Graham and Anne’s cruise and road trip experience.

Graham and Anne returned from Patagonia in February where they enjoyed a cruise as well as a road trip.
Here they tell us all about their experiences and how Swoop helped them on their way.

How did Swoop Patagonia help you plan your trip?

You gave lots of advice in the planning stage, with several options to consider but left enough for us to feel it was ‘our’ trip. You also had local knowledge both of the things to see and local contacts who could make arrangements for different activities. The Google session where we spoke to Luke on line enabled us to ‘put a face to a name’ and gave us confidence in your operation. You responded well to e-mails and kept us in touch with developments.

We would recommend your company to anyone contemplating a trip to Patagonia.
The hotels you specifically suggested: Amerindia, Aguas Arriba and Marianas were all good recommendations with which we agree.

How was your cruise?

 It was very well organised with a complete programme which we were able to take full advantage of.

The ship, Via Australis was great –cabin the equivalent of 4 star hotel bedroom, and the facilities in terms of food, drink and programme were excellent. The excursions (twice per day) were the highlight and you need to be prepared to experience these to get full value –this means getting occasionally cold and/or wet. We were fortunate with wonderful weather, most of the time. Some of the excursions might have been unavailable (landing at Cape Horn) or a bit miserable in the event of bad weather so potential clients need to be aware of this.

The guides were faultless –they were helpful and extremely knowledgeable. The briefing sessions were good at preparing the passengers and putting the excursions in context. The guides were obviously well-trained but they made every effort to help the passengers enjoy the experience. We felt that we learned about the flora and fauna, the history and the geology of the area.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

When we checked in on the morning of departure,we were perturbed to find that we had to sign a disclaimer regarding the potentially hazardous activities and possible difficulties if there was a medical emergency. In reality they were painstaking over safety and the care of the passengers, so this seemed unnecessary but it gave a poor early impression. The crew and guides could not have been more helpful. I can only think that this is a consequence of having some elderly (mostly American) passengers.

Otherwise, as we had hoped this was one of the best parts of the whole trip!

How was your time in El Chalten?

We really enjoyed their itinerary.  The bus connections and transfers were particularly helpful as this would have been difficult to organise locally and still keep to the same schedule. The Puerto Natales –El Calafate bus was delayed for a long time at the border (approx 2 hours) but the local taxi driver was waiting and allowed us to drop our bags at the hotel before the trip to Perito Moreno. Although we had already seen a number of glaciers, we weren’t quite prepared for the scale of this one. Worth a visit. The hotels Sierra Nevada (El Calafate) and Senderos (El Chalten) were very comfortable, especially Senderos. However Aguas Arriba was in a different league –wonderful and probably the one place we would return to if we could.The food and service here was exceptional – it is difficult to see how they can improve on what they offer but clients need to be aware that its isolation means that the lodge may sometimes offer a more limited choice than some people expect (not us!). 

We were met promptly on arrival by the rep. The guided walk at El Chalten was interesting and Pablo, the guide, was again knowledgeable and keen to inform but also sensitive to the needs of the clients. The hosts of Aguas Arriba (Ivor and Pato) treated us like guests in their home and made us feel immediately comfortable. Pato took us out for two exhilarating walks (one lasted all day) and she was good company and proud to show off her locality including more glaciers, waterfalls and forest flora.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

We would have liked three nights at the lodge but this wasn’t available to fit our schedule, but we did enjoy the night in El Chalten too. (El Chalten seems a good alternative to Torres del Paine for which we couldn’t get our selected accommodation.)  Overall, we would have preferred to have some sort of breakdown of costs within the overall price as we felt in total this was expensive, even allowing for the cost of Aguas Arriba. We got the feeling that Walk Patagonia were getting a good fee for a limited input. However, from our very positive experience we did feel it was worth it.

How was your road trip?

The hotels were variable on Ruta 40 but choice is very limited –we stayed in some extremely isolated places and basically had to take what was available e.g at Lago Posadas which was ‘quirky’ but staying here meant that we were able to spend a fantastic day around the lakes and go out to observe the night sky! Hotel Mora at Los Antiguos was fine and in a good position on the lake but the meal seemed pricey. The hotel Tehuelche at Esquel has definitely seen better days –maybe a smaller more intimate hotel would be better? However, Esquel was a good base to stay and we had two very good meals- in a local parilla and at a restaurant in Trevelin (Fonda Sur –recommended)

Jose, like all the guides we met, was fantastic but because this was his company we felt he really made an effort to ensure we enjoyed the trip. He was good company both on the drives and at the evening meals and always discussed plans for the next day, sometimes with alternatives. He was knowledgeable about the flora and fauna and the sights and this helped us to appreciate the surroundings more. He was very calm and good natured and we enjoyed talking to him about his life in Argentina. .

 Jose had planned an interesting schedule and knew the area very well. Once or twice we weren’t able to carry out the plan e.g. one of the national parks had restricted opening, but Jose was still able to provide interesting days and he was always ready to adapt his schedule to suit our preference.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

As we expected, two of the days were long drives but this didn’t really affect us –there was usually lots to see. Jose coped very well with these and there is no real alternative in terms of the mileage you need to cover and the distances between stopping places. The ‘days off’ were really interesting and took us off the beaten track to places that we would have been unable to find if we were on our own. We felt that we were seeing some of the real Patagonia. The scenery and sheer wide open spaces were amazing, especially compared to our home in the south of England.

If anybody was contemplating a Ruta 40 trip on their own they need to be aware there are still significant amounts of ripio so you would need a 4WD especially to visit some of the places off the main road. We found the projected hire charges for a self-drive vehicle with drop off at Bariloche were exorbitant and Jose therefore presented good value, particularly when we shared the cost with another couple.

We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jose, although it was good fortune that we got along very well with the other couple.

 What was the highlight of your trip? 

All good but especially Aguas Arriba

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

Do lots of research (with Swoop’s help) so that you know what to expect, what to look out for and what alternatives there are. We would have liked to visit Iguazu falls but couldn’t fit it in –you need to appreciate the size of Argentina and the distances involved. From our son’s experience (cycling from Ushuaia to Bolivia!) we would also have liked to spend some more time in Chile –maybe Torres del Paine (which was on our original list) and the Carretera Austral which has different scenery and climate to Ruta 40.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Chile or Argentina?

We left Jose at Bariloche staying at Hosteria Las Marianas probably the best small hotel we stayed in. We then went on to San Rafael by bus and spent a week there. This was also interesting and worth a visit –we met up with our son and his girlfriend here before bussing to Buenos Aires for the flight home. The overnight Andesmar buses we used were very comfortable (cama suite –so we were able to get a good sleep) but the food provided was terrible! and the loos were in a poor state by the end of a 14 hour bus ride. They are a good way of covering large distances if you can overlook minor inconveniences.