Category Archives: Commentary

ODILE SOFA VALPO

Valparaiso and the Palacio Astoreca Hotel

Odile works with some of the top hotels in Chile. Here she shares her thoughts on one of her favourite cities in Chile and the new Palacio Astoreca Hotel there.

ODILE SOFA VALPO

How do you know Valparaiso?

I am half Chilean & lived in Chile for many years, Valparaiso is the first place I would take any of my friends visiting from abroad!

Is it easy to get there from Santiago airport?

It’s only an hour away from Santiago airport and 1,5 hours away from the city. You can easily find a private transfer that will take you to Valparaíso from the airport.

How would you spend your perfect 24 hours there?

As the historical quarters of Valparaíso and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cerro Alegre is the place to be. It is the perfect place to go for a wander, there are little maps on every street corner showing the most scenic routes where you can discover the street art Valparaíso is so famous for.

Walk through the famous Yugoslavo pedestrian walk, stopping at the Fine Arts Museum at Barburizza Palace en route, as well as at any café that is bound to have a very Bohemian and quirky vibe as most of the city does. Take the funiculars to move around the hills as the locals do and definitely visit the famous house/museum of the chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

Remember to take LOTS of pictures, Valparaíso is an open invitation for snap happy people!  

You’ll probably need a good massage after a day out and about on the colourful hillsides!! I would find a place to enjoy the view of the sun setting on the pacific ocean with a glass of pisco sour (the national drink) on a terrace and head out for dinner with lots of fresh sea food (there is a wide, very good, gastronomic offer) and finish at a live music bar! 

Tell us about the Astoreca. What makes it special?

Palacio Astoreca is a Victorian mansion built in 1923 and restored into a boutique hotel which opened in Sept 2013. It is located in the prime location of Cerro Alegre just on top of the funicular El Peral. It has just become a member of Relais & Châteaux so it’s safe to say it’s the best option in town!

It has a very eclectic bohemian chic style mixing old and new, full of colours and art, with a wonderful spa and the best possible view from the terrace. Plus it has an amazing restaurant called Alegre, led by Spanish chef Sergio Barroso who worked at El Bulli amongst others, the 11 course tasting menu is absolutely a must.

What are the top 3 things you think a first time visitor shouldn’t miss?

  1. Walking around Valparaíso Cerro Alegre Hill & taking lots of pictures of the street art
  2. I’m the biggest fan of the house of Pable Neruda, it’s my personal favourite of the 3
  3. The sunset with a glass of wine or Pisco Sour

ODILE VALPO

Why do we do what we do?

This is what it’s all about…

[we recently contacted someone to ask about their trip - and have received the following reply...]

Luke and Charlotte – Hi!
 
Probably better if we talk as I can’t express my exuberance well enough by e mail to say we had a fantastic time in Patagonia both walking and paddling.  Not a complaint or criticsm of any sort but plenty of groans from my joints and me because every muscle aches.
 
The guys you work for are FANTASTIC and provide a faultless and very wonderful service.
 
It’s impossible to express the brilliance of teh whole holiday!
 
Thanks for all you did,

Our friends and family may think that we’re just in it for the trips to Patagonia, but reading emails like this makes us very happy indeed

:-)

Fire in Torres del Paine: Update 2nd Jan

[Latest update 27th Jan: Patricio Salinas, Regional President of CONAF announced on Twitter on 27th Jan: @Pato_Salinas 'Catamaran's working, refugio Paine Grande open but not at full capacity, Refugio Grey open, Valley Frances and the rest of the park is normal']

[Update as of 25th Jan - Torres del Paine reopens fully: http://chile.travel/en/news/parque-nacional-torres-del-paine-reabre-todas-sus-zonas-tura-sticas.html]

[Latest update as of 13th January: Sernatur released information about open routes at 9th January (in Spanish) http://www.sernatur.cl/noticias/rutas-turisticas-disponibles-en-parque-nacional-torres-del-paine

We also have a map of the affected areas in the park as of 7th January:

[interim update at 6th January: the majority of the park has re-opened as anticipated, but the French Valley is currently closed to tourists. Further updates to follow.]

