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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Patagonia on the Web – 17th July

Swoop’s roundup of all things Patagonian across the web this week.

Swoop’s Favourite Photographs:.

Patagonia-POTM-June-2014-Artur-Stanisz-620x422landscapephotographymagazine.com June winner was this stunning shot of Torres del Paine by Artur Stanisz from Canada

tumblr_n8upsqeke51sqdai9o1_500We stumbled on this picture on Twitter from  http://bonchant.tumblr.com/. Gives the atmosphere of what travelling around Torres del Paine is like with a fantastic view around each corner. 
3d47e68710a5f184a807256fea75272eLove this shot from the street’s of San Telmo found on Pinterest San Telmo, Test 1 by Moises Torne on Flickr

Swoop’s blog of the week:

obeliskManda’s blog about her unexpected trip to Buenos Aires really captures how great the city is even if you haven’t planned going there originally.

Read our very own Sally Dodge’s views on the vibrant city of Buenos Aires .

Swoop’s Article of the week:
Screen Shot 2014-07-17 at 16.42.44Great piece from Ben Lerwill on patagonia for National Geographic this month talking about his  trip in Tierra del Fuego.

If you are interested in this kind of trip take a look at our Austalis Cruises and our Patagonian cruise page to find an adventure right for you .

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Swoop’s Guide to Patagonian Literature

There are many varied, exciting and truly captivating books about Patagonia whether they deal with indigenous history, early exploration, modern travel or historical fiction. We are strong believers that by reading a few key pieces of literature before and during your trip, it will change your perception of this extraordinary corner of the world and enhance your whole Patagonian experience.

This is by no means a complete reading list to Patagonia but is meant to be used as a starting point. We have chosen six books as “must reads” and then added some of our other favourite titles below. If you need any help in where to source these books or have any other recommendations then we’d love to hear from you.

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6 tops pick for Patagonian Literature

                  • This Thing of Darkness (Harry Thompson, 2005) – the incredible tale of two hugely influential men – Captain Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin, the voyage of the Beagle and the plight of the native indigenous people of Tierra del Fuego. An excellent read for those that don’t want heavy history but a wonderfully told story.

                  • Of Love and Shadows (Isabel Allende, 1987) – written by one of Chile’s most famous authors, her 2nd book, set during the dark days of the Pinochet dictatorship, tells the story for two journalists prepared to risk everything for justice and truth. (See section below for other recommended Allende books).

                  • Mischief in Patagonia (H. W. Tilman, 1957) – an extraordinary story from a classic old British sailor and explorer of sailing the Atlantic, negotiating the Magellan Strait and crossing the Southern Patagonian Ice-field.

                      

                  • Travels in a Thin Country (Sara Wheeler, 2006) – a light hearted and entertaining read of travelling the length of Chile; the book also lends itself to giving gaining some background knowledge on Chilean history and culture.

                • Patagonia: A Cultural History (Chris Moss, 2008) – although quite heavy going this book is an extremely insightful and informative account of all things Patagonian from indigenous people, the Welsh to music and film and other travel literature.

              • In Patagonia (Bruce Chatwin, 1977) – Of course no list is complete without this classic. In Patagonia, although more of a literary phenomenon then something hugely insightful about the kind of places you’ll see in Patagonia, has some wonderful descriptions of characters and experiences.

Other favourites to be read and enjoyed!

Early exploration

            • Across Patagonia (Lady Florence Dixie, 1880)

            • Where Tempests Blow (Michael Mason, 1931)

          • At Home with the Patagonians (George Chaworth-Musters, 1871) – Muster’s own tale of travels in Patagonia and living with the indigenous Tehuelche people during 1869.

          • Voyage of the Beagle (Charles Darwin, 1839)

Classic Travel Literature

                • The Old Patagonian Express (Paul Theroux, 1979) – a classic.

