Author Archives: Chloe O'Keefe

About Chloe O'Keefe

Chloe is Swoop's resident wildlife fanatic! She has travelled all around the globe in search of creatures great and small... tracking the 'Big 5' in South Africa, scuba diving with Manta rays on the Great Barrier Reef and whale sharks in the Indian Ocean, and most recently spotting leopards, endangered sloth bears and blue whales in Sri Lanka. In March 2016 Chloe ventured to Patagonia to track the elusive puma, kayak with humpback whales, and discover more about Patagonia's flora, fauna, and hiking opportunities.

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

If you’re a wildlife fanatic like me, the variety of magnificent creatures to be found in Patagonia makes it the ideal place for an outdoor adventure. From the apex predator: the Andean puma, to the gargantuan humpback whale, with a whole plethora of weird and wonderful birds and mammals in between. During my trip to Patagonia in April 2016, I was thrilled by sighting five pumas in one day, 34 humpback whales in two days, not to mention scuttling hairy armadillos, snuffly hog nosed skunks, hilariously clumsy penguins, and magnificent birds of prey.

Another bonus is that there is nothing too creepy or dangerous down in Patagonia either – even the pumas regard us humans as rather insignificant: neither a threat nor a meal! There are no dangerous snakes or spiders, and very few mosquitos.

So here’s a quick rundown of my top 5 wildlife experiences in Patagonia. I hope it fuels your love for Patagonia as much as it has mine, and inspires you to go out there and see it for yourself!

1 – The big hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus Villosus)

The hairy armadillo has been a long term obsession of mine – I had never seen any sort of armadillo before, and have been totally fascinated by the hairy Patagonian variety. It was my dream to spot one on this trip, and during my stay at a luxury lodge just outside of El Calafate, it became a reality. Just 10-20 metres stroll from the hotel, amongst the scrub land, a sudden scuttle could be heard on the other side of a bush. I dashed across to see what it was, and just a strange hairy yet armoured tail could be seen disappearing into the bush. I waited it out, and a few minutes later, this little guy appeared to greet me…

With a degree of caution at first, he sidled out of his cosy looking burrow, snuffling around for juicy bugs. Finally, he emerged fully, and walked up to me within about half a metre. They have terrible eyesight and I don’t think he even realised I was there!

2 – The Andean puma (Puma Concolor)

I’ve been a total big cat nut for as long as I can remember, and although I’ve been lucky to spot lions, cheetahs, leopards and caracals in South Africa, spotting pumas in Patagonia is a totally different experience. They are very elusive creatures, that are both solitary and magnificently well camouflaged against the sand coloured rocks and earth of the Patagonian landscape.

I only had two days (which in Puma tracking terms really only meant one evening and one morning) with an expert guide to try and spot one. Knowing how hard it can be to track them down, I didn’t set my expectations too high. The first afternoon/ evening was spent exploring the private land of Estancia Laguna Amarga. It was not until we returned back to the ranch just before dark, that someone came dashing in to say that a female with two cubs had just walked right past the estancia on the other side of the road! Unfortunately they had sloped off into the darkness by the time we had arrived, but it gave us new hope for the next day.

Departing in the pitch black early the next morning, we reached Laguna Amarga in time for sunrise. After exploring for a few hours we had almost given up (the pumas head for their siesta around 10am), when all of a sudden my guide reached for his binoculars; he had spotted a female with two young cubs, making their way up the ridge to our left. Then, just five minutes down the road, another female, this time with one older cub. I could not believe my luck to have seen five pumas in ten minutes! It spoke volumes though about the expertise of our local guides, and the health of the puma population of Torres del Paine. Two females with cubs sharing the same territory is a very encouraging sign. I left feeling extremely fortunate, and full of hope for the future of these pumas.

3 – The humpback whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

Whales are a particular favourite marine species of mine, I’m fascinated by their mystery: their sheer size, their intriguing songs and apparent sense of family bonds / community.

After eight hours navigating the choppy waters of the Magellan Strait in a small but fairly comfortable boat, I was pleased to make it to the more sheltered waters of the Barbara Channel. Here, a family of around 10 humpback whales were gathered and could be observed several at a time, blowing clouds of spray into the air, and showing off their dorsal fins and tail flukes.

The following day, in the same channel, we were surrounded almost constantly by the sounds of exhalations of water, tail flukes slapping the water, and occasionally the humongous crash of a full grown humpback leaping elegantly out of the water, and disappearing gracefully (with a huge splash!) beneath the surface again.

Humpback numbers have been increasing in these waters year on year, since whaling was banned. Many of the same individuals return each summer to feed in these calm and fruitful channels – I saw more than 30 individuals across those two days. Read more on Whale Watching in Patagonia.

