Category Archives: Things to do

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Things to do in Punta Arenas

There are many interesting sights and activities in and around Punta Arenas, and here we’ve gathered together a few ideas for things to see and do in this wonderful city…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mirador Cerro de la Cruz

For a stunning panoramic view of the city, the straight of Magellan, and the island of Tierra del Fuego in the distance, climb to Mirador La Cruz Hill Viewpoint (Mirador Cerro de la Cruz). This spot is just a ten-minute walk from Plaza de Armas (Plaza Muñoz Gamero) and is one of the most iconic places in the city, particularly beautiful at night.

Plaza Muñoz Gamero

The Central Plaza in Punta Arenas: Muñoz Gamero, and it’s surrounding area is an interesting place to visit, with many beautiful buildings to take in, including the government buildings and cathedral. For some good luck on your trip, rub or kiss the toe of the statue of the indigenous Ona man in the centre of the Plaza!

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Punta Arenas Cemetery

It might sound strange to visit a graveyard on your holiday, but this cemetery dates back to 1840′s, and is internationally famous for its magnificent mausoleums, beautiful European architecture, and perfectly shaped pine trees.

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Many local aristocratic families and European immigrants are buried here, particularly English and Croatians. We’d definitely recommend a visit!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Museums

The following are Swoop’s top four recommendations for Museums to visit in Punta Arenas…

-Palacio Mauricio Braun, Magallanes 949

This palatial mansion houses a regional history museum, which shows great evidence of the wealth and power that Punta Arenas had in its hay day (perhaps not so obvious today). The house’s original owners, the Brauns, were a family of huge importance throughout the Southern Patagonian region. The museum is divided into two sections, one displaying regional history and the other displays the families original opulent furnishings.

(Open Mon-Sat 10:30 – 17:00; Sundays & Public Holidays 10:30 – 14:00;  Entrance $1,000)

-Museo Regional Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello, Av. Bulnes 336

This museum is considered one of the most complete on the natural and human history of Patagonia. On its four stories it houses collections of stuffed animals, history of the indigenous inhabitants of the region, displays on missionary history, Antarctica and its explorations.

(Open Tues – Sun 10:00 – 12:30 / 15:00 – 17:30; Closed on Mondays;  Entrance CLP$2,000)

-National Maritime Museum, Av. Pedro Montt 981

An in-depth look into the extensive maritime history of Chile. The museum also has specific displays on the War of the Pacific (1879) and its great naval hero Arturo Pratt.

(Open daily 09:30 – 12:30 / 14:00 – 17:00;  Entrance CLP$1,000)

-Museo de Recuerdo, Av Bulnes 01890

The Patagonian Institute (Instituto de la Patagonia) houses the Museo del Recuerdo, with a collection of antique farm and industrial machinery imported from Europe, a typical pioneer

house and shearing shed (both reconstructed), and a wooden-wheeled trailer that served as shelter for shepherds. The library also has a display of historical maps and a series of historical and scientific publications. Best to take a taxi.

(Open Mon – Fri 08:30 – 12:00 / 14:30 – 18:00; Sat 08:30 – 12:00; Closed Sundays; Entrance CLP$1,000)
Austral Brewery, 508 Patagona St. 

This is the southernmost brewery in the world, where you can learn about the production process of the traditional Austral beer (the most popular beer in this part of the country) and enjoy a beer tasting session.

Shepherd’s Monument

This traditional monument is located in Bulnes Avenue, 11 blocks away from Plaza de Armas, and is one of the many iconic places of the city.

Places to Avoid

We’d recommend avoiding Zona Franca if you can it is a very commercial shopping experience although seemingly popular with the locals!

For more information of trips and excursions from Punta Arenas contact us at advice@swooptravel.co.uk

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Patagonia Trekking: April Update

We have a number of people asking about treks in April and with fewer scheduled departures going on at this time in the ‘shoulder’ season we thought it might be helpful to share details of a few guaranteed trips, and a few provisional trips going on.

 April is in the Austral Autumn so you can expect shorter days, and cooler temperatures but also fantastic autumn colours and fewer people in the national parks.

Where dates are provisional please do let us know if they might be of interest and if it would be helpful to move the trip forward or backward by a couple of days.

In Torres del Paine…

Thomas cochrane Winter W The following W Trek trips are confirmed and guaranteed:

  1.  Original W Trek, 5 days, starting on 15th April from Puerto Natales
  2.  This ‘eco’ camp option, 7 days, starting on 7th, 14th and 21st April.

