Tag Archives: Eco_Camp

Trekking in Torres del Paine & Los Glaciares

Chris & Steve recently returned from a trip to Patagonia where they spent 5 days Trekking in Los Glaciares National Park, followed by 7 days on the Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine based from an eco camp. Here they tell us about their trip and their experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

How was your experience of booking with Swoop?

I was very happy with the service we got from Swoop Patagonia – you helped us create an itinerary that enabled us to do all that we wanted to do in the short space of time we had for the trip. I think ultimately that saved us a lot of time and effort in organizing the trip and we were grateful for that. It did prove exhausting, but we knew that and coped well and I am glad we didn’t have to miss out on anything, in fact I’d say we were super fit by the end of the trip!

How was your time with our partners in Los Glaciares?

The 3-day trek in Los Glaciares was excellent. I liked the guide, he was very knowledgeable about the local fauna and flora and had a good sense of humour, and so he was good company.

Luckily for us the people who joined us for our trek were very fit and keen and also wanted to do a more challenging walk. It was a great, scenic climb and set us up well for the rest of the trip. I loved the campsite where we spent our first night, and the food was great.

The second day’s walk was probably the highlight of this trek, with some amazing scenery culminating in the lagoons underneath Fitz Roy. I liked the fact that our guide was happy to take his time to allow us to enjoy the scenery and we arrived into camp after 8pm that night, and so we felt like we had made maximum use of the day.

On the third day we felt that we could have spent more time enjoying the views on the way down, but having said all that, the scenery was again amazing.

How was your time with our partners in Torres del Paine?

The Full Circuit Trek was scenically spectacular (obviously, that being why its famous). We again got lucky with the weather – we barely had any rain over the whole trip except for the John Gardner pass. I didn’t mind that so much as it kept it cool for the climb.

A lot was made out to us about the strength of the winds, but as someone pretty experienced at walking in the Lakes and Dales in winter and have nearly been blown of mountains in the UK in those conditions, didn’t find it too worrying.

The ecocamp was pretty cool. The food was really good and on the first day there was a Puma casually walking round the campsite, which was different. We could have happily spent a few days chilling out there.

I think on this trip we slightly regretted not doing it on our own. I think what would have worked best for us would have been a self guided trek but still with the porters – I don’t know if anywhere has that option. We did appreciate not having to carry our tents and having our food cooked for us though.

We again enjoyed the company of the others on our trek, who were really nice people and we had many nice evenings chatting with them and working our way through many bottles of Carmenere.

We also greatly appreciated the guides offering us the chance to walk up to the towers in the dark using our head torches and sit under the stars for a few hours before the sun came up on the towers. This was a highlight of the trip for me and I realize the guide didn’t have to do that. That experience, along with the hike into the French Valley under the horns, were probably my highlights on the Paine trek, though I also really enjoyed the quietness of the northern part of the circuit.

Overall, it was a really great trip and lived up to our expectations.

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

I’d say if you have a little more time than us, then do the Full Circuit trek independently. If Id have had a few more days I’d have taken a little longer over it to do shorter distances each day, and that would have made it easier to carry all our stuff.

We also had a great Steak Stew in a place called Isobel in El Calafate and can recommend the Pop hotel in Buenos Aires as a convenient, good value and English speaking place (for those whose Spanish was as inept as ours). Oh, that brings me to another tip – learn some Spanish!

Marilyn’s W Trek from a Torres del Paine eco-camp

Marilyn recently returned from a 7 day W Trek in Torres del Paine based from an eco camp in the National Park. Here she tells us about experiences on the trip…

What did you think of the service provided by our partners in Torres del Paine?

They had a good website containing comprehensive information & an efficient payment system.

How was the W Trek itinerary and how were the guides who accompanied you?

The itinerary and guides on the trip were excellent. Porters are provided for you on days 2, 3, & 4 so you don’t have to carry anything except your daypack on any day of the trek. You are provided with a small but adequate dry bag with a weight limit of 4kg for days 2, 3, & 4, and this is more than adequate.

What were your thoughts on the eco camp?

The camp is in an excellent position, with very unobtrusive architecture and wonderful views of the towers, which are particularly impressive at sunrise. Another benefit is that it is above, & well removed from, the zoo of traffic on the road to the park trailhead & Hotel Torres.

How did you find your accommodation?

The basic domes at the eco camp are comfortable, but very hot in the sun & not able to retain heat well when it’s not sunny…and you need to be a hobbit to get in & out of the doors comfortably!

