Tag Archives: horse riding

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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Estancia hopping in Torres del Paine

Estancia hopping in Torres del Paine

There’s not much that beats the thrill of discovering Torres del Paine’s rugged landscapes on horseback – a method of travel that’s been used in the region for hundreds of years and is still favoured today.

In September of last year, I had the pleasure of staying at one of Chile’s biggest ranches, the Estancia Cerro Guido and one of Swoop’s customers, Barbara, recently visited another Chilean ranch for a similar getaway. Here, we both give a little insight of our experiences of life as a Patagonian gaucho (cowboy).SWOOP_3_LUKE-ERRINGTON_ALL_CERROGUIDOLANDSCAPE

Luke: “For anyone who enjoys horse riding, the Estancia Cerro Guido is one of the top spots in the region and offers a true slice of Patagonian history. You can experience life on a real working estancia (ranch), and head out with the gauchos to explore the surrounding pampas (grasslands). You can also ascend the peak of Cerro Guido from which the the estancia takes its name.

The ranch is the hub of a vast estate that reaches out some 100,000 hectares (that’s more or the less the size of a small county in the UK). It’s still a working estancia employing and housing a number of gauchos and their families. So, alongside the 100 year old house of its founders, you’ll also find more modern accommodation, a church and a school for this local community.SWOOP_3_LUKE-ERRINGTON_ALL_CERROGUIDOHORSE

If you book well in advance you can sleep in the old house, which is more museum than hotel, and will give you a wonderful sense of the lives of the people who originally owned and cultivated this land. There are some other rooms with ensuite bathrooms that are perfectly comfortable.

You’ll eat well in the dining room here (most of the food is grown / reared on the estate) but it’s the views out to the Paine Massif that I’ll always remember. This is a very special spot from which to see the sun set behind the famous towers of Torres del Paine.SWOOP_3_LUKE-ERRINGTON_ALL_CERROGUIDOSKYLINE

So, there are a number of reasons I’d recommend this particular ranch:

  • It offers the chance to see how a large-scale ranch really works in Patagonia today and so is a “must-visit” estancia for anyone horse riding in the Torres del Paine region.
  • It’s a great place for a couple or a smaller group of friends to spend a final night in Torres del Paine, after hiking in the main part of the national park.
  • Finally, it’s an authentic and convivial place in which to enjoy a private celebration; so ideal for a larger group ( 8-16 people) who want a night or two in their own place.”

Around 100km south of Estancia Cerro Guido, on the Peninsula Antonio Varas you will find another classic Patagonian ranch, Estancia Mercedes. Swoop customer Barbara visited with her daughter in January of this year.

Before their horse-riding adventure, they stayed at the Singular Hotel, a unique luxury hotel situated in a restored and renovated cold storage plant in Puerto Bories. The Estancia Mercedes then offered quite a contrast to the first part of their trip.CUS_2_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_MERCEDESYARD

Barbara:My experience on the estancia was like living in a National Geographic magazine! After three nights at the Singular Hotel, my daughter and I went to Estancia Mercedes. While everything is fancier at the Singular, Estancia Mercedes is authentic. If you want to step off the tourist route and live with a Chilean ranch family, look no further.CUS_3_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_CHILEHORSEMOUNTAIN

We were welcomed by the entire Inglesia family who have a long and rich history in Puerto Natales that they are happy to share.CUS_4_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_HORSE+RIDER

We came for horseback riding which exceeded our expectations but in the end this stay was about becoming part of the Inglesia family for a few days.CUS_3_BARBARA-DAVIS_PRIV_GROUPMERCEDESESTANCIA

I’ll admit that at night I missed how I could watch the sunset from my bed at the Singular but sunsets fade away unlike Estancia Mercedes which will be forever in our hearts. GO!”

Get in touch to book an unforgettable gaucho experience in Patagonia.