                • Motorcycle Diaries (Ernesto Che Guevara, 1952)

Modern Travel

              • The Trail to Titicaca (Ruppert Attlee, 2001)

              • Thunder and Sunshine (Alastair Humphreys, 2007)

              • Between Extremes (Brian Keenan & John McCarthy, 1999)

              • Bad Times in Buenos Aires (Miranda France, 1999)

Indigenous History

              • The Uttermost Part of the Earth (Lucas Bridges, 1948) – a captivating account of the early days of Ushuaia and life amongst the, now vanished, indigenous peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Chilean & Argentinian Literature

Isabel Allende:

              • My Invented Country (Isabel Allende, 2003)

              • The House of the Spirits (Isabel Allende, 1985)

              • Daughter of Fortune (Isabel Allende, 1999)

              • Ines of My Soul (Isabel Allende, 2006)

Pablo Neruda:

              • Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (Pablo Nerudo, 1924)

Jorge Luis Borges:

            • Labyrinths (Jorge Luis Borges, 1962)

 

Swoop’s Tips on Currency

Customers often ask us about what currency to take with them to Patagonia, and how much to budget for their trip. Here are Swoop’s tip’s on how to take and spend your money…

1. How to Take your Money – Crebit/Dedit Cards & USD$ Cash

ATM’s are widely available in most major towns in Chile and Argentina (with one notable exception – see below) so withdrawing local currency with a credit/debit card is not a problem; additionally most restaurants even in the darkest depths of Patagonia take credit/debit cards as well. However, please don’t just rely on one credit/debit card, cards can be blocked, sometimes refused and lost so a backup card and/or cash is essential.

USD$ cash – it is always a good idea to take Dollars cash.

In Chile this is very much as a back up and can be exchanged for local currency if you don’t use a credit/debit card. It isn’t common to actually pay in dollars in Chile but in an emergency it would always be accepted over any other foreign currency. In fact, if you pay in dollars in restaurants you are likely to get a much worse rate than even the official rate.

In Argentina US Dollars are essential  - especially in Buenos Aires; you may have heard of a “grey market” for exchanging/paying in dollars cash that can save you sometimes 50%. As this is illegal we couldn’t possibly comment on it but should you wish to give us a call and discuss it then we would be more than happy. Some local currency will be needed for small purchases such as water, snacks etc.

Travellers cheques – not advised as they are hard to change and are given a very low rate.

2. Getting Money Whilst in Patagonia

Argentina

  • There are plenty of ATM’s and exchange places in Bariloche and Ushuaia.

  • El Calafate – the ATM’s in El Calafate are notoriously problematic. The best bank to use is Banco Patagonica on Av. del Libertador 1355 opposite the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares office. In Argentina you can draw out a maximum of ARS $3,000 (Argentinian Peso) per day but this has to be done in 3 separate transactions (3 lots of ARS $1,000). If you are visiting on a busy weekend in the holiday season then by Sunday evening the ATM’s are likely to be empty.

  • El Chalten – there is one ATM just as you go into town but it is often empty and there are no exchange places. Make sure you arrive here with plenty of cash (although most restaurants do take cards).

Chile

  • There are plenty of ATM’s and exchange places in both Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Puerto Varas and Pucon, so stock up in these places before heading into more remote areas.

  • Torres del Paine – Puerto Natales is the nearest place to get cash. The refugios and hotels will all except USD$ and credit/debit cards and you will actually pay slightly less by paying  with either of these methods for any food/drinks etc. (The National Park entrance fee, if not included in your trip, must be paid in Chilean pesos not USD$).

Leftover currency

  • At any cafes at or near the International borders, they are generally very happy for you to pay with and/or exchange any leftover currency you may have. For example, if you are visiting Torres del Paine and El Calafate on your trip you will almost certainly pass through the little border village of Cerro Castillo. This is a great place to exchange any spare currency, post your postcards and get any last minute souvenirs with your spare change.

3. How to Budget your Trip

As a rough guide you should budget USD$25-50 per person per day for your lunch and dinner.

  • At USD$25 per person per day expect more simple food/restaurants with little or no wine/beer.

  • At USD$50 per person per day expect top end restaurants with some good wine and great service.

  • At a USD$35 per day average, you could have a mix of the 2 above categories.

