Tag Archives: wildlife

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

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

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

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

1 – The big hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus Villosus)

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

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

2 – The Andean puma (Puma Concolor)

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

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

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

3 – The humpback whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

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

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

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

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

4 – The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

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

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

5 – Birds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wowed by Patagonia’s Wildlife

Wowed by Patagonia’s Wildlife

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

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

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

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

25769626324_02745e017d_cPia Glacier, Chilean Fjords.

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

25770455114_a9bdfe336b_cHairy Armadillo, Calafate.

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

Views over Ainsworth Bay, Chilean fjords.

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

Perito Moreno glacier, post calving.

Perito Moreno Glacier – ice cave.

Horse riding at a luxury lodge near El Calafate.

Fitzroy at sunrise.

In front of Fitzroy at Laguna de los Tres.

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

26102711680_9ce7d44526_cHumpback Whale breaching, Francisco Coloane Marine Park.

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

Alpha sea lion and his harem in the Chilean Fjords.

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

26374556025_e2341afe26_cPuma female, Torres del Paine.

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

Herd of guanacos, Torres del Paine National Park.

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

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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

Sally Lago Nordenskjold (1)

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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Ian & Sue’s Patagonia Adventure

Ian & Sue’s Patagonia Adventure

Ian and Sue returned in December from a 24 day trip to Chile and Argentina that was designed and arranged by Swoop Patagonia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop.

‘We had the best holiday of our lives and would recommend it (and Swoop) to anyone!’ 

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Ian and Sue Feedback

The package you put together for us exceeded our expectations in every way.  The quality of the accommodation and guides was very high, and the choice of locations and activities was spot on for us.  We would recommend Swoop to anyone (and have done so).  The varied and unspoiled landscapes, the geology, and the incredibly rich variety of wildlife made Patagonia our perfect destination. If we are able to return to South America, I hope it will be under your auspices!

Ian and Sue’s Itinerary

Ian and Sue began their trip with a city tour of Santiago, followed by a night in the Hotel Boutique Oporto.

[Read Swoop’s list of recommended hotels in Santiago]

The city tour was faultless- a conversation with the courier led to an instant change to our afternoon itinerary, substituting a poet’s house with the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, and providing a driver to give us more time.  

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Pre-Columbian Art Museum, Santiago

Our guide had been a guide in the museum, so was amazingly knowledgeable. We ate at Como Agua Para Chocolate, and loved it.

[Read swoop’s top picks for restaurants throughout Patagonia]

The next morning they flew on to Puerto Montt, and the nearby island of Chiloe for a 3 night stay at Chil Hue, for 3 days of excursions to take in the local scenery, wildlife, fishing villages and penguin colony.

Our guide met us on arrival and drove us to Ancud, stopping several times on the way to show us birds etc.

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Chilean Wigeon

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Ringed Kingfisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was a fantastic guide with a wide knowledge of natural history, and the history of the island.  We had a great day out – including a short trip out to the penguin colony where we saw Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins.

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Magellanic Penguins – Chiloé

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, our itinerary was to have been a visit to several of Chiloe’s wooden churches.  We had already visited a couple, and knowing our interest in natural history, our guide (Jamie) proposed a visit to a private national park owned by a friend of his (Parque Tepuhueico). 

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Chiloé

 After visiting Castro en route, we had a fantastic trek in the temperate rainforest.  Jaime had helped set up the trails, and had translated the interpretation boards into English, so was the perfect guide. 

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On our last night, we went out for a traditional meal in Ancud. Needless to say, we loved Chiloe!

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Chiloé

Ian and Sue’s next stop was Punta Arenas, where they spent a day exploring the city, and the King Penguin Colonies of Tierra del Fuego.

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On arrival at Punta Arenas, we were met by our guide, who dealt faultlessly with our questions.  Hotel Ilia was one of the nicest and friendliest places we stayed. The room was large, light and airy.  The decor was attractively modern and arty, and the breakfasts were great. 

Punta Arenas exceeded our expectations. It was a friendly and characterful Chilean city: a bit ramshackle in places, but full of charm (and feral dogs…).  O’Higgins provided a wealth of restaurants to choose between.  We ended up going to Brocolino both nights, and enjoyed it very much.

Our day trip to see the King Penguins on Tierra del Fuego was a great success. It was a full day, but very variable and enjoyable.  We were in a small group in a mini-bus, which stayed with us all day. 