The bedding is cumbersome & heavy (this seems to be a Chilean thing), so I’d say you’re better off in a sleeping bag.

They need to treat the doors of both domes & toilet blocks with a good dose of WD40 – they were really loud & squeaky & therefore disturbing especially during the night.

The showers were good, but there were only 2 washbasins & no laundry basins which seems to be a bit of an oversight

Eco-toilets are an admirable idea, but it is difficult to flush all matter away with a foot pump.

On the nights where we stayed at refugios elsewhere, the sleeping bags were decent, and cotton sleep sheets were available if needed. Refugio Los Cuernos is a bit of a bun fight unless you are put in a cabin. There was blocked plumbing, no soap or loo paper, 3 toilets between over 100 women, and noisy corridors with banging doors.

Did you enjoy the food?

The food at the eco camp and Refugio Paine Grande was great, but the food at Refugio Los Cuernos was awful. The dining and lounge domes at the eco camp were great, and beautifully furnished.

Food at the eco camp is plentiful & very good. You do not need to bring much in the way of additional snacks for any day where lunch is provided by the eco camp (days 1,2, 5,6,7), and you get to make & choose your own lunch items – as much as you like.

How was your trip overall?

Overall a splendid trip but lacking cultural interest cf Himalaya. Stunning scenery – I really lucked in with very good weather.

Do you have any tips for future visitors?

Don’t take too much snack food – Ecocamp is not a weight watchers venue.

In peak season the number of trekkers is out of control for the facilities available- there seems to be no regulation on the number of people camping in every square inch of the campsite areas with little or no hygiene/facilities = defaecating in bush, contamination of water sources.

Watch your knees- I was warned about this by a work colleague who had done the W trek. The pace is fast as not at altitude & 2 of days are long with much of it steep uphill & downhill. In hindsight, I would have been better to go slower & use a trekking pole

What was the highlight of your trip?

Highlights were Mirador Britanico, Glacier Gray, Torres Del Paine, views driving from Lago Gray back to the eco camp via Lago Pahoe in glorious weather.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in South America on your trip?

I also went to Easter Island – a fascinating but bizarre place.

Incidentally, many thanks for my pre-departure present. It was so hot though that the best use for it would have been to mop up sweat.

5 Days of Excursions based from an eco camp in Torres del Paine

Ros returned in early February from a solo trip to Patagonia where she enjoyed  5 days of treks and excursions based from an eco camp in Torres del Paine National Park.  Here she tells us about her trip and her experience in booking through Swoop and our partners…

What was the highlight of your trip?

The hike to the base of the towers at Torres del Paine and the Grey Glacier boat trip

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

I also went kayaking in Puerto Varas, which was very good and I am now in Valparaiso which is brilliant.

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

The wildlife safari programme at the eco camp was ideal for me as a single traveller.

Were you well looked after by Cascada & their guides on the trip?

The connections worked smoothly and the guides were charming and very professional.

Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened at all?

The Sunday programme at the eco camp was uninspiring and rather a waste of a day compared with the other days, also it was a short day and when we got back to camp it would have been nice if we had been able to make a cup of tea or coffee.

Second sitting at breakfast got a raw deal… staff were preoccupied with laying the tables for dinner and largely ignored us!

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

Read the weekly programme carefully some people thought they could do the hike to the towers on any day.

Polly’s Honeymoon Hiking the Full Circuit in Torres del Paine!

Polly and her husband spent part of their honeymoon in Patagonia in November 2013, where they joined a 9 day Full Circuit Trek based from an eco camp in Torres del Paine National Park. Here Polly tells us about her experiences…

What was the highlight of your trip to Patagonia?

Trekking the back section of the Torres del Paine Full Circuit trip, where we camped next to icebergs and saw no one other than our group, guides and porters for 3 days. It was such a beautiful place, and was such a shock when we hit the main W trek to find there were other people there!

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

If you’re up for a walk make sure you choose the Full Circuit of the Torres del Paine rather than the W trek. If you have porters carrying the majority of your gear, like we did, then it’s not a difficult walk at all.

Be prepared for rain – but know that if it rains solidly for 3 days it’s not possible to stay dry, no matter how much you spent on your Gortex outer wear! And invest in a down jacket – it gets seriously cold at night!

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

With the combination of Chloe and Luke really well! They were helpful, responsive and knowledgeable.

How did you find the operator on the ground?

Excellent – I’m always paranoid about transfers and missing connections but really didn’t have to worry as they had everything organised!

Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened at all? 

