Tag Archives: aysen

An Englishman in Patagonia: book review

An Englishman in Patagonia: book review

In ‘An Englishman in Patagonia’, John Pilkington beautifully details his eight-month backpacking trip, south from Santiago, winding his way along the Andes, through the heart of Patagonia to the end of the world in Ushuaia, before heading back up the Argentine coastline. Spurred on by the tales of legendary adventurers such as Ferdinand Magellan, Captain Fitzroy, Charles Darwin and contemporary travellers like Bruce Chatwin, Pilkington sets out to lift the veil on the mystery surrounding Patagonia.


Beginning his journey by immersing himself in the frenzy of Santiago, Pilkington moves on to attend a house-moving ceremony on Chiloé Island (more exciting than it sounds), explores remote estancias (ranches) in Aysen, and hikes amongst the lofty peaks of the Fitz Roy range and Torres del Paine. He delves into the maritime history of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel, runs errands for a Canadian adventure company in Punta Arenas, and catches a US Airforce flight to King George Island on the Antartica Peninsula, before eventually heading north again to spend time with the remote farmers on the Atlantic coast and the friendly Welsh communities in the Chubut Valley. This voyage of discovery finishes by unravelling one of Patagonia’s greatest legends – the story of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Armed with a lightweight tent and a sturdy pair of walking boots, the author regularly jaunts off the beaten track to discover the true Patagonia. Along the way he meets an intriguing collection of unique characters, many of them with strong British or European heritage. He meets the descendants of Scottish sheep farmers, hippies from Switzerland, emigrants who escaped a crumbling post-war Germany and of course enjoys tea with those brave Welsh settlers. From all of Pilkington’s encounters, it soon becomes evident that Patagonians share a fierce sense of identity, a pioneering spirit and an unshakable fortitude that has allowed these hardy people to forge a living in one of the wildest places on earth.


Some of the Swoop team have been lucky enough to meet John Pilkington in person and they all speak very highly of his amicable nature. You get the impression that the residents of Patagonia also readily warm to this lonesome British traveller, and as a result the tales of their lives in the region naturally pour forth. He remains impartial and non-judgemental throughout, siding with neither the Chileans or Argentinians when addressing their many differences and causes for quarrel.

By the end of the book, the reader will have garnered a new perspective on Patagonia. It is not a barren land, buried away at the bottom of the world, but a place of wonder and enchantment with plenty of welcoming people to share it with.

An Idyllic Kayak Trip from Puerto Aysén

An Idyllic Kayak Trip from Puerto Aysén

My mission during my recce of Patagonia in spring 2016 was to delve into Chile’s little-known region of Aysén. I tracked condors, mountain biked in remote national parks and took to the water multiple times to see sights only accessible by boat or kayak. In Puerto Aysén, I enjoyed serene paddling and beautiful weather for a day’s kayaking with Rolando:

The day is clear with little tufts of clouds sticking to the hills. We put in at the Ibanez bridge – an iconic landmark in the centre of Puerto Aysén. The town, Aysén region’s former capital, is the second biggest in the region and home to just under 20,000 people. It was through this important port that the first pioneers traded wood and wool but in 1964 the port was closed due to excess sediment from deforestation being deposited in the river and Puerto Chacabuco was built in its place, some 15km southwest.


Puerto Aysén is a lush green place with very high rainfall and it’s unusual to get perfect weather. Today though, there is not a breath of wind and the reflection of the steep sided green clad hills is unblemished by waves, we are the only thing that ruffles the mirror.


I am a rookie so my guide, Rolando, takes me through some basic tuition: teaching me the parts of the boat and what to do if I capsize. He is clear and ensures that I understand exactly what to do. He shows me how to jump into the kayak from the beach and we unbeach ourselves and push off.


There are no other boats moving in the water, but we pass fishing boats tied up on the banks. Rolando tells me that these work with the fish farms in the area rather than actually fishing themselves.


We paddle up the large main channel before dipping into the area known as el pantano: “the swamp”;  local birds take flight as we paddle into their domain. Rolando tells me that when he first started paddling the swamp, he asked local people what the area was called and they had no name for it; although we were close to town, no one ever came here. So he named it himself: la herradura del los patos: “the ducks’ horseshoe”.


Our narrow channel turns west towards the ocean and hanging glaciers come into sight. We recross the main channel which is starting to get a bit choppy; our mirror is dimpled and the picture distorts.

We stop on the beach for handfuls of delicious trail mix and a maté (a traditional herbal South American tea).


We gently paddle back to town but Rolando has the upper hand as he has been given a kayak sail as a gift and is testing it out, so as I carry on paddling, he giggles.