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King Penguins – Tierra del Fuego

Porvenir was an attractive (v small!) city with a surprisingly good museum.  The penguin site (not yet referred to as a “colony” as they hadn’t bred successfully yet) was great – with interesting plants as well as birds.  

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Lighthouse, Porvenir

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Chimango Caracara

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guide was excellent, stopping the bus to show us foxes, guanacos and rheas, and pointing out the dolphins on the short ferry crossing on the way back to the mainland.  On return, the bus dropped us off at O’Higgins for a meal as it was getting late.

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Guanaco

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Patagonian Grey Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day, Ian and Sue headed to an eco camp on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park for 3 days of excursions.

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Patagonian Skunk

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Lago Pehoe – Torres del Paine

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were picked us up in the afternoon, and driven to our accommodation, stopping several times en route to look at features, wildlife etc. The eco friendly camp we stayed at exceeded all our expectations.  We had the nearest yurt to the lake with distant views of the “Horns”.  

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Patagonia Camp

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Patagonia Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival, the staff explained the options available for the next day.  The evening meal was great, with as much of the house wine as we wanted to drink (and the offer of a bottle to take back to the yurt) together with unwise quantities of pisco sour before and after the meal.

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Lady’s Slipper

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Patagonian Red Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

For our first day of excursions we elected to go on the Fauna Trail Hike.  This was ideal for us, providing a good introduction to the scenery, flora and fauna of the area, together with an unexpected view of the rock paintings (see their wine label – and visit Majestic in the UK).  

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Guanaco

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Rock Paintings – Torres del Paine

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were also introduced to the lavish picnics provided by the camp.

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Magellanic Orchid

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Yellow Orchid

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, some of the trips could not run due to high winds. The guides asked us if we would like to go on a trek they hadn’t included in their list for some years, and the three guides, and just the two of us, had a great day out.  

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They shared their maté with us, explaining the simple ceremony involved, and we felt very included.  We had a fantastic view of an Austral pygmy owl.  

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Austral Pygmy Owl

The last  section of the walk was very challenging for me – a narrow path on loose scree – and they seemed to have forgotten my vertigo.  They admitted that if this section of the walk had been longer, they would have graded the walk as “Difficult” rather than “Moderate”!

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On our final day at the camp, four of us had elected to go on the Grey Lake Boat Trip, but on arrival at the jetty, we found that the boat had been cancelled due to high winds. Instead, we did the Grey Beach Hike in the morning (very close views of a pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers), together with a short hike to the Lake Toro viewpoint in the afternoon. 

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Magellanic Woodpecker

This provided a great day out, and showed off the guides’ ability to think on their feet.  We rounded the day off with a self guided walk to the local waterfall.

Patagonia_002_Waterfall at Patagonia Camp

Our stay at the eco friendly camp was the high spot of our holiday. The accommodation and surroundings were great, and the guides were all of the highest quality: we felt really looked after.

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Following their stay in Torres del Paine, Ian and Sue headed across the border to the town of El Calafate, where they visited the Perito Moreno Glacier, and took some day hikes from the nearby town of El Chalten.

P07820_Patagonia_2014_Sue_01 1320 The hotel in El Calafate was friendly, comfortable and stylish.  We were directed to the Laguna Nimezwhich was a must (we ended up going there again the next evening).  Not feeling able to face the queues at La Tablita, we ate at La Zaina, which was very good.

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The day excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier was a great success.  The guide was, as usual, everything we could ask for.  Although the viewpoints provided great views of the glacier, we found the boat trip well worth it, providing closer views of the ice walls, together with the sculpted icebergs floating in the lake. 

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Perito Moreno Glacier

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Perito Moreno Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

The boat lingered at each viewpoint long enough for everybody to get the photos they wanted.

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Perito Moreno Glacier

On our excursion to the Petrified Forest, our guide was very knowledgeable, both geologically and botanically.  

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Petrified Forest

In addition to the geology, this trip provided our best views of the flora of the steppe

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Following the excursion, we were taken to El Chalten.  Hotel Lunajuim was very friendly- the room was great, full of quirky modern art produced by the owner’s wife: we enjoyed our stay very much.  We ate at the Estepa, which we liked very much, and returned to on our last night.

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Our excellent guide took us (together with a picnic) to Laguna Capri.  This was an ideal trek for us, culminating in a satisfying view of the glacier.  We ate at La Tapera – very good again, with a great choice of wines displayed in the wine racks with price tags tied round the necks.

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The following day our guide Zoe took us to Lago del Desierto.  She was a great guide, and managed to show us torrent ducks, which had been on my list of “hope to sees” (and give us an excellent picnic). 

