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.

Hotel Review: El Paraiso


This is a good, alpine hut like hotel with all the facilities that you need. The rooms are a good size, the bathrooms are also big with a great shower.

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There is a pleasant reception/dining area but no frills.
Tiled floors meant when I arrived sopping wet and covered in dirt I didn’t feel to bad about making a mess. Reception staff’s english was not so good so we spoke in Spanish. Internet was quite slow and not available in the room.

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Breakfast consisted of cornflakes, cakes or toast with a choice of spreads and hot drinks.

This is a great 3* option for those who want a good comfortable and functional hotel but don’t need any luxury.

Top Tip: Head up to the top floor for mountain views.

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Hotel Review: La Aldea, Chalten

Harriet recently stayed at the motel-esque La Aldea in Chalten, here she reviews and gives her top tips for staying there.

La Aldea has a slightly motel-esque feel with external doors on all the rooms leading off from the garden and a first floor balcony. The rooms have all your basic requirements, hot shower, comfy bed, clean towels and sheets but they are a bit dated.

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Laminate flooring covers the floors,  the shower rail is easy to fall down and there is a cheap/antiquated feel to the fittings. 

The Aldea has the best internet in town, is close to the bus station. It is a good option for those looking for a private room with bathroom on a budget. 

Top Tip: Upstairs rooms are better than downstairs because the wooden floors make the downstairs ones noisy.

 

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Nick’s 19 day trip to Chile & Argentina

Nick and Ruth (his Mum) returned in March 2015 from a 19 day trip to Chile and Argentina, planned and arranged by Swoop Patagonia, based on Swoop’s own Day Hike Patagonia Itinerary . Here Nick tells us about their experiences on the trip, and in booking with Swoop Patagonia.

Nick’s Feedback

‘Swoop were great, a pleasure to deal with from start to finish. The whole thing was  fantastic, and you did an amazing job organising it. It was particularly good of you to book 20 days of more-or-less solid sunshine… so I’m sort of stuck for suggestions!

All the organisation was efficient, really well done. Right amount of email and phone calls, very patient with inquiries etc, all the information was fine. Can’t really think of anything that could have been better.

Torres del Paine was probably my favourite place. Best day’s walking was probably Laguna de los Tres (from El Chalten). Most incredible sight, probably the inside of a crevasse on the Viedma glacier. Penguins and sea otter on Chiloe were brilliant. I could go on, but then it’s not highlights any more!’

Nick’s Itinerary

Nick and his mum began their trip with 3 nights in Buenos Aires, where they spent their time at leisure, exploring the city, guided by Swoop’s tips on Things to do in Buenos Aires.

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La Boca, Buenos Aires

They then flew to Bariloche for a night at Las Marianas, where they spent another day at leisure, guided by Swoops tips on Things to do in Bariloche.

Next, they travelled across the waters of Lago Nahuel Huapi, Lago Frias & Lago Todos los Santos, crossing through the Andes to reach the lakeside town of Puerto Varas.

From here, they travelled by car and ferry to the beautiful island of Chiloe, where they took two day excursions to see some of the wild and varied wildlife inhabitants, starting with the protected nature reserve in the Bay of Caulin – a fantastic spot for spotting local and migratory birds.

After this, they continued their drive out to the Pacific Coast to visit the Punihuil Penguin Colonies, spending the night at La Casita del Mar.

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Sea Otter in the waters of Chiloé

[Read more about activity options available from this idyllic cabin by the sea on Chiloe Island.]

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Chiloe Island

Torres del Paine was their next stop, and they spent 3 days taking guided excursions from an eco camp in the heart of the park.

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View from Mirador Ferrier, Torres del Paine

The next stop was Los Glaciares National Park, where Nick and his mum took an afternoon excursion to stand, stare, and observe ice calving from the Perito Moreno Glacier.

‘The colours of the ice were just amazing’

The following day they travelled on to the mountain town of El Chalten….

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The road to El Chalten…

Here they spent 2 and a half days taking day hikes to Laguna Torre, and Laguna de los Tres, and ice hiking on the Viedma Glacier.

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Rio de las Vueltas Valley

Ushuaia was their next destination, and they spent time exploring the area independently, as well as taking a full day guided excursion in Tierra del Fuego National Park, including a trek on the Pampa Alta trail and visits to Ensenada & Lapataia bay.

