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!’
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
On our last night, we went out for a traditional meal in Ancud. Needless to say, we loved Chiloe!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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).
Rock Paintings – Torres del Paine
We were also introduced to the lavish picnics provided by the camp.
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
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.
The hotel in El Calafate was friendly, comfortable and stylish. We were directed to the Laguna Nimez, which 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.
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.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier
The boat lingered at each viewpoint long enough for everybody to get the photos they wanted.
Perito Moreno Glacier
On our excursion to the Petrified Forest, our guide was very knowledgeable, both geologically and botanically.
In addition to the geology, this trip provided our best views of the flora of the steppe.
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.
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.
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).
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.
The next stop was Tierra del Fuego, for a few days exploring the birds and wildlife of the National Park.
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.
Black Necked Swans
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.
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.
In addition to the Magellanic penguins, there were a few Gentoo, and three King Penguins.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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!