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Torrent Ducks

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Ashy Headed Goose

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening, we ate at La Vineria, which must be one of the best wine bars in the world!  Their smoked platter was worth a mention as well as the wine.

On our last day in El Chalten we took a self guided trek towards Laguna Torre – we only made it to the three viewpoints en route, but the views were spectacular, and the route easy to follow.

Patagonia_003_Scenery above El Chalten Patagonia_004_Scenery above El Chalten

 

 

 

 

 

The next stop was Tierra del Fuego, for a few days exploring the birds and wildlife of the National Park.

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Southern Lapwing

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Black faced Ibis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel Tierra del Fuego was a good place to stay – quite central and fairly near the waterfront.  We ate at Le Estancia – the food was quite good, but the service was patchy – much of their efforts seemed to be directed towards rich Americans presumably on their way to Antarctica.

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Black Necked Swans

Patagonia_007_Upland Goose at Tierra del Fuego

Upland Goose

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guided excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park was enjoyable.  Our guide was knowledgeable, and urged us to suggest any changes to the itinerary we wanted, although we did find him a little impatient.  We ate at Moustacchio for the next two nights.  We found it very friendly, with a wide menu of well-cooked food (as Sue is allergic to crab, we tended to avoid predominantly fishy restaurants). 

The following day, our guide had booked us onto a Beagle Channel cruise, which culminated in a visit to an estancia, followed by a two hour minibus transfer home.  We decided to stay on the boat to return to Ushuaia rather than take the bus.

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This was one of our favourite days.  The weather was cold and wet but, on arrival at the penguin island, the sun came out, and the boat beached on the sand, giving us the best views we had ever had of penguins going about their normal lives. 

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In addition to the Magellanic penguins, there were a few Gentoo, and three King Penguins.

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For their final few days, Ian and Sue visited Buenos Aires, where they spend time exploring the city; it’s museums and art galleries.

[Read Swoop’s blog post about things to do in Buenos Aires]

On our departure day, our guide had already taken our details, and checked us in on line for our flight: this was a great idea- I wish other operators had done the same. After checking in at our hotel, we visited MALBA (a fantastic gallery). 

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The Hotel Esplendor was friendly and helpful. That evening we went to a nearby Parilla recommended by the hotel – it was OK, but I think I will stick to your recommendations in future! 

Our group tour of Buenos Aires in the morning was excellent.  The guide was very informative, and when one of the passengers expressed an interest in visiting Evita’s grave, she just added it to the itinerary.  At the end of the tour, she dropped the passengers off wherever they wanted.  

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A warning to other travellers: we were squirted with something outside the National Gallery, but when people offered to “assist”, we shouted at them until they went away (successfully avoiding robbery – although my mobile was later pinched on the underground: but that’s another story). 

A visit to El Ateneo, a bookshop in a converted theatre, should be on everyone’s to do list: there is even a cafe on the stage.  As an alternative to steak, we ate an Italian restaurant highly rated by the hotel (Il Gran Caruso): this was excellent.

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On our final day, we had a tour of the Opera House (very good), and spent the rest of the day at the San Telmo Market.  We really enjoyed ourselves, but are still kicking ourselves that we bought so little – everything was amazingly cheap and stylish.  

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Our Iberia flight home arrived back early, and we managed to catch an earlier coach home.

A satisfying end to the best holiday we have ever had. Thank you, Sally!

Los Huemules Reserve, El Chalten

Los Huemules Reserve, El Chalten

Harriet from Swoop recently returned from El Chalten where she checked out  the Los Huemules Reserve, a private 5,800 hectare reserve, to the North of Chalten and bordering the Los Glaciares National Park. It was created 15 years ago to preserve the ecology of this area and protect it from development. Experts were brought in to assess the ecology, geology, flora and fauna of the park and help develop a reserve that would highlight the beauty of the reserve whilst helping to preserve it.

Some areas have been urbanised, 90 lots have been sold and on 11 of those, houses have been built. Sustainability is very important so water is brought down from Laguna Azul to supply the buildings and a hydro-plant powers them.

 A series of trails of different difficulties have been developed so that tourists can do a number of hikes.  The rest of the park has been left to grow wild and hopefully the Huemules, foxes, Magellanic woodpeckers, condors and puma will find sanctuary there. Although the trails will not get the spectacular views that you will get from Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Torre, these hikes are special because of their solitude, exploratory nature, the pristine landscape and diversity of species within the reserve through which they pass.