Finally, they flew back to Buenos Aires where they spent a leisurely afternoon and evening before flying on home.

We asked Nick a few specific questions about his trip…

What did Swoop do well? What could we have done differently?

All the organisation was efficient, really well done. Right amount of email and phone calls, very patient with inquiries etc, all the information was fine. Can’t really think of anything that could have been better.

(One small thing: the Buenos Aires hotel address on the important information sheet was wrong — there are two Hotel Esplendors in Palermo, and the street address given was the other one).

Would you recommend us to friends, family or colleagues for a trip to Patagonia?

Yes, definitely, especially if they want to do what we did and cram a lot into a little amount of time — I can’t imagine how long it would have taken me to sort all that out!

 How did you enjoy the different areas you visited on your trip?

I loved them all! It was a really good variety of places. Often, the towns themselves didn’t seem to be all that (El Calafate, Bariloche), but generally we were there for the stuff round the towns, so that hardly mattered (and they all had enough good places to eat and so on).

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Pedras Blancas Glacier (Laguna de los Tres hike)

 What did you think of the excursions and activities you took  part in?

Great, yes. If I’d been on my own, I would probably have done less guided stuff, and more on my own — but it was primarily Mum’s holiday!

 How  were your accommodations?

Fine — again, a nice mixture of places. The eco camp in Torres del Paine was particularly cool — and I imagine far cheaper than staying in one of the hotels!

What did you think of the guides and staff  who looked after you?

They were all lovely! The guides were all great. The staff at various places put up with all our questions, mum’s neurosis about missing flights, etc etc. I honestly haven’t got a single bad word to say about any of it.

What was the highlight of your trip?

Hmmmm… Torres del Paine was probably my favourite place. Best day’s walking was probably Laguna de los Tres (from El Chalten).

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Stunning viewpoint at end of Laguna de los Tres hike

Most incredible sight, probably the inside of a crevasse on the Viedma glacier.

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Inside a crevasse – Viedma Glacier

Penguins and sea otter on Chiloe were brilliant. I could go on, but then it’s not highlights any more!

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Magellanic Penguins of Chiloé

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

I think it’s well worth starting in Buenos Aires, as we did. It’s a great place to spend a couple of nights getting over the long flight, and if you change dollars at the blue rate there, you’ll get much more for your money throughout the rest of your Argentinian trip.

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Places to Eat in Chalten

On Harriet’s recent trip to Chalten she was on a mission to sample as many restaurants as she could. Here she takes you through the various options.

Techado Negro

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This slightly tumble down restaurant with its brightly coloured walls prepares wonderful, wholesome, home cooked food. If you are looking for a taste of home then head here for homemade pasta, fish, milanesas or salads.

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Look out for their excellent value menu del dia (menu of the day) with generous portions. This is also a great amount of choice for vegetarians .

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Hosteria Senderos

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If you’re looking for a bit of a splurge then head to Hosteria Senderos . For a mouth watering steak try the Bife de Chorizo, or trout or local lamb.

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The chef knows how to work local ingredients into delicious treats and the waiter will tempt you with a a wide selection of Argentine wines.

Cervecería Artesanal El Chaltén

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This tiny little beer house is so snug and cosy that you may find it hard to get a seat and may end up sharing a table with others. Come early or persevere and you will be given a choice of delicious pizzas and pasta to accompany your home brew. The rustic wooden décor lends the bar a congenial atmosphere which is ideal for après-trek drinks.

La Tapera

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A rustic wooden eatery with seating around a fire pit. The tapas are yummy and the rest of the Argentine fare is hearty. Try stews, steaks or  nibbles washed down with Argentine wine.

Wafleria

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A map shop that serves Waffles is a dream come true for me. I sat planning my trekking routes with chocolate pouring down my chin. The gregarious waiters make this a great place for a savoury or sweet waffle whilst you wait for Fitzroy to appear from behind the clouds.

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Expect to feel a like guilty and gluttonous afterwards.

Panaderia Que Rica

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Before you head into the hills or on the bus to Calafate it is worth stocking your backpack with sandwiches, empanadas (savoury pasties), facturas (sweet pastries such as croissants) or alfajores (shortbread and caramel sandwich) from this heavenly bakery.

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Get there early before stocks sell out.

