Author Archives: Sally Dodge

About Sally Dodge

Sally is a true lover of all things Latin American with the Patagonian lakes and mountains as top of her list. Having worked as an English teacher and Tour leader in Chile and Argentina throughout the last 8 years, Sally has a wide and diverse knowledge of Patagonia. She has hiked and cycled throughout Patagonia for work and pleasure, and also loves nothing more than to end every trip to Patagonia with a juicy steak in the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.

Sophisticated Simplicity Hidden in the Lake District

Sophisticated Simplicity Hidden in the Lake District

On my recce trip of the Patagonian Lake District in the spring of 2016, I discovered a few hidden gems nestled in the heart of the Patagonian Lake District. This one, a four drive north of Bariloche, was perched on a hillside, in a clearing of trees. The experience of visiting the beautiful wooden house of Caballadas left me speechless; I was utterly mesmerised by its beauty and tranquility.

Due to a delayed flight from Buenos Aires I ended up arriving in the dark. It was a long and bumpy journey but as I approached the entrance, the lights of the house beckoned me home. The actual driveway is hard to find as there are no signs, no obvious indication of what lies beyond – this is intentional.

Up and up I drove, until I finally reached the main house where I was greeted by Isabel, who was relieved that I had finally arrived. As I stepped inside it immediately felt like home – it was warm, with a roaring fire and the tantalising smell of home cooked food.

After a much needed dinner of beetroot soup followed by roast chicken and a glass or two of wine by the fire, I settled into bed and fell asleep to the sound of silence.

I awoke with the first light of day to be greeted with the view – the sky was electric pink, the valley floor was covered by a thick layer of mist and a bowl of mountains arose through it. All I could hear was the sound of parakeets flocking from tree to tree, cattle lowing in a nearby field; pure peace.

The Caballadas estate of 20,000 hectares sits in the northern part of the Lanin National Park. It has been in the same family since 1904 which pre-dates the formation of the park. It houses rivers, lakes and a huge variety of virgin forests. The most special perhaps are the forests of monkey puzzle trees (the Araucaria).

The estate is best explored on horseback, so a gorgeous chestnut horse called Manzanito (Little Apple) was saddled up for me Isabel took me off to explore. What really struck me during my 3 hours in the saddle was how dramatically the scenery changed from open plains, to thick riverside vegetation, to monkey puzzle trees perched high on ridges and then, into sight came the magnificent Lanin Volcano – towering over its neighbours at 3,728m.

The estancia is an exclusive yet traditional base for those wanting to horse ride through stunning scenery, across interesting, challenging terrain; if you’re slightly more adventurous they can also organise a few nights of overnight camping so you can explore even further into the mountains.

The estancia has more than 40 horses and actively encourages guests to come a day early so they can choose their horse themselves or at least have the opportunity to saddle up their own horse. The tack room of the stables was extremely impressive – utterly fascinating and more like a museum. Your horse trip will be guided by Isabel’s charming husband, Santiago – a professional polo player with faultless English. He will also be accompanied by a handful of local gauchos. (cowboys).

The estancia also makes a wonderful base for fly-fishing – there are numerous rivers in the vicinity with world-class fishing and your own private guide will be set up for you.

By mid-morning the mist had lifted and by the time I returned to the main house for lunch the view was there for me in all its glory – wow! The whole front of the house, dining area and lounge have enormous windows that look out across the sweeping valley below. After lunch we visited the nearby Quillen Lake to get even closer views of the Lanin Volcano – perfectly positioned as a backdrop to the lake.

On the return journey I didn’t notice the bumps in the road, as the scenery of the winding Alumine river, the jagged mountains and the open plains certainly were worth it.

Caballadas manages to house its guests with a sophisticated simplicity which is hard to find anywhere else. The food is wholesome, tasty and homemade, the view is intoxicating and the hospitality is genuine. If you are looking for an exclusive, private experience that is still truly Patagonian, then this home will not disappoint.

If you’d like to visit Patagonia and fall in love with Caballadas just like Sally did, get in touch.

Double the adventure for Nor & Cindy: 5 weeks in Patagonia and Antarctica

Double the adventure for Nor & Cindy: 5 weeks in Patagonia and Antarctica

A handful of Swoop’s customers choose to venture to both Patagonia and the Antarctic on the same trip. Swoop only specialises in these two destinations and so is perfectly placed to offer the dream trip to someone looking for a double-adventure! We know both regions inside out and can tie two ends of an incredible journey together.

For the icebergs and majesty of Antarctica and the vast wilderness and iconic peaks of Patagonia, a trip combining the two offers myriad opportunity for adventure, exploration, excitement….