The food at the refugio’s was terrible – I mean really terrible (and I eat anything!). And tiny, we’re talking 23 cornflakes for breakfast (yes, I did count them!) – so better food would have been nice…and a little less rain!

Stephen’s 7 Day W Trek based from an eco camp in Torres del Paine

Stephen embarked on a 7 day W Trek in late October 2013, throughout which he stayed at an eco friendly camp in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his trip…

How was your trip?

I enjoyed it all very much, and Swoop did a good job of putting together the flights and dates I needed at a reasonable cost.

How did you find the W Trek?

The trek generally was a good enough challenge – a couple of longer days were included which made it very worthwhile.

What did you think of the operator and the guides on the trip, and the accommodation at the eco camp?

The guide was excellent and helpful, and the eco-camp I stayed at was fabulous. I was very pleasantly surprised at the high level of accommodation and service there. It was also genuinely welcoming. I loved the domes and the food and wine were really good.

Is there anything you wish you had known before your trip?

One suggestion might be a bit of advice about what to do in Punta Arenas. I looked around the cemetery, which was very interesting and particularly moving is the memorial to the young people assassinated by the military dictatorship.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight I suppose was the walk to Lake Grey and the boat trip up to the Grey Glacier. We were very lucky with the weather that day. It’s something I’d like to re-visit some time. 

David’s 5 day W Trek in Torres del Paine

David’s 5 day W Trek in Torres del Paine

David visited Patagonia in November 2013, where he went on a 5 day W Trek in Torres del Paine, based from an Eco Camp in the National Park. Here he tells us about his experiences…

imageHow was your trip?

It was a great trip. The Patagonia weather was pretty fierce for the first two days though, and we had heavy rain and 70-80 km/h wind gusts on Day 1 so didn’t get all of the way into the French Valley. But the weather was great on Day 3 for the hike to the Towers – there were no clouds and very little wind!! That was the highlight of the trip.

How was your accommodation?

The EcoCamp itself was pretty good, but the refugio we stayed in in the national park on the second night wasn’t great –only half of the showers were working.

Our guide told us that they have a 10 year contract to run the place (& very few potential return visitors), hence no incentive to fix anything or provide good food. But I guess it’s a long drive back to Ecocamp and that’s why the itinerary has the night at the refugio. 

Did you visit anywhere else on your trip?

I did a penguin colony visit the morning of the drive up to Ecocamp. I was glad I did that, and I know others on my trek weren’t aware that there was a second van from Punta Arenas to Ecocamp – they all left much earlier in the day.

What did you think of the Operator of the trip?

Ecocamp itself was pretty good, but the thing they could improve is storing of valuables in a proper safe (or at least locked drawer) while the people are out hiking!

Unfortunately they were not as punctual and efficient as I had expected and were also unclear on pickup times in Punta Arenas. I received a pre-trip briefing from the operator but it had no times on it, and tried phoning their host Francesca but there was no answer

Given that the people on the ground don’t necessarily speak English, it’s even more important for them to give a clear itinerary in advance.

What did you think of Swoop Patagonia?

They were punctual and efficient, Luke was very helpful and quick with his email responses and explained things well. 

Thanks again for helping me to arrange a great vacation! Sorry if my comments sound negative here, but I figure that will help more than all the positive things I could say.

Exploring Tierra del Fuego, and Ice Hiking & Trekking in Los Glaciares

Exploring Tierra del Fuego, and Ice Hiking & Trekking in Los Glaciares

Simon travelled to Patagonia in January 2013 where he visited the ‘End of the World’ in Tierra del Fuego, and explored in and around El Chalten, where he stayed in an eco friendly camp at mount Fitz Roy, and trekked and ice hiked on the Viedma and Perito Moreno Glaciers. Here he tells us some more about his experiences…

simon castleman

What did you think of Swoop Patagonia?

Brilliant… everything was superb.

What did you think of the operator that looked after you on your Trek In & Around Ushuaia ?

I would have no hesitation in recommending the services of this operator in general, and my guide Luis in particular.

I completed a wonderful 3 day trek (Oveja Valley to Laguna del Caminante, Superior Valley to Mount Falso Tonelli and Laguna del Caminante to Ushuaia via Andorra Valley).

Luis was extremely knowledgeable of the track, which, as you can’t see large parts of it is extremely useful, as well as the geology and flora and fauna of the area.

A certified guide Luis set an appropriate pace and speaks good English. We decided to explore a different route on the way back to Laguna del Caminante and I agreed to this as I have complete confidence of Luis’s knowledge of the area and his ability as a guide. As a result of this taking this route back I can say that I have seen views of Superior Valley that very few others apart from guanaco and puma have seen and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been with a guide who inspires that level of confidence.