Self Catering in Chalten

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If you plan to self cater Chalten is not very well served. The small supermarkets of La Tostadora Moderna  on Avenida San Martin, El Gringuito on Cerro Solo  or El Super  on Avenida Lago del Desierto have a few offerings but try to shop in Calafate before you jump on the bus. For elusive vegetables and fruit head to the Verduleria on Cabo Garcia.

Other places that looked good:

La Estepa

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A good slightly more upmarket establishment with good food and excellent wines.

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Resto Patagonicus
Covered with photos of climbers and Chalten in years gone by. Tuck into argentine style pizzas, pastas and of course meat.

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Hotel Review: Cabañas Ricanor, Near Chalten

We drove for 45 minutes north from Chalten along a bumpy road. The Estancia Ricanor is a basic gaggle of cabanas set in the woods and with views of Cerro Electrico and Cerro Fitzroy. The cabanas are great for groups of 4 or a couple with a guide. They consist of a communal sitting, dining and kitchen, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom. The decor is a little dated and the cabanas feel aged but the setting is beautiful. They are great base for day hikes in the  Huemules reserve where you will find quiet and magical treks .

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We bought all our food and drink with us and this is recommendable as the selection at the campsite is not huge. The kitchen is stocked with pans, cutlery and crockery and we whizzed up a mean pasta dish and drank beer cooled in the fridge.

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The cabanas provided all our basic needs, comfy beds, clean linen and towels, hot shower and a kitchen for self catering.  I felt very much at home but this is functional and far from luxurious accommodation. The radiator looked slightly terrifying so it is a good idea to get your guide or the receptionist to turn that on for you.
On site there is also space for camping and a restaurant with pastas and milanesas (breaded meat).

Top Tip : Visit the Cerveceria before you head here so you can fill the fridge with local beers.

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Hotel Review: Hosteria Senderos, Chalten

Of all the places I stayed in Chalten on my recent trip this place had the friendliest staff. You are greeted by beaming smiles and the reception/dining area is stylish with large sofas to lounge and large windows. The interior is all made of varnished wood and this hotel definitely feels stylish. After this excellent intro the rooms actually feel quite small.

My room was in the eaves of the hotel and had views of Fitzroy and Cerro Solo (and would have had views of Torre). Once again the varnished wood interior gave a stylish feel and there were plenty of lights, sockets and functional furnishings such as drawers, hangers, a large side storage area under the window made good use of the small space.

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The breakfast was a huge buffet with fresh fruit salad, an array of cheeses and meats, croissant, breads and cereals.

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My only complaint would be the poky bathroom. Although the shower was hot and powerful it was quite a small space to shower in and if you were any taller it would be uncomfortable.

Top Tip – Eat at their wonderful restaurant. I ate in the restaurant in the evening and the food was excellent. The waiter went out of his way to be accommodating.

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The Estancia Peuma Hue

On Sally’s recent visit to the Argentinian Lake District, she stayed at the Estancia Peuma Hue enjoying the fine food, hiking trails, stunning scenery and utter tranquility. Read on for her review.

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Sitting on the shores of the glistening Gutierrez lake nestled between forested slopes and surrounded by jagged granite peaks, The Estancia Peuma Hue really is a place of dreams.

The main house of the estancia is just a stone’s throw from the beach which sweeps for 2 miles in front of the property. The water is icy cold so swimming is only for the bravest, but once you’ve taken the plunge it is a refreshing, invigorating satisfaction.

The 500 acres of the lodge includes the Southen end of the Cerro Catedral or Cathedral Mountain – aptly named because of its Dali like granite pinnacles. This side of the range is only accessible from the lodge and hiking trails have been marked by Evelyn, the lodge owner. You are unlikely to meet other hikers on the trails which gives you a definite sense of being ‘off the beaten track’ and makes for some excellent bird watching. Whilst out on the trails myself, I was able to get extremely close to a family of magellanic woodpeckers who continued their work totally undisturbed as I sat filming them.

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The Estancia is passionate about animals of all shapes and sizes. They have their own horses that graze in the field in front which guests can ride and a gaggle of friendly dogs that love nothing better than accompanying guests on their hikes.

It wasn’t unusual to see Austral Parakeets flying over head, ashy headed geese out on the grass feasting on the fallen apples, dark bellied cinclodes on the beach and southern lapwings and black faced ibis on the grass in front.

