Stephen Bell

United Kingdom



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?”

Stephen Bell's Trip Date:

28th Nov - 22nd Dec 2016

Overall, how was your trip?

The Chilean fjords had just about everything: humpbacks, penguins, sealions; remote location; great scenery; glaciers; boat trip; small group, no crowds. Trekking from El Chalten was somewhat hampered by the weather, with some wet walking to viewpoints with no view! But managed to see Fitzroy and Cerro Torre on the last day. National park felt over-managed: signposts, guides, large numbers of people. Enjoyed the Viedma Glacier trek but group too large and disparate (approx. 30). Retreat of glacier now means longish scramble to access: not a problem for me but there were three falls (and one submission!) among the party, and I heard that the subsequent trip herded 60 people around together, with one person requiring x-ray after a fall. Better to split into small groups of similar experience. Packed lunches in El Chalten dreadful: unimaginative and repetitive. Sailing to Cape Horn excellent, with great landscapes, wildlife, and charming and highly experienced skipper. Hadn't expected tourism to be so highly developed, but met some interesting people from all over Europe, as well as locals, and overall a great combination of varied activity with good accommodation and restaurants.

In one sentence, what did you think of Patagonia? Did it live up to your expectations?

Loved the space, isolation and geology - a real sense of a recently created land.

Would you visit again?


How was the service that Swoop provided?

Superb organisation of a lengthy and complex trip, combining three distinct areas and a range of activities. Not a single hitch, despite an airport strike! Faultless arrangements. Only glitch was in Puerto Natales, where bus company office wrongly insisted no ticket had been left for me and I had to make a scene to get them to check and find it. Your service really helpful throughout, with detailed itinerary. Great hotel, Casa Sur Palermo, in Buenos Aires, although rather more upmarket than I had expected - even gave me a free upgrade to a suite on my return. Schilling Hosteria in El Calafate friendly and helpful, but although adequate, rather shabby and rooms smelling of damp. Patagonia Hostel in El Chalten excellent, and just the right balance of cost and quality. Hotel Ilaia in Punta Arenas a real find, an oasis of calm with great food and friendly reception. Ecocamp with Whalesound great fun, though need to attend to routine maintenance - broken step on walkway, broken zip on dome, shower block in need of minor repairs to doors etc. Patagonia Jarke in Ushuaia adequate but impersonal.

How likely is it that you would recommend Swoop to a friend?

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

10 out of 10

How was your experience in Santiago and the surrounding area?


How was your experience in Buenos Aires?

Excellent hotel, more upmarket than I expected, but enjoyed the luxury at both ends of the trip. Stylish place, but helpful and friendly staff. Had a free upgrade to a suite on my return! Only had limited time to explore BA so did a minibus tour in the afternoon, which gave me some idea of the city, but only had time to scratch the surface and not to, for example, visit Eva Peron's tomb. Looks a fun city, but much larger than I had expected. Would like to have seen more of it but my choice to maximise time elsewhere. Travel arrangements there and everywhere on the entire trip were perfect, always on time and without a single glitch. Your partners efficient and helpful

How was your experience in El Calafate and El Chalten?

Glaciers very impressive. Wish I'd arranged to do a longer trip onto the icecap and done it properly. Enjoyed Viedma visit nonetheless, although not being herded around with 29 others (and three days later after a cancelled trip because of rain, I gather that they took 60 people at once). Retreating glacier now means fair amount of scrambling to get onto the glacier (which was not a problem for me once I had explained to the guide that I did not need to be helped along every step) but a number of people struggled, one turned back and three fell (no significant injuries, but I know that on a later trip one person required x-ray). Think they ought to split large group into smaller parties, which would allow the more able to move more rapidly and have a better experience. Suspect that in future they will need to exclude some unfit and inexperienced individuals, although I know the trip is designed to give a taste of the glacier to a wide audience. Guides were fine. Only on the last trek (Laguna Torre)did I see any views, but this was due to low cloud and rain.Trekking guides were knowledgeable and helpful, although if I were to return I would walk alone, as the paths are so well signposted and the navigation so easy that the guides' value is mainly in pointing out flora and fauna etc. All transport excellent. Packed lunches dreadful! Unimaginative, repetitive and unpalatable. Hostel in El Calafate friendly, helpful and central, although rooms a little shabby and smelling of damp. Hostel in El Chalten excellent in all respects, a real pleasure to stay in.

Do you have any tips or advice for other people planning a trip to Patagonia?

Wouldn't hesitate to recommend visiting the area. Would spend more time in Chilean fjords, as possible to walk, climb, sail, visit glaciers, watch wildlife, enjoy remote scenery etc, all in one trip, eg with Moreno Salvatore on Fortuna. Wish I'd had time to get away from the crowds onto the icecap for a few days, rather than just visit Perito Moreno and Viedma Glaciers. Also wish I'd made time to brush up my limited and rusty Spanish before the trip, as only by the end of the month was it improving to a level that allowed me to get beyond tourist questions and conversation! Comments on hotels listed above. Special mention for Hotel Ilaia: unique! As to restaurants, La Tablita in El Calafate was good, although the service was not (I suspect because I went there alone). In El Chalten, La Tapera always had queues and at least a one-hour wait, so I never got in! La Cerveceria was fun, although their food is not worth bothering with. In Ushuaia, La Casa de los Mariscos was OK, but the general view, and mine, was that they managed to make most dishes taste much the same. For a cheap meal, Restaurant El Turco, San Martin 1410, is great value, and popular. The upmarket Lola Resto (Deloqui 1048), recommended in the Guide du Routard, is in a league of its own. Superb crab bake, squid, great wines. Not cheap but worth every penny. Very popular so best to book.

Anything else? Tell us anything you’d like to share that we forgot to ask! It’s ok to leave this empty too :-)

Big thank you to Harriet for all her time, care and attention, and all at Swoop for their assistance in putting the trip together. Very impressed. Sorry for delayed reply but rather overtaken by events since my return. Best wishes, Stephen Bell (the Absent Professor!).

How were your Whale Watching and Cape Horn Sailing Trips?

Great whale watching trip, and would happily have spent longer there, as it's a long way there and back! Saw seven humpbacks, including a calf, along with sealions and penguins. Helpful staff, and only six passengers. Food good. Camp needed some mainly cosmetic tidying: broken zip on dome, walkways showing wear from use and climate, and toilet block likewise. But not a major issue. Staff helpful and knowledgeable. Sailing was excellent. Well equipped yacht, just the right size; skilled, knowledgeable, patient and personable skipper. Only two passengers so very hands-on, just as I had hoped. Food good. Dramatic scenery, varied wildlife (one whale, penguins, dolphins and albatrosses etc.

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