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.
“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.
Probably 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.“
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.
Self 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
The 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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
The refugios in Torres del Paine allow you access to the mountains so that you can complete the entire W trek without the need to camp. There are 8 refugios in Torres del Paine. Torre Central and Norte, Chileno, Cuernos, Domos Frances, Paine Grande, Grey and Dickson
What is a Refugio?
refugio masculine noun
- english translation of REFUGIO: refuge, shelter
- swoop definition of REFUGIO: warm, friendly, convivial places with shared dorm-style rooms for 6 people, and hot meals and showers. The accommodation is basic but comfortable
Your bedding and meals are provided so you only need to carry your trekking clothes, a change of clothing and personal belongings. More on what to pack here.
What will you eat in a refugio?
Refugios provide you with dinner, breakfast and give you a packed lunch.
Each refugio has a small shop selling snacks and a bar with beer, wine and of course pisco sours.
Top Tips for Staying in Refugios
- We highly recommend you upgrade to a cabin at Refugio Cuernos to get some privacy, bathe in the hot tubs and because Refugio Cuernos does get very crowded.
- Don’t forget to take a lightweight travel towel so you can use the hot showers and a headtorch for night time toilet trips.
- The food is not very inspirational so take some trail mix from the Unimarc supermarket in Puerto Natales and grab some avocados to make your sandwiches a little more tantalising.
- Wifi is only available occasionally at Paine Grande Refugio and in Hotel Las Torres (a short walk from Refugio Las Torres). There is almost no phone signal in the park.
- The showers sometimes run out of hot water so you may want to wait until after dinner.
- If you would like some privacy then why not camp at a refugio? They will provide you with tent, sleeping bag and mat and you can shower and eat your meals inside the refugio.
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.
Peter recently came back from a winter W trek, here he tells us about his experiences with Swoop, our partners and the trek itself.
Day 1 was super windy with a few clouds – but was good to see how harsh this place could be.
Day 2 & 3 were the most perfect blue sky no wind days for the hikes into the french valley and grey glacier.
Day 4 the moving day was totally low cloud, couldn’t see a thing, but was okay because we walked out.
Day 5, was snowing on the drive and first hour or two of the hike to the towers. Then we continued on up through dense fog, and on the last scramble up to the towers it cleared to blue skies, so it couldn’t have been better. Just was we were heading down the fog rolled in again.
Overall our timing could not have been better, yes we got some bad weather but it came at suitable time. Although it made me realise in winter we could have easily been unlucky – we met some people doing hikes at slightly different stages to us and couldn’t see the towers or other parts.
Our guide was great. Couldn’t fault him. Was very accommodating and understanding when Natalie got sick.
For me, my highlight would have been 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.
What would you have changed about your trip to Torres del Paine?
One thing that would have changed our plans was the advice we got (before leaving aus) that we couldn’t get a bus in winter from puerto natales over to el calafete in argentina to see perito moreno. We found this was not correct, it seemed buses were leaving natales almost every day to el calefete and we met multiple people who had done just that and see both. Anyway I can’t remember if it was you guys or the contacts at chile nativo that gave that advice, but that’s not the case and because we had already planned the next stage of our trip back up in northern chile we couldn’t just go while we were there. Our guide on the ground knew that it was possible, so perhaps the chile nativo contact based in Santiago (I think) could get updates from the guides in natales.
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.
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.
The first route was the Oggioni pass high up above the Ascencio valley. This pass slices through the Paine range from the towers viewpoint directly to Dickson camp and looked incredible. As I was short on time I recced the pass as a day hike from Hotel Las Torres but for very strong walkers you can hike across the pass to shorten a circuit trek or to create a completely different trek. Here is a description of the route and how we got on.
The sun rose in a glorious and triumphant glow,
Instead of following the general migration toward the viewpoint…
…. We turned off and only caught this Scoundrels view of Las Torres.
The path became small as we stumbled through a boulder field….
….and into the woods.
…and fallen branches and hung with victoriously and carefully chiselled wooden plaques in celebration of climbs past.
As the path narrowed we turned off it altogether…..
A tricky river crossing followed which involved crossing on all fours.
Before doing this trek ask yourself if this is a river you feel able to cross.
The forest thickened…
…and we wander up through the forest, free of paths and people.
The edible Pan de Indio didn’t tempt us as we toiled.
As we left the treeline…
…the views started to open out…
…and as we climbed…
…the peaks of Escudo and Fortaleza dominated the Silencio valley.
Rock dykes guided us towards the pass.
The scree slopes became tougher……
We left the valley far below, this was no place for vertigo…
At Paso Oggioni the view opened up to reveal Dickson lake. If you are continuing onward the trail bushwhacks down to Refugio Dickson at the near end of Lago Dickson.
A further climb to Punta Oggioni reveals the Silencio valley. and a view back the way we’ve come…
…and a peek at the back of the towers and the peaks of Escudo and Fortaleza peaks.
My guide, Justin had been to the pass but never scrambled up to the viewpoint above. We whooped with excitement for a good 5 minutes…
The wind was starting to throw us around so we descended back to camp.
For more information on The Paine range’s most adventurous trek, get in touch today.
This is a good, alpine hut like hotel with all the facilities that you need. The rooms are a good size, the bathrooms are also big with a great shower.
There is a pleasant reception/dining area but no frills.
Tiled floors meant when I arrived sopping wet and covered in dirt I didn’t feel to bad about making a mess. Reception staff’s english was not so good so we spoke in Spanish. Internet was quite slow and not available in the room.
Breakfast consisted of cornflakes, cakes or toast with a choice of spreads and hot drinks.
This is a great 3* option for those who want a good comfortable and functional hotel but don’t need any luxury.
Top Tip: Head up to the top floor for mountain views.
Harriet recently stayed at the motel-esque La Aldea in Chalten, here she reviews and gives her top tips for staying there.
La Aldea has a slightly motel-esque feel with external doors on all the rooms leading off from the garden and a first floor balcony. The rooms have all your basic requirements, hot shower, comfy bed, clean towels and sheets but they are a bit dated.
Laminate flooring covers the floors, the shower rail is easy to fall down and there is a cheap/antiquated feel to the fittings.
The Aldea has the best internet in town, is close to the bus station. It is a good option for those looking for a private room with bathroom on a budget.
Top Tip: Upstairs rooms are better than downstairs because the wooden floors make the downstairs ones noisy.