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On arrival guests are given an introductory briefing about the different excursion options available to them and are well and truly made to feel at home. From the moment I arrived I felt like I had entered somewhere very special and was eager to head out and explore the beauty that lay outside.

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The Trails

The trails have been separated into 4 trails of different lengths and difficulty which can be combined to create 1 full day hike or 2 half day hikes. These trails can all be done self guided as they have handily been marked by different coloured ribbons on the trees which represent the different colours on the hand drawn map which you’ll be given on arrival.

The trails all start from the western side of the property and head up into Cerro Catedral which does mean that they start with an inevitable uphill. The shortest trail, the orange trail named ‘Camino del Jabali’ is a great one to do on the day you arrive to stretch your legs and get a feel for the place and surroundings; this trail is just a short 3 kms but affords lovely views back onto the Estancia and lake shore.

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The blue trail, named ‘Jacuzzi Falls’ is the longest and steepest of the trail and takes you up high above the estancia to give great views back on the Gutierrez lake and the estancia and valley far below. The trail continues up to a wonderful view point out over the Jacuzzi Fall. This trail is only 6.2kms but due to the gradient will take 3-3.5hrs.

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The remaining 2 trails, the pink and yellow, ‘Hilltop and Mirador Claussen’ can be tagged onto the blue trail or done separately. They lead to trails south of the estancia, with an initial climb then quite flat and give great views of the southern Mascardi Lake and southern mountains.

As I was visiting during the first days of Autumn, the lenga beach forests were starting to change colours which created some incredible shades of orange and red across the mountains which combined with the volcanic snow-less peaks in the distance and gave the foreground and background vibrant, unusual colourings.

Other Activities

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Whilst staying at the lodge, guests can spend their days riding the horses, guided, in the surrounding hills and valleys. They cater for complete beginners to more advanced riders.

There are kayaks which can be taken out on the lake and they even have a boat which can take the less adventurous out for a spin. These are all included in the price of your stay. Additionally guests can pay to take a day out fly fishing with an expert guide or perhaps take a hike up high over the ridge of the Cathedral Mountain.

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Gourmet Food

I was taken aback by the quality, variety and finesse of the meals I was served; even the pic-nic lunch was 5*! I was served delicious fish, juicy steaks, hearty soups, local craft beer, full bodied wine and the best breakfast of my whole 3 week trip. For the food alone I would return time and time again.

The owners are very involved with the day to day running of the Estancia and in the evening when the guests gather for a drink they personally come to chat with the guests, a really lovely touch. If you are looking to relax after a challenging hike in the south or perhaps looking for somewhere to enjoy a variety of activities from a luxury, cosy base then the Estancia Peuma Hue should not be missed.

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As I drove away, back onto the main road to Bariloche airport, I was saddened that I had to leave but full of gratitude to have been fortunate enough to have experienced such a truly unique, spellbinding place.

 

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Hotel Review: Kaulem Hosteria, Chalten

Kaulem is a cosy hotel with just 4 rooms set around a spacious sitting room and dining area. It feels more like a house than a hotel and the reception staff will make you feel instantly welcome. The art of local artists hangs on the walls and the cosy setting means that you will easily make friends with your fellow guests.

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In the morning, I drew back the curtain to views of Cerro Fitzroy and then sat guzzling my yoghurt with fruit and granola from the breakfast bar gazing at ‘Fitz’. Eggs and toast and a range of spreads were also available.

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My room accommodated a king size bed without feeling too snug but was not overly spacious. The ceilings rise up to the eaves of the building and give the room more breathing space and there are photos of local wildlife on the walls.

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Buenos Aires Graffiti Tour

Swoop’s own Sally finished off her most recent trip to Chile and Argentina with a few days to see what was hot, new and happening in the the hustle and bustle of Buenos Aires.
She checked out new hotels, enjoyed some wine tasting and here she tells us about her experience of doing a city tour with a difference – a Graffiti Tour.

The tour took in the gritty southern neighbourhoods of La Boca and Barracas allowing us to see a very different side to Buenos Aires to the leafy streets of Palermo or the elaborate facades of Recoleta. It certainly took us to places that we’d never have got to on our own.

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The tour managed to incorporate fascinating street art, big and small, local politics, national history and even some quirky snippets of cultural history which you certainly wouldn’t read about in your average guide book. I even got a basic introduction into how graffiti works and its lingo – tags, blows and many more!