We also have some provisional dates where private groups might be open to others joining, or we have people interested but are yet to guarantee the group…

  1. W trek, with an off-the-beaten-track twist (12th-17th Apr) and a 2 day kayak trip (18-19th April)  - a pretty challenging expedition, only for experienced outdoors people.
  2. Original W Trek, 5 days, starting 29th March and 22nd April.

Please see our Map of Torres del Paine

In El Chalten/FitzRoy Massif…

Ali Habbtar Viedma Glacier from Paso Huemul

The following trip is confirmed and guaranteed…

  1. Los Glaciares experience with a visit to the Perito Moreno glacier, day hikes and ice hiking on the Viedma glacier, from 7th to 11th April.

We also have some provisional dates where private groups might be open to others joining, or we have people interested but are yet to guarantee the group…

  1.  A challenging 3-4 day trek along lines of http://www.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/huemul-circuit/ in the first/second week of April.
  2.  A longer but equally challenging 6-7 day trek along lines of http://www.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/complete-chalten-trek/from 12th – 18th April.

Please see our Map of El Chalten.

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Become a Patagonian Gaucho with these horse riding trips.

A unique way to experience Patagonia is on horseback , you’ll see the sights of Patagonia from the viewpoint of a gaucho and have a truly one of a kind experience.
We have a number of great horse riding trips throughout February,March and April.
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Firstly take a look at the Estancia ride: A 10 day trip that allows you to experience gaucho life, spending each night at different Patagonian Estancias. It’s great for people who prefer not to camp and are up for spending long hours in the saddle and is best suited for experienced riders that are up for some fast and technical riding throughout the Patagonian mountains and pampas.

We have availability for trips starting on 19th February, 4th March and 19th March 2014.

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For something a bit more challenging there’s Riding to Glaciers with Gauchos.
This trip is run by incredibly experienced horse riding specialists from the area. It is a trip for experienced riders that are up for a real adventure in the Patagonian wilderness. You’ll get to see some of the very best of Torres del Paine National Park and camp underneath the stars like true Gauchos.As well as horse riding you will take a fabulous boat trip that travels up the Last Hope Sound and you will get a chance to see some of the other wildlife Patagonia has to offer as well as the Balmaceda Glacier before docking at the Serrano Glacier.

We have availability for this incredible trip from on the 2nd February and 2nd March.

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We also have a spectacular horse moving ride that includes 3 days riding alongside free-running horses, where you’ll get the chance to see parts of Patagonia that not many people get to see. The route takes you across Torres del Paine , through the lush greens of the south to the dry pampas of the north, all on horse-back. You’ll be staying overnight at estancias adding to the authenticity of the trip.
We have availability for this once in a lifetime trip for the 2nd April 2014.

If you are interested in any of these trips get in touch with us and start your gaucho adventure.

10 Days in Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine

Este recently returned from her trip to Patagonia where she spent 5 days hiking in El Chalten followed by 5 days hiking and kayaking in Torres del Paine using Eco Camp Patagonia as a base. Here she tells us about her adventures and gives us some really great feedback on the local operators and us here at Swoop Patagonia!

‘Thank you everyone for all your help letting me have the trip of a lifetime… it really was a trip of a lifetime!!’

How did Swoop do?

Had it not been for you guys, this trip would never have happened for me and I am really grateful towards you guys!

I had contacted 2 other travel agencies prior to getting in touch with Swoop Travel and neither of them would assist me because I wanted to visit in September, and because I wanted to string together shorter excursions as opposed to doing one longer trip.

If Swoop Travel had turned me away I would have given up on the trip all together, so thank you Chloe and Luke for referring me to your partners! I really appreciate all you help and assistance with my many emails and questions!

How were our Partners in Patagonia?

I had an excellent time in El Calafate and El Chalten! Even now, days later, I am still speechless about everything I saw and experienced…I will have to return to El Calafate and El Chalten again!

Pedro, my guide in El Chalten was very informative and patient with me taking photos of everything… I would highly recommend him. He not only answered all of my questions but also shared funny stories from previous experiences.

Chilé rocked! Ecocamp was great, not only the excursions, but I have an additional 2kg to show for the great food I had there..!

All of the guides and staff were professional, knowledgeable and informative, and went the extra mile to arrange a kayaking trip for me, which truly was a dream come true!

I did find Ecocamp’s itinerary very rigid, they keep you busy the whole day. I did appreciate it, but I think it can get tiring after 3 days. At some points you just want to kick your feet up and be in the moment.

Highlight of the Trip

Definitely the Perito Moreno Glacier and Grey Glacier! (And hikes… and kayaking!)

Any Tips for Other Travellers?