4. Tipping

Please see our separate blog post on Chilean and Argentinian tipping etiquette.

If you have any queries on any of the above then please feel free to get in touch.

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Swoop’s Trekking Kit List

The weather in Patagonia is famous for being unpredictable, and you can expect to experience all 4 seasons in one day, from high winds to extreme sun, to chilling cold. The secret is to wear several layers, in order to achieve maximum comfort with minimum weight. It is important to use wind resistant clothing made from materials that dry fast, so we do not recommend cotton fabrics.  Make sure you wear in your boots beforehand & bring blister treatment just in case! 

Basic Trekking Kit List

  • 35-40 litre backpack for personal items (upgrade for winter & camping trips, see below)
  • Hiking boots (waterproof and broken in)
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers (e.g. Goretex)
  • Thermal, synthetic, quick drying undershirts (cotton does not dry as quickly or keep you as warm during active days)
  • Fleece jacket or similar
  • Fleece or wool hat with ear covers
  • Hiking trousers or zip-off convertible style trousers (preferably synthetic material)
  • Fleece or wool scarf
  • Wool blend hiking socks (upgrade for winter trips, see below)
  • Sunglasses with neck strap
  • UV Sun protection (min 30 SPF), including face and lips
  • Baseball cap or similar for blocking the sun
  • Refillable water bottle or hydration system (Water is refilled from the streams/ taps in the TDP park, always from reliable sources and does not need to be filtered. You can bring your own filter or purification tablets, or purchase bottled water at refugios)
  • Trekking poles

In Winter months, add the following to the basic list…

  • Down jacket
  • Long Underwear (e.g. Silk or Capilene)
  • Midweight to heavy weight hiking socks (synthetic moisture wicking)
  • Mountain backpack: 40-60 litres (depending on how much you pack and whether you hire porters)
  • Fleece or wool gloves
  • Small flashlight or headlamp with batteries
  • Hiking gators

For Camping trips, add the following to the basic list …

  • Mountain backpack: 40-60 litres (depending on how much you pack and whether you hire porters)
  • 3-4 season sleeping bag (-5 to -10 degrees Celsius with compressions stuff sack)
  • Therm-a-rest or similar camping mattress (light weight and compact recommended)
  • One change of clothes for camp/ sleep wear
  • Toiletries and personal Medical Kit (prescriptions, cold medicine, vitamins etc) No soap or shampoo is available in the lodges or camps.
  • Camp towel (quick drying)
  • Small flashlight or headlamp with extra batteries
  • Lightweight sandals for around camp (can be used in showers too)Gorra_Blanca_Summit

For Treks Staying at Mountain Huts/ Camps/ Hotels

  • Change of clothes for post hike around the Mountain Lodge or camp
  • Sandals or similar for inside the mountain lodges
  • Change of socks/ underwear
  • Toiletries and personal Medical Kit (prescriptions, cold medicine, vitamins etc) No soap or shampoo is available in the lodges or camps.
  • Bathing suit (for hot tubs if staying at Los Cuernos)
  • Sleep wear
  • Shower towel (quick drying recommended)
  • Small lock for the lockers if staying at Refugio Torre Central
  • Small flashlight or headlamp with batteries

In Winter months, add the following to the mountain hut list…

  • Down sleeping bag (-10 to -20 decreed Celsius with compression stuff sack)

Optional Extras

  • Mosquito repellent
  • Reading material
  • Binoculars
  • Camera, chargers and spare batteries
  • Alarm clock
  • Shower sandals
  • Ear plugs and eye covers

Documentation

  • Passport with correct entry forms
  • Copy of health insurance, travel insurance, and passport
  • Air tickets
Buenos Aires Airports

Buenos Aires Airports

There are two different airports in Buenos Aires, and often people need to travel between them to catch connecting flights. We’ve put together some information and advice on the two airports and how to move between them, as well as some ideas on things to do should you decide to spend a night or two in Buenos Aires.

1. The 2 Buenos Aires Airports

Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE), also known as Ezeiza is 30km to the south of the main part of town, and is mainly used for international flights.