Adventurous customers Nor and Cindy asked us to help them plan such a trip. Their epic 5 week journey packed in so many highlights of both areas it’s been understandably hard for them to process and filter all of the fantastic experiences they had. Nevertheless, Nor kindly sifted through his photos and memories to share with us for the blog.

Looking back, how do you feel about the way your itinerary panned out?

In retrospect, it would have been good to have done Antarctica last, because it was so spectacular that it was sometimes hard to get excited about other things we saw after that!

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How was the accommodation in Patagonia?

In Ushuaia, the Hotel Arakur was a great getaway. The pools were great there and they even let us hang out there after we had checked out.

The staff at Hosteria Senderos in El Chalten were great – very accommodating; I think they were probably the most helpful staff of any place we stayed.

What did you make of the hikes and guides in the Patagonian destinations you visited?

In Los Glaciares National Park we did the three major hikes in two and a half days and loved them. We found we liked El Chalten in some ways more than Torres del Paine, for the fact that the hikes were really good and we could just walk from our hotel to the trailhead.

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In Torres del Paine, Patagonia Camp was one of the highlights of our whole trip, where we had the same guide for all the excursions and we really enjoyed his company.

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We also visited the Alta Vista vineyard just outside of Mendoza, and they provided one of the best winery tours we have ever had; they also have a lovely garden and serve a picnic lunch.

How was your Patagonian cruise?

The Stella Australis was comfortable, much more of a cruise than an expedition. Cape Horn was the “Big One” for me on this cruise – I loved it.

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Nor and Cindy actually started their trip with a thirteen day expedition to Antarctica. They sailed on the Akademik Ioffe.

How did you find the Ioffe and your time in Antarctica?

We absolutely loved the trip! It was really an adventure as this was the only trip that the Ioffe was making south of the [Polar] Circle this year.

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Overall the ship was very comfortable; our cabin was quite spacious and comfortable – as nice or better than on some cruise ships.

We all agreed that the staff was great with all of them having a speciality (mammals, birds, geology, etc) in addition to their zodiac driving duties. There were also two full time photographers on board who specialised in wildlife photography.

Would you recommend the Akademik Ioffe to others?

We’d highly recommend the Akademik Ioffe for your future customers.

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How was your time in Ushuaia after the cruise?

We stayed at the Arakur Hotel, and loved it. Their swimming pool, hot tubs, game rooms are excellent. In fact all the facilities are very good. They run a shuttle into town every hour so even though we were out of town we didn’t feel isolated and being on the hillside with a view of the Beagle Channel below was great.

What was the highlight of your trip?

Antarctica by far but besides the cruise there, the Patagonia Camp for the ambience and El Chalten for hiking.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of a similar adventure to both Antarctica and Patagonia?

We would say that when you move as fast as we did, it’s hard to reflect so try not to plan everything and allow a little extra time for relaxing and flexibility.

Nor and Cindy used the expertise of the teams at both Swoop Patagonia and Swoop Antarctica to book their adventure. Get in touch if you would like to know more about either of these two thrilling destinations.

Sally’s Love Affair with the Patagonian Lake District

Sally’s Love Affair with the Patagonian Lake District

In my years living and working in Chile and Argentina I’ve visited the highlights, got lost in the unexplored, toured and detoured, and I am still utterly amazed by just how much more of Patagonia there is to explore.

On my recce trip I covered relatively little distance – as the condor flies – but from the extraordinary diversity of landscapes and experiences you’ll see from my photos, you would think I had criss-crossed the entire region.

In order to make full use of the precious three weeks I had there, the itinerary is quite relentless – I sometimes say to friends and family, when describing a recce trip, that I pack into one day what a normal itinerary would have spread across three or four.

Every day is an absolute adventure and all of us at Swoop who carry out these trips (that’s most of us!) return exhausted but elated; excited to start sharing all our fresh knowledge with our customers. Because our customers like such diverse adventures, we make sure we experience everything from sleeping under canvas or sharing a cushioned floor with 20 other sweaty hikers, to 5 star luxury and pretty much everything else in between.

Most of my time was spent in and around the Argentine and Chilean Lake District. I hiked, horsed, biked, birded, road tripped and hot-tubbed. From my first steak in Buenos Aires to my final 4 course dinner on a vineyard near Santiago, this trip was also a gastronomic delight.

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My trip started in Buenos Aires with a bike tour – a refreshing way to see the city and great to get the legs moving after the long flight.

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With a short flight down to Bariloche and a 4 hour drive north, I then rode out from an estancia with an incredibly intoxicating view.

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I hiked the snowy passes of the Nahuel Huapi National Park.

