About Luke

Founder of Swoop Patagonia and Swoop Antarctica, dad of three, and mountain marathon runner.

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About Luke

Founder of Swoop Patagonia and Swoop Antarctica, dad of three, and mountain marathon runner.

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Dramatic Day Hiking from Santiago

 Just a 2 hour drive from Santiago takes you right into the heart of the Andes. Be surrounded by deep valleys, high peaks, glaciers and specular striated mountains of colours that give you a taste of the scenery in the Atacama desert.

The drive from Santiago takes you through the sprawling outskirts of Santiago where the houses gradually become smaller, simpler and more traditional, a fascinating glimpse into the average Chilean’s, Santiago reality. It also gives some idea of scale of the size of Santiago.

Having left Santiago at 7am, as we began to leave the city behind as the sun was rising up over the mountains bathing them in glorious shades of pink. After leaving the last, outlying houses of the city you then enter the Maipo Canyon and this is when the scenery really begins to change. The mountains rise up either side of you with cactus clinging to the edges, there are pastures with horses grazing, rural homes, honey and nuts being sold on the sides of the road and as in any rural place, the pace of life suddenly feels  slower.

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The last 10kms of the 100kms drive out to the National Monument of El Morado is a bumpy gravel road as you head towards the head of the valley with the smokey San Jose Volcano is looming ahead. At 1850 metres you reach the small oasis village of Banos Morales and here the hike begins. After registering with the park rangers you begin the climb up into the Morales canyon.

The name El Morado, meaning deep purple, comes from the colour of the Los Morales mountains that loom in a deep purple colour ahead.

The hike is a 16 km out and back route which takes about 6 hours (including photos and lunch stops) with a gain in altitude of 750 metres. The first part of the hike is a 1 hour ascent, but thankfully because of the early start, we were shaded from the sun by the mountain to our east. The vegetation throughout the hike, although variable, is low bushes and so throughout the hike there isn’t much protection from the blazing sun – high factor sun cream, hat and sunglasses are an absolute must.

Mountains and flowers

After the 1 hour climb you reach a high, flat plateau and the vegetation, trail underfoot and scenery beings to change. The second part of the hikes takes an undulating 1 hour through what feels like a meadow with horses grazing, grass and rosehip buses. After about an hour you reach the Laguna El Morado with the first glimpse of the San Francisco glacier – a great place to stop for a snack. If you are finding the heat a bit too much and don’t fancy the final 1 hour climb up to the look out point, then this would be an excellent place to reach as a turning back point.

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The final hour up is a gradual climb up and over moraine so is quite uneven underfoot. As you reach the head of the valley, in front of you rises the pointed peak of the Morado Sur and Morado norte both nearing 5000 metres and the San Frascisco Mountain. The view point that you reach infront of the face of the hanging glacier is at 2,600 metres. The glacier itself is mostly covered in sediment/moraine with a snow cover that depends on the time of year.  (The hikes opens in early December once the winter snow recedes).

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This is a great place to sit and eat your lunch with the possibility of bathing your feet in the icy glacial melt waters.

As you turn to make your descent, the colours of the mountains on the other side of the valley, which previously had been drowned by the glare of the morning sun take on a life of their own with greens, purples, reds, blues and white.  This is a little glimpse of what the mountain scenery of the Atacama is like which is so very different to the vegetated mountains or granite walls of Patagonia.

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The size of the mountains is astounding and as the sun moved across the canyon the changes in the look of the mountains was really fascinating.
For me what really made this day special was the variety of birds that we spotted (list included below), most of which aren’t seen further south and the vegetation and mountain scape felt like being in the desert. In just 2 hours from Santiago being able to get out into the mountains makes you really appreciate how close Santiago sits to incredibly stunning scenery.

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If you`ve a day to spare in Santiago and fancy getting out into the mountains, this excursion will not disappoint. The heat makes it strenuous but the distance and terrain isn’t particularly challenging and the scenery is truly breathtaking.

If you would like to include this great hike to your itinerary, then ask the Swoop team or view our Santiago page for more inspiration.

Birds spots at the Monumental Natural  El Morado

  • Crested duck
  • Rufous Banded Miner
  • Yellow Rumped Siskin
  • Grey Hooded Sierra Finch
  • White Browed Ground Tyrant
  • Plumbeous Sierra Finch
  • Correndera Pipit
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Hotel Review: Hotel Babel, San Telmo

Swoop’s own Harriet stayed came back from a Patagonia trip recently where stayed at the Hotel Babel in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.
Here she reviews the facilities and general feel of the place.

Located in a 200 year old building in the San Telmo district a stone’s throw from Plaza Dorega.
A combination of old and new features creates a very funky but comfortable setting.

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Soft clever lighting softens the dark wood that lines the walls.
The reception is hung with pictures from their artist in residence. A role given to emerging artists who each take a month turn. This month’s artist was Pedro Padulla.