What did you think of the operator that looked after you in El Chalten?

I would have no hesitations in recommending them, they were absolutely brilliant. I used their services for the last 60% of a trip to Patagonia. They arranged airport transfers, accommodation, general transportation and hiking guides and it all went like clockwork.

Before the trip started I asked lots of questions which were always answered quickly and fully. Nothing was ever too much trouble particularly as LAN Argentina (which I booked directly) changed ALL of my flights without telling me which caused all sorts of changes to my itinerary at the last minute, which the operator incorporated without surcharges or delays.

The accommodation was a mixture of good quality hotels and a log cabin at Eco Camp FitzRoy.

 What did you think of the Fitz Roy Eco Camp?

On arrival at the Eco Camp I was greeted by a lovely group of buildings made largely of wood surrounded by forest and a glacier melt water stream.

The staff at the Eco Camp were as helpful and friendly as the rest of the team, again nothing was too much trouble, and all are multi-lingual Spanish/English speaking

The communal area has an open fire and a bar (the prices in which are in line with the surrounding area). I had fine steak dinner with a very acceptable red wine and Mount Fitzroy as a backdrop – difficult to think of a more idyllic situation. 

There are spotlessly clean single sex toilet and shower facilities with plentiful hot water after about 5:00 when the wood burner has had a chance to do its job. 

If you want peace and quiet combined with good home cooking in comfort in the wild I can’t think of anywhere better – this is a near to getting close to nature in luxury as I can imagine

The individual, two single bed cabins have their own patios and electric light/sockets and heating

Meals at Fitz Roy Eco Camp

Fernanda who prepares the meals is an absolute gem and with her husband Marcos they create a real “home from home” atmosphere.

Meals typically consisted of:

 Breakfast – Juice, selection of cereals, toast with jams and spreads.  A selection of cakes and a variety of tea and coffee.

Packed lunch- a very tasty vegetable pie or sandwich or rice salad, chocolate biscuits, muesli bar, fruit and sweets.

Dinner – 4 courses including hors d’oeuvre. The food they served was freshly prepared, delicious (I know Argentina has a reputation for good beef but I had some of the tastiest steaks I have ever had there) and plentiful.

Guides at the Fitz Roy Eco Camp

The guides (Juan and Huego sorry if I’ve spelt the name wrongly) were superb, they both spoke excellent English, paced the walk perfectly and were clearly both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about both the local geology, flora and fauna.

Advice for other travellers about Fitz Roy Eco Camp

The Eco Camp at Fitz Roy is 17km from El Chalten, so you need to bring reading material or be prepared to empty your mind of worldly cares for a bit and just take in nature.

Happily there is no Internet or mobile phone connectivity but the on-site live in staff are on call 24 hours and have access to any emergency services. 

 

10 Days in Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine

Este recently returned from her trip to Patagonia where she spent 5 days hiking in El Chalten followed by 5 days hiking and kayaking in Torres del Paine using Eco Camp Patagonia as a base. Here she tells us about her adventures and gives us some really great feedback on the local operators and us here at Swoop Patagonia!

‘Thank you everyone for all your help letting me have the trip of a lifetime… it really was a trip of a lifetime!!’

How did Swoop do?

Had it not been for you guys, this trip would never have happened for me and I am really grateful towards you guys!

I had contacted 2 other travel agencies prior to getting in touch with Swoop Travel and neither of them would assist me because I wanted to visit in September, and because I wanted to string together shorter excursions as opposed to doing one longer trip.

If Swoop Travel had turned me away I would have given up on the trip all together, so thank you Chloe and Luke for referring me to your partners! I really appreciate all you help and assistance with my many emails and questions!

How were our Partners in Patagonia?

I had an excellent time in El Calafate and El Chalten! Even now, days later, I am still speechless about everything I saw and experienced…I will have to return to El Calafate and El Chalten again!

Pedro, my guide in El Chalten was very informative and patient with me taking photos of everything… I would highly recommend him. He not only answered all of my questions but also shared funny stories from previous experiences.

Chilé rocked! Ecocamp was great, not only the excursions, but I have an additional 2kg to show for the great food I had there..!

All of the guides and staff were professional, knowledgeable and informative, and went the extra mile to arrange a kayaking trip for me, which truly was a dream come true!

I did find Ecocamp’s itinerary very rigid, they keep you busy the whole day. I did appreciate it, but I think it can get tiring after 3 days. At some points you just want to kick your feet up and be in the moment.