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I slept in a hut that clung to the hillside.

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The autumn colours turned the hillsides into multi-coloured delights.

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With a short hop then over the Andes, I was then fascinated by fungi, ferns and faeces in the Tantauco Park on the island of Chiloe.

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Warmed through with woollen slippers and a roaring fire on the island of Chiloe after a dip in a hot tub.

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Stunned by the beauty of the smoking Villarica volcano.

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Wine and dined on a vineyard near Santiago.

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A final bike ride through vineyards before heading home.

I spent a lot of time asking myself “Why do I love Patagonia?” Is it the smell of the forest, the call of the mischievous little thorn-tailed rayadito in the forest, the sound of the rivers, the satisfaction of hiking all day, the continually changing scenery or the scale of the landscapes? Or is it the people with their cheery smiles and positivity? Or is it the food and wine and home-brew? Whatever it is, Patagonia, it was an absolute privilege to gorge on your beauty.

With a heavy heart I left Chile, definitely leaving a part of me behind but certain that whether it is this year or next, I will be going back.

Sally spent three weeks exploring the Patagonian Lake District. If you’d like to discover this region for yourself, get in touch with Sally – she’d love to hear from you.

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Swoop’s Pick of Patagonian Restaurants

Swoop’s Pick of Patagonian Restaurants

After many years working as a tour leader wining and dining clients night after night, I have eaten my way through the very best that Patagonia has to offer. Below are just a few of my recommendations.

Santiago: Providencia

1. *Top Pick* : Liguria: Traditional Chilean cuisine, excellent quality and very buzzing – take your dictionary! (3 locations, my favourite is Av. Providencia 1373 – very near Manual Montt metro)

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2. Baco: Fantastic wine selection, good for tapas type food and great steaks. (Nueva de Lyon 113)

3. El Giratorio: 17th floor rotating restaurant – incredible views of sunset over the city and the Andes. Food is traditional and tasty but also aspires to be fine-dining. (Av 11 de Septiembre 2250, Floor 16)  

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Santiago: Bellavista

1. Como Agua Para Chocolate: Delicious fish and meat dishes, great wine selection, wonderful decor and atmosphere. Staff generally speak very good English. (Constitución 88 – street parallel to Pio Nono, main street of Bellavista)

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Santiago: Lastarria

1. Bocanariz: Unrivalled selection of Chilean wines, this is THE place to come and experience the very best in Chilean wine – the food is delicious as well if you fancy staying for dinner. A great addition to the quirky neighbourhood. (José Victorino Lastarria 276 – next to church)

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–Here are some more ideas for Things to do and Places to Stay in Santiago–

Pucon

1. *Top Pick* : Rincon del Lago: Not in the centre so off the tourist trail, this little family-run place serves really reasonable, traditional food; nothing fancy but good wholesome grub – great after a day out on the trails. (G. Urrutia 635)

2. Trawen: Long established place on the main street but still serving up delicious local dishes, top notch pisco sours and unmissable desserts. (Av. O’Higgins 311)

Puerto Varas

1. *Top Pick* : Las Buenas Brasas: It’s popular with tourists and for a very good reason – the food is delicious, the service spot on, the pisco sours are strong and the added extras of Sopaipilla y pebre (fritters with homemade salsa) on arrival make this place a real gem. (San Pedro 543)

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2. Cafe Danes: Great for lunch, kuchen (cakes) and empanadas (savoury pasties) – try the Empanada de horno but beware, the portions are huge! (Del Salvador 441)

3. Casa Valdes – housed in a lovely wooden cabin with great views across the Llanquihue Lake to the Osorno and Calbuco Volcanoes, this local restaurant is serving up the very best in local fish and seafood. The atmosphere is buzzing but not too noisy but best to ask your hotel reception to book a table. (Santa Rosa 040 – Underneath the Cabanas del Lago Hotel)

4. La Jardineria: -a little way out of town, one block back from the lake front road, this is a small, intimate restaurant, housed in a restored traditional house, very popular with locals, run by a well travelled, local couple. (Blanco Encalada 1160,  Puerto Chico)

5. La Marca – best in town for a juicy steak (Calle Santa Rosa #539)

6. Mercado 605 – set in a beautifully restored wooden house this cafe by day / restaurant by night offers a wide variety of ‘pisco sours’ for example, sours including green chilli or honey or even avocado. The food is delicious too! (Imperial #605)

Punta Arenas

1. *Top Pick* : Restaurante Brocolino: From its exterior it looks like nothing special, but trust me, inside you’ll be greeted with mouth-watering aromas of king crab in white wine, Patagonian lamb, and sinful desserts. For me what really makes this restaurant special is Hector the chef, a true Patagonian character! (O’ Higgins #1049)