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The 9 rooms are on the ground and first floor, set around a courtyard. Tall 2.5m high doors  with shutters guard each door. The rooms all have  an ensuite bathroom with hot powerful shower and  plenty of mirrors.  Suite rooms have kingsize bed whilst standard rooms have queensize.

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I arrived very late at night and a sandwich and bottle of water had been made for me which was very considerate. The staff were all bright and bubbly and incredibly helpful.
This gave the hotel a really homely feel.
Need to Know:
  • Breakfast is served between 8-11 and included a choice of eggs, toast, spreads, fruit cereal, teas and  coffee.
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  • It is spotlessly clean and the service was good.
  • English was spoken.
  • The rooms are equipped with ac, tv, safe, hairdryer, plug sockets for C and I, desk, wardrobe.
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Choosing your hotel and neighbourhood in Buenos Aires

On Swoop’s Sallys most recent visit to Patagonia she spent a few days in her beloved Buenos Aires checking out new hotels, old haunts and getting up close and personal with a few juicy steaks. Below she shares a few thoughts on choosing the right hotel for you in Buenos Aires.

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As in many big cities, Buenos Aires has its edgy side and so choosing where you stay can make a real difference to your enjoyment of the city. There are bohemian quarters, business quarters, the hustle and bustle of the city centre and safer neighbourhoods with bars and cafes. Where you choose to stay will be a very personal choice depending on how you enjoy cities, the style of hotel you feel most comfortable in and the length of time you have to enjoy this vibrant, diverse city.

Below I have tried to give a little detail on each neighbourhood where you might choose to stay so you can get a little more its flavour, style and close by amenities and attractions.

Palermo

Palermo is very pleasant! It has some historic buildings dating from the 1920s and is a more relaxed and safer neighbourhood than the ‘MicroCentro’ or ‘San Telmo’. It is residential with an abundance of bars and restaurants. What it lacks are the main historic sights and museums, but these are easily and quickly accessed by the metro. Many of the eateries are fairly new so, in my opinion, lack a certain amount of Porteño identity. That said, there are a few historic restaurants such as ‘El Preferido de Palermo’ and ‘Lo de Jesus’ which do ooze the porteño flavour.
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If you’re looking to mix with young porteños, visit historic sights by day then return to a trendy (safer) suburb in the evening, then Palermo is for you. Although not thought of as a bohemian area, I think that compared to most residential streets of anywhere in the UK, it would feel really rather bohemian, oozing with character, great food and a relaxed, charming character (there are enough holes in the pavement and graffiti to remind you that you’re in Buenos Aires).

Palermo is divided into 2 separate districts, Palermo Soho (Viejo) and Palermo Hollywood. The main hub of restaurants and hotels is in Palermo Soho and is my favourite of the two neighbourhoods. It is the area of the city of a massive block between Av. Santa Fe, Av. Juan B Justo, Av. Cordoba and Av. Scalabrini Ortiz. With most bars and restaurants concentrated within in this within Malabia, Cabrera, Thames and Guatemala.

 My 2 favourite boutique hotels are the Legado Mitico or the Bobo. They both are oozing with charm, local character, excellent service and both with good locations. The Bobo is a little more ‘trendy’ than the Legado but both are lovely.
For a mid-range option, the Esplendor Palermo Soho is a great choice.

San Telmo

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San Telmo gives you the historic ‘barrio’ feel but is also just a stones throw from the city centre (literally, 5 blocks). Although culturally more interesting with its historic cafes, facades and cobbles street, I’ll admit that it might feel a little dirty and daunting if you’ve just stepped off the plane.

My favourite boutique hotel in San Telmo is the San Telmo Luxury Suites right in the heart of the neighbourhood. More more budget friendly, midrange options you could choose either the Los Patios de San Telmo or the Babel Boutique.

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If you are making a visit to Buenos Aires at the start and end of your trip, it might be an idea to stay in Palermo at the start of your trip and in San Telmo at the end of your trip.

 Downtown / Centre – Micro Centro & Monserrat

This is the business district of the city where you also find the ‘Plaza de Mayo’, Government Palace and the Obelisc. The streets are small, cramped and rather pedestrian unfriendly but if you have just 1 night (midweek), then staying right in the heart of the city has its attractions. The Continental 725 is a lovely hotel choice right in the centre with stunning views from its roof top bar, a 2 minute walk from the main historic sights and you really are right in the thick of the hustle and bustle that drives this city.

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Once you’ve decided on your place to rest your head, then you can start to plan a little more with some ideas of ‘Things to Do“.

 

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Hotel Review: Legado Mitico


This luxury hotel offers a totally unique hotel experience. The door onto the street is unassuming with just a small plaque to suggest that the hotel is even there. The reception desk is manned by just 1 gentleman, and then behind a curtain leads into what is a cosy lounge and library.

