Tag Archives: Patagonia Cruises

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.

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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Graham and Anne’s cruise and road trip experience.

Graham and Anne returned from Patagonia in February where they enjoyed a cruise as well as a road trip.
Here they tell us all about their experiences and how Swoop helped them on their way.

How did Swoop Patagonia help you plan your trip?

You gave lots of advice in the planning stage, with several options to consider but left enough for us to feel it was ‘our’ trip. You also had local knowledge both of the things to see and local contacts who could make arrangements for different activities. The Google session where we spoke to Luke on line enabled us to ‘put a face to a name’ and gave us confidence in your operation. You responded well to e-mails and kept us in touch with developments.

We would recommend your company to anyone contemplating a trip to Patagonia.
The hotels you specifically suggested: Amerindia, Aguas Arriba and Marianas were all good recommendations with which we agree.

How was your cruise?

 It was very well organised with a complete programme which we were able to take full advantage of.

The ship, Via Australis was great –cabin the equivalent of 4 star hotel bedroom, and the facilities in terms of food, drink and programme were excellent. The excursions (twice per day) were the highlight and you need to be prepared to experience these to get full value –this means getting occasionally cold and/or wet. We were fortunate with wonderful weather, most of the time. Some of the excursions might have been unavailable (landing at Cape Horn) or a bit miserable in the event of bad weather so potential clients need to be aware of this.

The guides were faultless –they were helpful and extremely knowledgeable. The briefing sessions were good at preparing the passengers and putting the excursions in context. The guides were obviously well-trained but they made every effort to help the passengers enjoy the experience. We felt that we learned about the flora and fauna, the history and the geology of the area.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

When we checked in on the morning of departure,we were perturbed to find that we had to sign a disclaimer regarding the potentially hazardous activities and possible difficulties if there was a medical emergency. In reality they were painstaking over safety and the care of the passengers, so this seemed unnecessary but it gave a poor early impression. The crew and guides could not have been more helpful. I can only think that this is a consequence of having some elderly (mostly American) passengers.

Otherwise, as we had hoped this was one of the best parts of the whole trip!

How was your time in El Chalten?

We really enjoyed their itinerary.  The bus connections and transfers were particularly helpful as this would have been difficult to organise locally and still keep to the same schedule. The Puerto Natales –El Calafate bus was delayed for a long time at the border (approx 2 hours) but the local taxi driver was waiting and allowed us to drop our bags at the hotel before the trip to Perito Moreno. Although we had already seen a number of glaciers, we weren’t quite prepared for the scale of this one. Worth a visit. The hotels Sierra Nevada (El Calafate) and Senderos (El Chalten) were very comfortable, especially Senderos. However Aguas Arriba was in a different league –wonderful and probably the one place we would return to if we could.The food and service here was exceptional – it is difficult to see how they can improve on what they offer but clients need to be aware that its isolation means that the lodge may sometimes offer a more limited choice than some people expect (not us!). 

We were met promptly on arrival by the rep. The guided walk at El Chalten was interesting and Pablo, the guide, was again knowledgeable and keen to inform but also sensitive to the needs of the clients. The hosts of Aguas Arriba (Ivor and Pato) treated us like guests in their home and made us feel immediately comfortable. Pato took us out for two exhilarating walks (one lasted all day) and she was good company and proud to show off her locality including more glaciers, waterfalls and forest flora.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

We would have liked three nights at the lodge but this wasn’t available to fit our schedule, but we did enjoy the night in El Chalten too. (El Chalten seems a good alternative to Torres del Paine for which we couldn’t get our selected accommodation.)  Overall, we would have preferred to have some sort of breakdown of costs within the overall price as we felt in total this was expensive, even allowing for the cost of Aguas Arriba. We got the feeling that Walk Patagonia were getting a good fee for a limited input. However, from our very positive experience we did feel it was worth it.

How was your road trip?

The hotels were variable on Ruta 40 but choice is very limited –we stayed in some extremely isolated places and basically had to take what was available e.g at Lago Posadas which was ‘quirky’ but staying here meant that we were able to spend a fantastic day around the lakes and go out to observe the night sky! Hotel Mora at Los Antiguos was fine and in a good position on the lake but the meal seemed pricey. The hotel Tehuelche at Esquel has definitely seen better days –maybe a smaller more intimate hotel would be better? However, Esquel was a good base to stay and we had two very good meals- in a local parilla and at a restaurant in Trevelin (Fonda Sur –recommended)

Jose, like all the guides we met, was fantastic but because this was his company we felt he really made an effort to ensure we enjoyed the trip. He was good company both on the drives and at the evening meals and always discussed plans for the next day, sometimes with alternatives. He was knowledgeable about the flora and fauna and the sights and this helped us to appreciate the surroundings more. He was very calm and good natured and we enjoyed talking to him about his life in Argentina. .

 Jose had planned an interesting schedule and knew the area very well. Once or twice we weren’t able to carry out the plan e.g. one of the national parks had restricted opening, but Jose was still able to provide interesting days and he was always ready to adapt his schedule to suit our preference.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

As we expected, two of the days were long drives but this didn’t really affect us –there was usually lots to see. Jose coped very well with these and there is no real alternative in terms of the mileage you need to cover and the distances between stopping places. The ‘days off’ were really interesting and took us off the beaten track to places that we would have been unable to find if we were on our own. We felt that we were seeing some of the real Patagonia. The scenery and sheer wide open spaces were amazing, especially compared to our home in the south of England.