2. Toques de la Patagonia: With a stunning view of the city, serving up creative dishes using organic and locally grown vegetables and herbs. (Almirante Manuel Senoret #1041)

Here are some more ideas for Things to do and Places to Stay in Punta Arenas

Puerto Natales

1. *Top Pick* : Cormoran de las Rocas: With fresh fish and delicious meats even including guanaco on the menu, this restaurant is a great bonus for Puerto Natales. Set up on the first floor of the building, what really makes this place special are the incredible views over the Last Hope Sound. (Miguel Sanchez 72)

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Here are some more ideas for Places to Stay in Puerto Natales

Sally’s Top Restaurants in Argentina

Buenos Aires: Microcentro

You could spend a lifetime in Buenos Aires and still not have explored all of its wonderful, quirky, unique gastronomic offerings; here is just a brief list of some of my favourites.

1. *Top Pick* :  El Establo – My all time favourite restaurant in Buenos Aires is El Establo.  It is old school, bright lights, white table cloths, old waiters that don’t write anything down and popular with tourists. Hands down it offers the best steak in BA. Open parrilla (grill), ham hanging from the ceiling and homemade chimichurri (typical Argentine condiment to accompany meat dishes made of parsley, garlic and olive oil). Order the ½ Bife de lomo, jugoso (rare fillet steak) – it simply melts in your mouth. (Paraguay on the corner of San Martin in Retiro)

Buenos Aires: San Telmo

1. Gran Parrilla del Plata: Excellent quality steak, reasonably priced, great service, great decor. (Chile 594 – on the corner with Peru)

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2. La Brigada: Quite pricey but a real meat experience! (Estados Unidos 465)

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3. Cafe La Poesia: Atmospheric cafe in the heart of San Telmo; translating as ‘Poetry Cafe’, it is a literary institution with photos of famous Argentine authors, prose around the walls and plaques on some of the tables where famous authors have sat. Great for coffee, snacks, drinks and picadas (shared platters). One of the protected ‘Cafe Notables’ of Buenos Aires. (Chile 502 on the corner of Bolivar)

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4. Bar El Federal: Another great ‘Cafe Notable’ of San Telmo with its incredible wooden decor, pavement tables and ecelctic mix of students, backpackers, artists and old timers reading the daily news. Order a coffee/beer and watch the world go by. (Peru on the corner of Carlos Calvo)

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Buenos Aires: Palermo

1. *Top Pick*: Don Julio: Excellent steak, great service and a wonderful wine list. Definitely my *Top Pick* in Palermo. (Guatemala 4691 on the corner of Gurruchaga)

2. La Cabrera: Popular with tourists and locals alike, this restaurant, located on 2 different corners of the same street, serves up enormous steaks that are strictly encouraged to share accompanied with a delicious selection of side dishes. Excellent service, great atmosphere and as they don’t take reservations they offer you champagne while you wait for your table. (José Antonio Cabrera 5099 on the corner of Thames)

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3. El Preferido de Palermo: Another ‘Cafe Notable’; this is a great place to stop for a drink just to have a look inside. The food is traditional and offers some real Argentine treats. (Jorge Luis Borges 2108 on the corner of Guatemala)

–Here are some more ideas for Things to do and Places to Stay in Buenos Aires–

Bariloche

1. *Top Pick* :  Alto el Fuego:  Excellent quality meat, unusual wines and good value. (20 de Febrero 451)

2. Holly Restobar: A good option is you’re looking for something other than steak; the ribs are excellent. Also has fabulous views out across the lake. (Avenida Juan M. de Rosas 435)

–Here are some more ideas on Places to Stay in Bariloche–

El Calafate

1. *Top Pick* :  La Tablita: A visit to El Calafate isn’t complete without trying the slow cooked Patagonian lamb and after many years of trying out many places this has come top time after time. A word of warning: order 1 between 2 (even though it isn’t a dish for 2, the portion is enormous!) ; also, don’t miss the Calafate ice-cream. (Rosales 28 – cross over the bridge past the petrol station and it is down on your left hand side)

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2. La Zaina: Set in a restored old building with an eclectic mix of memorabilia, this place serves a great selection of Patagonian meats (great pasta as well), warm home-made bread and an interesting wine selection. Service can sometimes be slow but then, what’s the hurry?! ( Gdor. Gregores 1057 – on the corner of Tomas Espora)

–Here are some more ideas for Places to Stay in El Calafate–

El Chalten

1. *Top Pick* : La Tapera: Delicious hearty stews, cosy, warm atmosphere and great views of Fitz Roy from upstairs. (Antonio Rojo & Riquelme – next to the Walk Patagonia office)