I found all the places extremely foreigner-friendly. I would really recommend that someone have a semi-rigid itinerary, but allow equal time for unplanned excursions like going to the Glaciarium and Ice Bar, or just strolling around the wetlands in El Calafate. El Chalten is also very solo-hiker friendly.

I would emphasize that if someone wants to experience the nature in full, they rather go in September. Most restaurants aren’t open in El Chalten at this time, but it’s a good thing. The places that cater for the locals are open. I did a full day solo hike and only saw one other hiker in the distance…I never crossed anyone on the path and this was great!

I also noticed that a lot of people catch the 08h00 bus from El Calafate to El Chalten and return the same day at 18h00 which I wouldn’t recommend. I decided to sleep over and catch the 18h00 bus on the following day, you miss too much if you stay for only a couple of hours.

Would You Have Done Anything Differently?

There honestly isn’t a thing I would change on my itinerary. If I had an additional day to work with I would have liked to stay one day in Puerto Natales. Lonely Planet did not speak very highly of the town and they don’t recommend staying over there, but I was in the town for only an hour and thought it might be worth checking out in the future.

4 Exciting Ways to Explore Torres del Paine

If you’re planning an adventure itinerary in Patagonia that takes in Torres del Paine, you will be looking forward to a hike that will take you through some of the world’s most spectacular scenery. The area is famed for its trekking and the popular W and full circuit routes both provide challenging hikes that reward you with beautiful views.

Ice Hiking in Patagonia

What most people don’t realise, however, is that the Torres del Paine’s activity offering doesn’t stop at walking. With kayaking, horse riding, ice hiking and mountain biking on offer, we look at how you can use these to explore some of the most remote parts of the national park.

Kayaking

You can spend days paddling along isolated rivers, winding your way through icebergs, taking you to some of the most otherwise-inaccessible glaciers. From the fast-flowing waters of the Serrano to the serenity of the Last Hope Sound Fjord, there is kayaking in Patagonia to suit all levels and whether you want to camp out under the stars or have the luxury of spending the night sleeping on a boat, you can find a tailored kayaking trip to suit you.

Horse Riding

This is great for people who fancy a real adventure in the Patagonian wilderness. In days that can include up to 8 hours of tough riding, you will have an authentic and adventurous experience where you might just come across wild criollo horses and meet gauchos who live in the hills of the Torres del Paine.

Mountain Biking

In the Northern part of the park along Lago Paine there is over 30km of single track mountain biking, where Patagonian cowboys traditionally travelled. This is also one of the least frequented areas of the park, with only 5% of park visitors making it there, so you will be able to appreciate the stunning scenery at your own pace.

Ice Hiking

Without crampons and ice-axes many of the national park’s most beautiful locations are off limits. Luckily, you don’t have to be an expert in ice-climbing to take on the glaciers. If you have a reasonable level of fitness and an adventurous attitude, there are plenty of guides who will help you discover the glaciers of Torres del Paine while ice hiking.

With the huge range of activities on offer, it can be hard to know where to start planning your trip. We run trips with set itineraries for small groups of 2 – 8 people, or we can help you plan your perfect tailor-made itinerary using our recommended local tour providers, at no extra cost. Get in touch for help planning your adventure.

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Things to Do and Places to Stay in Buenos Aires

As it’s our favourite place to stop off on the way to Patagonia, we thought we’d recommend a couple of hotels and a couple of things to do if you’re planning to visit Buenos Aires on your way down south. Luke and I have stayed at several hotels such as this tango-themed Mansion Dandi Royal hotel in San Telmo with impressive decor throughout. I thought it was cool but it’s not to everyone’s taste and it can be a little bit noisier in the evenings when the tango academy is in full swing on the lower ground floor.

We’ve got some clients going to stay at Casa de las Canitas, which looks like a quiet tranquil spot in the heart of a really fun and leafy part of town: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g312741-d629309-Reviews-Casa_Las_Canitas_Hotel_Boutique-Buenos_Aires_Capital_Federal_District.html or if you want to treat yourselves a bit, there’s Legado Mitico which is a lovely art-themed hotel in the centre of Palermo: http://blog.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/193229-hotel-buenos-aires-legado-mitico-customer-review/

Aside from doing some of the touristy things like going to Plaza de Mayo and the Recoleta cemetery, you should go and take a walk around Puerto Madero, the port which was revamped a couple of years ago. It’s nice in the evening as it’s all lit up and again there are quite a few bars and restaurants. I’d definitely recommend spending time in Palermo, where there are great little boutique shops, fun bars and really nice restaurants with a good atmosphere, perfect for watching the world go by on a balmy Buenos Aires evening. In Palermo Viejo there’s the well known La Cabrera restaurant which is supposed to do some of the best steak in Bueno Aires (and I agree!)

