Category Archives: Lake District

Amber and Mark’s trip to Chiloe Island and Torres del Paine

Amber and Mark’s trip to Chiloe Island and Torres del Paine

Amber and Mark give us some wonderful feedback from their trip to Chiloe Island, Torres del Paine, and Los Glaciares in March 2015, as well as some great tips for people considering a similar itinerary.

Amber and Mark’s Itinerary

After arriving in Santiago, Amber and Mark flew to Puerto Montt and onto the island of Chiloe, where they enjoyed a scenic drive through The Bay of Caulin- A fantastic spot to see local and migratory birds. Whilst in Chiloe they stayed at the homestay of La Casita del Mar and enjoyed two days of trekking and sea kayaking in the Bay of Ancud. An early morning transfer took them to Puerto Montt airport where they flew to Punta Arenas and then took a bus for the rest of the journey to Puerto Natales.

After a night at the Hotel Indigo, they embarked on a self guided W trek in Torres del Paine, staying in various cabin’s, Refugio’s and Hotels. Their self guided trek took them to some of the most impressive sights that Torres del Paine has to offer – The famous towers, Lago Noredenskjold, the French Valley and the Grey Glacier.

In the last few days of their trip they enjoyed a guided excursion to the Perito Moreno glacier  before taking some self guided day hikes to Laguna Torre, Laguna de los tres and Loma del Pliegue Tumbado from El Chalten.

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Amber & Mark’s Feedback

How was your time in Chiloe?

Swoop’s partners in Chiloe were amazing, Britt made us two delicious meals (so similar to how I cook that it was wonderfully comforting) and was a gracious host. They were appropriately attentive and kind. Our kayak day was perfect and Jack gave great tips on where to go. The dogs were amazing. 🙂

James was a great guide, he was super knowledgeable and clearly passionate about Chile. I would not have guessed that he had only recently moved to Chiloe from Santiago. In hindsight, we probably would have preferred a little less time with a guide, as it felt a little more scheduled that perhaps we would have liked.

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How did you enjoy your time in Torres del Paine? 

Laura and Carlos, Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine were great. They were super helpful when someone stole our bus tickets at Punta Arenas. I would have been helpful to have had more detailed instructions on where to get the bus as I think had we been waiting in the right place, we would have been there to get our tickets before someone else took them.

Laura was also super gracious when we missed our bus to Calafate (the time had been changed to 7am from 8am which she told us on the first day and updated on our voucher but we didn’t update it on our itinerary and we had a very late night the night before due to Grey II being cancelled). She picked us up at the bus station, dropped us at a great coffee shop, and kept our bags for the day.

We had a few complications with the Grey II boat as it was cancelled last minute and we ended up having to hike 3 hours to Grey, then 40 mins round trip to the glacier, and then 3 hours back to Paine Grande to wait 3 hours for the catamaran across Pehoe instead. It was unavoidable but frustrating as we weren’t mentally prepared for it.

The refugios were great. Food was a plenty. It was great overall!

In Puerto Natales, I would recommend staying at the same hotel before and after the W trek for ease. Both the Indigo and Altiplanico were great hotels.

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How did you enjoy your time in El Calafate and El Chalten? 

El Calafate was good. The Perito Moreno glacier was amazing. We took the 3 hour trip, but 3 felt that 2 hours would have been plenty of time.

Swoop’s partner Zoe was nice when we arrived in El Chalten and helpful in adjusting our schedule after our delay in leaving Puerto Natales.

The hotel Senderos was great. The food there was the best we had…on the whole trip! We really liked the Cervercia. We thought La Taperia was overrated. 

Here’s some more information from Swoop’s Harriet on places to eat in Chalten.

Sally’s experiences sea kayaking in the Northern Fjords

Sally’s experiences sea kayaking in the Northern Fjords

While on her recent trip to Patagonia, Swoop’s Sally Dodge went on a kayaking expedition in the Northern fjords. Here she gives her day by day account of her experiences and tips for people who are interested in doing the same.