He is a wonderfully warm and likeable man and I am excited about my forthcoming trips with him down the Baker river and to Laguna San Rafael.

Read more about my Aysén adventures and to book your own unforgettable trip to the remote and beautiful Aysén, get in touch.

Harriet’s Aysen Recce: Discovering Deep Patagonia

Harriet’s Aysen Recce: Discovering Deep Patagonia

With my anticipation building as I fly towards the Andes, the panoramic views from the flight down the chain of mountains to Patagonia is a great appetiser for my trip. I arrive amongst the bald peaks and forest filled valleys of Aysen by flying into Balmaceda airport. This tiny airport is out on the steppe and as you drive to Coyhaique, Aysen’s capital, the mountains grow around you until you are surrounded by rocky outcrops and glacier rounded hills. Aysen is a region the size of England but with just 100,000 people and 60,000 of those live in Coyhaique.

I love this place and it feels like I am coming home.  This is my Patagonia: with its warm-hearted people, who greet you with a kiss and take time to talk and to get to know you. This is my Patagonia: with wooden houses in all shapes and sizes, covered in shingle and with an enormous wood burner at their heart, where delicious jams are bubbled up.  This is my Patagonia: with its dry steppe, its mishmash of ice and granite, with wild enchanted lengas in the valleys and a green, fascinatingly forested, coast.

I had just three weeks to get to know this area better and this is a taste of what I did:


Watching for condors with Alejandro, Tim and Magda above the Valle de La Luna and Coyhaique Alto. One of the best places to see condors, and they soar past incredibly close!


Kayaking with Rolando near Puerto Aysen and discovering the meaning of ‘backwater’ on the Horseshoe of Ducks – a horseshoe shaped section of stream filled with ducks.


Boating with Ian to the foot of San Rafael Glacier, both hoping and fearing that an enormous piece of ice will calve into the lake in front of us.


Exploring a secret place in Patagonia that was very special indeed!


Arriving at the Chacaubuco Lodge, surrounded by guancos and welcomed by Isabel and Manuel. This is the future Patagonia National Park.


Hiking the Lagunas Altas hike in Chacabuco Valley, Patagonia Park after a briefing with local guide, Sergio.


Finishing the trek at Lago Jeinimeini (pronounced ‘Hay-Kne-May-Kne’) where Ferdinando greets us and takes us to Chile Chico.

My Swoop recce was three weeks of the most spectacular adventures, making new friends and being treated to incredibly ‘un-Patagonian’ good weather. I finished exhausted (both emotionally and physically), smelling bad – having not really had time to do my laundry properly, and with ideas darting around my brain like viscachas. The warmth of the Patagonian people and the time people have one for another and for visitors is what makes Patagonia so special, perhaps more than the ice, the forests and the mountains. This is what brought tears to my eyes as I headed back to Balmaceda airport and back to the UK.

Many people hire a car and hurry along the Carretera Austral but I hope this summary of my trip will make you explore the valleys either side of the road, meet local people and share a maté with them and remember the Patagonian saying:

“Quien se apura en la Patagonia, pierde el tiempo” – He who hurries through Patagonia wastes time.

Harriet’s Aysen Recce

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We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

We Know Because We Go: Harriet, Chloe & Sally’s Patagonia Trips in the Spring

In Spring 2016 Harriet, Chloe and Sally will be downing tools and heading to Patagonia. Regular trips like these ensure we stay close to our roots and maintain our in-depth knowledge of the region. We test out new trips, visit new parks, hike new routes and eat in new restaurants – all in the name of research, of course.

Harriet – Trekking, Mountaineering & Aysen Specialist


On a Swoop recce to Reserva Cerro Castillo in 2015

I am focusing all three weeks of my trip on the little visited Aysen region of Chile. I am planning to follow the spine of the Andes from north to south: trekking from Lago Verde to Lago Palena, visiting the Queulat National Park, sightseeing and relaxing on the Lago General Carrera. The final week of my Aysen adventure will be spent in the Patagonia Park, getting to know the various treks and day hikes there.


The Autumn colours of Aysen

I am very excited about the Patagonia Park. It’s an area that is receiving a large amount of coverage in the press at the moment, because of its link with the late Doug Tompkins, The North Face founder. I know a particular corner of Aysen fairly well, as in 2002 I spent 3 weeks in the Tamango Reserve volunteering on a biodiversity study.


Admiring Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata) in Queulat in 2010

The Tamango Reserve is now to be integrated into the New Patagonia National park. I am very keen for Swoop to be able to offer some new and exciting adventures within the national park and only by getting into the area and exploring it with our local partners will I be able to truly understand what I am offering our customers.