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The library’s collection is really impressive with books by distinguished authors from all over South America, historical editions of books from Argentinean authors such as Martin Fierro – the classic tale of the Gaucho.

The hotel rooms all have a different name (rather than number), theme and decor. They are extremely comfortable with great attention to detail to all the decorations, furnishings and facilities.
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On my latest visit I stayed in the room called ‘La Primera Dama’, ‘The First Lady’ which is a room totally themed around Evita Peron. The touches are subtle but include, photos of her life, a cabinet above the bath of replica possessions and a bodice with pearls above the fireplace.

There are 3 categories of rooms – classic, deluxe and superior – for more details about the room categories, please just ask.

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The hotel doesn’t have a bar in the traditional sense but drinks and snacks are served upon request from reception in the lounge, library area – all guests are invited to a glass of wine in the library on arrival. The hotel has a spacious outside garden/terrace on ground level (and a sundeck on the roof which is really rather too small to mention).

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The hotel has a great location in Palermo Viejo (Soho), positioned just 4 blocks from the Subte (underground/subway) with pavement cafes and restaurants just a stone’s throw away – See ‘Restaurants Blog for more details.

This hotel is great for those who seek a unique, luxury, hotel experience which will add to your stay in this bustling city rather than just being a place to rest your head.

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Sally’s Hike in the Tagua Tagua Park

On Sally’s most recent visit to the Patagonia, she was fortunate to take a 2 day hike through the Tagua Tagua Park. Relatively new, this park is a Private Protected Area (PPA) not a National Park, dedicated to the preservation of biodiversity.

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The Hike In

The entrance into the park is unlike any other I have seen before, reached by boat across the vast emerald waters of the Tagua Tagua Lake.  As the El Salto River falls into the Tagua Tagua Lake the boat approached a cluster of rocks, here we clambered off and scrambled up onto the trail.

Arrival

The trail starts from the information centre at 20 metres where you sign in. There was a pile of bamboo sticks which hikers can borrow to help them on their way as they head up into the valley.

The first hour, although forested, is through an area which has noticeably been inhabited as there is grass and introduced plants such as blackberries and apple tree. The only family to live in this area were the Melipillan Sanchez family between 1953 and 1994 who made a living from farming and also making the alerce shingles for building – a trade locally known as a tejueleria.

Tagua walk

There was a lot of humming birds (green hooded fire crowns) activity in and amongst the fushias bushes – flitting from here to there, fighting and being really noisy. As there were no other hikers we were able to stand and admire these beautiful birds.

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After the first hour of patchy forest and open grass land we then entered the dense forest where the vegetation becomes almost mythical with hanging lycans, trunks covered in creeping vegetation and the rain dripping through to create the illusion that the forest is moving! There were ferns of all shapes and sizes – giant ferns, monocell transparent ferns and umbrella ferns that looked like they were made of velvet.

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Also funguses – some as large as dustbin lids – mostly mushroom type or enormous layers of yellows, oranges, purples, more abundant and bigger than I had ever seen.

After crossing various riverson newly built wooden bridges and climbing up to 535 metres, you reach the Refugio Alerces.

Refugio Alerces

Looking out over the flooded Alerce forest, the Refugio Alerces sits 6.5km up the trail at 535 metres (the park guide says 4.5 hours but we had done it, taking our time in 3 hours). The refugio has sleeping space for 22 in open bunks and an open kitchen – it is really just 1 big room with bunks built into 1 wall – all in wood. As it is just 1 hut the heat from the wooden stove burner benefits all. There is an outdoor porch with a hammock and stunning views of the mountains behind.

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This refugio is manned by Sol and Felipe, the park rangers, who live up here all year round maintaining the refugios, trails and park in general.

The next 2 kms heading out from the Refugio Alerces climbs almost 200 metres in a series of ladders. They are not totally vertical and could be described mearly as steep walkways resting on the ground below.

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After 9 kms from the start you reach the valley top at 710 metres where the forest opens up to large patches of mallin (fragil, spongy ground cover), the large granite walls show themselves and the expansive forests of Alerce and Cypress trees. As it had rained all day, there were waterfalls appearing from everywhere.

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You can easily track your progress along the path with handy signs every 500 metres .

We arrived at the Refugio Quetrus after about 5 hours hiking, absolutely soaking wet. Having worked previously as park ranger, Mauricio my guide was a dab hand at getting the fire going and the kettle on. This higher refugio is un-manned so was absolutely freezing!

Refugio Quetrus

This refugio, currently at the end of the trail but there is plans to extend the trail, sits at 710 metres so from the trail head you have gained 690 metres on the 10 km hike. There is sleeping room for 8 with a similar layout as the Alerces but the sleeping space is up a ladder on another floor. There is a porch with benches to sit out on and look out across the truly breath taking view of the Lake Quetrus, islands forested with cyprus trees, granite walls and waterfalls.