Rachel’s 35 day Adventure in Patagonia

Rachel’s 35 day Adventure in Patagonia

Rachel returned in December from a 35 day trip to Chile and Argentina, planned and arranged through Swoop Patagonia. Here she tells us about her experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop Patagonia.

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Wow – what a great holiday for me. I always wanted to experience the size and wilderness of this far off land but for a long time did not know quite where it was. My trip covered only the lower half of Patagonia, and I still travelled 4,000 Km from the bare Steppe over the mountains to the tropical forests around the fjords of Chile, ending at Cape Horn, somewhere I never thought I’d get the chance to see.

Rachel’s trip began with a stay at Las Marianas Hotel in Bariloche, ‘a lovely, friendly hotel with a great café with a nearby cafe that had a tree going up through the middle of it- they made delicious soups!’.

She then travelled north for a 4 night stay at Estancia Huechahue where she spent 3 days horse riding, walking, and taking part in estancia life…

This working Estancia is about the size of Purbeck- it was absolutely wonderful, the highlight of my trip for sure. Magnificent European trees towered above this elegant country ranch, which looks out onto a beautiful landscape of lupins and lavender alongside a steam, and the irrigated mown lawns led into big apple tree orchards. The pink/grey hills rising up to granite tops with condors, vultures and from the green fields down by the river the weird cries of the Ibis were breath taking. Except for unexpectedly strong cold gales trying to blow us off our horses, we had a wonderful spoilt time riding here. We had some very exciting days here, ended with drinks in front of a fire and fantastic home cooked meals; this was very different from the next 18 day road trip that followed! 

The next part of Rachel’s adventure was a road trip from Bariloche to Chalten, and then from Chalten to Ushuaia

On this part of the trip I travelled with a group of 12 people, mainly from Australia and New Zealand in a strengthened bus (to take the rough roads and steep hills over the high steppe of barren soil with the odd tussock and a few bushes). We had a wonderful guide and driver for this part of the trip. Mel, our guide was just wonderful, the best guide. She made the trip so interesting by adding her own anecdotes and stories. I also loved our driver, Franco, who took great care of me, was very sweet and supportive, and kept the bus very clean. There were Guanacos, Condors, miles of fences made of wood and plain wire, no habitation or any sign of tracks going anywhere. Just persistent biting cold wind that tried to blow one over. 

This part of the trip took Rachel first to Coyhaique, where she visited another Estancia and then along the famous Ruta 40 to El Chalten, where she enjoyed some lovely (although wet and cold at times!) walks in Los Glaciares National Park, and spent time relaxing and looking in the local arts and craft shops ‘I wish I had done more shopping here!’. In El Calafate, she stayed in an ‘absolutely gorgeous’ hotel, with ‘a lovely lake view room’, and took a tour/ walk/ boat trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier.

‘The Perito Moreno Glacier was absolutely spectacular and incredible- definitely a highlight of my trip’

Next, Rahcel’s road trip took her to Torres del Paine National Park,  where she hiked to Grey Glacier, the French Valley, and The famous Towers of Paine.

‘The Grey Glacier was just lovely, and the French Valley was absolutely fantastic’

From Torres del Paine, Rachel’s trip headed across the Magellan Strait to Tierra del Fuego, finishing in the southern most city in the world, Ushuaia, where she visited a King Penguin Colony, a type of Penguin usually only found on sub Antarctic Islands.

‘The penguin viewing was extraordinary, and allowed us to see the beautiful creatures at their very best. It was exceptionally good.’

helfer pengs

Tierra del Fuego was where Rachel ended the road trip buy taking a catamaran through the waters of the Beagle Channel, spotting a variety of wildlife including sea lions, and a variety of bird life. The next day she took a day trip to Martillo Island to see colonies of Gentoo and Magellan Penguins, which was ‘absolutely fascinating’, followed by a day of bird watching in Tierra del Fuego National Park.

The final leg of Rachel’s trip was our Fuegian Glaciers and Cape Horn Cruise , which took her out into the Beagle Channel, to the Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers where she went on a ‘wonderful walk’, and then through Glacier Alley.