Jorge Newberry (AEP) is just to the north, and only a 10-15 min taxi ride from the nicest parts of the city; and is mainly used for domestic flights.

2. Travelling Between Buenos Aires Airports

Moving between the two airports can take 1 to 2 hours depending on traffic, and as customs and baggage reclaim can take a while we’d normally allow at least 5 hours between arriving into one and departing the other.

More info on moving between the two here:  http://blog.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/getting-to-the-airport-in-buenos-aires-by-bus/

Buenos Aires Airports

3. Spending the Night in Buenos Aires

It often makes sense for people, on their way into Argentina to fly into EZE, spend the night in Buenos Aires, and then fly south from AEP; with a short and simple taxi to the airport the following morning. Here’s a link to our most recommended hotels in Buenos Aires: http://www.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/hotels-buenos-aires/

4. Things to do in Buenos Aires

For a few more thoughts and ideas about things to do in Buenos Aires you can also read Sally’s blog post: http://blog.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/things-buenos-aires/ . Equally, should you decide to stop-over in Santiago then Sally’s Santiago walking tour may also be of interest: http://blog.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/things-santiago/

Patagonia Holiday Insurance: 6 Things to Consider

We’ve had over a thousand customers visit Patagonia now and would offer the following advice to anyone reviewing their holiday insurance for a trip to Patagonia…

1. Activities: Nothing out of the Ordinary

I’m pleased to say that 99% of the activities our customers enjoy in Patagonia are typically covered by a standard policy.

Most importantly, it’s highly unlikely that you will ever trek above 3,000m (or 10,000 feet), which is typically the threshold for many underwriters.

There’s an extract from our own policy below which shows the various different activities covered as standard, versus those where a premium applies.

A couple of things to take note from this:

- Trekking up to 3,000m is standard

- Cover for kayaking and horse-riding is dependent upon you wearing a helmet (all of our partners will provide a helmet, although you sometimes need to ask for one in Chile and Argentina)

I’m afraid to say that Patagonia hasn’t yet got into the delights of street luge, wicker basket tobogganing or ostrich racing but should you chance upon any of these do let us know!

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2. Patagonia Specific Risks

Much of the majesty of Patagonia derives from having the Andes running down the entire region from north to south. This is one of the most seismically active regions in the world. There are some 500 volcanoes in Chile of which 123 have erupted in the last 12,000 years. Whilst this presents very little risk to you personally, it does present a risk to travel plans. In the last 5 seasons we’ve had a few natural disasters including an earthquake with its epicentre to the north of Patagonia which resulted in a Tsunami alert (and subsequent evacuation of all coastal towns in Chile, including Puerto Natales), and a major ash cloud which effectively closed one of the airports for 3-4 months.

Ask your insurance company:

- What delay and disruption cover is provided in the event of a volcanic ash cloud, or other natural disaster?

- Do they offer an ‘add-on’ policy to include Natural Disaster insurance

3. General Travel Insurance requirements

There are obviously a number of standard requirements that every travel policy should include. For example here’s a standard package and the level of cover it provides:

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One comment on this relating specificially to Patagonia:

Luggage delays and flight disruption with the Argentine and Chilean airlines are, I’m afraid to say, not uncommon. This might be an area where you choose to upgrade to provide you with more cover.

4. Worldwide Cover

Patagonia, and the rest of Latin America, typically falls into the top regional band for insurance. To give you an idea of approximate pricing by the different regions.

5. Trip duration and age

Most people’s holidays to Patagonia are 2-4 weeks, which means you pay relatively standard rates (premiums tend to leap up disproportionately on longer trips of more than two months).

When it comes to your age this is also a factor. Standard categorisation is in three categories: under 35 years old, 35 to 59, and over 60.

Rightly or wrongly this is the first question the insurance providers will ask when providing you with a quote.

6. Medical conditions

It’s obviously incredibly important to declare any medical conditions you might have. Typically questions that they’ll ask shown here:

7. Getting a quote

If you are travelling from the UK

We have a partnership with Covermore. Contact luke@swooptravel.co.uk with your date of birth and travel dates (if we don’t know them already) we can ask them to provide you with a quote.

