Category Archives: Guides

Bader Valley – Paine’s hidden valley

Bader Valley – Paine’s hidden valley

In Torres del Paine the W trek is the classic route that many people choose to hike, and it takes you to three magnificent valleys: the Ascencio, the Frances and the Grey. For more experienced hikers there are actually a number of different routes including the Paine Circuit and others that take you off the beaten track and allow you to see another side to the park. On my recent trip to Torres del Paine I wanted to see these routes that I hadn’t seen before. Read here about my first trek: a foray up to the Oggioni pass.

The second route was the Bader valley, a small valley that most hikers walk as a straight path. The turnoff isn’t obvious and it slices into the range between the Cuernos and the Torres giving you an extraordinary close up of the Cuernos and a different view of the south tower. We took some camping kit and spent a day hanging out at the climber’s camp there.

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When you wander from the Ascencio valley to refugio Cuernos you’d never notice the Bader valley or the path that takes you there.

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But a teeny tiny path heads right at the Cuernos. Snow had fallen in the night and the Cuernos were white with a light dusting.

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As we climbed, the Nordenskjold lake lay below us …

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…the fresh snow made the going tough at times.

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As we climbed the valley revealed itself, and the Cuernos towered overhead…
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…until our necks had to strain upwards to see them.

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In a small thicket of trees we pitched our tents…

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…and continued up the valley with just the lids of our rucksacks.

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The path stops at the camp, so to continue onwards we hopped from rock to rock which was made tricky by the fresh snow.

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We continued to marvel at the Cuernos ( I really am obsessed with these fellas) as they changed shape and size. My guide Justin traced mental climbing routes up them with his eyes

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A toothy ridge of pinnacles played in and out of the clouds up ahead, and the wind started to build.

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The snow, boulders and wind made for slow going so we decided to leave exploration for the morning when better weather was forecast.

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Bader camp is a climber’s camp with no facilities; it’s just a shelter made from branches, tarpaulins and string. A shovel for digging cat hole toilets hangs from a tree trunk in the centre of the shelter.

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We prepare and consume an enormous pot of lentils and pre-cooked pork with enough garlic to keep the vampires away.

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After a 12 hour sleep we wake to the roaring of the wind in the trees. The wind is so strong that we can’t walk in a straight line, it is certainly not great for boulder hopping. So we pack up camp and head down.

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Check out those squalls on Lago Nordenskjold!

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There are beautiful blue skies and the Cuernos look spectacular…

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…as we descend with legs braced against the wind.

If you want to know more about Paine’s hidden valley, get in touch.

Places to eat in El Chalten

Places to eat in El Chalten

On Harriet’s recent trip to El Chalten she was on a mission to sample as many restaurants as she could. Here she takes you through the various options.

Techado Negro

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This slightly tumble down restaurant with its brightly coloured walls prepares wonderful, wholesome, home-cooked food. If you are looking for a taste of home then head here for homemade pasta, fish, milanesas (a thin slice of meat covered in breadcrumbs and fried) or salads.

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Look out for their excellent value menu del dia (menu of the day) with generous portions. There is also a great amount of choice for vegetarians .

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Hosteria Senderos

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If you’re looking to splurge a bit, then head to Hosteria Senderos. For a mouth watering steak try the Bife de Chorizo; the trout and local lamb are also good.

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The chef really knows how to work local ingredients into delicious treats and the waiter will tempt you with a a wide selection of Argentine wines.

Cervecería Artesanal El Chaltén

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This tiny little beer house is so snug and cosy that you may find it hard to get a seat and could end up sharing a table with others. Come early or persevere, either way you will be given a choice of delicious pizzas and pasta to accompany your home brew. The rustic wooden décor lends the bar a congenial atmosphere which is ideal for après-trek drinks.

La Tapera

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A rustic wooden eatery with seating around a fire pit. The tapas are yummy and the rest of the Argentine fare is hearty. Try stews, steaks or nibbles, all washed down with Argentine wine.

Wafleria

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A map shop that serves waffles is a dream come true for me. I sat planning my trekking routes with chocolate pouring down my chin. The gregarious waiters make this a great place for a savoury or sweet waffle whilst you wait for Fitzroy to appear from behind the clouds.

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Expect to feel guilty and gluttonous afterwards!

Panaderia Que Rica

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Before you head into the hills or onto the bus to Calafate, it is worth stocking your backpack with sandwiches, empanadas (savoury pasties), facturas (sweet pastries such as croissants) and alfajores (shortbread and caramel sandwich) from this heavenly bakery.

Facturas

Get there early before stocks sell out.