2. CerveceriaThe Micro Brewery! A visit to El Chalten isn’t complete without a visit to the micro-brewery. They brew 2 different beers, 1 pale (rubia) and 1 dark (negro) and serve with bowls of popcorn (they also serve bottled beers and wine). Great atmosphere, cosy, with a garden to laze in sun after a hard days walking. Open late into the evening. (Av. San Martin 564)

3. La Vineria – “The best wine bar in South Patagonia” – this quote taken from their website is quite a claim but almost definitely true. It has an incredible selection of Argentine wines (and artisanal beers), great picadas (shared platters) of meats, cheeses and tapas Argentine style. Sebastian the owner is extremely knowledgeable. (Lago Del Desierto Ave, 265 – next to the Chalten travel office)

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–Here are some more ideas for Places to Stay in El Chalten–

4. La Wafeleria: – A well-deserved stop after a long hike or great place to settle in for the day if the weather closes in. (Av. San Martin 640)

One of Swoop’s other Patagonia specialists, Harriet, has also reviewed the restaurants in El Chalten. For an even more detailed insight into what delicacies the town has on offer, read Harriet’s post “Places to eat in El Chalten”

Ushuaia

1. *Top Pick* :  La Casa de los Mariscos: – It’s an easy place to walk past without noticing, it looks quite shabby from the outside, there is no king crab tank in the window and the doorway is very small. But once inside it is buzzing, cosy and wafts delicious aromas. Try the Centolla Fugeian (king crab in chilli sauce), Centolla Provincal (king crab in parsley and white wine sauce) or Centolla Natural (king crab salad). (San Martin, 232 – corner with Deloqui)

2. El Almacen de Ramos General: No stay in Ushuaia is complete without a stop at this wonderful little gem! It’s a bit of everything from museum to cafe to restaurant to bar. With an eclectic mix of memorabilia, chocolate coated meringue penguins, Cape Horn beer and homemade pasta. (Av. Maipu 749)

–Here are some more ideas for Things to do and Places to Stay in Ushuaia–

Other restaurants outside of Patagonia that Sally just can’t help recommending!

Mendoza

*Top Pick* : Ocho Cepas: Set in a beautifully restored old colonial house, the restaurant is split between the different rooms of the house, with its very own wine cellar. The steak is great, the menu interesting and the atmosphere intimate. (Peru 1192 – on the corner of Espejo)

Puerto Iguazu

1. *Top Pick* :  El Quicho del Tio Querido: If you aren’t enticed in by the delicious smell of cooking meat from it’s enormous open air grill then you will be by the fascinating live music (played after about 9:30pm); the steaks are incredible, the service great and the atmosphere relaxing. (Av. Pres. Juan Domingo Perón 159)

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2. Aqva: A little on the pricey side but serving up local river fish in delicious sauces – a definite top pick if you’re a bit meated out (Av. Cordoba on the corner of Carlos Thays)

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Any feedback and new recommendations are welcomed, and why not take a look at our Before You Go Page for more travel tips and recommendations for your trip to Patagonia.

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Bote Salvavida – for their lunchtime fish dishes.

Cafe Turri – for wonderful views.

Amor Porteño – for the best ice-cream in town!

Hotel Brighton – for the best view, and a good pisco sour…but we wouldn’t advise eating!

There are also some wonderful places to eat and drink on Almirante Montt Street; from cafes to fine dining, good places to grab a beer and great views.

Enjoy!

Amber and Mark’s trip to Chiloe Island and Torres del Paine

Amber and Mark’s trip to Chiloe Island and Torres del Paine

Amber and Mark give us some wonderful feedback from their trip to Chiloe Island, Torres del Paine, and Los Glaciares in March 2015, as well as some great tips for people considering a similar itinerary.

Amber and Mark’s Itinerary

After arriving in Santiago, Amber and Mark flew to Puerto Montt and onto the island of Chiloe, where they enjoyed a scenic drive through The Bay of Caulin- A fantastic spot to see local and migratory birds. Whilst in Chiloe they stayed at the homestay of La Casita del Mar and enjoyed two days of trekking and sea kayaking in the Bay of Ancud. An early morning transfer took them to Puerto Montt airport where they flew to Punta Arenas and then took a bus for the rest of the journey to Puerto Natales.

After a night at the Hotel Indigo, they embarked on a self guided W trek in Torres del Paine, staying in various cabin’s, Refugio’s and Hotels. Their self guided trek took them to some of the most impressive sights that Torres del Paine has to offer – The famous towers, Lago Noredenskjold, the French Valley and the Grey Glacier.

