Tag Archives: Chiloe island

An Englishman in Patagonia: book review

An Englishman in Patagonia: book review

In ‘An Englishman in Patagonia’, John Pilkington beautifully details his eight-month backpacking trip, south from Santiago, winding his way along the Andes, through the heart of Patagonia to the end of the world in Ushuaia, before heading back up the Argentine coastline. Spurred on by the tales of legendary adventurers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Fitzroy, Charles Darwin and contemporary travellers like Bruce Chatwin, Pilkington sets out to lift the veil on the mystery surrounding Patagonia.

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Beginning his journey by immersing himself in the frenzy of Santiago, Pilkington moves on to attend a house-moving ceremony on Chiloé Island (more exciting than it sounds), explores remote estancias (ranches) in Aysen, and hikes amongst the lofty peaks of the Fitz Roy range and Torres del Paine. He delves into the maritime history of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel, runs errands for a Canadian adventure company in Punta Arenas, and catches a US Airforce flight to King George Island on the Antartica Peninsula, before eventually heading north again to spend time with the remote farmers on the Atlantic coast and the friendly Welsh communities in the Chubut Valley. This voyage of discovery finishes by unravelling one of Patagonia’s greatest legends – the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Armed with a lightweight tent and a sturdy pair of walking boots, the author regularly jaunts off the beaten track to discover the true Patagonia. Along the way he meets an intriguing collection of unique characters, many of them with strong British or European heritage. He meets the descendants of Scottish sheep farmers, hippies from Switzerland, emigrants who escaped a crumbling post-war Germany and of course enjoys tea with those brave Welsh settlers. From all of Pilkington’s encounters, it soon becomes evident that Patagonians share a fierce sense of identity, a pioneering spirit and an unshakable fortitude that has allowed these hardy people to forge a living in one of the wildest places on earth.

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Some of the Swoop team have been lucky enough to meet John Pilkington in person and they all speak very highly of his amicable nature. You get the impression that the residents of Patagonia also readily warm to this lonesome British traveller, and as a result the tales of their lives in the region naturally pour forth. He remains impartial and non-judgemental throughout, siding with neither the Chileans or Argentinians when addressing their many differences and causes for quarrel.

By the end of the book, the reader will have garnered a new perspective on Patagonia. It is not a barren land, buried away at the bottom of the world, but a place of wonder and enchantment with plenty of welcoming people to share it with.

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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We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

In Spring 2016 Harriet, Chloe and Sally will be downing tools and heading to Patagonia. Regular trips like these ensure we stay close to our roots and maintain our in-depth knowledge of the region. We test out new trips, visit new parks, hike new routes and eat in new restaurants – all in the name of research, of course.

Harriet – Trekking, Mountaineering & Aysen Specialist

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On a Swoop recce to Reserva Cerro Castillo in 2015

I am focusing all three weeks of my trip on the little visited Aysen region of Chile. I am planning to follow the spine of the Andes from north to south: trekking from Lago Verde to Lago Palena, visiting the Queulat National Park, sightseeing and relaxing on the Lago General Carrera. The final week of my Aysen adventure will be spent in the Patagonia Park, getting to know the various treks and day hikes there.

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The Autumn colours of Aysen

I am very excited about the Patagonia Park. It’s an area that is receiving a large amount of coverage in the press at the moment, because of its link with the late Doug Tompkins, The North Face founder. I know a particular corner of Aysen fairly well, as in 2002 I spent 3 weeks in the Tamango Reserve volunteering on a biodiversity study.

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Admiring Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) in Queulat in 2010

The Tamango Reserve is now to be integrated into the New Patagonia National park. I am very keen for Swoop to be able to offer some new and exciting adventures within the national park and only by getting into the area and exploring it with our local partners will I be able to truly understand what I am offering our customers.

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Pedalling towards Lago General Carrera in 2010

The trek between Lago Verde and Lago Palena is reported to be one of the best in Aysen. I first discovered the trek on a friend’s blog, as the photos he took are absolutely incredible. I am entranced by the apparently enchanted forests and what looks like some great streams to swim in, but also the apparent remoteness and tranquility. I can’t wait to experience it for myself.

Chloe – Wildlife & Cruise Specialist

Prepping for the Patagonian winds on the Devonshire coast

My first ever trip to Patagonia – I’m SO excited! As Swoop’s cruise and wildlife specialist, I’m starting off with a 4 night ‘Wildlife, Glaciers and Cape Horn‘ cruise through the Chilean Fjords from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (pronounced ‘oosh – why – ah’). I will be heading out on a number of excursions to see glaciers and wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Penguins of Isla Magdalena

My next stop will be the mountain town of El Chalten, where I’ll take a 2 day hike to Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre and go rafting, before heading to El Calafate for an ice hike on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

Next – the absolute highlight for me – a Humpback Whale Watching trip in Chile, where I’ll be spending three days studying the whales that congregate in the waters of the Magellan strait from my base at an eco research camp on Carlos III Island.

Breaching humpback Whale off Carlos III Island

On the final leg of the trip I’ll be venturing to the famous Torres del Paine National Park to hike the W Trek, and try out some of the park’s hotels, eco yurt camps and luxury lodges.

The famous Towers or ‘Torres’ of Paine

Sally – Lake District & Bespoke Trip Specialist

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The flights are booked but unlike Chloe, there is really only a loose plan as to how I’ll be spending my 21 nights! One thing that is for sure though is that I am just as excited.

I absolutely love Chile and having spent so much time there over the years it always feels like going home. On this trip I will have the opportunity to visit the new Tantauco Park in the southern part of Chiloe Island. It’s a private park of 118,000 hectares with a new network of hiking refugios, virgin forests, exquisite bird life and wonderful flora.

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The Bay of Ancud, Chiloe Island

I am utterly obsessed with Chiloe Island. It is charming, quaint, relaxing, captivating, intoxicating – time simply slows down. Whenever I visit, I am always filled with the sensation that I simply just don’t want to leave. As I was on the ferry leaving the island after my last visit I wrote a few words in my diary…

There is something about Chiloe that grabs me every time I visit, it sounds silly but something reaches deep down inside and touches my soul. It fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction for having been here, experiencing the tranquility, calmness and simplicity to life. Thank you Chiloe.

I simply can’t wait to discover this new part of the island.

For the second part of my trip I am hoping to white water raft down the mighty Futaleufu river, then cross into Argentina to either hike, kayak or mountain bike (or all 3!), using the small town of San Martin de Los Andes as my base.

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If we’ve inspired you with our passion for Patagonia and you’re interested in any of the trips or activities on which we’re embarking, then we’d love to hear from you to help you plan your incredible adventure. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at our Itinerary Selector to help you decide what sort of trip might suit you best.

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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.