Here is Harriet’s story of her day spent discovering the reserve…

01 From our cosy cabaña at Ricanor

From our cosy Cabaña at Ricanor…

02 we headed to Los Huemules reserve

…we headed to Los Huemules Reserve.

03 There isnan interpretation centre and the park rangers passionately told us all about the project

There is an interpretation centre, and the park rangers passionately told us all about the project.

06 It was a dreich day...

It was a dreich day…

07 ...but we set off into the woods none the less

…but we set off into the woods nonetheless…

08...heading towards Laguna verde

…heading towards Laguna Verde

09 Crossing a new bridge across the Rio del Diablo

…and crossing a new bridge across the Rio del Diablo…

10 Up to Laguna Azul

…up to Laguna Azul

11 with views of Cerro Electrico

…with views of Cerro Electrico….

12 ...and a Chilean Flicker

…and a Chilean Flicker!

13 Carefully sticking to the newly made paths following yellow waymarkers

We carefully stuck to the newly made paths, following the yellow way markers…

14 ...following the signs...

…and signs…

15...and half expecting a Huemul to jump out

…half expecting a Huemul to jump out!

16 But instead we spot some funky mushrooms,....

But instead we spot some funky mushrooms…

17 and PUFFBALLS!!!!JPG

…and PUFFBALLS!

18 The mountains clear for a moment but it doesn't last and the rain returned so we went home

The mountains cleared for a moment but sadly it didn’t last and tghe rains returned, so we head on home.

In order to reach the Los Huemules Reserve you will need to take a transfer from Chalten, it is a good idea to base yourself near the reserve for a couple of nights in order to thoroughly explore the trails. There are a cabañas, hotels and camping nearby so do let us know what you are looking for and we can check availability for you. This is a great option if you have time in Chalten and want to access some remoter areas without getting completely off the beaten track.

Meet Sally, the Latest Swoop Member

Meet Sally, the Latest Swoop Member

Sally, the latest member of the Swoop team, is a true Patagonian enthusiast. 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. Take a few minutes to find out about her Patagonian adventures and her top tips on where to go.

Mt. Tronodor, Argentina

What is it that you love so much about Patagonia?

It is impossible to name just one attribute, but a combination of many is what makes it such a unique place. Here is a list of a few of the reasons why Patagonia has really got to me…..

  1. The Landscape – a bit of an obvious choice, but the Patagonian landscape really is simplyincredible, surprising and at times completely unexpected. For example, I have been fortunate enough to visit the Torres del Paine National Park many times, and it never once looks the same; the light changes, the clouds frame the peaks in different and unusual ways and as the colours change through the seasons, they are landscapes that are hard to tire of.
  2. The birds – as an avid bird enthusiast (a true twitcher at heart), Patagonia is an exciting place to be. From the mighty Condor to the tiny Wren, the Patagonian steppe and forests have a surprisingly large variety of birds. The stunted growth of trees in the Southern Beech forests make the birds easy to spot and even a novice can become a birding expert by the end of a trip.
  3. The food – I’m sure many people don’t think too much of food when they consider Patagonia, but it can be quite the gastronomic experience; from roast lamb to hearty stews, fresh Trout to delicious King crab, Patagonia really is a place to get the taste buds going. And obviously, with a large range of vineyards in both Chile and Argentina, there is never a shortage of wine to wash it down with.
  4. The history – Patagonia has a huge wealth of history and the incredible part of it is that much of it is relatively modern; whether to do with the indigenous peoples, Colonial wars, Darwin, Missionaries or Gauchos, knowing a little will add a whole new dimension to your visit. Drop me a line if you’d like some recommendations.

Do you have a favourite place in Patagonia?

A very difficult question to answer – I love it all! But to name my top 5, I’d have to go with:

  1. Chiloe Island – come rain or shine the beauty and magic of this place always leaves me wanting to stay.
  2. I still can’t decide which I find most impressive, Torres del Paine or El Chalten – both are incredibly breathtaking and great  for trekkers of all abilities.
  3. The Argentinian lake district – a great place for cycling as every tough up hill climb is always rewarded with a another stunning lake view.
  4. The Beagle Channel – a place full of history that really gets your imagination going as you sail up the channel accompanied by soaring albatross.

What is your best memory of Patagonia?