Pedalling towards Lago General Carrera in 2010

The trek between Lago Verde and Lago Palena is reported to be one of the best in Aysen. I first discovered the trek on a friend’s blog, as the photos he took are absolutely incredible. I am entranced by the apparently enchanted forests and what looks like some great streams to swim in, but also the apparent remoteness and tranquility. I can’t wait to experience it for myself.

Chloe – Wildlife & Cruise Specialist

Prepping for the Patagonian winds on the Devonshire coast

My first ever trip to Patagonia – I’m SO excited! As Swoop’s cruise and wildlife specialist, I’m starting off with a 4 night ‘Wildlife, Glaciers and Cape Horn‘ cruise through the Chilean Fjords from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia (pronounced ‘oosh – why – ah’). I will be heading out on a number of excursions to see glaciers and wildlife including penguins, elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins.

Penguins of Isla Magdalena

My next stop will be the mountain town of El Chalten, where I’ll take a 2 day hike to Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre and go rafting, before heading to El Calafate for an ice hike on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

Next – the absolute highlight for me – a Humpback Whale Watching trip in Chile, where I’ll be spending three days studying the whales that congregate in the waters of the Magellan strait from my base at an eco research camp on Carlos III Island.

Breaching humpback Whale off Carlos III Island

On the final leg of the trip I’ll be venturing to the famous Torres del Paine National Park to hike the W Trek, and try out some of the park’s hotels, eco yurt camps and luxury lodges.

The famous Towers or ‘Torres’ of Paine

Sally – Lake District & Bespoke Trip Specialist

Sally Lago Nordenskjold (1)

The flights are booked but unlike Chloe, there is really only a loose plan as to how I’ll be spending my 21 nights! One thing that is for sure though is that I am just as excited.

I absolutely love Chile and having spent so much time there over the years it always feels like going home. On this trip I will have the opportunity to visit the new Tantauco Park in the southern part of Chiloe Island. It’s a private park of 118,000 hectares with a new network of hiking refugios, virgin forests, exquisite bird life and wonderful flora.


The Bay of Ancud, Chiloe Island

I am utterly obsessed with Chiloe Island. It is charming, quaint, relaxing, captivating, intoxicating – time simply slows down. Whenever I visit, I am always filled with the sensation that I simply just don’t want to leave. As I was on the ferry leaving the island after my last visit I wrote a few words in my diary…

There is something about Chiloe that grabs me every time I visit, it sounds silly but something reaches deep down inside and touches my soul. It fills me with a feeling of deep satisfaction for having been here, experiencing the tranquility, calmness and simplicity to life. Thank you Chiloe.

I simply can’t wait to discover this new part of the island.

For the second part of my trip I am hoping to white water raft down the mighty Futaleufu river, then cross into Argentina to either hike, kayak or mountain bike (or all 3!), using the small town of San Martin de Los Andes as my base.


If we’ve inspired you with our passion for Patagonia and you’re interested in any of the trips or activities on which we’re embarking, then we’d love to hear from you to help you plan your incredible adventure. In the meantime, you might like to take a look at our Itinerary Selector to help you decide what sort of trip might suit you best.


Volunteer work in Patagonia

Volunteer work in Patagonia

We’ve had lots of people ask us recently about volunteering in Patagonia and we haven’t been able to offer as many opportunities as we’d like to.

However this message arrived yesterday from Paula at Conservacion Patagonica and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

I was lucky enough to visit the future Patagonia National Park when I was touring Aisen in November last year. It’s an absolutely beautiful location and you can already see the benefits of all the hard work that has gone in there.

Volunteering with Conservacion Patagonica, November ’13 to March ’14

Photo credits to Eugénie Frerichs

Want to contribute sweat and muscle to the creation of a future national park? Think that building trails, collecting seeds, practicing a second language, and baking backcountry bread sounds like a good vacation?

Willing to get hailed on, hike hills, pull thistle and make new friends, all in the name of saving and restoring this spectacular landscape?

We’re accepting applications now for our volunteer program for the 2013 – 2014 summer season. The program will run in five three-week sessions, from early November through late March, with eight participants per group. Young and old, from Chile to China– all those who are fit, game, comfortable in Spanish and English, and willing to live and work in the backcountry of the future park are encouraged to apply!

Photo credits to Eugénie Frerichs

Applications are due by June 1, 2013.  If you’re interested in applying, please read more here. They are also looking to hire a field leader for the volunteer program; see job description here. And if the program’s not for you (or if you’ve participated already but can’t make it back), please spread the word to anyone you think might enjoy this experience.