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At both refugios the toilet is housed in a separate wooden hut, a 2-3 minute walk up another trail, deep in the woods. This hut is just a toilet which flushes with rain water (all toilet paper should be bagged up and carried out of the park). The refugios have a supply of fresh water in containers which the park rangers get from higher up the mountain and the sink has running water which is just rain water (for cleaning teeth etc). There are no other facilities or privacy.

Inside

All food that you have in the park has to be brought in and rubbish carried out. If you do the trek as a guided trek, the guide will provide food, stoke the fire and cook up a storm. On the menu during my trek we had a local dish called Cancato, a sort of pizza using Salmon as the base or better described as salmon stuffed with tomato, courgette, onions and cheese. Really delicious after a hard day in the rain.

Candle light

We chatted by candle light, read back copies of the Patagon Journal and had an early night listening to the howling wind and sound of the rain.

During the middle of the night I was aware that the autumn rains had definitely begun – I thought it had been raining hard the previous day but this was nothing, just a passing shower, in comparison to what we woke up to hear in the middle of the night. Since 3 am there had been thundering rain on the roof and we woke up to a curtain of rain outside; there were waterfalls cascading down the granite walls which surrounded us (in fact, the weather was so bad that I couldn’t see the granite walls just the white water) and the lake in front, Lago Quetrus, had risen significantly. The water had flooded the firewood store but luckily Mauricio had brought in enough the night before so within just a few minutes in the morning, we were nice and toasty with hot tea & toast.

The Descent

What an adventure the descent turned into – the footpath and river had become indecipherable! Knee deep in water, using trees to keep us up right, we waded out and back down the valley. Luckily the Refugios have their own store of rubber boots so I borrowed these instead of getting my own boots wet.

Waterfall

On reaching the valley decent back at KM 9, we could see that there was bright light on the horizon, this gave us great hope that the rain might stop…and it did! The sky cleared and the sun came out, what a treat. On the descent we took various side paths out to see hidden waterfalls and a stunning viewpoint which gave us views out over the whole valley.

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As we neared the end of the hike, the Tagua Tagua Lake suddenly came into view and with the sun shining on it that turquoise colour of the water seemed even more intense. As we sat on the rocks waiting for the boat to collect us, I felt totally exhilarated. The trek had been quite challenging, not because of the distance, more for the rain, slippery terrain, basic facilities and the thick dense jungle forest that literally breath air back into my lungs. On the opposite shore of the lake I could see the Mitico Puelo Lodge and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to the hot shower and pisco sour.

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Sally’s voyage aboard the Wiliche

While staying at the Tierra Chiloe Sally took an excursion on their boat ‘The Wiliche’, read all about what you can expect from this beautiful boat trip.

The Wiliche is a traditional wooden boat, 18 metres in length with a large, spacious, indoor lounge complete with cushions and woollen throws (all traditional Chilote of course).

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From the hotel we cruised for an hour and a half passing cliffs, villages and rolling hillsides before arriving at our first destination of Chelin. On arrival we were greeted to the bay by 2 dolphins that were swimming around under the bow of the boat – this was really magical.

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As we cruised along there were south american terns diving into the water, magellanic penguins popping up mid catch and many imperial cormorants. I was very lucky to have a day of still tranquil waters, clear blue sky with not a breath of wind or drop of rain in sight – a real treat for this part of the world.
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The first village we visited of just a few houses had a wooden church that was under going restoration work. It was fascinating to see how the original church must have been built and see the techniques that were being implemented today to keep this 200 year old building alive.

Chilote graveyard

Behind the church was the traditional Chilote graveyard, almost a replica of the village but in miniature. The Chilotes are strong believers that after death people still need a roof over their head so the tombstones are actually little wooden, shingle clad houses. This was fascinating and really quite different to anything I’d seen before.

After a wander up to a view point, the captain, Jose, then came to collect us in the zodiac boat and we motored across to the opposite island of Quehui.

Fishingboat

On-route, we pulled up alongside a small, local fishing boat to see what they were catching. On board were two men in thick wetsuits, two helpers and reels of yellow hosepipe; these men were divers and the hosepipe was part of the rudimentary equipment that they use. They were delighted to offer us some of their catch – muscles bigger than my hand, aptly names ‘ Shoe sole muscles’ and enormous clams. Later in the afternoon the captain cooked these up with white wine, garlic and onions – delicious and so fresh.
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There had been many forest fires due to the dry summer and so the horizon was really hazy. However, on a clear day looking east you have a spectacular view of the snow peaked Andes including one or two volcanoes.

Lunch was served on board – canapes of salmon, Camembert with local honey and local cheese, followed by a salad and quiche and fresh fruit. 10/10
Food onboard Wiliche

The return journey took us on a slightly different route passing the north western side of the Chelin island. For the return journey I climbed up onto the roof and laid down for a well earned siesta – totally priceless.