If you’d like to competitive quotes with other providers then we’ve heard good things about: World Nomads: +44 (0) 845 643 2642 & Direct Travel Insurance: 0845 605 2700

If you are travelling from the USA or elsewhere: 

Travel Guard: 1.800.826.4919 & Travelex: 1-800-228-9792

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Leo’s Winter Adventure in Torres del Paine

Leo returned in May from a Winter Trek in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us a little about his experiences on the trek, shares some wonderful photos, and provides some helpful tips for other people travelling to Patagonia in Winter…

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I completed the 3-day Winter Highlights trek with Swoop’s local host – Victor. It was a really memorable trek. Torres del Paine has both peaceful environment and stunning views in the winter.

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We tried to arrange trips to Calafate afterwards but we didn’t have enough time sadly. We travelled to Easter Island afterwards.

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The temperature is already below zero on the mountain but you are still warm if you keep walking. A walking stick is very helpful when walking on frozen land with slippery ice surface.

Thank you for helping me to plan this awesome trip!

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Things to do in Buenos Aires

During her many years living and working in Patagonia, Sally had the pleasure of really getting to know this wonderful capital city, whether taking groups on City Tours, or simply exploring under her own steam. These are Sally’s tips on the top must sees of Buenos Aires…

I may be slightly biased, but Buenos Aires really is an incredible city. Whether you enjoy music, dancing, architecture, art galleries, history museums, street art, food markets, craft markets, antiques, wining, dining, cocktails bars, night clubs or laid-back leafy squares, this city really does have something for everyone. If you’re planning to spend a night or two here, you might like to take a look at our most Recommended Hotels in Buenos Aires.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn arrival (here’s some more information on Buenos Aires’ Airports) we really do suggest taking a guided tour, whether it be a “sit in bus” style tour, a walking tour or a cycling tour. These are great ways to orientate yourself in the city, learn a bit of background history and culture and get some insider tips from a local “Porteño”. You will visit locations such as the 80m Obelisc that stands proud in the middle of the enormous Avenida 9 de Julio, the Government Palace locally known as the “Pink Palace”, the Recoleta Cemetery where Evita was finally laid to rest and the artistic, tango neighbourhood of La Boca.Casa Rosada

Once you’ve visited the must sees of this sensational city, here are some of my top recommendations of how to spend and free time you might have.

  1. Avenida de Mayo – Walk the Avenida de Mayo from the Casa Rosada until the Plaza de Congreso stopping on the way to poke your head into or stop for a coffee in the Café Tortoni (825) a great way to get a feel for what Buenos Aires would have been like in the early 1900’s.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  2. Teatro Colon (Opera House) – This world famous building sits proudly on the very wide Avenida 9 de Juilo. The inside is breathtaking and a tour not only takes you into the auditorium and many rooms of the Opera House but gives you a great overview of the history of Buenos Aires at the time it was built. Tours in English on the hour, every hour lasting 50 mins from 09:00 – 19:00 – ARG$130. (The entrance is on the left hand side of the building on Tucuman).
  3. San Telmo neighbourhood and its cafés  – San Telmo is where the aging and young bohemians of Buenos Aires hang out. Traditionally where the upper classes lived until 1871 when a yellow fever out break drove them out. Nowadays you can still see some of the traditional 1800`s architecture, antique shops and sometimes tango in its square. There are also some great cafes – La Poesia – Chile/Bolivar & El Federal – Peru/Carlos Calvo;  Plaza Dorrego for people watching, some handicrafts and maybe some tango.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  4. Train Lovers…..
    •  Metro Line C – for metro lovers, the stations along these lines have some fantastic mosaics.
    • Retiro Station – a grand old station with its tea rooms still running.

5. Ecological Reserve – beyond Puerto Madero you find the extensive Ecological reserve which is quite good for bird spotting and escaping the hustle and bustle of the city. Take a pic-nic, plenty of water and watch the ships as they sail in and out of the River Plate.