In the last few days of their trip they enjoyed a guided excursion to the Perito Moreno glacier  before taking some self guided day hikes to Laguna Torre, Laguna de los tres and Loma del Pliegue Tumbado from El Chalten.

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Amber & Mark’s Feedback

How was your time in Chiloe?

Swoop’s partners in Chiloe were amazing, Britt made us two delicious meals (so similar to how I cook that it was wonderfully comforting) and was a gracious host. They were appropriately attentive and kind. Our kayak day was perfect and Jack gave great tips on where to go. The dogs were amazing. :-)

James was a great guide, he was super knowledgeable and clearly passionate about Chile. I would not have guessed that he had only recently moved to Chiloe from Santiago. In hindsight, we probably would have preferred a little less time with a guide, as it felt a little more scheduled that perhaps we would have liked.

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How did you enjoy your time in Torres del Paine? 

Laura and Carlos, Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine were great. They were super helpful when someone stole our bus tickets at Punta Arenas. I would have been helpful to have had more detailed instructions on where to get the bus as I think had we been waiting in the right place, we would have been there to get our tickets before someone else took them.

Laura was also super gracious when we missed our bus to Calafate (the time had been changed to 7am from 8am which she told us on the first day and updated on our voucher but we didn’t update it on our itinerary and we had a very late night the night before due to Grey II being cancelled). She picked us up at the bus station, dropped us at a great coffee shop, and kept our bags for the day.

We had a few complications with the Grey II boat as it was cancelled last minute and we ended up having to hike 3 hours to Grey, then 40 mins round trip to the glacier, and then 3 hours back to Paine Grande to wait 3 hours for the catamaran across Pehoe instead. It was unavoidable but frustrating as we weren’t mentally prepared for it.

The refugios were great. Food was a plenty. It was great overall!

In Puerto Natales, I would recommend staying at the same hotel before and after the W trek for ease. Both the Indigo and Altiplanico were great hotels.

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How did you enjoy your time in El Calafate and El Chalten? 

El Calafate was good. The Perito Moreno glacier was amazing. We took the 3 hour trip, but 3 felt that 2 hours would have been plenty of time.

Swoop’s partner Zoe was nice when we arrived in El Chalten and helpful in adjusting our schedule after our delay in leaving Puerto Natales.

The hotel Senderos was great. The food there was the best we had…on the whole trip! We really liked the Cervercia. We thought La Taperia was overrated. 

Here’s some more information from Swoop’s Harriet on places to eat in Chalten.

Sally’s experiences sea kayaking in the Northern Fjords

Sally’s experiences sea kayaking in the Northern Fjords

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.

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Sea-Kayak, Petrohue River & Relconcavi Fjord

Day 1

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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Day 2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

The Estancia Peuma Hue

The Estancia Peuma Hue

On Sally’s recent visit to the Argentinian Lake District, she stayed at the Estancia Peuma Hue enjoying the fine food, hiking trails, stunning scenery and utter tranquility. Read on for her review.

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Sitting on the shores of the glistening Gutierrez lake nestled between forested slopes and surrounded by jagged granite peaks, The Estancia Peuma Hue really is a place of dreams.

The main house of the estancia is just a stone’s throw from the beach which sweeps for 2 miles in front of the property. The water is icy cold so swimming is only for the bravest, but once you’ve taken the plunge it is a refreshing, invigorating satisfaction.

The 500 acres of the lodge includes the Southen end of the Cerro Catedral or Cathedral Mountain – aptly named because of its Dali like granite pinnacles. This side of the range is only accessible from the lodge and hiking trails have been marked by Evelyn, the lodge owner. You are unlikely to meet other hikers on the trails which gives you a definite sense of being ‘off the beaten track’ and makes for some excellent bird watching. Whilst out on the trails myself, I was able to get extremely close to a family of magellanic woodpeckers who continued their work totally undisturbed as I sat filming them.

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The Estancia is passionate about animals of all shapes and sizes. They have their own horses that graze in the field in front which guests can ride and a gaggle of friendly dogs that love nothing better than accompanying guests on their hikes.

It wasn’t unusual to see Austral Parakeets flying over head, ashy headed geese out on the grass feasting on the fallen apples, dark bellied cinclodes on the beach and southern lapwings and black faced ibis on the grass in front.

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On arrival guests are given an introductory briefing about the different excursion options available to them and are well and truly made to feel at home. From the moment I arrived I felt like I had entered somewhere very special and was eager to head out and explore the beauty that lay outside.