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Sea-Kayak, Petrohue River & Relconcavi Fjord

Day 1

An hours drive from Puerto Varas, around the shores of Llanquihue lake leads to the village of Ensenada where our kayaking partners have their main office and store all their equipment. Here, we sorted our possessions into dry bags, checked we all had the correct equipment and then headed off, kayaks on the roof, to drive to the drop in point about 30 minutes away.

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At the drop in point, we changed into our wetsuits, received our safety briefing and instructions and then we were off; as we slipped into the river there were enormous salmons jumping out of the water.

The first day of this two day kayak took us down the emerald green Petrohue river which is boarded by thickly vegetated, sheer cliffs. As we paddled down, steering to avoid tree trunks and roots, we were passed frequently by vibrant blue Ringed Kingfishers and Dark Bellied Cinclodes.
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We stopped for lunch on a beach before carrying on down stream to the Ralun hot springs. As the locals sat tucking into their picnics with toes dipped in the hot, steaming water, we certainly created a bit of a stir turning up in our kayaks.

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The hot springs were very rustic – the type with a spade on the side to dig down for the heat.

Back in the kayaks we paddled down to the mouth of the river and out into the most northerly fjord of Chile, the Reloncanvi Fjord. Here the water opened up, the birds changed and the wind got up a little. Passing Peruvian Pelicans and Brown-Hooded Gulls, we paddled our way to the western bank of the fjord to Yoland’s farm. Our paddling work for the day was done.

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Nestled amongst rolling hills and shrouded in forest is the achingly picturesque farmhouse of Señora Yolanda. We set up tents at the bottom of her garden and then walked up to the farmhouse for a cup of tea and a guided tour of the farm accompanied by Juan Carlos, her son and Muster, the dog.

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Señora Yoland was a real treat. She was house proud and welcoming with a lively character and a beaming smile. Her house was filled with black and white photos of her pioneering ancestors and old calendars showing photos from the dry and sandy north of Chile – a world so far removed from the lush green mountains of Yolanda’s reality.

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Our roast lamb dinner was really delicious, cooked in the wood burning oven and seasoned with local herbs; the conversation and experience were really humbling and the house so cosy.

Walking back down the garden, the stars were absolutely incredible.

As I snuggled down in my toasty warm sleeping bag I could hear the water lapping on the shore and nothing else – total and utter silence.

Day 2

I woke up with the first light of the day at 07:15 and opened my tent door to absolute tranquility. The sun was just coming up and with not a breath of wind, the forested hills, clouds, low lying mist and a strip of already bright clear sky was totally mirrored in the fjord below.

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The only noises were the cracklings of barnacles, a cormorant flapping its wings to take off and the lapping of water. As the sun rose the high clouds over head turned a beautiful shade of pink and the clouds on the horizon also. Just poking out above the clouds was the tip of the Volcon Yates at 2111m – its snow capped peak was illuminated pink.

As I sat writing peacefully, taking in the surrounding scenery, 3 dolphins appeared, playing in the morning calmness. The cloud cover was high and the sky blue so hopefully we were in for a beautifully sunny day.

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Once the rest of the group had risen, we walked up to the farmhouse where the chimney was smoking, a sure sign that Señora Yolanda had made fresh bread. She welcomed us into the kitchen, the table had been set and sure enough there was fresh ‘pan amasado’, fresh eggs, scrambled ‘a la chilena’, and honey.

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After breakfast, Juan Carlos took us for another walk around the property proudly showing off his apple press – it was like stepping back 100 years or going to a ‘medieval fair’ in the UK where they have re-enactments of what life was like! This was real, functioning and very much still in operation.

By 11:00, we’d packed up our tents, had said our goodbyes and then got back on the water. As we paddled off I could still see Muster tearing around the field, smoke coming from the chimney and Señora Yolanda tending to the garden – it felt very special to have seen into her world even if just for 1 night.

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Paddling across the fjord with the scenery moving much slower than on the river, it really did put into perspective the immense scale of the scenery.

We passed mussel farms and fishing houses made of corrugated iron – these did not look anywhere near as warm, cosy and weather resistant as Señora Yolanda’s house.

