Review of Patagonia, Santiago and Torres del Paine

We speak to Jon who spent a day in Santiago before flying down to Patagonia to trek the Full Circuit of Paine and mountain bike for 12 days in November.
What did you think of Santiago and what did you do there?
I had a day stop over in Santiago so decided to venture into the city. A frequent bus takes you from the airport to the city for a very cheap return fare dropping you in the main thoroughfare. The city is easily navigable with a guide book and has a number of parks and other tourist type attractions.
From what I saw it’s a nicely spacious well laid out city with a laid back population. Wandered around the Barrio Bellavista area which is the bohemian quarter. Brightly painted houses, walls and (tasteful) graffiti add colour to the area of relaxed bars and coffee shops. One of Pablo Neruda’s houses is situated nearby which you can view but only on one of the scheduled tours, so check beforehand if possible. I walked up to the summit of Cerro San Cristobel (there is a funicular service available if you don’t fancy walking) to see a fantastic view over the city with a great view of the mountains in the distance.
What did you think of Patagonia?
Well you don’t need me to tell you what an amazing place Patagonia is but needless to say the trip was fantastic. I’ve been wanting to visit the place for sometime now and it didn’t disappoint. The scenery was spectacular, everything I imagined and more. The combination of green forests, snow capped mountains, glaciers and blue sky is the natural world at its most beautiful. I often say I want to return to a country I’ve visited but this one really is a must, there is still so much more to see. Having seen it in spring, I would also like to see in the other seasons. Since it is such a beautiful place, the area consequently attracts people from all over the world, the ones I met who had settled there all had interesting stories to tell.
How was your trip and what was your guide like?
I combined the circuit trek of the Torres park with two days cycling. Trekking was easier than I anticipated, if you have a reasonable level of fitness then you won’t have any difficulties.  The scenery was amazing, one of the group summed it up quite nicely when they said it was like appearing in a postcard. We were constantly in awe as different parts of the park came into view. The park didn’t just boast great views of the mountains and glaciers but equally stunning  lakes, rivers and forests.
Mountain biking was much harder than I bargained for though on the first day when the legendary Patagonian wind made an appearance. Second day was much better and cycled the remaining distance from just outside Camp Serron to Puerto Natales about 80K so was pleased with myself for that. The guide (Dario) had recently won the a race on the same route we took but luckily he went easy on me! I finished off with a couple of days in Puerto Natales. I was still feeling active so walked up the nearby vantage point Cerro Dorothea which offers stunning views over the town, fjord and surrounding areas.
The guides were fantastic, knowledgeable friendly and were sympathetic to the differing abilities of  the group. As well as knowing all about the mountains they were conversant with the fauna, birds and animals that inhabited the park. The porters were equally friendly, helpful and efficient as well.
What was the top highlight?
I can’t choose a single one but the top two for me were the Torres towers and Glacier Grey, I’ve seen them before in photographs but they really don’t do them justice. You’ll never forget seeing them with your own eyes. I’ve seen some amazing views during my life and travels but these two were something else.
The Torres towers had an almost mystical aura to them, nothing else was on my mind as I sat looking up at them. You couldn’t help but just focus on them and be absorbed by their sheer presence. The expanse of Glacier Grey as it came into view as we passed over Paso John Gardner was a similarly mind blowing experience. It streched as far as the eye could see and only as we got closer could we get an idea of how high it was and how big the crevasses were.
What do you think of Swoop and the operator that we recommended?
Swoop were really helpful in putting together the trip and tailoring it to my needs. What attracted me to them was they were focused on the area, offering a number of choices. The local operator was equally as helpful sorting out the itinerary and transfers. I particularly appreciated the efforts  they went to in retrieving my bag when it went missing between Santiago and Punta Arenas. I hope to be able to use them again if I can make another visit.