‘Everyone on the boat was very friendly- the company was superb and the boat was not too crowded, with an experienced and well-travelled crew. 

The remainder of the cruise took Rachel to Wulaia Bay, and Cape Horn, but unfortunately the ship was unable to land here due to bad weather, nonetheless, Rachel said that it was ‘worth every penny’.

Her trip ended with a stay at the ‘unbelievable and lovely’ Arakur Hotel in Ushuaia, before flying back home to the UK.  Below Rachel lists some of the highlights of her trip…

Highlights 

One of the main highs for me was feeling fitter than I have for years so I could enjoy the hard walking up the mountains through the spectacular old southern beech woods besides tumbling streams falling into large lakes, looking at glaciers, craggy mountain tops, moss, flowing lichens, small alpine flowers and hillsides red with fire bush.

Then there was the highlight of sitting in sunshine listening to the blue 5 mile wide glacier calving, and watching huge blocks tumbling in the lake.

Spending time very close to 70 king penguins and ending with sailing the Beagle channel and seeing Cape Horn were wonderful also.

Helfer 1

Become a Patagonian Gaucho with these horse riding trips.

Become a Patagonian Gaucho with these horse riding trips.

A unique way to experience Patagonia is on horseback , you’ll see the sights of Patagonia from the viewpoint of a gaucho and have a truly one of a kind experience.
We have a number of great horse riding trips throughout February,March and April.
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Firstly take a look at the Estancia ride: A 10 day trip that allows you to experience gaucho life, spending each night at different Patagonian Estancias. It’s great for people who prefer not to camp and are up for spending long hours in the saddle and is best suited for experienced riders that are up for some fast and technical riding throughout the Patagonian mountains and pampas.

We have availability for trips starting on 19th February, 4th March and 19th March 2014.

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For something a bit more challenging there’s Riding to Glaciers with Gauchos.
This trip is run by incredibly experienced horse riding specialists from the area. It is a trip for experienced riders that are up for a real adventure in the Patagonian wilderness. You’ll get to see some of the very best of Torres del Paine National Park and camp underneath the stars like true Gauchos.As well as horse riding you will take a fabulous boat trip that travels up the Last Hope Sound and you will get a chance to see some of the other wildlife Patagonia has to offer as well as the Balmaceda Glacier before docking at the Serrano Glacier.

We have availability for this incredible trip from on the 2nd February and 2nd March.

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We also have a spectacular horse moving ride that includes 3 days riding alongside free-running horses, where you’ll get the chance to see parts of Patagonia that not many people get to see. The route takes you across Torres del Paine , through the lush greens of the south to the dry pampas of the north, all on horse-back. You’ll be staying overnight at estancias adding to the authenticity of the trip.
We have availability for this once in a lifetime trip for the 2nd April 2014.

If you are interested in any of these trips get in touch with us and start your gaucho adventure.

John & Laura’s Christmas Trip to Patagonia

John and Laura returned in January 2014 from a Christmas trip to Patagonia, where they took a Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, and a Kayaking trip in Torres del Paine (both organised by Swoop), as well as arranging a Self Guided W Trek and various other day trips independently. Here they tell us about their experiences on their trip…

‘We had a great time…it was a brilliant trip!’

 

What was the HIGHLIGHT of your trip?

The 3 day Kayaking Trip and the Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia were probably the highlights… the kayaking for being a bit wild, and the cruise for being very luxurious but also in a wild place.

On the kayak trip on Lago Grey we were close to an iceberg when it turned over. I think the guide was rather shocked as we were within about 5m of it!

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Chile or Argentina on your trip?

We started off in Buenos Aires (the only place that was hot), and from there we travelled to El Calafate, and on to El Chalten.

We then headed back to El Calafate, and on to Puerto Natales, from which we took the W trek in Torres del Paine, and a Kayaking trip.

Afterwards we headed to Puerto Natales, and on to Punta Arenas, from which point we took a Cruise to Ushuaia, and then headed back to Buenos Aires.