Self Catering in El Chalten

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If you plan to self cater, unfortunately El Chalten is not very well served. The small supermarkets of La Tostadora Moderna on Avenida San Martin, El Gringuito on Cerro Solo or El Super on Avenida Lago del Desierto have a few offerings but try to shop in Calafate before you jump on the bus. For elusive vegetables and fruit head to the Verduleria on Cabo Garcia.

Other places that looked good:

La Estepa

La Estepa
A good slightly more upmarket establishment with good food and excellent wines.

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Resto Patagonicus
Covered with nostalgic photos of climbers and pictures of El Chalten in years gone by. Tuck into Argentine style pizzas, pastas and of course meat.

For more delicious options across the whole region, read Swoop’s Top Pick of Patagonian Restaurants to get your mouth watering!

Choosing your hotel and neighbourhood in Buenos Aires

Choosing your hotel and neighbourhood in Buenos Aires

On Swoop’s Sallys most recent visit to Patagonia she spent a few days in her beloved Buenos Aires checking out new hotels, old haunts and getting up close and personal with a few juicy steaks. Below she shares a few thoughts on choosing the right hotel for you in Buenos Aires.

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As in many big cities, Buenos Aires has its edgy side and so choosing where you stay can make a real difference to your enjoyment of the city. There are bohemian quarters, business quarters, the hustle and bustle of the city centre and safer neighbourhoods with bars and cafes. Where you choose to stay will be a very personal choice depending on how you enjoy cities, the style of hotel you feel most comfortable in and the length of time you have to enjoy this vibrant, diverse city.

Below I have tried to give a little detail on each neighbourhood where you might choose to stay so you can get a little more its flavour, style and close by amenities and attractions.

Palermo

Palermo is very pleasant! It has some historic buildings dating from the 1920s and is a more relaxed and safer neighbourhood than the ‘MicroCentro’ or ‘San Telmo’. It is residential with an abundance of bars and restaurants. What it lacks are the main historic sights and museums, but these are easily and quickly accessed by the metro. Many of the eateries are fairly new so, in my opinion, lack a certain amount of Porteño identity. That said, there are a few historic restaurants such as ‘El Preferido de Palermo’ and ‘Lo de Jesus’ which do ooze the porteño flavour.
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If you’re looking to mix with young porteños, visit historic sights by day then return to a trendy (safer) suburb in the evening, then Palermo is for you. Although not thought of as a bohemian area, I think that compared to most residential streets of anywhere in the UK, it would feel really rather bohemian, oozing with character, great food and a relaxed, charming character (there are enough holes in the pavement and graffiti to remind you that you’re in Buenos Aires).

Palermo is divided into 2 separate districts, Palermo Soho (Viejo) and Palermo Hollywood. The main hub of restaurants and hotels is in Palermo Soho and is my favourite of the two neighbourhoods. It is the area of the city of a massive block between Av. Santa Fe, Av. Juan B Justo, Av. Cordoba and Av. Scalabrini Ortiz. With most bars and restaurants concentrated within in this within Malabia, Cabrera, Thames and Guatemala.

 My 2 favourite boutique hotels are the Legado Mitico or the Bobo. They both are oozing with charm, local character, excellent service and both with good locations. The Bobo is a little more ‘trendy’ than the Legado but both are lovely.
For a mid-range option, the Esplendor Palermo Soho is a great choice.

San Telmo

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San Telmo gives you the historic ‘barrio’ feel but is also just a stones throw from the city centre (literally, 5 blocks). Although culturally more interesting with its historic cafes, facades and cobbles street, I’ll admit that it might feel a little dirty and daunting if you’ve just stepped off the plane.

My favourite boutique hotel in San Telmo is the San Telmo Luxury Suites right in the heart of the neighbourhood. More more budget friendly, midrange options you could choose either the Los Patios de San Telmo or the Babel Boutique.

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If you are making a visit to Buenos Aires at the start and end of your trip, it might be an idea to stay in Palermo at the start of your trip and in San Telmo at the end of your trip.

 Downtown / Centre – Micro Centro & Monserrat

This is the business district of the city where you also find the ‘Plaza de Mayo’, Government Palace and the Obelisc. The streets are small, cramped and rather pedestrian unfriendly but if you have just 1 night (midweek), then staying right in the heart of the city has its attractions. The Continental 725 is a lovely hotel choice right in the centre with stunning views from its roof top bar, a 2 minute walk from the main historic sights and you really are right in the thick of the hustle and bustle that drives this city.

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Once you’ve decided on your place to rest your head, then you can start to plan a little more with some ideas of ‘Things to Do“.

 

Luke’s Review of the Estancia 440, Puerto Varas

Luke’s Review of the Estancia 440, Puerto Varas

 

I stayed here prior to a wonderful 5 hour hike around Volcan Osorno and it felt very homely as part of a long trip when when I was on the road most days.
In some respects the name is a bit of a misnomer as this is a small town hotel with just a handful of rooms, however the decor and the photos on the walls ooze Patagonian gaucho culture. The architecture and design are also very much in keeping with the feel and aesthetic of the Chilean Lake District, with wood all around you. Each of the rooms is quite unique, and the public areas feel very welcoming.