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Lunch of tuna salad was served on a beach with a 15 minute siesta in the sunshine, how glorious. We then set off for the final hour of paddling rounding the peninsula to reach the village of Cochamo; charming, sleepy with coloured fishing boats and a traditional wooden church.

We’d made it – the weather had been kind, the scenery stunning and the hospitality humbling. The kayak trip was great fun, perfect for a beginner looking to gain some paddling experience, delve deep into the scenery and soak up some local culture.

Find out more about kayaking in the lake district here. 

Nick’s 19 day trip to Chile & Argentina

Nick’s 19 day trip to Chile & Argentina

Nick and Ruth (his Mum) returned in March 2015 from a 19 day trip to Chile and Argentina, planned and arranged by Swoop Patagonia, based on Swoop’s own Day Hike Patagonia Itinerary . Here Nick tells us about their experiences on the trip, and in booking with Swoop Patagonia.

Nick’s Feedback

‘Swoop were great, a pleasure to deal with from start to finish. The whole thing was  fantastic, and you did an amazing job organising it. It was particularly good of you to book 20 days of more-or-less solid sunshine… so I’m sort of stuck for suggestions!

All the organisation was efficient, really well done. Right amount of email and phone calls, very patient with inquiries etc, all the information was fine. Can’t really think of anything that could have been better.

Torres del Paine was probably my favourite place. Best day’s walking was probably Laguna de los Tres (from El Chalten). Most incredible sight, probably the inside of a crevasse on the Viedma glacier. Penguins and sea otter on Chiloe were brilliant. I could go on, but then it’s not highlights any more!’

Nick’s Itinerary

Nick and his mum began their trip with 3 nights in Buenos Aires, where they spent their time at leisure, exploring the city, guided by Swoop’s tips on Things to do in Buenos Aires.

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

They then flew to Bariloche for a night at Las Marianas, where they spent another day at leisure, guided by Swoops tips on Things to do in Bariloche.

Next, they travelled across the waters of Lago Nahuel Huapi, Lago Frias & Lago Todos los Santos, crossing through the Andes to reach the lakeside town of Puerto Varas.

From here, they travelled by car and ferry to the beautiful island of Chiloe, where they took two day excursions to see some of the wild and varied wildlife inhabitants, starting with the protected nature reserve in the Bay of Caulin – a fantastic spot for spotting local and migratory birds.

After this, they continued their drive out to the Pacific Coast to visit the Punihuil Penguin Colonies, spending the night at La Casita del Mar.

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Sea Otter in the waters of Chiloé

[Read more about activity options available from this idyllic cabin by the sea on Chiloe Island.]

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Chiloe Island

Torres del Paine was their next stop, and they spent 3 days taking guided excursions from an eco camp in the heart of the park.

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View from Mirador Ferrier, Torres del Paine

The next stop was Los Glaciares National Park, where Nick and his mum took an afternoon excursion to stand, stare, and observe ice calving from the Perito Moreno Glacier.

‘The colours of the ice were just amazing’

The following day they travelled on to the mountain town of El Chalten….

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The road to El Chalten…

Here they spent 2 and a half days taking day hikes to Laguna Torre, and Laguna de los Tres, and ice hiking on the Viedma Glacier.

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Rio de las Vueltas Valley

Ushuaia was their next destination, and they spent time exploring the area independently, as well as taking a full day guided excursion in Tierra del Fuego National Park, including a trek on the Pampa Alta trail and visits to Ensenada & Lapataia bay.

Finally, they flew back to Buenos Aires where they spent a leisurely afternoon and evening before flying on home.

We asked Nick a few specific questions about his trip…

What did Swoop do well? What could we have done differently?

All the organisation was efficient, really well done. Right amount of email and phone calls, very patient with inquiries etc, all the information was fine. Can’t really think of anything that could have been better.

(One small thing: the Buenos Aires hotel address on the important information sheet was wrong — there are two Hotel Esplendors in Palermo, and the street address given was the other one).