How well did SWOOP PATAGONIA do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trips or operators for you?

Very good – booking the kayaking through Swoop with a reputable company with good access to the lake was the most useful and didn’t cost much more (if any)* than the other quotes we had. 

*NB, you will not pay any more by booking through Swoop than you would by booking direct with a local operator. Read more about how we work here.

How were the OPERATORS Swoop put you in contact with?

Both the companies you put us in contact with (the Kayaking and Cruise companies) were very good.

How were the other operators you found yourselves?

Other operators were a little patchy.

We found a great guide kayaking for a day in the Tierra Del Fuego national park but the kayaks weren’t very good (although the clothing was).

We also did half a day of Horse Riding which was OK but I really wanted to see the gauchos and how they managed the estancia and the landscape. That seemed difficult to arrange although Estancia Mercedes sounded the best but was booked up. 

Was there anything that you wish had happened DIFFERENTLY or not happened at all?

-Traveling on Christmas day was a PITA.

We had to leave at 4.30am and had a few hours kicking about El Calafate in the bus station as everywhere was closed. At least we managed to do it but getting information was a challenge (thanks for your help by the way – but it was pretty clear that the bus operators just made things up as they went along). Some buses were completely empty (e.g, El Chalten to El Calafate at 4.30am! on Christmas day :-) and others seemed to be fully booked so we had to run around to get a seat, even days in advance.

-We decided to book our W Trek in Torres del Paine independently [without Swoop’s support], and this was awkwardIt was very unclear from the website we used if we could cancel or rearrange the bookings.

On this trip we had a mix of tents and bunks, and availability was tight. But when we got there it seemed like certain guides were taking groups around who had booked late and companies must have been holding group bunk reservations, which we might have done had the procedure been clearer.

The tents were pretty pants to be honest. Neither of us are very tall but we struggled to fit in the tent with a small amount of kit – and it rained and rained and the tent leaked – partly as kit was unavoidably touching the sides and the ventilation wasn’t very good. They ought to spend more money on them considering how much they charge.

Also, Vertice’s huts were noticeably better than Fantastico Sur’s in the quality, warmth, food and service despite costing the same. In fact, accommodation seemed to be a lottery – for USD45 in Buenos Aires we got a huge posh suite with a kitchen but for USD135 in Ushuaia we got a pokey, noisy ground floor room that was somewhat dated. We booked both late due to the uncertainty with our plan. There is little correlation between price and quality.

Do you have any TIPS for other people who are planning a trip?

1. Don’t travel on Christmas day

2. Try and get up to date info – even the latest Lonely Planet Chile is pretty poor for accuracy, which was frustrating.

3. It is an expensive place to visit, everything and everyone seems to have a chunk of your money, taxes, booking fees etc. Planning a budget was difficult – they are not afraid to ask for tips!

4. TAM airlines are not very comfortable, or attentive

5. It is cold. Even colder than I expected

6. Don’t eat for a week before or after a Cruise (the staff here were fantastic, friendly and fun – superb)

7. I think I’d advise against travel over Christmas as it is windy, very busy, expensive (due to availability) and there is nothing particularly extra to see. If (when) we go again I think we’d wait until February or March.

8. It was very safe at all times and we never really got any hassle – even from the stray dogs.

Some of that sounds a bit blunt but none of it spoiled the trip (or is any different to any of our other traveling experiences). We saw another person with a Swoop buff and they seemed very happy too. I’ll pass on your details to anyone who is interested in planning their own trip – I think you’ll hear from my mother once she has rounded up a few of her trekking buddies!

4 Day Horse Riding & Camping Trip in Torres del Paine

 Marie-Lisa and her friend returned in early January from a 4 day Camping and Horse Riding trip in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip…

The trip was awesome- we had a really great time! 

How was your guide and horsemen on the trip?

Os was great- really helpful, very enthusiastic, and obviously a great rider.