If you would like to book a room at one of the hotels featured, we recommend booking.com as they tend to have the best rates available and they give Swoop a small commission!
Casa Las Canitas
Legado Mitico
Dandi Royal

We hope that gives you some food for thought…

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Why Cruceros Australis is a Must-Do on any trip to Patagonia

For many people, making sure to see all the highlights you read about in your travel guide is really important on a trip to Patagonia. And in general, we’d agree. Although the visit to Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the more touristy aspects of a trip, the sheer size and magnificence of Perito Moreno means it’s a fantastic way to start understanding Patagonia.

That is, if you can combine it with getting off the beaten track or seeing places that the average Joe just won’t reach. One of the most exciting ways of doing this is taking an Adventure Cruise along the Chilean coast. Cruceros Australis stops off at some of the most secluded bays and islands in Patagonia, where you can see penguins and sea lions and gaze at some of Patagonia’s most impressive glaciers. You’ll also sail along Glacier Alley, a fjord lined with 15 glaciers that can’t be seen from any other angle.

If you like the sound of leaving the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind you for a few days, have a look at our Patagonian cruises: start in Punta Arenas or in Ushuaia.

Apart from luxurious cabins, delicious meals and expert guides, on the cruise you’ll learn about the Yagahan people who inhabited Patagonia before they were wiped out by hunters, disease and a lack of seal blubber. For us, the combination of beautiful scenery, wildlife and history is truly a winning formula.

But our top 5 reasons for cruising with Cruceros are:
1) Cruceros Australis is the only cruise company which regularly travels throughout the season to Cape Horn, the last point before Antarctica.
2) Not only is the cruise a luxury experience, but an educational one too, with lecturers on board, and specialist, multi-lingual guides accompanying guests throughout the trip.
3)  You’ll sail through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, walk alongside the Pia Glacier; visit spectacular locations, see unique glaciers, flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.
5) See South American Sea lions, dolphins and numerous bird species, and have the chance to get up close and personal with Magellan penguins and elephant seals, in their natural habitats.

Kayaking in Torres del Paine National Park

 
 
Tim and Carla spent their honeymoon in Argentina and Chile mixing Buenos Aires luxury with trekking the W Circuit of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. They’ve been kind enough to share some of their experiences on the Swoop blog. This second post is about a their journey by kayak along the serene Rio Serrano and out of Torres del Paine.

Following the 4 days of trekking through the Torres Del Paine National Park, completing the W circuit, the thought of hopping in a kayak and paddling for 5 hours seemed slightly daunting! We left the stunning scenery of the Torres peaks in the background as we headed off in the beautiful sunshine to the start of the Serrano River. German (our very own hunter, gatherer and protector) supplied the dry suits and all the required equipment. The standard of equipment was first class and fitted perfectly although not the most fashionable! The initial trip meandered down the river for 1 hour before stopping for a homemade, light and much needed lunch. The wind was calm and the sun out, so we decided to make tracks as the forecast for the following day was less appealing!
 
Being the first trip of the season, the weather was a concern but we were very lucky! For the remaining 4 hours we paddled down the river in the most stunning scenery in the lea of the Torres Del Paine National Park and into the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. As dusk darkened the skies, we arrived at the overnight stop at the base of the Serrano glacier. Not the usual overnight camping spot. While Herman erected the tents, cooked dinner, lit a fire and generally allowed us to relax and absorb the scenery! Spectacular! The food was fantastic and again much needed and amazing what one man can do with a billy can and some pasta, especially given he had to carry it all day in my kayak! His kayak resembled Aladdin’s cave when unpacking with more items being pulled from all parts, including a chilled bottle of wine! 
 
After a good nights sleep (too tired to hear the constant cracking, gurgling and generally unerring noises from the enormous glacier behind our tent!) we again had a good breakfast and prepared to lift the canoes over to the lake. Unfortunately, with the strong winds and cold conditions the lake was full of icebergs and impassable with kayaks. We had to settle with a walk to within 30 metres of the face and a jaw dropping sight of the glacier up close and personal!! 
 
The trip was completed with a boat trip home (too far to kayak after all the food) and a stop over at an estancion for a lamb asado with a Pisco sour en route! A perfect way to finish a fantastic short but inspiring trip. A highlight of our honeymoon. 
 

Hiking and ice trekking around Mount FitzRoy

In November 2011 Sarah, Amy and Felix flew into El Calafate for 5 days in Patagonia and went hiking and glacier trekking in the area around Mount FitzRoy. They were kind enough to send some photos and share some thoughts on ther trip, and on Walk Patagonia who supported them.
 