Highlights of the day….

  • The Dolphins

  • The fascinating graveyard

  • The divers – interaction with the local divers

  • The stunning calm waters, emerald in colour with the hillsides reflecting perfectly – days like today are very rare I’m told.

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Hotel Review: Tierra Chiloe – Where luxury meets authenticity

Sally returned from her trip in Patagonia and came back with even more knowledge about the region. Here she talks about the luxurious Tierra Chiloe.

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The hotel itself is an extremely impressive wooden building, perfectly designed to create comfortable spaces inside, create the most of the incredible view, yet be totally unobtrusive to the landscape. Set high up on a hill, surrounded by rolling countryside, the hotel looks out onto the one of the many channels that surround the Chiloe Archipelago.

Inside the decor feels very authentic with wooden furniture, woolen throws over the chairs, woven baskets and even fun little touches such as wooden pigs that have been turned into seats!
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All the rooms have floor to ceiling windows and are located on the 2nd floor making the view just that bit more impressive. The rooms are made entirely of wood which gives them the feel that you’re in a wooden cabin.
The room has charming touches such as woollen Chilote slippers for all its guests, a metal water bottle for each guest (which can be refilled from containers in the reception), wooden pegs and with the bed looking straight out to sea to give you the sensation that you’re on a boat.

Tiera Chiloe bedroom

As I sit writing, tucked away in a hidden corner of the gardens of the hotel, looking out onto the still bay with the yellow autumn trees reflecting perfectly, I can hear the bird calls of the mischievous ‘chucao’, the green-hooded fire crown (hummingbird), the oystercatchers on the beach below and many more. Across the bay I can hear a farmer rounding up his cattle and the sound of oars, dipping in and out of the water as a local fisherman rows home his catch.
The peace and tranquility is utterly mesmerising.

Dinner is served from 8pm, starting with a pisco sour and a few appetizers whilst sat in the lounge. There is a lovely atmosphere as the hotel manager, Andres, does the rounds to ensure that all the guests have had a good day and jazz or folkloric music is played subtly in the background. On check-in or at breakfast, guests choose their dinner with 2 choices for each course (guests choose their dinner when they check-in or after breakfast as everything is made to order).

Excursions

Each day there is a choice of two excursions which are either full day or half day. The excursions are either vehicle based including some short hikes to places of cultural interest and natural beauty or can involve longer hikes and kayaking.

Wiliche

The gem of the hotel though is the ‘Wiliche’, the wooden boat. The boat goes out every other day and the hotel ensures that all clients are able to take at least one excursion by boat. There are three different routes that the Wiliche takes but each excursion includes the opportunity to go kayaking, do excursions in a small zodiac or do some short hikes. Lunch is served on board – canapes, a salad and quiche and fresh fruit was on the menu the day I sailed aboard the Wiliche. Delicious.
On the boat

On arrival guests are given a briefing of all the excursions, how they work and are given a half day arrival option such as horse riding, or a visit the the nearby village of Dalcahue or Rilan.

The location, interior, service and attention to detail really is 5* in the luxurious lodge. If you are looking to immerse yourself in local culture and beautiful scenery but not scrimp on the comfort level, then this hotel would make a wonderful addition to any itinerary to Patagonia.

Would you like to read more about Sally’s day out on the Wiliche?

 

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Hotel Review: Mitico Puelo – relaxing, tranquil, idyllic

Sally returned from her trip in Patagonia and came back with even more knowledge about the region, along with some tales of bird watching, she wrote about her different experiences of hotels in the region.  Here she talks about the idyllic Mitico Puelo.

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The Mitico Puelo lodge sits on the shores of the Tagua Tagua Lake, accessible only by boat which makes getting to the lodge an adventure in itself. The drive to reach the lake takes you past lakes, volcanoes and fjords giving you a feeling of gradually leaving civilisation behind and reaching somewhere very special indeed.

The setting of the lodge is utterly idyllic surrounded by steep sided, thickly forested mountains, emerald waters and an abundance of birds. At night the only noise is the wind whistling through the trees and the sound of lapping water.

On the lake.

The building itself is beautifully built with large wooden beams, spacious lounges, big windows, large landings and open staircases. The rooms and bathrooms are very spacious and those on the first floor have large wooden balconies that look out over the lake and gardens in front. The interior decorations and fittings are all a little tired and old fashioned but this sense of faded glory does some how add to its charm.
By the fire

As I sat eating breakfast I was fascinated to watch some ‘Green-Backed Fire Crowns’ – a hummingbird native to the area, gorging themselves on the fuchsia bushes in front of the lodge. Morning and evening, there was a roaring fire in the lounge, a lovely space to sit, relax and take in the view. Dinner was served from 8pm, a 3 course set menu of wholesome local dishes – although there is no choice as to the menu, they are very good at catering for clients with specific dietary needs.
Dining/ lounge

The staff live on site and have quite a relaxed approach but do ensure that all clients feel totally at home; this is obvious from the comments made in the guest book.