[latest information from the Chilean Tourist Board: http://www.sernatur.cl/torres-del-paine-update/situacion-en-torres-del-paine]

 

Following on from our original announcement about the fire in Torres del Paine, there’s now further clarity and some positive news:

The President has announced that the northern part of the park that has not been affected by the fire (including the majority of the ‘W Circuit’) wil reopen on Wednesday.

source: http://www.elpatagonico.cl/?p=27871

This map shows clearly the area affected by the fire. You’ll note that the main trekking area is to the north of Lago Nordenskjold.

Source: http://especiales.latercera.cl/INFOGRAFIAS/2012/incendio.html

What has happened to the Eastern shore of Lago Grey (the western strand of the W Circuit), and the southern part of the park is a terrible tragedy. However, it’s a blessing that the two other strands of the W Circuit (French Valley and Ascensio Valley) are unaffected.

Latest estimates are that 13,000 hectares of the park have been affected. In total the park covers over 240,000 hectares. So whilst the news is devasting it’s good to know that visitors will still be able to enjoy the majority of what this incredible destination has to offer.

More updates will follow.

Fire in Torres del Paine

[please also see our update on 2nd January]

I’m very sad to say that a fire broke out in Torres del Paine at 7pm on Tuesday (27th December).

At the time of writing this post this is the most up to date and reliable reference point I have but things are changing quite rapidly.

http://www.sernatur.cl/noticias/ministro-del-interior-entrego-los-ultimos-antecedentes-del-incendio-forestal-en-torres-del-paine

In summary:

  • 1,500 hectares have been effected by the fire
  • The Chilean government are treating it very seriously and sending in firefighters from several brigades, and are supported by the Chilean army
  • 400 hikers have been moved to safety
  • the trails in the western part of the park have been temporarily closed
  • There have been no casualties

The fire started on the Eastern edge of the Grey lake and initially it seemed that is was relatively isolated (with only 15 hectares reported effected in the initial reports). Although around 20 people in the Grey area were moved to safety the majority of the park was unaffected.

However the strong Patagonia winds (reportedly up to 90km/h in the last few days) and the steep and rugged terrain have made it very difficult to contain and fight and it has spread quickly.

Five years ago a Czech hiker admitted to accidentally starting a fire that englufed the East of the park when he used his gas stove in an unauthorised area. Now, it seems people suspect human causes for this fire as well.

A guide with one group of Swoop clients has had to adapt their itinerary. We hope no others will be effected, but this is a very popular time to visit Torres del Paine.

All updates welcomed in the comments below.

Updates from Luke:

This is a helpful map of the area affected: http://www.latercera.com/multimedia/interactivo/2011/12/687-38825-4-incendio-forestal-en-torres-del-paine.shtml

Latest understanding at very end of day on 30th December is that the park may be closed for at least one week, possibly the whole of January.

Cost of a holiday to Patagonia: macroeconomic influences

 

With all the excitement of the Eurozone crisis and the extraordinary economic climate currently I decided it was time to dust off my old undergraduate textbooks on International Economics. I had intended to re-build a deep understanding of the influences on exchange rate movements, and critique the different theories on the competitive advantage of nations. In the end I decide to settle on 3 more down to earth questions:

  1. Will Argentinian inflation mean more expensive trips in the future?
  2. Why do Chilean opertors sometimes charge for their trips in Chilean Pesos when US dollars are the norm?
  3. Should we expect the dollar to pound exchange rate to impact the cost of Patagonian holidays for UK travellers?

First of some high level data points:

Some people ask me why trips to Patagonia are more expensive than, say the Himalayas. Some of the answer lies above!

So, question number one: with Argentinian inflation running at 10% (and twice that of the UK) can we expect the cost of holidays in Argentina to increase?

Answer: NO. Exchange rate movements (the devaluation of the Argentine Peso (ARS)) have meant that much of the inflation effect is kept in check. I think i may have referred to this effect as Purchasing Power Parity when I was at university.

 

Question number two: Is the Chilean Peso following the same trend as the Argentinian Peso? And why are Chilean trips often charged in local currency while others are charged in US dollars?

Answer: NO. The exchange rate of the Chilean Peso is far more volatile and, if anything, the trend is going in the other direction.


Question number three: Given that the majority of trips to Patagonia are priced in US dollars are exchange rates relative to the Pound going to have a meaningful impact on prices for UK travellers?

Answer: I don’t know! The dollar:pound exchange rate has been stable for the last couple of years, but in the current climate who know what might happen next.