The guide, Cecilia, really made the tour. She was extremely informative, passionate and was able to give anecdotes about the artists which really brought the murals to life. Her way of explaining history and politics was interesting and easy to follow.

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It isn’t a tour that is going to take you to the Obelisc or the Plaza de Mayo, you aren’t going to be told about the founding of Buenos Aires, nor a complete history of the city or Argentina. What you are given though is an alternative city tour, gaining in depth information into some aspects of Argentine history, through the context of the street art that you are seeing.

Beginning in La Boca she explained about the immigration of the early 1900′s, how La Boca came to be, and the background behind the photogenic ‘El Caminito’. Using the different art pieces Cecile explained about the history of expression and repression during the Military Dictatorship of the 70’s and 80’s and the return to democracy. Once in Barracas she even touched upon the economic crash of 2001.

For many, this form of associating historical facts and events with incredibly powerful, visual art is a far more interesting and memorable way to get to grips with the complicated and fascinating history of Argentina.

My top 5 pieces of art seen were….

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1) Up a back street in La Boca was an enormously powerful mural in memory of the 30,000 disappeared during the Military Dictatorship. The piece showed names of those that were never found, drawings of faces and a ‘Mothers of May’ grief stricken, claiming her dead husband, father or son. Hugely emotive.

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2) The Globe – I found this fascinating as I couldn’t and still can’t decide if the people are spinning in or spinning out. What do you think?

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3) The Bikes – lining the walls of Barracas where lines and lines of these delightful bicycles.

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4) The Turtle – artistically incredible.

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5) The History of La Boca with their tin houses, firefighters and the cargo bridge – a symbol of the area.

If you’re looking for a fun, interesting way to get under the skin of this fascinating, vibrant, sometimes restless city and learn a little about the Porteños themselves, then this graffiti tour will be an excellent addition to your itinerary.

Ask the Swoop team to find out more.

 

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The King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego

King Penguins are the second largest of all penguin species after the Emperor Penguin, growing up to 100cm in height, and weighing up to 38lbs. They are very similar in appearance to the Emperor Penguin, although their breeding grounds rarely overlap, and are certainly among the most beautiful of the breeds.

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They have beautifully coloured dark orange cheeks, a white belly, and grey/black backs that are lighter than most other penguins. Youngsters look very similar, but with lighter plumage and colouring (see photo below). Adults can rear a maximum of 2 chicks every 3 years, and no other bird has a longer breeding cycle! They take 14-16 months to fledge a single chick, which may be left to fast for up to 5 months during winter (May- September).

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Few places in the world offer the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in the wild, and the colony near to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego is particularly special in that it is the only breeding colony outside of the Sub-Antarctic Islands of South Georgia and the Falklands.

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The Porvenir colony has a very interesting history: there are archaeological sites in the area containing remains of human settlements dating back 6,000 years, amongst which the bones of King Penguins have been found as both prey and tools, showing that they were present here as far back as prehistoric times! The colony is thought to have left the region not long after the arrival of humans who were hunting and sheep farming in the area, and only returned some ten years ago. They are now increasing in number year on year, and have now begun courting and breeding here. They now reach over 100 in number (Feb 2015), and the colony is expected to continue growing.

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There are a few options for visiting this colony, the simplest and cheapest being a full 15 hour day trip (07:00 – 22:00).  On this trip, as well as spending some quality time with the Penguins, and learning about the history and culture of the area,  you’ll get to visit one of the most mystical islands of Patagonia, the ancestral land of the Selk-Nam, where you will experience the vastness of the southern skies, the wind of the pampas, and the history and culture of the region. You also go in search of a range of other species including the White Rumped Sandpiper, the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, and a variety of pelagic species crossing the historical Strait of Magellan, such as the Black-browed Albatros, and visit the towns of Porvenir and Cerro Sombrero, ending with the ultimate reward of some quality time quietly observing the stunning King Penguins as they go about their business! 

Find out more about visiting the King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego.

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Other options are available, for example a 2 day trip specially designed for serious photographers and those looking for more field time with the penguins, and longer trips that incorporate penguin spotting into longer wildlife itineraries for example, Whale Watching and Puma Tracking!

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Read more about other ways to see Penguins in Patagonia.

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Photos Courtesy of Big Sur.