All of the horsemen were very patient with us and helpful with any questions and help we needed. Alberto in particular was chatty and danced like a dream.

How would you rate the horses you had on your trip?

Amazing- they were really responsive (although each with their own personalities) and were well looked after.

How would you rate the tack?

The tack was all in good order, and was comfortable, although as it was changed most days it took a bit of getting used to.

How would you rate the accommodation during your trip?

The tents were great (although complicated to put up), and the choice of wild camping locations was great –all were really beautiful.

Having hot stoves at some of the camps was brilliant, and we really appreciated that we stayed at Gonzales’ family home.

How did you find the food on the trip?

The food was brilliant- plentiful and tasty, we were a bit spoiled to be honest! Livio was charming, funny, and a cheerful spirit on a rainy morning.

How would you rate the transport and logistics on your trip?

There were no problems at all with transport- it was comfortable, spacious and on time. The logistics ran very smoothly, and were accommodating of different arrival times.

Do you have any other comments or suggestions about the trip?

We had an amazing four days, and although it was tough going at times, it was extremely worth it. The pace of the group worked well, Gonzalo and Alberto were patient when some needed to slow down, but kept the pace of the group going. We had such a laugh and would recommend the trip to anyone. Thank you! Sorry, we can’t suggest any improvements!

Multi Sport in El Chalten

Multi Sport in El Chalten


Kristen and her friend returned a few weeks ago from a 6 day Kayaking, Horse Riding and Trekking Adventure in and Los Glaciares National Park, visiting El Chalten, El Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount FitzRoy. Here she tells us about her adventures…

KRISTEN MUELLER 2

How did you find the trip?

We really enjoyed the trip to Patagnoia – for me it was a highlight of our two weeks in Argentina.

How did our partners on the ground do?

They did a good job organising our trip and were very friendly.

What was the highlight of your trip to Patagonia?

The highlight was the variety of activities we were able to do – ice trekking, horseback riding, kayaking, trekking – we got a lot out of these experiences!

Do you have any tips for other people who are planning a trip?

Pack a LOT of layers :)

How did Swoop Patagonia do?

The communication from Swoop was prompt and they set us up with a good operator.

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How were your guides in Patagonia?

The guides organised by the operator on the ground were great.

Was there anything that you wish had happened differently?

The operator on the ground could have been more proactive in communicating with us. We had to ask them where we were supposed to go on arrival and they thought we would have in cash the $1800 payment we owed them which is a lot of cash to expect without giving any warning. However, these are small things – the experience overall was fantastic.

KRISTEN MUELLER 3

 

 

Horse Riding in Torres del Paine & Cape Horn Adventure

Horse Riding in Torres del Paine & Cape Horn Adventure

Arthur returned just a few weeks ago from his trip to Patagonia, where he spent 3 days horse riding across the Fjords of Torres del Paine, followed by 4 days exploring ‘The End of the World’ on our Cape Horn Adventure. This was all after having run the Patagonia Marathon on Sept 28th! Here he tells us a little about what he got up to…

Highlight of the trip…

The ride from Rio Serrano to the Fjord, and camping stopover at Lake Brush.

How was your Guide in Torres del Paine?

Our guide Carlos was objectively brilliant. The right mix of being there but not overbearing. He was also very knowledgeable and altogether a nice bloke.

The stop at Estancia Mercedes we did with Carlos was a great moment too, they are a fantastic family and we had an exceptional stay with them.

How did Swoop do?

Your help was really great, honestly I kind of found you randomly and it served me very well.

The little hiccup* with Paola was annoying but not of great consequence, and the other staff at Lakutaia Lodge were very helpful in every aspect.

*[Customs in Ushuaia delayed Arthurs crossing of the Beagle Channel]

How was your time on the Cape Horn Adventure?

Lakutaia Lodge is a good place, maybe not all that exiting as compared to the rest of the trip but I really like hikes and trips on/from Isla Navarino.

 

Arhtur's Patagonia Marathon