Overall, what can we expect? I suspect more volatility and lots of unknowns, but the good news is that there’s no obvious underlying trend towards an increase in the real price of Patagonian holidays for UK travellers.

Cost of a Patagonia Holiday

We’re often asked to help people with the budgets for their trips, and help them understand whether (with all the different factors and variables) a trip is at the ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive’ end of the spectrum. So I thought it was time to try and answer the all important question: how much will my Adenture Holiday in Patagonia cost me?

We’ve looked at a variety of trips and options and worked out the average cost per night, to give you an idea how much you might budget for an Adventure Travel holiday in Patagonia. This obviously excludes flights (more on Flights to Patagonia).

Generally speaking you can expect to pay around $220 to $400 per day for a Trekking Holiday in Patagonia. For a luxury holiday, tailor-made trip, cruise or horse-riding/Estancia trip you can expect to pay $400 to $800 per day.

The price of a trip will obviously depend on a whole range of different factors…

- Client:guide ratios. Knowledgeable, professional, english speaking, qualified mountain guides command high day rates, and quite rightly so. In large groups this cost can be spread out across many people, but most of us prefer to be part of smaller groups, especially when we’re in the mountains. There’s always the self-guided option as well, if you’re an experienced hiker and ready to miss out on local knowledge into the flora, fauna, geography and culture.

- Local Operator/Guide or Bonded Global Company. The big global companies gain efficiencies through their purchasing power, larger groups sizes, and itineraries on which there’s often zero flexibility, but they have more costs to cover as well. Smaller local players can often offer a trip for 4 people at the same rate a global company can offer it for group sizes of 12.

- Quality of the accommodation. For example a double room in and around Bariloche could cost anything between $40 and $400 per night. In some of Patagonia’s most iconic location there are hotels charging $1000 per night for their fully inclusive packages. In Torres del Paine National Park the strategically located Refugios cost $70 per night (or $130 including all meals), whilst camping costs only $9.

- Transport. Private transfers can be far more convenient and make much more efficient use of your time, but the public transport option can save a lot of money, and in Patagonia this is a safe, secure and comfortable alternative. Some trips will include all transport from the moment you land in Patagonia, on others you may need to pay more to get to the start point.

- Time of year. Christmas is a holiday for everyone; so guides cost more and demand for hotel rooms shoots up. For example the cost of a night in a Torres del Paine Refugio goes up by over 30%. Likewise in the ‘shoulder’ season of October and March/April it’s possible to get cheaper rates, especially on cruises.

- Porters in Patagonia don’t come cheap and there are limits on the amount they can carry. If you’re able to carry all your own gear on a multi-day trek that could save around $40 per hiking day.

- Meals included. Trips vary enormously in terms of the meals they provide, but if breakfast, lunch and dinner are included each day that could save a further $20-$40 each day.

- Equipment rental. whether it be tents and cooking equipment, or kayaks, ropes, crampons or mountain bikes (and even horses) all of that gear needs to be purchased, stored and most importantly maintained.

Chance encounters in Patagonia

I’m working in a world that is so different from what I understood ‘business’ to mean when I started my career. Two recent experiences have confirmed in my mind that every chance encounter with someone new is an opportunity, but each requires a very genuine, open and human interaction, and the outcomes are typically unexpected.

First, our trip started on a difficult note when I arrived at Punta Arenas airport, and my luggage didn’t. Two fellow passengers who were travelling lighter than expected turned out to be a journalist-photographer husband-wife team.  We got chatting, and to my surprise and delight Swoop was featured in one of Belgium’s top newspapers/blogs a week later:

The same day the newspaper article came out Charlotte and I were meeting with the hoteliers and adventure travel operators of Puerto Natales when we came across Alejandro, a true local who runs Hostal Dos Lagunas. This hostel is not necessarily somewhere our clients would normally stay, but he invited is for ‘real italian coffee’ (one of the hostel’s USPs) and we accepted. He turned out be a font of knowledge for the area and he also introduced us to a mountaineer and climber called Cristian, who turned out to be Swoop’s missing link in Puerto Natales. Probably the most important new operator we’ve identified since September, providing more extreme itineraries and new routes in the Torres del Paine area.

One of the great things about travelling is that you meet so many interesting and different people along the way – for Swoop every one of these conversations gives us that little bit more insight that will help us to ensure that our clients find the very best adventure in Patagonia. One of the many reasons why we’ll continue to visit at least twice a year.