6. Palermo neighbourhood – all within relative proximity to each other you can head to Palermo (take metro line D and get off at Plaza Italia) and visit:

  • Museo Evita, Lafinur 2988; open 11 – 19, ARG$20.
  • MALBA (Museum of Latin American Art), Avda. Figueroa Alcorta 3415; open12 – 20, ARG$45.
  • Palermo parks.
  • Around Plazoleta Cortazar – Palermo Soho and Palermo Viejo is where all the trendy young Porteños can be found, quirky clothes shops, some great street art and cafes.

7. Galerias Pacifico – a beautiful old shopping centre, on the busy (quite tacky) pedestrianized street Florida but with this one great highlight – –100% worth a look inside.

8. Puerto Madero – the newly developed dock yard is a great place for strolling and also has 2 old naval ships docked in docks 3 & 4 that you can visit. A wonderful place to come in the evening as it is well lit, safe and has plenty of restaurants.

Be safe and enjoy!

(Look out for Freddo`s Ice-cream shops – not to be missed!)

Are you visiting Santiago? Here are Sally’s tips on Things to do in Santiago

Puerto Madero with the Pink Palace in the background

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Torres del Paine in May

Jeff, a professor of Biology from the Presbyterian College in South Carolina, USA, returned in May from a trip to Patagonia with a group of his students. Here he tells us about their experiences Trekking in Torres del Paine and Tierra del Fuego, and in booking through Swoop Patagonia and our partners in Chile…

‘Our Patagonia trip was perfect. The weather was amazing, save a foggy day by Glacier Grey and some blustery wind on our day to visit the king penguins in Tierra del Fuego. Both of our guides were terrific!’

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What did Swoop do Well?

Swoop Patagonia was instrumental in putting this trip itinerary together. You absolutely put us together with the appropriate Chilean partners for our trip needs. Additionally the students and I appreciated the feedback on packing lists, tipping guides, etc…

What could we have done differently?

Nothing

How did you enjoy the itinerary prepared for you by Swoop and our Chilean Partners?

Your partners and their guides/drivers did a tremendous job. Gonzalo was very prompt in responding to e-mails and was helpful. Both Ricardo and Armando were extremely knowledgable guides. The itinerary they crafted was perfect for our needs and balanced sightseeing with hiking in the park.

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How were your guides on the trip?

Both Ricardo and Armando were really great. I would request either of them for future trips without hesitation.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

I think I would make 3 of minor changes to the itinerary if I run this trip again: Switch the Torres del Paine hiking and Punta Arenas/Tierra del Fuego touring parts around so that people can recover from the hikes, move the towers hike to the beginning of the hiking days, and try to visit Valparaiso/Santiago as well.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

The majority of the group got up-close and personal with a puma on the last day hike. I would say that is something that everyone will remember.

Again thank you to everyone at Swoop Patagonia and your partners for helping us provide this amazing trip for our students. Please feel free to use me as a reference for anyone who is putting together their own trip.

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Patagonia on the web 27th June

Swoop’s roundup of all things Patagonian across the web this week.

Swoop’s Favourite Photographs:

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Some great photographs that celebrate Torres del Paine in winter.
Ice Monsters by loris van Breugel
Gigantic icebergs drift on Lago Grey on a calm morning in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, with a view of Paine Grande in the distance.

Screen Shot 2014-06-26 at 17.28.05Great black and white mood shot from @AdamBarkerPhoto on Twitter taken while fly fishing in Torres del Paine .
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This great floral shot is from @UnevenSidewalks blog post Torres del Paine: 5 Days of Incredible Trekking

Swoop’s blog of the week:

This week’s blog of the week is jimmyeatsworld’s Fifteen images that will make you go to Patagonia.
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“If somebody mentions landscape photography, my immediate thoughts shoot back to October/November 2013 when I made my first visit to the Patagonia region. It was to be the pinnacle of my adventures in Latin America and it sure didn’t disappoint. From the moment we arrived to Colombia and the start of the Andes mountain range, the landscapes just got better and better the further south I went.”

If they inspire you to start planning a Patagonia trip where you can take just as stunning photographs, talk to Swoop about our photography cruises.