4 – The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

At Tucker Islets during my cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, I got to experience the sheer comedy value of Patagonia’s Magellanic penguins. Waddling around seemingly aimlessly, going for a quick dip in the icy water, sunbathing to warm up afterwards and clearly bickering with one another, these penguins quickly had me hooked!

We were able to sail around a network of small islands in the Chilean Fjords, in small zodiac boats, and although we were not able to disembark and walk among the penguins (the islands are protected), you get within feet of them as they waddle along the shore line.

5 – Birds

There were so many unusual shapes, sizes, breeds, colours, and behaviours of bird to discover in Patagonia.

I was particularly keen to see was the Magellanic woodpecker, and whilst casually hiking through the Nothofagus forests in the Los Glaciares National Park, I was stopped in my tracks by the sound of tapping. I looked up and just a metre from my head, there was the gorgeous red and black woodpecker, busily tapping away at the tree trunk!

Not far from here, I also saw a gorgeous pair of vibrantly colourful Austral parakeets, all loved up and chirping away in the treetops above me.

I also spotted this majestic chimango caracara perched in a dead tree scouting for a dinner of mice.

Other wonderful creatures I met along the way included skunks, flamingos, guanacos, condors, sea lions, sea birds such as cormorants, albatross and geese, red and grey foxes and rheas. All in all, an incredible wildlife lover’s adventure that I will cherish forever, and would recommend to anyone who appreciates nature at its wildest.

In three weeks, I visited some of Patagonia’s most iconic sights including a visit to Perito Moreno glacier (where I did an ice-hike) and horse-riding on the Patagonian steppe. I kayaked and cruised my way along some beautiful stretches of water and of course I visited the iconic towers of Torres del Paine, witnessing the most amazing sunrises and sunsets. Read more about my incredible Patagonian adventure.

Get in touch with Swoop who can help you make your wildlife adventure dreams a reality and browse the wealth of wildlife information we have on our website.

Wowed by Patagonia’s Wildlife

Wowed by Patagonia’s Wildlife

I knew Patagonia would be incredible, but I can honestly say that it totally and utterly surpassed all of my expectations. It really is another world down there, where you can be so perfectly free and alone with nature. I so often found myself gazing open mouthed at the breathtaking scenery before me: intimidating peaks, gargantuan glaciers, and curious creatures of all shapes and sizes, all the while experiencing exhilarating and ever-changing elements.

Gazing up at FitzRoy & down onto the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap at Piedra Negra.

As Swoop’s wildlife and cruise specialist, my trip in March 2016 naturally had a focus on creature spotting and adventures on water, as well as encompassing some of Patagonia’s iconic trekking routes. I crammed as much as possible into my three weeks: kayaking with sea lions and dolphins in the Magellan Strait, exploring the Chilean fjords, glaciers, and Cape Horn on an adventure cruise, trekking the famous trails in Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine National Parks, ice hiking on Perito Moreno glacier, horse riding gaucho style across the Patagonian steppe, humpback whale watching in Francisco Coloane Marine Park, and a spot of puma tracking, topped off with stays in incredible hotels, lodges and eco camps.

The longer I was there, the more I realised that Patagonia really has something for everyone, and the more that I saw, the more I realised there was left to see! Here’s the story of my journey…

25769626324_02745e017d_cPia Glacier, Chilean Fjords.

After a long journey, sweetened by bird’s eye views of the volcanoes of the Chilean Lake District from the plane, I finally touched down in Punta Arenas, and began my Patagonian wildlife adventure. You can read here what my Top 5 Wildlife Experiences were, but looking back on the whole trip, I realise now that I saw so much more than I expected to, not just in the obvious places, but in moments when I least expected, like when a hairy armadillo popped out to say hello en route back to my hotel room!

25770455114_a9bdfe336b_cHairy Armadillo, Calafate.

My trip began with a few days exploring Punta Arenas, and kayaking along the Magellan Strait among seal lions and dolphins, before boarding an adventure cruise through the Chilean Fjords, down to Ushuaia. I visited stunning glaciers and remote islands and forests that are largely unaccessible and untouched by humans, as well as getting to land on (a rather wet and windy) Cape Horn. Getting up close to a large colony of Magellanic penguins was one of the wildlife highlights of this trip, closely followed by three separate humpback whale sightings, and numerous birds.

Views over Ainsworth Bay, Chilean fjords.

Next up was a three day hike on the iconic trails of Fitzroy and Cerro Torre loop, to Piedra Negra, Laguna de Los Tres, and Laguna Torre (where I was able to film a Magellanic Woodpecker up close), followed by an ice hike on Perito Moreno Glacier, and a stay at a luxury lodge near Calafate for some horse riding …and unexpected armadillo spotting!