Would you recommend us to friends, family or colleagues for a trip to Patagonia?

Yes, definitely, especially if they want to do what we did and cram a lot into a little amount of time — I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me to sort all that out!

 How did you enjoy the different areas you visited on your trip?

I loved them all! It was a really good variety of places. Often, the towns themselves didn’t seem to be all that (El Calafate, Bariloche), but generally we were there for the stuff round the towns, so that hardly mattered (and they all had enough good places to eat and so on).

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Pedras Blancas Glacier (Laguna de los Tres hike)

 What did you think of the excursions and activities you took  part in?

Great, yes. If I’d been on my own, I would probably have done less guided stuff, and more on my own — but it was primarily Mum’s holiday!

 How  were your accommodations?

Fine — again, a nice mixture of places. The eco camp in Torres del Paine was particularly cool — and I imagine far cheaper than staying in one of the hotels!

What did you think of the guides and staff  who looked after you?

They were all lovely! The guides were all great. The staff at various places put up with all our questions, mum’s neurosis about missing flights, etc etc. I honestly haven’t got a single bad word to say about any of it.

What was the highlight of your trip?

Hmmmm… Torres del Paine was probably my favourite place. Best day’s walking was probably Laguna de los Tres (from El Chalten).

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Stunning viewpoint at end of Laguna de los Tres hike

Most incredible sight, probably the inside of a crevasse on the Viedma glacier.

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Inside a crevasse – Viedma Glacier

Penguins and sea otter on Chiloe were brilliant. I could go on, but then it’s not highlights any more!

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Magellanic Penguins of Chiloé

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

I think it’s well worth starting in Buenos Aires, as we did. It’s a great place to spend a couple of nights getting over the long flight, and if you change dollars at the blue rate there, you’ll get much more for your money throughout the rest of your Argentinian trip.

Martin & Julia’s 28 day Patagonia Adventure

Martin & Julia’s 28 day Patagonia Adventure

Martin and Julia returned in November from a 28 day trip to Chile and Argentina, planned and arranged through Swoop Patagonia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop Patagonia.

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Martin & Julia’s Feedback

‘There are two things that you need from a travel company: real ‘hands on’ in-depth experience of the country being visited and an ability to understand the needs and desires of the customer travellers.  Sally, Luke and the team at SWOOP Patagonia had both.

Having recently retired, we were looking for a once in a lifetime, 28-day visit to Patagonia – with the emphasis on landscapes and wildlife.  Sally quickly worked out what we wanted and what we were each capable of doing, and proposed a great schedule, with several unexpected suggestions that stretched our brief, and activities that suited our different physical capabilities.  Now back home, we can say the trip was wonderful.  The schedules and pick-ups all worked, and Sally’s recommendations of Chiloe and Aguas Aribas were outstanding, El Chalten was great and our Cape Horn Cruise super.  The Patagonian wind blew every day – but the weather was kind – the trip really delivered.

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I felt that Sally and the team really took the time to get to know us and our wants, and used their in-depth knowledge to deliver a great schedule and a wonderful string of places to stay, eat & drink, things to do, wonders to see and experiences.   

Whilst one destination is off our bucket list, we’ve added another – El Chalten and Aguas Aribas in the Autumn with the Southern Beech forests turning red!!  

Thank you Sally, thank you SWOOP.’

Martin & Julia’s Itinerary

Martin and Julia began their trip with 3 nights to relax and unwind on the tranquil and untouched island of Chiloe. They spent their days hiking along the rugged pacific coast, bird watching on the many tidal beaches and slept in a cabin on the beach.

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The adventure continued by crossing into Argentina through a series of lakes and then hiring a car for few days to explore the stunning ‘Route of the 7 Lakes’ in the heart of the Argentinian Lake District.

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Taking a flight south they then spent 5 days exploring the Los Glaciares National Park, hiking to the Base of Mount Fitzroy, taking time to stand and stare at the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier and were wowed by the setting, service and seclusion of the Aguas Arribas Lodge.