The lodge is a great base for fly fishing, a jumping off point to the Tagua Tagua National Park and other excursions by boat and on foot up the Puelo river valley. This is an area visited by little so you really do feel like you are getting quite far off of the beaten track.

Swimming

If you are looking for somewhere to relax, surrounded by incredible scenery with the possibility of some activities but not looking for 5* luxury or service, then this lodge is the perfect option; a rustic choice in an idyllic setting.

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Dave’s Chalten to Ushuaia Adventure

Dave returned in March 2015 from a trip to Patagonia that included a 13 day road trip from El Chalten to Ushuaia via Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners, along with some incredible photos!

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Cerro Fotzroy and Cerro Torre in the distance

How were Swoop Patagonia?

Swoop Patagonia have an excellent website, full of ideas for places to visit and activities to do.

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King Penguins, Tierra del Fuego

I found it slightly odd that, unlike some other adventure holiday operators I’ve used, Swoop acted purely as agents for the ground agents in Patagonia, providing advice and information, before introducing me directly to the ground agents for my chosen trip. Nonetheless, it was great working with them and lovely to receive their pre-trip gift!

[NB. Swoop works in two different ways depending on the needs of our clients and the complexities of their trips. Sometimes we introduce people directly to our ground partners in Patagonia (as was the case for Dave), and on other occasions we take people’s bookings all the way through from start to finish. Here’s some more information on How We Work.]

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Viedma Glacier

Would you recommend us to family/ friends planning a trip to Patagonia?

Yes, I would definitely point anyone considering visiting Patagonia to your website.

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How were Swoop’s partners in Argentina?

Generally they were very good. We had one or two panics over dates and hotels when it came to arranging extra days before and after the tour, but they got things sorted out pretty

quickly. The extras were worthwhile time-wise and accommodation very comfortable.

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Glacier Viedma

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Glacier Viedma

How were your itinerary and guides?

The itinerary was brilliant and the guides very professional.

Is there anything you would change about your trip?

I would have liked the chance to see the Magellanic Penguins near Punta Arenas, maybe with 1 night in Puerto Natales.

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Guanaco, Torres del Paine

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Rhea

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlights of my trip were:

-Getting within 20m of a Puma

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Puma stalking foxes near Hotel Las Torres

-Watching lumps falling off Perito Moreno Glacier

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Perito Moreno Glacier Calving

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-A gorgeous autumn day hiking up to Laguna de los Tres (alone)

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Cerro Torre Summit

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Cerro Fitzroy from Laguna Capri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-Lovely weather for trips on both the Beagle Channel and Magellan Strait.

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Sea Lions in the Beagle Channel

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Commerson’s Dolphin – Magellan Strait

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

I didn’t visit anywhere else, Buenos Aires aside, but certainly would love to go back to tour the north-west and visit Iguassu.

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Cuernos del Paine from Lago Pehoe

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Ian & Sue’s Patagonia Adventure

Ian and Sue returned in December from a 24 day trip to Chile and Argentina that was designed and arranged by Swoop Patagonia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop.

‘We had the best holiday of our lives and would recommend it (and Swoop) to anyone!’ 

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Ian and Sue Feedback

The package you put together for us exceeded our expectations in every way.  The quality of the accommodation and guides was very high, and the choice of locations and activities was spot on for us.  We would recommend Swoop to anyone (and have done so).  The varied and unspoiled landscapes, the geology, and the incredibly rich variety of wildlife made Patagonia our perfect destination. If we are able to return to South America, I hope it will be under your auspices!

Ian and Sue’s Itinerary

Ian and Sue began their trip with a city tour of Santiago, followed by a night in the Hotel Boutique Oporto.

[Read Swoop’s list of recommended hotels in Santiago]

The city tour was faultless- a conversation with the courier led to an instant change to our afternoon itinerary, substituting a poet’s house with the Pre-Columbian Art Museum, and providing a driver to give us more time.  

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Pre-Columbian Art Museum, Santiago

Our guide had been a guide in the museum, so was amazingly knowledgeable. We ate at Como Agua Para Chocolate, and loved it.

[Read swoop’s top picks for restaurants throughout Patagonia]

The next morning they flew on to Puerto Montt, and the nearby island of Chiloe for a 3 night stay at Chil Hue, for 3 days of excursions to take in the local scenery, wildlife, fishing villages and penguin colony.

Our guide met us on arrival and drove us to Ancud, stopping several times on the way to show us birds etc.

