Customer Rating On return from their adventure we ask customers: “On a scale of 0-10, with 10 being the highest, how likely is it that you would recommend Swoop to a friend or colleague?”
Tony's Trip Date:
5th Dec - 29th Dec 2016
Overall, how was your trip?
TdP was our main goal, and undoubtedly a highlight, but not the only one. We loved the wide open spaces (we do live on the Prairies!) and the spectacular, unique TdP and area mountains. We saw lots of fauna and flora, especially birds. No Pumas though. Our guide and hiking companions were great -- and most others we met and chatted to were on similar trips. We learnt from them early on and later gave them advice. No grandchildren, but paramount in our memories is wind. Several surprises, mostly good.
In one sentence, what did you think of Patagonia? Did it live up to your expectations?
Patagonia had been so long atop our Bucket List it had assumed mythical proportions; and when we caught our first glimpse of Torres del Paine we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. In almost every regard Patagonia exceeded our expectations.
Would you visit again?
How was the service that Swoop provided?
We are happy to have booked with Swoop; the logistics were excellent and saved us a lot of hassle. Accommodations were good to great. The trip was appropriate for us. Swoop's service was pretty good, although some information was missed, possibly a consequence of all the Swoop people involved, and the final itinerary we received was not 100% correct -- but we're not sure who made changes. We didn't need to use the 24/7 support. We think if fewer people were involved at the Swoop end the wee problems we encountered may have been avoided.
How likely is it that you would recommend Swoop to a friend?
8 out of 10
How was your experience in Santiago and the surrounding area?
We ended up organising Santiago and Colchagua ourselves, and they were removed from the Swoop part of our trip.
How was your experience in El Calafate and El Chalten?
While we were lucky with the weather in TdP (under half a day’s rain) we paid for it in El Chaltén. In 4 days we had 2 days constant rain, 1 partly rain, and just one, our first day there, our rest day, when we saw anything of Cerro Fitz Roy. The only good view we got was from the SCL-PUQ flight! Our first day we did laundry, and went to the Walk Patagonia office where we asked if we could change our guided hike from our 2nd to 3rd day – Of course!! It gave me an extra day to recover, and the forecast was better too. We were so glad we did, as day 2 was rain and gale force winds all day. It was all the more fortunate for us that Kaulem is such a pleasant place to spend a day indoors. We had cake -- when the slices arrived (60°!) other guests laughed at our predicament. One slice would easily feed 4 or more. We looked out to see many people head up the trail, with no chance of seeing anything and guaranteeing to get wet. On day 3 the WP van picked us up in light drizzle, then a whole bunch more folk, all bound for El Pilar. The river had nearly burst its banks; if it had, the road would have been impassable. At El Pilar it transpired there was another group. Our group had just the one other hiker, so with guide Facundo we were 4. The rain begin in earnest only a few minutes after we set off, and cloud restricted our views all day. It did raise the curtain briefly so we could see Glaciar Piedros Blancos, but by the time we reached the campsite at Río Blanco the cloud obscured the route up to Laguna de los Tres, which the rangers had closed because of all the rain washing away their newly-constructed trail. So we had to return to the town, and had to imagine what the view from Laguna Capri would be like (we bought postcards!) We heard, and Facundo spotted, a Magellanic Woodpecker only 1km or so from town. We watched him bash his head against tree trunks for a while. On our last day we walked up to Mirador Cerro Torre (past the “no drones” sign!) and were glad of the painted sign that show us what we couldn’t see. We waited nearly an hour as the cloud retreated, but never revealed Cerro Torre. We bought more postcards! Walk Patagonia is an excellent organisation; we have no hesitation in recommending them. We did have to share an early transfer to El Calafate, but it was a pleasant airport to hang out, and when we went for a walk outside it wasn’t raining!
How was your hike in Torres del Paine?
We learnt very late there would be others joining us for the trek, but not how many. We met our guide from Bigfoot, Anna, and our companions, Katerina, Michelle and Mario at PUQ. Only on arrival in Puerto Natales did Anna tell us we were to stay at a different place from the final itinerary. Hotel IF was ok at best: couldn’t turn off a/c, had no hot water in the morning, breakfast was poor and the karaoke right next door didn’t end until 3a.m. (My review is at https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Hotel_Review-g297400-d1583311-Reviews-Hotel_IF_Patagonia-Puerto_Natales_Magallanes_Region.html …you should be able to access all my reviews from this one.) The rental sleeping bags were huge and heavy, and did not compress much in the sacks provided, even with the straps, and was too big to fit into the compression bag we brought. Only I had my own bag, suitably compressed. All 4 of the others had rentals, and the size was a problem for each of them. It was all the more frustrating when we met many, many other trekkers who hired a sleeping bag at each refugio and therefore were spared carrying one. Plus the rental ones seemed overkill for staying in refugios. If there were only a single thing to change it would be not carrying sleeping bags. Our pre-trip briefing was held in the Puerto Natales restaurant, and there Anna said we were to sleep in tents outside Refugio Paine Grande on night 5. This came as a shock to us all. (Happily Anna told us just before we left Los Cuernos refugio that we would be in the refugio after all. ) The other strange thing was that she strongly dissuaded us from the Pingo Valley, saying we would not be able to reach any miradors, and would just be walking in the woods all day. The Torres, Cuernos and Cerro Paine Grande we fabulous — I’m not going to try to put my impression into words, other than to say they all exceeded our expectations for Bucket List entry No. 1. We were forever picking our jaws up from our boots. The overall