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Chrissy (originally from Punta Arenas) turned this into a hotel three years, and runs it on a day to day basis, with her family are in the adjacent building, so everything feels very homely.  It’s a short 5 minute walk from the western edge of the lakefront with all of its cafes, bars and restaurants.
The internet was reliable than most places, and I was disturbed in the night by several dogs barking in the local neighbourhood, but somehow that didn’t really matter – this was a place to relax, even in the midst of a relatively busy itinerary.

Use this as your base in Puerto Varas Estancia 440, Puerto Varas if you want: small, welcoming and homely

Brian and his family trek the W Circuit

Brian and his family trek the W Circuit

Brian returned in early January from a W Trek in Torres del Paine with his family. Here he tells us about his trip… 

It was a great trip to one of the most extraordinary spots in the world. 

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How was your trip?

We had a great trip and the W Circuit exceeded my expectations (which I did not think possible).

What was the highlight of your trip?

Each day was memorable. My favourite segment was the day trip to the Towers—the weather held and the Towers were magnificent. 

The French Valley was also stunning and our guide’s advice as to how far up the valley we should hike before turning back was spot on. 

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What did you think of the operator and their guides?

The operators were very solid and Victor, our guide, was knowledgeable and very friendly. 

The hiking speeds of the group were very different which created challenges for Victor as to who he would accompany on each day’s hike. I’m not sure how he could have handled it differently, but there were long stretches where we generally were on our own.  Most members of the group were experienced enough that we did not need him to guide us and I believe he understood that when he decided which group to support during each day’s hike. 

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

Swoop’s role was seamless with the local operator, which I appreciated.

I don’t know how much thought went into our group’s configuration, but our group worked well together. We enjoyed each other’s company, which was a bonus given how much time we spent together. 

How was your accommodation on the trip?

The refugios were nicer than I had expected. Clean sheets on the bunks were an unexpected treat and made carrying sleep sacks unnecessary. 

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Is there anything you wish you had known before embarking on your trip?

One selling point you might want to further emphasise is the option for members of a group to skip the French Valley and/or the Torres del Paine.  My wife was concerned before the trip as to her ability to handle the entirety of the W Circuit. Consequently, she chose to skip Torres del Paine and the French Valley.  Although I believe those are two of the absolute highlights of the trip, it gave her a comfort level on the other hiking days. 

I also did not realise that there was a porter option. A little guidance on tipping the guide would have been helpful as well.  We tipped $50 U.S. per family member but I don’t know whether this was the appropriate amount.

Thanks again, it was a great trip to one of the most extraordinary spots in the world.

 

b sher flowers

 

Doris’ Family Trekking and Kayaking Adventure in Torres del Paine

Doris’ Family Trekking and Kayaking Adventure in Torres del Paine

Doris and her family recently returned from a Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine, from which they kayaked out of Torres del Paine National Park back to Puerto Natales. On their travels they also did some independent trekking around Los Glaciares National Park and spent a few days in Buenos Aires. Here Doris tells us about their experiences and shares some fantastic photos from their trip…

Doris Glacier

How was your trip?

Excellent. It was an unforgettable experience.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Patagonia on your trip? 

We spent 3 days in El Chalten exploring Fitzroy before heading down to Torres del Paine. We previously spent 3 days in Buenos Aries which were also brilliant.

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How well did swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you? 

Your advice was spot on in terms of highlighting the attractions of two exceptional areas and the walking and kayaking were outstanding experience. 

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How were the local operators Swoop referred you to?

In the end we decided to arrange our activities around Fitzroy independently, but did call in to one of your partners’ office to say hello and try and arrange a climbing guide and they were very helpful. Given our extensive previous trekking experience, we probably wouldn’t have benefitted very much additionally from the involvement of a guide from a basic trekking perspective and would imagine they would possibly be more helpful for inexperienced travellers or those wishing to arrange more specific activities such as climbing or glacier treks or possibly mountain biking or horse riding. 

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Your partners in Torres del Paine provided excellent guides and service (Lucas for the Classic Full Circuit Trek, and Chappa for the kayaking). I would say that the enjoyment of the activities is certainly dependent on previous experience and weather and is not straightforward if the former is limited and the latter is bad. Mike and I managed to capsize our kayak in front of the Serrano Glacier in a gust of wind and, whilst all ended well and we considered it an exhilarating experience, that might not have been the case if our children had both been as inexperienced as us and also capsized!

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

Not really, other than wishing to have more time (and money) to explore Tierra del Fuego as well.

