Category Archives: Tierra del Fuego

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.

The King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego

The King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego

King Penguins are the second largest of all penguin species after the Emperor Penguin, growing up to 100cm in height, and weighing up to 38lbs. They are very similar in appearance to the Emperor Penguin, although their breeding grounds rarely overlap, and are certainly among the most beautiful of the breeds.

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They have beautifully coloured dark orange cheeks, a white belly, and grey/black backs that are lighter than most other penguins. Youngsters look very similar, but with lighter plumage and colouring (see photo below). Adults can rear a maximum of 2 chicks every 3 years, and no other bird has a longer breeding cycle! They take 14-16 months to fledge a single chick, which may be left to fast for up to 5 months during winter (May- September).

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Few places in the world offer the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in the wild, and the colony near to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego is particularly special in that it is the only breeding colony outside of the Sub-Antarctic Islands of South Georgia and the Falklands.

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The Porvenir colony has a very interesting history: there are archaeological sites in the area containing remains of human settlements dating back 6,000 years, amongst which the bones of King Penguins have been found as both prey and tools, showing that they were present here as far back as prehistoric times! The colony is thought to have left the region not long after the arrival of humans who were hunting and sheep farming in the area, and only returned some ten years ago. They are now increasing in number year on year, and have now begun courting and breeding here. They now reach over 100 in number (Feb 2015), and the colony is expected to continue growing.

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There are a few options for visiting this colony, the simplest and cheapest being a full 15 hour day trip (07:00 – 22:00).  On this trip, as well as spending some quality time with the Penguins, and learning about the history and culture of the area,  you’ll get to visit one of the most mystical islands of Patagonia, the ancestral land of the Selk-Nam, where you will experience the vastness of the southern skies, the wind of the pampas, and the history and culture of the region. You also go in search of a range of other species including the White Rumped Sandpiper, the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, and a variety of pelagic species crossing the historical Strait of Magellan, such as the Black-browed Albatros, and visit the towns of Porvenir and Cerro Sombrero, ending with the ultimate reward of some quality time quietly observing the stunning King Penguins as they go about their business! 

Find out more about visiting the King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego.

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Other options are available, for example a 2 day trip specially designed for serious photographers and those looking for more field time with the penguins, and longer trips that incorporate penguin spotting into longer wildlife itineraries for example, Whale Watching and Puma Tracking!

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Read more about other ways to see Penguins in Patagonia.

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Photos Courtesy of Big Sur.

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.

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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.

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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

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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!

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.

Kathy’s Trekking Adventure in 3 Patagonian National Parks

Kathy returned in January 2015 from a trekking adventure in Patagonia during which she hiked in Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares and Tierra del Fuego National Parks. Here she tells us about her experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘I enjoyed all my adventures in Patagonia, it really is a beautiful area and I loved the attitude of the people – the importance of family, food and wine! Thanks so much Chloe for all your efforts in providing me with such a great adventure. It took me 20 years to get there since I first began making plans to visit the region and it was everything and more than I thought it would be.’

How were Swoop Patagonia?

Swoop have excellent contacts in the region and all my travels went smoothly. I am already recommending you to friends! The gift that Swoop sent me for my trip was very useful and I even slept in mine on the Tierra del Fuego trek as it was so much colder there than Torres del Paine.

 How were Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine?

The Extended Torres del Paine Circuit itinerary I took in Torres del Paine was comprehensive and well organised. I think most of us put on weight on this trek! Eduardo, our guide, was excellent. He knew a lot about the region and felt very strongly about preserving it.  He looked after us really well, knew his first aid (!), and had a great personality and sense of humour.

How were Swoop’s partners in Tierra del Fuego?

We had a few communication difficulties with these partners initially as I was already trekking so was unable to receive emails from them re the next stage of the trip and then I had troubles connecting to emails which further delayed the process. It would have been helpful if information about pick up times was sent out at an earlier date. Otherwise everything on the Crossing Tierra del Fuego trek went well. Matias and Nico were also very good guides and looked after us through rain, snow, bogs, clambering over a million fallen trees, and so on. We LOVED the Hosteria we stayed at on the lake and the family running it were extremely welcoming.

How were Swoop’s partners in Los Glaciares?

Everything for my day hikes in Los Glaciares was well organised once I started and the hotels used were both good, clean ones. The only problem I had was that I had to ask for the details several times before departure. More details on my self guided hike to Fitz Roy would have been useful but then, I didn’t ask the questions either!

What were the highlights of your trip?

Highlights were the people I met all along the way; the first view of Grey Glacier from the pass; the glacier trek on Glacier Grey was absolutely amazing and more so than the one in the Los Glaciares National park; El Calafate and El Chalten with so many restaurant choices. There really were so many amazing sights and I’m really glad I had the time to do the extended circuit of Torres del Paine.

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

I would suggest bringing pesos with you for Torres del Paine treks as they charge a lot more if you use U$ to pay for your wine!

[Read Swoop’s tips on Currency]

Bring a small, easily packable day pack for the two days when you trek up the valleys and aren’t carrying your main backpack.