Highlight of the Trip

Definitely the Perito Moreno Glacier and Grey Glacier! (And hikes… and kayaking!)

Any Tips for Other Travellers?

I found all the places extremely foreigner-friendly. I would really recommend that someone have a semi-rigid itinerary, but allow equal time for unplanned excursions like going to the Glaciarium and Ice Bar, or just strolling around the wetlands in El Calafate. El Chalten is also very solo-hiker friendly.

I would emphasize that if someone wants to experience the nature in full, they rather go in September. Most restaurants aren’t open in El Chalten at this time, but it’s a good thing. The places that cater for the locals are open. I did a full day solo hike and only saw one other hiker in the distance…I never crossed anyone on the path and this was great!

I also noticed that a lot of people catch the 08h00 bus from El Calafate to El Chalten and return the same day at 18h00 which I wouldn’t recommend. I decided to sleep over and catch the 18h00 bus on the following day, you miss too much if you stay for only a couple of hours.

Would You Have Done Anything Differently?

There honestly isn’t a thing I would change on my itinerary. If I had an additional day to work with I would have liked to stay one day in Puerto Natales. Lonely Planet did not speak very highly of the town and they don’t recommend staying over there, but I was in the town for only an hour and thought it might be worth checking out in the future.

Eco Camp Patagonia

Eco Camp Patagonia

I think so far this has to be the most exciting place I’ve stayed at in Patagonia and the most unusual. It’s located at the start of the W Circuit in the national park and from Puerto Natales it takes about 2.5 hours to get there. It’s elevated above the other hotels and refugios in this part of the park on a hill overlooking the start of the valley. In fact, from some of the domes you have a fantastic view of the Torres. The Eco Camp is an exclusive camp for its clients and you can’t just turn up, it has to be booked in advance. This is because the Eco Camp isn’t just accommodation, they run their own trips including the W and Full Circuit but also a Safari trip which takes you to a lesser known part of the park around Laguna Azul.

 The Eco Camp consists of standard domes for 2 people, which are small and just have twin beds with a shared bathroom, located in the centre of the camp. The bathrooms are clean and spacious but you do have to go outside to get to them. The standard domes don’t have central heating in them but the Eco camp uses extremely warm fleecy bedding which prevents you from being cold. Your wil also have a hot water bottle at night just to make sure you don’t get cold.

 

In turn, the suite domes are bigger with more space, a table and chairs, a fire and a bathroom. Each morning a guide will come into your room at 7:30 to relight your fire which will have gone out during the night. He’ll also bring you hot water to make tea in your room if you remind him the night before. I had a great sleep in the dome and found it comfortable and exciting to stay in such a place.

Unlike somewhere such as the Explora Patagonia where the focus is primarily on service, the philosophy of the eco camp is also heavily focused on being as eco friendly as possible. This means that all the water used comes directly from a lake in the mountains and you can tell as the water looks a glacial grey in colour. The waste from the toilets goes into a compost and 90% of it is evaporated, so toilet roll goes in the bin. They are proud of their green philosophy which starts with using biodegradble soap and shampoo and ends with using energy from solar panels to top up the generator. The domes are also a green colour in order to blend in better with the surroundings and not to alter the landscape too much.

The shared areas are comfortable with a room for reading and listening to the guides talk, the bar and restaurant in three separate spaces. Each is warmed by a fire and are cosy places to congregate. The meals here are delicious and well thought out. We had a nut and orange salad for starters, which wasn’t to everyone’s taste but was unusual at least. Then they brought out ‘lamb claw’ with mashed potatoe and chestnuts. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth delicious and tender and the mash was wonderful, I think it may have been one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Desert consisted in a toffee wafer cake which also lovely but rather big – oh well, the more the better! Not only this, the evening meal was a great chance to get to know the other members of our trip – two Australians, two Brazilians and a Brit. Each had their own story to tell, each had been travelling for a few weeks and everyone was excited for the days ahead. Not only this but even though the Brazilians didn’t speak much English or Spanish, we all conversed round the table with our guide and chipped in with words that we knew in Portuguese, it was really nice. Breakfast was a similar affair with copious amounts of tea and coffee, scrambled eggs and toast. Fresh fruit was also on offer as was juice, yoghurt, ham and cheese.

I think this gives you a bit of an idea of the Eco Camp, the kind of spaces you spend your time in and their friendly attitude. However, the safari trip we did deserves its own post with a map but as I am en route to Ushuaia please watch this space!