Another small detail was that pick-ups at the beginning and end of our time in Torres del Paine didn’t work and we had to find our own way to the operator’s offices, and to the airport afterwards. This was probably the fault of their taxi agent but is still something they need to improve on.

Doris Man Glacier

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

The activities are not entirely straightforward and some additional pre-screening and/or preparation might be advisable – in our case a few hours familiarisation with kayaking might have helped avoid some slightly worrying moments. However all’s well that ends well and it was an unforgettable experience.

Doris Lake

Ray & Co. Trek the W Circuit in Torres del Paine

Ray & Co. Trek the W Circuit in Torres del Paine

Ray and his friends returned a week ago from a trip to Patagonia where they embarked on a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here Ray tells us about their experiences…

‘My friends and I had a blast. Thanks for the excellent service.’

Group2How did you find the trip?

We had an amazing time with some amazing people.  Our guide Lucas was amazing, and we are so happy to have had two others join our group of 4.  All 7 of us (including Lucas) connected instantly and enjoyed each other throughout the days.

The hiking was amazing and the rich knowledge Lucas had was astonishing at such a young age. 

We were very surprised with the level of comfort at the refugios we stayed in, and we even coined it… “5-star hostel glamping”!

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

We also visited Santiago and were a little underwhelmed.  Punta Arenas was OK, but we did wish we had had more time in Puerto Natales. 

In retrospect, we would have liked to have known more about what was on offer in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales beforehand, and skipped Santiago altogether.

What was the highlight of your trip to Patagonia?

The hiking was easy to moderate overall, but the scenery and landscape was amazing.  And, of course the people we trekked with made a huge difference!

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

Bring lotion for the super dry air and wind.

No sleeping bags required… accommodations are immaculate.

TIP YOUR GUIDE.  They work hard and deserve it.

You can pack pretty light and reuse clothes since it was pretty chilly (perfect for hiking).  A mid weight wool shirt is thickest thing you’ll need under your jacket ever.

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

Everything was well arranged.  Our only wish is there had been more insight offered on other areas of Chile to consider (such as the two smaller towns mentioned above).

How was the operator Swoop introduced you to, and your guides?

Lucas was amazing!  Cannot say enough good things… humour, knowledge, empathy,… only improvement would be to have brought more avocados!!! JK…. Great guy!

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

Hot water at the last refugio (Cuernos)… but that is just because we were spoiled at the other two.  Also, the hot tub never worked in our cabana place.  

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7 days in Los Glaciares and a 10 day Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

7 days in Los Glaciares and a 10 day Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Pat returned in late November 2013 from a three-week trip to Patagonia, where she spent 7 days hiking in and around Los Glaciares National Park, followed by 10 days hiking the Full Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park. Here she tells us about her experiences…

2013-11-21 10.25.56How was your trip?

I had the most amazing time on my trip, one that I will never forget. Everything worked really well in terms of connections and the accommodation was exactly what I needed.

How did you find the Operator in Los Glaciares National Park?

There was a mix up with a few lost emails prior to my trip but it was all OK when I got there so no dramas.

There was only one ATM in El Chalten however, which was not working when I got there so it was a bit of a drama getting money out to pay for the final amount. The operator preferred us not to use Visa- it really is a cash economy there.

The bus tickets and connections in and out were all excellent and the walks from El Chalten were not taxing – you really do not need a guide as they are just casual walks. I was the only person in the group but they still went ahead.

How did you find the Operator in Torres del Paine?

They were very good and helpful, again I was the only person in the group but they still went ahead.  

I had a guide just for me for the 8 days, Polo Angel, and he was the most amazing person not just because he knew the area, its history etc but because he looked after me so well. He had this huge pack to ensure I was comfortable and well feed and I had lots of fun.

On one of the shorter days we added a half day sea kayaking paddle to get up close to Grey Glacier as well which was  much better than the more commercial ones.

 

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Do you have any advice for other visitors to Torres del Paine?

Doing the Full Circuit was a challenge, and people need to be fit to do it. Most people walked it without a guide but they were Spanish speaking and carried everything for themselves, which I could not have done. In the end my pack was around 12 kg.

 Also, the wind is relentless in Patagonia… people need to be aware of this and ready for it! Thanks for sending me the Buff scarf- it was definitely needed!

[See our Weather in Patagonia page for more information on what to expect from the elements!]

What else did you do on your trip to Patagonia?

After the treks I spent 2 days in Valparaiso – which was interesting and a complete contrast. It was a nice way to finish off before heading home.

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

The operators you set me up with could not have been more helpful, they were great recommendations from Swoop Patagonia. Both companies were very experienced and had coordinators who knew the area well and what was needed.

I am so glad I found you as you made the trip just what I needed, thanks so much.