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The Trails

The trails have been separated into 4 trails of different lengths and difficulty which can be combined to create 1 full day hike or 2 half day hikes. These trails can all be done self guided as they have handily been marked by different coloured ribbons on the trees which represent the different colours on the hand drawn map which you’ll be given on arrival.

The trails all start from the western side of the property and head up into Cerro Catedral which does mean that they start with an inevitable uphill. The shortest trail, the orange trail named ‘Camino del Jabali’ is a great one to do on the day you arrive to stretch your legs and get a feel for the place and surroundings; this trail is just a short 3 kms but affords lovely views back onto the Estancia and lake shore.

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The blue trail, named ‘Jacuzzi Falls’ is the longest and steepest of the trail and takes you up high above the estancia to give great views back on the Gutierrez lake and the estancia and valley far below. The trail continues up to a wonderful view point out over the Jacuzzi Fall. This trail is only 6.2kms but due to the gradient will take 3-3.5hrs.

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The remaining 2 trails, the pink and yellow, ‘Hilltop and Mirador Claussen’ can be tagged onto the blue trail or done separately. They lead to trails south of the estancia, with an initial climb then quite flat and give great views of the southern Mascardi Lake and southern mountains.

As I was visiting during the first days of Autumn, the lenga beach forests were starting to change colours which created some incredible shades of orange and red across the mountains which combined with the volcanic snow-less peaks in the distance and gave the foreground and background vibrant, unusual colourings.

Other Activities

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Whilst staying at the lodge, guests can spend their days riding the horses, guided, in the surrounding hills and valleys. They cater for complete beginners to more advanced riders.

There are kayaks which can be taken out on the lake and they even have a boat which can take the less adventurous out for a spin. These are all included in the price of your stay. Additionally guests can pay to take a day out fly fishing with an expert guide or perhaps take a hike up high over the ridge of the Cathedral Mountain.

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Gourmet Food

I was taken aback by the quality, variety and finesse of the meals I was served; even the pic-nic lunch was 5*! I was served delicious fish, juicy steaks, hearty soups, local craft beer, full bodied wine and the best breakfast of my whole 3 week trip. For the food alone I would return time and time again.

The owners are very involved with the day to day running of the Estancia and in the evening when the guests gather for a drink they personally come to chat with the guests, a really lovely touch. If you are looking to relax after a challenging hike in the south or perhaps looking for somewhere to enjoy a variety of activities from a luxury, cosy base then the Estancia Peuma Hue should not be missed.

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As I drove away, back onto the main road to Bariloche airport, I was saddened that I had to leave but full of gratitude to have been fortunate enough to have experienced such a truly unique, spellbinding place.

 

Buenos Aires Graffiti Tour

Buenos Aires Graffiti Tour

Swoop’s own Sally finished off her most recent trip to Chile and Argentina with a few days to see what was hot, new and happening in the the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.
She checked out new hotels, enjoyed some wine tasting and here she tells us about her experience of doing a city tour with a difference – a Graffiti Tour.

The tour took in the gritty southern neighbourhoods of La Boca and Barracas allowing us to see a very different side to Buenos Aires to the leafy streets of Palermo or the elaborate facades of Recoleta. It certainly took us to places that we’d never have got to on our own.

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The tour managed to incorporate fascinating street art, big and small, local politics, national history and even some quirky snippets of cultural history which you certainly wouldn’t read about in your average guide book. I even got a basic introduction into how graffiti works and its lingo – tags, blows and many more!

The guide, Cecilia, really made the tour. She was extremely informative, passionate and was able to give anecdotes about the artists which really brought the murals to life. Her way of explaining history and politics was interesting and easy to follow.

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It isn’t a tour that is going to take you to the Obelisc or the Plaza de Mayo, you aren’t going to be told about the founding of Buenos Aires, nor a complete history of the city or Argentina. What you are given though is an alternative city tour, gaining in depth information into some aspects of Argentine history, through the context of the street art that you are seeing.

Beginning in La Boca she explained about the immigration of the early 1900’s, how La Boca came to be, and the background behind the photogenic ‘El Caminito’. Using the different art pieces Cecile explained about the history of expression and repression during the Military Dictatorship of the 70’s and 80’s and the return to democracy. Once in Barracas she even touched upon the economic crash of 2001.

For many, this form of associating historical facts and events with incredibly powerful, visual art is a far more interesting and memorable way to get to grips with the complicated and fascinating history of Argentina.

My top 5 pieces of art seen were….

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1) Up a back street in La Boca was an enormously powerful mural in memory of the 30,000 disappeared during the Military Dictatorship. The piece showed names of those that were never found, drawings of faces and a ‘Mothers of May’ grief stricken, claiming her dead husband, father or son. Hugely emotive.

