help with any query no matter how small. We will recommend you unreservedly.
I am sure you can gather our highlight was trekking across Tierra del Fuego. However we would say this is trekking and more! No paths, marked routes, climbing over tress, walking across rivers, through bogs, along the sides of valleys on scree for up to 12 hours a day. It was amazing and beautiful and tranquil but anyone undertaking it should realise it is not an easy trek it is serious hard work.
‘Once again thank you so much you made a dream come true and we had the most wonderful time.’