It would have to be reaching the glacier line of Mount Tronodor, reached from Bariloche, it literally translates as ‘The Thunder’ due to sound made by avalanches from its many glaciers. After a steep 5 hour hike through a glacial valley and up through virgin forest, I popped out onto a high plateau where I was faced with one of the most incredible views I have ever seen. I was surrounded, 360°, by the snow capped Andes and I was higher than all of them (or so it seemed!). Mt. Tronodor sits at 3491 meters above sea level and I was at about 2400 meters, at the snow line, where there was a little refugio to spend the night. A moment I will never forget was, as the sun set it turned the 3 peaked Mt. Tronodor a shade of pink that was so intense and surprising, when seen in a photo, you would never believe it to be true.

Rob’s Patagonia Cruise

Rob recently returned from a Patagonia Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and back to Punta Arenas as part of a wider trip to South America. Here he tells us about his experiences on the cruise, and booking through Swoop…

How was your trip?

Overall I had a great time and the overall enjoyment was greater than I had anticipated before departing.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip for me was always going to be the landing on Cape Horn, and this was one of the prime reasons for undertaking the trip in the first place. The glaciers, the penguins and the wind and the waves were all part of a fully supportive cast and all played their part in making the whole thing so good.

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

I didn’t visit anywhere else in Patagonia other than the Cruise, but continued on to visit other areas of South America.

How well did Swoop and our partners do in planning and arranging your trip?

The holiday was planned well and if there were glitches they were not major and were probably because I hadn’t read the itinerary properly.

Is there anything you wish had happened differently?

The cruise itself was excellent in most respects.

I do feel that more care could have been taken by the ship in ensuring that there were at least 3 English speakers out of the six people on each meal table. On the return leg we had five -a Chilean doctor and his wife who could speak Spanish English and some Italian and who was happy to translate in order to be inclusive, and the lovely smiley mother and grandmother of the waiter, who could speak no English. At the mealtimes when the doctor was not present or engaged in doctoring there was a lot of pointing and smiling but not much else! I don’t remember being asked which if any other languages I could speak or understand.

How were the other sections of your trip in South America, organised by our partners?

All of the trips and events around the cruise were good particularly the tour of Santiago. The guide was informative and knowledgeable and obviously loved her job and her city.

I was surprised by the day adventure up into the hills on the turn around day in Ushuaia as I don’t recall that being mentioned. It was enjoyable but came as a bit of a surprise to get a phone call saying that the guide and land rover were outside! I still can’t see it mentioned on the itinerary.

I suppose the one slight problem for me was the transfer from the cruise ship to a rendezvous in a café c 0.5 kms away. My bag was 18 kgs and had no wheels and I struggled somewhat even over that distance (I had earlier in the trip hurt my leg a little bit). I think that someone older than I would have struggled more particularly if it had been raining and /or very windy even over such a short distance. Many travellers were being met with taxis, perhaps to get to the airport, but I think a meet and greet at the ship would be a nice idea.

Apart from these few relatively minor things the trip was thoroughly enjoyable and was helped by the large amount of support out there -it wasn’t just getting you to the airport, it included check in, emigration, customs etc and really took the pressure off.

‘I would have no hesitation in recommending the whole experience to others. Despite the little grumbles it was really a wonderful holiday…Thanks a lot for making it so enjoyable!’

Creature Feature: Guanacos in Patagonia

Creature Feature: Guanacos in Patagonia

David Thyberg ©

The sleek and powerful guanacos are native to the arid, mountainous regions of South America. In Chile and Argentina, they are more numerous in the Patagonian steppes, in places like the Torres del Paine National Park, and Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, where they roam wild all year round. Because they are found at such high altitudes, they have developed to survive the low oxygen levels.

FLASH FACT: Apparently a teaspoon of guanaco blood contains about 68 million red blood cells – 4 times that of a human. Something any athlete would dream of!

Guanaco fur ranges from a light brown to dark cinnamon and shading to white underneath. They have small grey faces which makes their big pointed ears and large brown eyes really stand out. Their streamlined form and nimble nature allows them to reach up to speeds of 35mph even over the steep and rocky terrain! Guanacos, with a typical life span of 20 to 25 years, live in herds composed of females, their young and a dominant male. But the bachelor males like to form their own exclusive separate herd. When they feel threatened, (usually from their one natural predator, the puma), guanacos alert the herd to flee with a high-pitched bleating call. However, with the reduction in range and numbers of pumas, guanacos have begun to flourish. On Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego you can see them in large numbers, and they are not as shy as those on the mainland.

Click here to watch guanacos roaming free in Torres Del Paine National Park, Patagonia.

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