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Chilean Wigeon

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Ringed Kingfisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

He was a fantastic guide with a wide knowledge of natural history, and the history of the island.  We had a great day out – including a short trip out to the penguin colony where we saw Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins.

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Magellanic Penguins – Chiloé

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, our itinerary was to have been a visit to several of Chiloe’s wooden churches.  We had already visited a couple, and knowing our interest in natural history, our guide (Jamie) proposed a visit to a private national park owned by a friend of his (Parque Tepuhueico). 

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Chiloé

 After visiting Castro en route, we had a fantastic trek in the temperate rainforest.  Jaime had helped set up the trails, and had translated the interpretation boards into English, so was the perfect guide. 

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On our last night, we went out for a traditional meal in Ancud. Needless to say, we loved Chiloe!

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Chiloé

Ian and Sue’s next stop was Punta Arenas, where they spent a day exploring the city, and the King Penguin Colonies of Tierra del Fuego.

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On arrival at Punta Arenas, we were met by our guide, who dealt faultlessly with our questions.  Hotel Ilia was one of the nicest and friendliest places we stayed. The room was large, light and airy.  The decor was attractively modern and arty, and the breakfasts were great. 

Punta Arenas exceeded our expectations. It was a friendly and characterful Chilean city: a bit ramshackle in places, but full of charm (and feral dogs…).  O’Higgins provided a wealth of restaurants to choose between.  We ended up going to Brocolino both nights, and enjoyed it very much.

Our day trip to see the King Penguins on Tierra del Fuego was a great success. It was a full day, but very variable and enjoyable.  We were in a small group in a mini-bus, which stayed with us all day. 

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King Penguins – Tierra del Fuego

Porvenir was an attractive (v small!) city with a surprisingly good museum.  The penguin site (not yet referred to as a “colony” as they hadn’t bred successfully yet) was great – with interesting plants as well as birds.  

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Lighthouse, Porvenir

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Chimango Caracara

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guide was excellent, stopping the bus to show us foxes, guanacos and rheas, and pointing out the dolphins on the short ferry crossing on the way back to the mainland.  On return, the bus dropped us off at O’Higgins for a meal as it was getting late.

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Guanaco

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Patagonian Grey Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following day, Ian and Sue headed to an eco camp on the edge of Torres del Paine National Park for 3 days of excursions.

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Patagonian Skunk

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Lago Pehoe – Torres del Paine

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were picked us up in the afternoon, and driven to our accommodation, stopping several times en route to look at features, wildlife etc. The eco friendly camp we stayed at exceeded all our expectations.  We had the nearest yurt to the lake with distant views of the “Horns”.  

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Patagonia Camp

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Patagonia Camp

 

 

 

 

 

 

On arrival, the staff explained the options available for the next day.  The evening meal was great, with as much of the house wine as we wanted to drink (and the offer of a bottle to take back to the yurt) together with unwise quantities of pisco sour before and after the meal.

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Lady’s Slipper

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Patagonian Red Fox

 

 

 

 

 

 

For our first day of excursions we elected to go on the Fauna Trail Hike.  This was ideal for us, providing a good introduction to the scenery, flora and fauna of the area, together with an unexpected view of the rock paintings (see their wine label – and visit Majestic in the UK).  

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Guanaco

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Rock Paintings – Torres del Paine

 

 

 

 

 

 

We were also introduced to the lavish picnics provided by the camp.

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Magellanic Orchid

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Yellow Orchid

 

 

 

 

 

The next day, some of the trips could not run due to high winds. The guides asked us if we would like to go on a trek they hadn’t included in their list for some years, and the three guides, and just the two of us, had a great day out.  

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They shared their maté with us, explaining the simple ceremony involved, and we felt very included.  We had a fantastic view of an Austral pygmy owl.  

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Austral Pygmy Owl

The last  section of the walk was very challenging for me – a narrow path on loose scree – and they seemed to have forgotten my vertigo.  They admitted that if this section of the walk had been longer, they would have graded the walk as “Difficult” rather than “Moderate”!

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On our final day at the camp, four of us had elected to go on the Grey Lake Boat Trip, but on arrival at the jetty, we found that the boat had been cancelled due to high winds. Instead, we did the Grey Beach Hike in the morning (very close views of a pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers), together with a short hike to the Lake Toro viewpoint in the afternoon. 

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Magellanic Woodpecker

This provided a great day out, and showed off the guides’ ability to think on their feet.  We rounded the day off with a self guided walk to the local waterfall.

Patagonia_002_Waterfall at Patagonia Camp

Our stay at the eco friendly camp was the high spot of our holiday. The accommodation and surroundings were great, and the guides were all of the highest quality: we felt really looked after.

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Following their stay in Torres del Paine, Ian and Sue headed across the border to the town of El Calafate, where they visited the Perito Moreno Glacier, and took some day hikes from the nearby town of El Chalten.