 
What did you think of Patagonia?

We had a fantastic time trekking (and ice trekking!) in Patagonia. The hikes themselves were just what we were after both in terms of the actual hiking and the landscapes (apart from the snow storms, though there’s obviously not much that can be done about those!). What a stunning part of the world.


How was your guide?
 
The guide Zoe provided for us, Peru, was fabulous – his English was very good, he was very knowledgeable about the area and was fun company.
 
What was the top highlight?
 
The whole experience!

What do you think of the operator that Swoop Patagonia recommended?
 
We thought Walk Patagonia were great. We were also very impressed by the little extras from Zoe – the very tasty pack lunches, the good recommendations for eating, driving us to and from the bus station, obtaining extra gear, meeting us on the trail when our friend hurt his ankle, the suprise bottle of wine when we went camping and always being super friendly and helpful. 

Things to do in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Ushuaia is a great place to visit and we often find that clients spend at least a couple of days there and sometimes longer. Although many operators there prefer to run multi-activity day tours which are easy to manage and mean they aren’t involved in providing accommodation, there are certain operators of longer adventures which take you trekking in Tierra del Fuego, out into the mountains surrounding Ushuaia.

Whilst I was in Ushuaia in October 2011, I spent a day in Tierra del Fuego National Park, doing the coastal trek offered by one of our Argentinian partners. Although it was a very enjoyable 3-hour hike, with pretty bays, a lenga forest and mountains as a backdrop, it wasn’t as spectacular as some of the mountain ranges surrounding Ushuaia. If I’d have planned more carefully, I would definitely have undertaken a longer tour that would have allowed me to get out into the mountains and lakes of Tierra del Fuego and further away from the city. But it has to be said that it would have been a lovely excursion if I had just been there for the day.

It’s also worth noting that only part of Tierra del Fuego National Park is open to visitors. This means that during high season, the park is often full of bus loads of tourists on conventional tours, (e.g the tourist trap; Tren Fin del Mundo) stopping at the local Lago Roca cafe for food and drinks before returning to Ushuaia. In this sense, it’s definitely best to do the coastal route if you want to avoid bumping into them.

Perhaps some of the most adventurous routes off the beaten track are far away from the national park. One of the most exciting in my opinion and described as ‘one of the most beautiful trails that can you can do in South America’ by the operator is this Crossing Tierra del Fuego Adventure. In 7 days you’ll cross the French and Cinco Hermanos Pass, places which few other travellers get to. En route you’ll trek through forests, see wild guanacos and camp in the wilderness. Some beautiful spots visited on the itinerary include Lago Fagnano (an enormous lake to the north of Ushuaia which stretches some 61 miles) and the famous Beagle Channel, through which Darwin sailed in 1833.

 

 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a shorter hiking trip, we recommend three days trekking around Ushuaia in the Andorra Valley on this Trek in and Around Ushuaia trip. You’ll have fantastic views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel – as evidenced by this photo below, and you’ll ascend to 1,300 metres up Mount Falso Tonelli. This trip allows you to hike through Tierra del Fuego’s lush green forests, see its turquoise lakes and rivers and also experience it’s towering peaks in the space of just 3 days. If you are still yearning to see a bit more of Tierra del Fuego, why not add on a boat trip in the Beagle Channel to see penguins or a 1-day tour of the national park.

 

Hotels

Hunting for hotels in Ushuaia can be difficult, particularly if you don’t have a good idea of the geography of the place. Ushuaia has a wealth of accommodation to offer, but unfortunately due its remoteness, prices tend to be high. I’ve stayed in three hotels in Ushuaia and would recommend them all. To find availability for my recommended hotels, click the links below or alternatively search for other hotels in Ushuaia.

 

Hotel Alto Andino is my first choice as it’s in the very centre of town, close to the harbour, restaurants and shops. It also means it’s easier for the operator to locate you when they pick you up before your hike. Alto Andino is modern, with wifi, tv, comfortable beds with a filling breakfast included.

 

Secondly, about 10 minutes walk out of the centre is Hotel Las Lengas, based further up the hill looking down onto town and with some partial views of the Beagle Channel. A circular glass restaurant allows you to look out over Ushuaia during breakfast and the food is delicious. Rooms again are comfortable (and have been recently refurbished) with tv, wifi but only 1 plug socket available in the room!

 

Finally, if you’re looking to pay less, it’s probably best to stay outisde town. Hotel Tierra de Leyendas is a 15 minute taxi drive out of Ushuaia but a very warm, friendly, comfortable place to stay, it’s more like a huge b&b than a hotel and the owner used to work at the Marriott in Buenos Aires as head chef, so do try the food!