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Torres del Paine was the next stop with 5 days spent hiking the trails of the famous W trek based in the comfortable Patagonia Camp.

They then boarded a cruise to explore the channels and glaciers of the Chilean Fjords and were lucky enough with the weather that they were able to land at Cape Horn.

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They ended their trip with a few days to explore the vibrant, gastronomic and diverse Buenos Aires based in a boutique hotel in Palermo.

Things to do in Bariloche

Things to do in Bariloche

Perched on the shores of the vast, blue Nahuel Huapi Lake, the alpine town of San Carlos de Bariloche is surrounded by stunning forests, mountains and lakes as far as the eye can see in the Argentinan Lake District. Bariloche is considered a year-round destination (unusual for Patagonia), with a range of winter activities such as skiing and snow shoeing at the Cerro Catedral resort from April to September.

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During the summer months, you might spend a week or so in Bariloche, enjoying trekking, cycling and kayaking in the nearby Nahuel Huapi National Park (15 miles away in the north-eastern corner of the lake). You can also make the most of the white water rafting opportunities on the fast-flowing Rio Manso in Nahuel Huapi National Park. Take a look at our ideas for tours which include the Argentinian Lake District.

Often people find themselves with just a day or half day to spare in Bariloche itself in between treks or other activities, so Swoop have compiled this list of suggestions for things to do whilst you’re there…

1) Cycling The Circuito Chico

The Circuit Chico is a 25km undulating route that starts on the south shore of the Nahuel Huapi Lake and takes you all the way around the peninsula. You can stop for break en route at one of the many beaches, and take in the stunning views of the lakes, islands and mountains you will pass.

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It is a really beautiful route, and we would recommend doing it anti-clockwise if possible. You can travel this route by bus, but if you’d prefer to be more active, it’s fantastic by bike too. There are a few places to hire bikes from, such as Circuito Chico Bikes , who will normally provide you with a map and directions for your trip.

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If you have a little longer and are looking for a multi day cycling trip in the area then we have a variety of trips such as the Andes Crossing by Bike that we’d be delighted to tell you more about.

2) The Seven Lakes Circuit by Car 

If you have only a day in Bariloche, then driving the road north known as the ‘Route of the 7 Lakes’ is a great way to spend it! The route takes you from Bariloche to Villa Angostura and on to San Martin de los Andes, through forests, along rivers, and along the shores of some of the most beautiful lakes in Argentina. There are a few car hire companies in Bariloche, who rent cars just for the day. It is a long drive but really stunning if the weather is good.

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The route can also be taken by bus, or if you have a little longer then you can also cycle it. Please get in touch with us if you’d like more information on longer cycle trips in/ around Bariloche.

3) Day Hikes

The Club Andino Bariloche have an information hut in the town centre, and can provide lots of information about hikes in the area. Their website is also quite helpful. The hike to Refugio Frey, set along the beautiful crystal clear green waters of Laguna Toncek, is a great option for a day hike. Here are the times of the Cerro Catedral bus for Refugio Frey.

From Refugio Frey

If you have longer than a day then you might consider a multi day hike in/ around Bariloche, such as this Hut to Hut trip. Equally if you’re up for some more challenging mountaineering you might consider Mount Tronador or Lanin Volcano. Please get in touch with us for more information.

4) Cable Car to the Best Views

There are two cable cars in Bariloche that get you up to see some really great views. Cerro Campanario, at only 1050m above sea level, can be accessed via chair lift or short hike of 30-40 minutes, and once you reach the top you’ll be treated to some of the best views in Bariloche.

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There is also another cable car closer to the centre of Bariloche, which isn’t quite as high, but the views are still wonderful.

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5) Microbreweries

There are a number of micro breweries,in Bariloche, where you can sample some of the finest beer, lager and stout in South America. Cerveza Berlina is one of several that has received good reviews, but there are many to choose from!

6) Chocolate

Bariloche is knows as the chocolate capital of Argentina, and there are numerous artisan shops boasting exquisite home made chocolates to treat yourself to after a hard days hiking/ biking!