Perito Moreno glacier, post calving.

Perito Moreno Glacier – ice cave.

Horse riding at a luxury lodge near El Calafate.

Fitzroy at sunrise.

In front of Fitzroy at Laguna de los Tres.

As if I hadn’t been lucky enough with unexpected whale sightings already, the next part of my trip took me to to Francisco Coloane Marine Park for a dedicated humpback whale watching trip. After braving the choppy waters rounding the Froward Cape, we arrived in this very special area of sheltered channels in the Chilean Fjords, where hundreds of humpback whales come to feed between the months of December to April.

26102711680_9ce7d44526_cHumpback Whale breaching, Francisco Coloane Marine Park.

To be bobbing around in tranquil waters, surrounded by up to 20 whales at a time, breaching, spraying water into the air, and showing off their tail flukes, within metres of our boat, was a truly magical experience that will stay with me forever. A huge harem of sea lions collecting around a humungously hariy and intimidating alpha male was one of the additional wildlife treats of this trip.

Alpha sea lion and his harem in the Chilean Fjords.

Last but not least, it was off to Torres del Paine, for some long awaiting puma spotting. I was greeted on arrival by enormous herds of guanacos, peacefully grazing with the stunning backdrop of the towers, and with just one early morning and one late afternoon scheduled for puma spotting, my adventure ended with two separate sightings in 5 minutes – two females, each with cubs – what a privilege.

26374556025_e2341afe26_cPuma female, Torres del Paine.

Based from several different hotels, eco camps and luxury lodges, I then explored the iconic hiking trails of Torres del Paine, trekking to the Grey Glacier, and the famous towers with some gaucho led horse-riding across the steppe. Along the way I bumped into numerous other unexpected creatures, including hog nosed skunks, foxes, flamingos and caracaras.

Herd of guanacos, Torres del Paine National Park.

For much more detail on the incredible wildlife Patagonia has to offer, read my Top 5 Wildlife Experiences blog post, and to see all of the photos of my trip, click on the images below. I tasted just a little of the immense variety the region has to offer including horse back riding, kayaking, a cruise along the fjords and hiking in Torres del Paine. Contact us if you would like us to help you arrange your own unforgettable Patagonian adventure.

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James’ Argentine adventure

James’ Argentine adventure

James and his girlfriend travelled to Argentine Patagonia in July of 2015. Their trip was not without its dramas, as a general transport strike threatened to scupper the couple’s plans to discover the area. Thankfully, our partners and guides in Argentina were on hand to smooth out any problems and ensure they still had a fantastic adventure. Here James shares their adventure with us and gives us feedback on their experience.

How were Swoop Patagonia?

We are very impressed with your diligent follow-up. We are also very happy with how you helped us when we were stuck, and even made suggestions for our other destinations. We will definitely recommend Swoop to our friends. We really thank you for your recommendation and coordination. We can’t wait for our next visit to Patagonia in the near future!

IMG_7101How did you enjoy our partner’s itinerary? How were their guides? Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

We were quite touched that our guide tried to assess our fitness level and arrange tours accordingly. It was our first time trekking on ice and although we are a young and fit couple we were worried that it would be beyond our ability. As a precaution our guide lent us two trekking poles which were very very handy.

Not many companies are open in Winter, and even the cities themselves are quite quiet with only a few supermarkets open and not much else. But trekking in Winter months is entirely possible.

IMG_7031In El Chalten, windy weather meant that we weren’t able to reach Laguna Torre and headed back after completing 1/3 of the trek. We did have time for a few hours to go around Mount Fitz Roy which was very rewarding.

What was the highlight of your trip?

El Calafate was one of the main highlights of our trip… we thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it! It had always been our dream to see the Perito Moreno glacier. And we happily set off to our tour stopping here and there to take photos of the beautiful landscape and scenery while our guide taught us all about geology to botany and history to zoology. He was also armed with a DSLR Canon and took photos for us throughout the tour, including some close ups of flying condors and eagles with his zoom lens, which he then transferred to our SD cards.

IMG_7246Our guide has been leading trips for more than a decade and is very experienced. It felt like a first-person Discovery Channel documentary with a childhood friend.

Really thank you very much. We really could not ask for more and feel totally spoilt with the fabled Argentinian hospitality.

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.

Torres del Paine 09-2015 Jenny Block _2

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.

Torres del Paine 09-2015 Jenny Block _1

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.

Torres del Paine 09-2015 Jenny Block _3

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.