Volunteering in Patagonia; Alain’s experience with Conservacion Patagonia

Volunteering in Patagonia; Alain’s experience with Conservacion Patagonia

Alain volunteered with Conservacion Patagonia from 8th October 2011 til 6th November 2011, which is the beginning of spring in Patagonia. We asked him about his experience of volunteering and what he did to help make a difference.

If volunteering is something you’d like to do, find out more about Volunteering in Patagonia.

   Volunteers doing invasive plant species removal work in Valle de los Guanacos

What made you want to volunteer in Patagonia?

I heard of Conservacion Patagonica and their effort to create a National Park in the Chilean Patagonia through the documentary 180 Degrees South. I admire the conservation work done throughout the world to create and maintain wilderness areas and visit them regularly in my spare time. Unfortunately in most places we tend to be just users, but Conservacion Patagonica lets you take part in the creation stage of a national park and exposes you first hand to all the hard work and complex social and logistical challenges that must be overcome in such an ambitious project. It being set in beautiful Patagonia is a nice plus. I had also heard you could drink the water from the local streams without needing any purification and I had to see it to believe it. Any place left on earth where that is still true was a place I had to experience, and it was certainly true.

How did you conduct your research?

CP does a superb job of preparing future volunteers for what they are to expect, what to bring, how to get there, etc. Besides that, web travel forums were a crucial source of opinions and suggestions from fellow travelers and volunteers.

Was the cost an issue for you?

I was backpacking for a few months throughout South America so cost was definitely an issue. CP charges volunteers US $20 per day, which goes towards your food, utilities, in-park transportation, etc. I wanted to make sure it felt like a volunteer opportunity and not just a paid work-cation, but after being in Chile for a while and seeing the logistics they take care of for the volunteers this definitely seemed reasonable.

What made you choose CP and would you recommend them now?

See above for the answer to the first part of the question. I would definitely recommend CP without hesitation, as it provides a deeply memorable combination of hard work with tangible progress, stunning natural scenery, and unforgettable interactions with the locals that are collaborating along the foreigners as one big family. However I would make it clear to potential volunteers that the work is physically strenuous, many times tedious and frustrating, and in the highly volatile Patagonian climate. It’s important to want to be there and to understand why you are there.

A typical back country campsite

What were the other volunteers like, many foreigners?

During my stay of one month I saw three different groups of volunteers rotate through, most of which were foreigners and evenly composed of Americans, Europeans and Australians. The volunteer corp is capped at ten at any one time plus the volunteer leader, whom is a season long intern at the park. The small group definitely makes it feel like a small family and you typically end up spending an entire month with those that arrive on the same weekend as you do. That said, during your work you get to interact closely with many other locals that are employed by the park to perform more permanent jobs, such as park rangers.

What could have improved your experience?

Staying longer! Valle Chacabuco is a place where time slows down and life becomes beautifully simple. I definitely wish I could have stayed longer. They wanted me to but I was due back home, alas! I can’t recommend any stronger to learn at least basic conversational Spanish before you head in, as this will significantly enrich your experience and level of immersion. The locals are eager to talk to you and share their experiences and knowledge if only you can listen.

                                Tracking Huemuls with one of the park rangers

Do you feel like you made a difference?

Definitely. Even though the task at hand is monumental, at the end of every work day you get to see your progress. I spent the first three weeks at the park camped out in the mountains one week at a time. We would rise with the sun and get to work pulling out endless kilometers of old cattle fences for eight hours with a lunch break and a nap somewhere in between. At the end of the week when our group had to hike back down the mountain to our rendezvous point we would find ourselves having to navigate the landscape instead of following a now imperceptible fence line. Every kilometer that we cleared out was a kilometer through which the native Huemuls and Guanacos could freely
move through. Besides the difference towards the park effort, the experience lends itself to endless hours of meditation and thought. There just isn’t much else to do but to perform manual work, hike, read and think!

Would you ever go back to Patagonia and volunteer again?

Is that a trick question? No really, I still dream from time to time that I am going back to the park and talk to the gaucho friends and fellow volunteers that I met there. I like to say that Patagonia and its people stole my heart and I must go back to reclaim. From the moment you get to Puerto Montt you start to feel the warmth of the people there. While traveling through the region I was picked up numerous times by locals while hitchhiking my way up and down the
Carretera Austral. People are genuinely interested in you as a foreigner and not just to take your money, and are eager to ensure you have a memorable experience while in their land, of which they are very proud. While moving around the area you can’t help but constantly think ‘I would like to camp there, kayak down that river, hike up that slope, explore that ice field, etc.’ Patagonia really is that beautiful and inspiring.