7)  Dining

Check out Sally’s blog post on top places to eat and drink in Patagonia. Her top picks in Bariloche are:

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-Alto el Fuego: Excellent quality meat, unusual wines and good value. (20 de Febrero 451)

-Holly Restobar: A good option is you’re looking for something other than steak; the ribs are excellent. Also has fabulous views out across the lake. (Avenida Juan M. de Rosas 435)

8) Accommodation

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Baricloche then look no further, Swoop has compiled a list of their most recommended Places to Stay in Bariloche for a variety of budgets.

Claire’s trip to Torres del Paine, Tierra del Fuego & Bariloche

Claire’s trip to Torres del Paine, Tierra del Fuego & Bariloche

Claire returned in December from a Full Circuit in Torres del Paine, followed by a Montes Martial Circuit in Tierra del Fuego, and a Hut to Hut hike in Bariloche. Here she tells us about her experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

How was your Full Circuit in Torres del Paine?

I did the Torres del Paine Full Circuit from the 9th to the 15th of November and it was a fantastic trek. The weather was sometimes a bit harsh but the park was so stunning it didn’t really matter – And I guess it is all part of the Torres del Paine experience. We were also very lucky on some days with a beautiful blue sky.

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The whole week was very well organised by Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine, and our guide (Armando) was really good: very professional, very knowledgeable about the fauna, flora, history of the park and mountaineering expeditions, caring and a very good cook! I did really have a great time there and would like to thank you for putting me in touch with them.

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How was your Montes Martial Circuit in Tierra del Fuego?

Likewise, the Montes Martial trek in Tierra del Fuego with Swoop’s partners in Ushuaïa was great. It was just Cathy (another swoop customer!) who did the Torres del Paine trek with me, along with the guide and the porter.

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We didn’t see anyone during 3 days and we had great fun hiking and camping in the snow. The views were stunning, almost like black and white pictures. Once again, they took great care of us.

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How was your Hut to Hut Hike in Bariloche?

My last trek in Bariloche, was very good as well. As far as I understood, the other people from the group cancelled, but your partners in Bariloche still ran the trip for me. So it was just the guide and myself up in the mountains.

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There was still snow at the time we were there and before the trip they were not sure we would be able to go through the pass. They planned a plan B in case we couldn’t cross. Once again the organization was very good, with good food, a very knowledgeable and responsible guide. I was very lucky too with perfect weather for 4 days.

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How was your experience of planning and arranging your trip with Swoop Patagonia?

I am very grateful to the Swoop team. From the very first e-mail I sent to you asking for some tips for traveling in Patagonia, right up to the end of my trip, you were full of resources and able to offer me very good trekking options. Your suggestion of the Navimag ferry was also a very good option for me to get from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales. I had been traveling for 2 months already at that time (one month in Peru and one month from North Chile down to Puerto Montt) and it was a nice change from the bus. I would definitely recommend swoop Patagonia to friends and family.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

Overall my trip was amazing. I don’t know which part was the highlight. I still have my head full of incredible landscape and it’s a bit hard to come back to reality… The 3 treks were great – well “great” is weak. “Stunning” is more appropriate. They were very different from each other but all incredible. I think Hut-to–Hut was the most technical and the hardest of the 3 (the 3rd and 4th days were quite intense with some very steep climbs and descents). The full circuit was generally moderate, with the day of the John Gardner pass quite difficult (especially the first 2 hours down after the pass). The hardest thing in Torres del Paine is the weather that keeps changing. Montes Martial was very wild and very enjoyable. We didn’t see anyone else for 3 days!

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Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

I managed to go to El Calafate and El Chalten where I did some stunning day hikes. I also visited Puerto Madryn and Piramides as well as Esquel (el parque de los Alerces is beautiful). I finished my trip with a week in the Salta region and a few days in Buenos Aires. I am planning to go back to Patagonia in the next few years to explore more the central part I haven’t been able to see and to the Bariloche area to climb a few peaks 🙂 I wish I could have stayed longer in this region… Thank you very much for all the support, help and tips!

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