If anybody was contemplating a Ruta 40 trip on their own they need to be aware there are still significant amounts of ripio so you would need a 4WD especially to visit some of the places off the main road. We found the projected hire charges for a self-drive vehicle with drop off at Bariloche were exorbitant and Jose therefore presented good value, particularly when we shared the cost with another couple.

We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jose, although it was good fortune that we got along very well with the other couple.

 What was the highlight of your trip? 

All good but especially Aguas Arriba

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

Do lots of research (with Swoop’s help) so that you know what to expect, what to look out for and what alternatives there are. We would have liked to visit Iguazu falls but couldn’t fit it in –you need to appreciate the size of Argentina and the distances involved. From our son’s experience (cycling from Ushuaia to Bolivia!) we would also have liked to spend some more time in Chile –maybe Torres del Paine (which was on our original list) and the Carretera Austral which has different scenery and climate to Ruta 40.

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

We left Jose at Bariloche staying at Hosteria Las Marianas probably the best small hotel we stayed in. We then went on to San Rafael by bus and spent a week there. This was also interesting and worth a visit –we met up with our son and his girlfriend here before bussing to Buenos Aires for the flight home. The overnight Andesmar buses we used were very comfortable (cama suite –so we were able to get a good sleep) but the food provided was terrible! and the loos were in a poor state by the end of a 14 hour bus ride. They are a good way of covering large distances if you can overlook minor inconveniences.

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!

Family Trip to South America

Lyn and her family returned recently from a trip to South America, where she and her family embarked on a 4 Day Cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas. Here she tells us about their experiences…

 What was the highlight of your trip?

There were so many!

We loved the Cruise, and we also loved Iguazu, Salta and the north, which we enjoyed much more than I expected, it was rather spiritual the scenery was stunning.

We really want to go back to Chile, it was too short a stay , the people were lovely, and the estancia we stayed at in El Calafate was fantastic- in fact we just loved everything! Writing about it makes me quite emotional!

I’ve never done the guide thing before but this was the best thing ever. The guides were superb, each in their own way and sooo knowledgeable.  They took us to things we didn’t know about or might not have bothered with and there was nothing that I felt was a waste of time. Everyone turned up on time, and was enthusiastic, the transport was good especially in the north (fab guides in Salta).  Worth every penny.

How did Swoop Patagonia do in helping you plan and arrange your trip?

Thank God for Swoop Patagonia… we might have still been wandering in Argentina without your help.

How happy were you with the Operators we put you in contact with?

Your suggestions were spot on and putting us in touch with your partner, Steph, was inspired…what a girl! Nothing was too much trouble, she was always to hand, full of ideas and advice, couldn’t recommend her highly enough. Her personal contacts for guides in Rio and BA worked brilliantly, (as did those through Wanderlust).

All of the accommodation was excellent, there was a real variety and everything lived up to Steph’s promises. Even our last minute request for change of itinerary during the holiday itself was handled efficiently and without fuss and worked really well for us. So big thanks to Steph.

Is there anything you would have changed about your trip, looking back?

The only thing I could have wished for was to stay longer , especially on the estancia- I have fallen in love with the country and its people and definitely want to return…..

On behalf of all of us, thank you so much for you help and if you need someone to recommend you or your partners, I’m your girl.

Swoop Patagonia News 4th December 2013

Swoop Patagonia News 4th December 2013

The festive month of December is upon us and here at Swoop we have some fantastic trips and deals available that you can treat yourself to in the new year.

Last Minute trips:

Looking for an adventure in January?

We have spaces available for an Original W Trek trip in Torres del Paine starting January 10th 2014.
This is a really popular trek that is ideal for solo travelers looking to join a group.
You’ll hike the complete W trek and stay in comfortable mountain huts each night.
Within this trip you will visit  the three main valleys of the park: the lookout point of the towers at the Ascencio valley, hanging glaciers at the French Valley and the Grey Valley and sail in front of the impressive glacier at the end of your journey.

For more information contact Luke

We also have spaces on the Fast track W circuit that starts on the 18th January this is a great alternative to the ‘W’ trek for those with less time. You start your trek and end it in Puerto Natales and it’s a faster and cheaper way to see Torres del Paine. You’ll be hiking with an experienced local English-speaking guide, and sleeping in a warm bed in the Refugio each night.

For more information contact Luke.

Swoop Deals:

Book your 2014 / 2015 Patagonia cruise now to receive a 10% discount on the price.

Contact Luke for more details

Swoop News:

We are gearing up for our second Google Hangout. We had a great time on the first one chatting about all the things you can expect from a Patagonia trip. This time round were talking all things Torres del Paine , talk to Luke and our TDP expert Kerry about anything you want to know about the beautiful national park.

Our Torres del Paine on air hangout will be on :
Thursday 12th December
7PM GMT

Add yourself to our google+ community here