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2) The Globe – I found this fascinating as I couldn’t and still can’t decide if the people are spinning in or spinning out. What do you think?

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3) The Bikes – lining the walls of Barracas where lines and lines of these delightful bicycles.

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4) The Turtle – artistically incredible.

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5) The History of La Boca with their tin houses, firefighters and the cargo bridge – a symbol of the area.

If you’re looking for a fun, interesting way to get under the skin of this fascinating, vibrant, sometimes restless city and learn a little about the Porteños themselves, then this graffiti tour will be an excellent addition to your itinerary.

Ask the Swoop team to find out more.

 

Choosing your hotel and neighbourhood in Buenos Aires

Choosing your hotel and neighbourhood in Buenos Aires

On Swoop’s Sallys most recent visit to Patagonia she spent a few days in her beloved Buenos Aires checking out new hotels, old haunts and getting up close and personal with a few juicy steaks. Below she shares a few thoughts on choosing the right hotel for you in Buenos Aires.

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As in many big cities, Buenos Aires has its edgy side and so choosing where you stay can make a real difference to your enjoyment of the city. There are bohemian quarters, business quarters, the hustle and bustle of the city centre and safer neighbourhoods with bars and cafes. Where you choose to stay will be a very personal choice depending on how you enjoy cities, the style of hotel you feel most comfortable in and the length of time you have to enjoy this vibrant, diverse city.

Below I have tried to give a little detail on each neighbourhood where you might choose to stay so you can get a little more its flavour, style and close by amenities and attractions.

Palermo

Palermo is very pleasant! It has some historic buildings dating from the 1920s and is a more relaxed and safer neighbourhood than the ‘MicroCentro’ or ‘San Telmo’. It is residential with an abundance of bars and restaurants. What it lacks are the main historic sights and museums, but these are easily and quickly accessed by the metro. Many of the eateries are fairly new so, in my opinion, lack a certain amount of Porteño identity. That said, there are a few historic restaurants such as ‘El Preferido de Palermo’ and ‘Lo de Jesus’ which do ooze the porteño flavour.
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If you’re looking to mix with young porteños, visit historic sights by day then return to a trendy (safer) suburb in the evening, then Palermo is for you. Although not thought of as a bohemian area, I think that compared to most residential streets of anywhere in the UK, it would feel really rather bohemian, oozing with character, great food and a relaxed, charming character (there are enough holes in the pavement and graffiti to remind you that you’re in Buenos Aires).

Palermo is divided into 2 separate districts, Palermo Soho (Viejo) and Palermo Hollywood. The main hub of restaurants and hotels is in Palermo Soho and is my favourite of the two neighbourhoods. It is the area of the city of a massive block between Av. Santa Fe, Av. Juan B Justo, Av. Cordoba and Av. Scalabrini Ortiz. With most bars and restaurants concentrated within in this within Malabia, Cabrera, Thames and Guatemala.

 My 2 favourite boutique hotels are the Legado Mitico or the Bobo. They both are oozing with charm, local character, excellent service and both with good locations. The Bobo is a little more ‘trendy’ than the Legado but both are lovely.
For a mid-range option, the Esplendor Palermo Soho is a great choice.

San Telmo

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San Telmo gives you the historic ‘barrio’ feel but is also just a stones throw from the city centre (literally, 5 blocks). Although culturally more interesting with its historic cafes, facades and cobbles street, I’ll admit that it might feel a little dirty and daunting if you’ve just stepped off the plane.

My favourite boutique hotel in San Telmo is the San Telmo Luxury Suites right in the heart of the neighbourhood. More more budget friendly, midrange options you could choose either the Los Patios de San Telmo or the Babel Boutique.

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If you are making a visit to Buenos Aires at the start and end of your trip, it might be an idea to stay in Palermo at the start of your trip and in San Telmo at the end of your trip.

 Downtown / Centre – Micro Centro & Monserrat

This is the business district of the city where you also find the ‘Plaza de Mayo’, Government Palace and the Obelisc. The streets are small, cramped and rather pedestrian unfriendly but if you have just 1 night (midweek), then staying right in the heart of the city has its attractions. The Continental 725 is a lovely hotel choice right in the centre with stunning views from its roof top bar, a 2 minute walk from the main historic sights and you really are right in the thick of the hustle and bustle that drives this city.

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Once you’ve decided on your place to rest your head, then you can start to plan a little more with some ideas of ‘Things to Do“.

 

Sally’s Hike in the Tagua Tagua Park

Sally’s Hike in the Tagua Tagua Park

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.

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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.

Arrival

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Refugio Quetrus

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.

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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.

Inside

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.

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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.

The Descent

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.

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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.

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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.