trek programme, with day 2 (Ascensio) and 4 (Badder) where we met a single other group each day, was well thought out, and a welcome relief from the very busy areas at Mirador Los Torres and French Valley. However, although we didn’t go there, day 7 in the Pingo Valley doesn’t seem worthwhile, especially as a last day after the preceding days’ splendour. Perhaps it might be better to omit it and go to another mirador: Pehoé or Cóndor or maybe all the way to Cuernos. Anna suggested Cóndor for day 7, but with poorer weather forecast we didn’t go there, and had a visit to the very worthwhile visitors’ centre at Park Admin, and also Cueva Milodon, which was interesting. The most surprising aspect was how easy the hiking was. Although I was suffering from a chest infection and wasn’t getting much rest or sleep (neither was anyone else with my constant coughing!) I managed almost all of it without much difficulty. I did cut day 2 short, and returned with Wendy and Katerina when the others went further up the Badder valley. The accommodation in the refugios was pretty good. Chileno was more crowded in the common area but had more space in the dorm rooms; Los Cuernos had more space in the common areas but less in the dorms – you had to go into the corridor to change your mind. Paine Grande was far more spacious, but only had one kind of beer – terrible!! Los Cuernos had a fire that was lit in the evening to allow stuff to dry. Unfortunately our group had items stolen – a pack cover, sports bra, hat and gloves – in fact everything that was left there, not yet dry, during our day hike to the Badder valley. The Lago Grey hotel was great – we did enjoy that wee bit of luxury after the excellent boat trip. Food was mostly good, suitably calorific, and certainly plentiful. We rarely ate all our packed lunches on the day we received them. We saw lots of birds (carancho, caracara, chimango, and dozens of cóndors, lots of rufus sparrows and patagonian finches, a few chilean swallows, coots and geese in the pond by the visitors’ centre) but not much other fauna, just a zorro gris at mirador Los Torres and lots of guanacos and a couple of rheas from the bus before we reached the park, although once or twice we smelled the pungent aroma of skunks. Anna was pretty good as a guide, and once she saw how competent and experienced we were, had no hesitation in letting us (Wendy, Katerina and me) go at our pace while she went ahead and farther with the younger and fitter Michelle and Mario. She was also happy to let us hike without poles. But the carrying of rental sleeping bags has to change! From TdP to Los Glaciares: What Anna was able to do was to change the bus journey passport for Wendy from her CAN to her UK passport, and hence avoid the fee. I did provide this info to Swoop, but it didn't make it to the relevant people in Puerto Natales -- I don't know if this mistake was at the Swoop or PN end. We were surprised to have to pay a bus terminal tax/fee in El Calafate. Especially as the bus station is such a dump. The new one is marked on the maps you get at the current bus station, so hopefully it will be open soon!
How was your experience in the Lake District?
We were glad of the transfer from Bariloche airport to the Petit Peninsula hotel – it’s a long way! The hotel itself is a wee gem. It’s wonderfully situated and the many staff were very helpful. Fantastic breakfasts. We also ate there twice for dinner; very good food and wine. It is 20km from Bariloche town centre, but the local bus service is efficient, once you’ve figured out how to use the pre-pay card system. Our guided hike ended up being a very pleasant surprise. Instead of the group birding hike at “easy+” level we were expecting, we had a fantastic hike, best of the whole trip, up Cerro Bellavista, 1000+m of ascent, phenomenal views, and an inquisitive cóndor that swooped by within 20m of us. Our guide (another) Facundo, was very knowledgeable about everything, and made sure we were both comfortable with the loose surface and exposure once above the tree line. And the lunch he provided was the best of the whole trip – Facundo said he uses the same company most times he guides a full day. The Cruce Andino trip was great, although we had to pay $80ARP for park fees we were not expecting. It wasn’t busy, possibly because it was Christmas Eve, and the border crossings delays were not long. The ARG boats were new, and the CHL one was comfy, and the bus legs slow but ok. The weather slowly deteriorated during the crossing, and we didn’t have any views of Osorno. We did manage a brief walk along the lakeshore at Petrohue before the heavens opened. Great hotel at Petrohue; friendly staff, huge rooms and good food. And finally MitiCo Puelo. A wee slice of heaven on earth. Our room (#1) had great views, the food was fantastic, courtesy of Executive Chef Fernanda, and the lounge was relaxing with a big fireplace we didn’t need, as summer arrived on our last day. Staff were fantastic. Our full day’s hike into Tagua Tagua park was great, although had the boat across to the waterfall started at 9:00 rather than 10:00 we would have had time to go all the way to the end of the trail. We met and chatted to the American ranger who said they are opening up another trail in the park, and also met some of the volunteers building it. Wendy had a morning’s fly fishing which was fantastic, while I explored all the miradors accessible from the lodge. We also hit golf balls around the lawn (well, we are Scottish!) played some energetic table tennis. (but the pool table is terrible -- the only negative about our whole stay.) We were surprised how few guests there were, but perhaps having it nearly to ourselves enhanced our experience. Transfers from Petrohue and to Puerto Montt airport were great.
Do you have any tips or advice for other people planning a trip to Patagonia?
Don't try and cover everywhere in a short trip -- Patagonia is simply too vast. End at MitiCo Puelo if you possibly can!
Anything else? Tell us anything you’d like to share that we forgot to ask! It’s ok to leave this empty too :-)
If we were to do our trip over again, the only change we'd make is one day less in El Chalten and one more in Bariloche. Even with 4 days in the former we didn't see much, and we'd have liked another day hiking or maybe kayaking at the latter. (only no below because we are unlikely to go to Antarctica or high Arctic)