P07820_Patagonia_2014_Sue_01 1320 The hotel in El Calafate was friendly, comfortable and stylish.  We were directed to the Laguna Nimezwhich was a must (we ended up going there again the next evening).  Not feeling able to face the queues at La Tablita, we ate at La Zaina, which was very good.

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The day excursion to Perito Moreno Glacier was a great success.  The guide was, as usual, everything we could ask for.  Although the viewpoints provided great views of the glacier, we found the boat trip well worth it, providing closer views of the ice walls, together with the sculpted icebergs floating in the lake. 

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Perito Moreno Glacier

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Perito Moreno Glacier

 

 

 

 

 

The boat lingered at each viewpoint long enough for everybody to get the photos they wanted.

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Perito Moreno Glacier

On our excursion to the Petrified Forest, our guide was very knowledgeable, both geologically and botanically.  

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Petrified Forest

In addition to the geology, this trip provided our best views of the flora of the steppe

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Following the excursion, we were taken to El Chalten.  Hotel Lunajuim was very friendly- the room was great, full of quirky modern art produced by the owner’s wife: we enjoyed our stay very much.  We ate at the Estepa, which we liked very much, and returned to on our last night.

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Our excellent guide took us (together with a picnic) to Laguna Capri.  This was an ideal trek for us, culminating in a satisfying view of the glacier.  We ate at La Tapera – very good again, with a great choice of wines displayed in the wine racks with price tags tied round the necks.

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The following day our guide Zoe took us to Lago del Desierto.  She was a great guide, and managed to show us torrent ducks, which had been on my list of “hope to sees” (and give us an excellent picnic). 

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Torrent Ducks

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Ashy Headed Goose

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening, we ate at La Vineria, which must be one of the best wine bars in the world!  Their smoked platter was worth a mention as well as the wine.

On our last day in El Chalten we took a self guided trek towards Laguna Torre – we only made it to the three viewpoints en route, but the views were spectacular, and the route easy to follow.

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The next stop was Tierra del Fuego, for a few days exploring the birds and wildlife of the National Park.

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Southern Lapwing

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Black faced Ibis

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hotel Tierra del Fuego was a good place to stay – quite central and fairly near the waterfront.  We ate at Le Estancia – the food was quite good, but the service was patchy – much of their efforts seemed to be directed towards rich Americans presumably on their way to Antarctica.

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Black Necked Swans

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Upland Goose

 

 

 

 

 

 

The guided excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park was enjoyable.  Our guide was knowledgeable, and urged us to suggest any changes to the itinerary we wanted, although we did find him a little impatient.  We ate at Moustacchio for the next two nights.  We found it very friendly, with a wide menu of well-cooked food (as Sue is allergic to crab, we tended to avoid predominantly fishy restaurants). 

The following day, our guide had booked us onto a Beagle Channel cruise, which culminated in a visit to an estancia, followed by a two hour minibus transfer home.  We decided to stay on the boat to return to Ushuaia rather than take the bus.

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This was one of our favourite days.  The weather was cold and wet but, on arrival at the penguin island, the sun came out, and the boat beached on the sand, giving us the best views we had ever had of penguins going about their normal lives. 

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In addition to the Magellanic penguins, there were a few Gentoo, and three King Penguins.

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For their final few days, Ian and Sue visited Buenos Aires, where they spend time exploring the city; it’s museums and art galleries.

[Read Swoop’s blog post about things to do in Buenos Aires]

On our departure day, our guide had already taken our details, and checked us in on line for our flight: this was a great idea- I wish other operators had done the same. After checking in at our hotel, we visited MALBA (a fantastic gallery). 

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The Hotel Esplendor was friendly and helpful. That evening we went to a nearby Parilla recommended by the hotel – it was OK, but I think I will stick to your recommendations in future! 

Our group tour of Buenos Aires in the morning was excellent.  The guide was very informative, and when one of the passengers expressed an interest in visiting Evita’s grave, she just added it to the itinerary.  At the end of the tour, she dropped the passengers off wherever they wanted.  

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A warning to other travellers: we were squirted with something outside the National Gallery, but when people offered to “assist”, we shouted at them until they went away (successfully avoiding robbery – although my mobile was later pinched on the underground: but that’s another story). 

A visit to El Ateneo, a bookshop in a converted theatre, should be on everyone’s to do list: there is even a cafe on the stage.  As an alternative to steak, we ate an Italian restaurant highly rated by the hotel (Il Gran Caruso): this was excellent.

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On our final day, we had a tour of the Opera House (very good), and spent the rest of the day at the San Telmo Market.  We really enjoyed ourselves, but are still kicking ourselves that we bought so little – everything was amazingly cheap and stylish.  

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Our Iberia flight home arrived back early, and we managed to catch an earlier coach home.

A satisfying end to the best holiday we have ever had. Thank you, Sally!