Eco Yurt Camps in Torres del Paine

Eco Yurt Camps in Torres del Paine

There are two main eco yurt camps in Torres del Paine: Patagonia Camp and EcoCamp. On the face of it, the two are quite similar, in that they both provide yurt/ dome accommodation from where you can explore the national park on day excursions of your choice. To make sure you to get what you want out of your trip, however, there are a few subtle differences that are useful to know before making a decision.

Atmosphere

The Patagonia Camp is smaller (20 yurts compared to 33 at EcoCamp), and a little more relaxed compared with the larger, faster paced EcoCamp, which has a higher turnover of guests. Patagonia Camp tends to attract a more mature crowd overall, whereas EcoCamp has a wider variety of ages. EcoCamp is particularly committed to considering the environment; they have been awarded the Sello S Level 3 – one of the highest levels of sustainability certifications in Chile and they support the Torres Del Paine Legacy Fund. Both camps are family friendly, with larger domes available to house up to 4 people.

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Patagonia Camp

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EcoCamp

Location

Patagonia Camp is located a little outside of the national park, whereas EcoCamp is more centrally located, but actually the travel time from each to the Grey Glacier (for example) is the same. At EcoCamp you have a view of the Towers, and are in very close proximity to the base of the towers trek starting point. Patagonia Camp, although a little further out, gives you a lake view from your own private terrace, with the whole Paine massif as a backdrop.

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Map of Torres del Paine

Accommodation

Patagonia Camp, offers three types of yurt: Standard (sleeps 2), Superior (sleeps 2 with a separate lounge space and a jacuzzi) or Family (sleeps 3,4 or 5). They all have heating – which you’ll definitely want in the colder months – a private bathroom, and their own private terrace. Patagonia Camp do not offer a willing to share policy, so there would be a single supplement to pay.

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Patagonia Camp standard yurt

The most basic EcoCamp domes do not have heating or a private bathroom. In order to benefit from these facilities you would need a Superior dome or a Suite dome, which are larger, but of course more expensive. EcoCamp can be cheaper for solo travellers who are allowed to share.

EcoCamp superior yurt

EcoCamp superior yurt

Both sites have recently refurbished existing domes and added new and more flexible accommodation options. Below is a quick reference table we have created to allow you to compare the different types of domes/ yurts available at each camp.

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Excursions

When it comes to excursions, at Patagonia Camp the group sizes are generally smaller and the selection of excursions is much more extensive and varied. Patagonia Camp offers more off the beaten track adventures as well as the standard routes, and include activities other than trekking, such as horse-riding, kayaking and fishing. Patagonia Camp’s excursions are very flexible, with the option to take any one of 20 excursions on any day of the week

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Kayaking excursion with Patagonia Camp

EcoCamp offer the option to take a multi day hike, such as the W Trek or Full Circuit. Their day excursions however, are a little less flexible, with a selection of 9 excursions running on fixed days of the week. Like Patagonia Camp, in addition to treks, they offer horse riding, kayaking and fishing, as well as puma tracking, wild horse tracking and a great multi activity winter trip. They also have a yoga dome for those travellers looking to relax after a hard days trekking.

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Horse-riding excursion with EcoCamp

Food & Drink

Generally, we have found the food and drink to be of a higher standard at the Patagonia Camp, where you also have your own private table for dinner (at EcoCamp you are seated at a table with your trekking group and guide). Patagonia Camp has its own vineyard and so the wines also tend to be very good. Both camps offer unlimited wine with dinner.

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Dessert at Patagonia Camp

Pricing

Pricing really depends on the time of year at which you are travelling, so do get in touch with us to find out the exact rates that would apply to you.

Patagonia Camp offer a much simpler pricing system than EcoCamp, they have a low and high season rate, which varies according to the number of nights you spend there, and whether you are sharing, or travelling alone. As they do not offer a willing to share policy, Patagonia Camp is less desirable for solo travellers, because the single supplement really hikes up the price!

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Standard yurt at Patagonia Camp

EcoCamp prices are somewhat more complicated, as they have 4 different season prices, 4 different types of domes. They then have a different price depending on how many nights you stay, and whether you are a solo traveller willing to share, or want a double/twin, triple, or quadruple room! The good thing for solo travellers is that there is a (same sex) ‘willing to share policy’ which removes the single supplement cost. They also offer some really excellent low and shoulder season rates.

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Suite Dome interior at EcoCamp

What our customers think

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‘EcoCamp was great, so unique and beautiful views- we LOVED it, it was awesome’ – Karen, November 2014

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‘Patagonia Camp exceeded all our expectations. We had the nearest yurt to the lake with distant views of the Horns’ – Ian and Sue, December 2014

Get in touch with Swoop for more information and advice on booking an unforgettable experience in Torres del Paine at one of these two fantastic luxury camps.