Category Archives: Reviews

Sam’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Sam returned in March from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking through Swoop and our partners…

‘I had a wonderful time – helped by the fact that we had some exceptional weather and a good group of trekking companions’

How were Swoop Patagonia?

I found the Swoop team to be very quick to respond to all my queries (especially given the short notice prior to trip departure). Please note that this was greatly appreciated.

How were our partners who run the W Trek?

They also performed well – I found the 5 day W Trek to be relatively easy over the 5-days and to finish off with the boat cruise up to Grey Glacier was a real highlight. Our guide Miriam was excellent, offering just the right amount of info at each location, and was always very conscious of how the group was travelling.

Is there anything you would have done differently in hindsight?

I enjoyed the luxury of having a hot-shower and shelter at the end of each days trekking, but didn’t feel that the additional cost over camping was entirely justified, particularly as we found  that some of the food did not meet our expectations.

Lis’s Trip to Torres del Paine & Tierra del Fuego

Lis returned in December from a trip to Patagonia during which they took W Trek in Torres del Paine followed by a visit to Isla Navarino in Tierra del Fuego. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners in Patagonia…

What three words would best sum up your experience in Patagonia?

Wild, Beautiful, Fantastic.

What was the highlight of your trip to Patagonia overall?

It’s genuinely hard to pick one thing overall, it was so varied and beautiful. The light and the windswept, dramatic wilderness of it all was perhaps the most abiding memory of Patagonia – the sheer space and also the diversity.

We dipped in and out of different parts of Patagonia, including a 3 day W Trek (thanks Swoop Patagonia for organising it for us!) in the stunning Torres del Paine National Park, and spending time in Punta Arenas which really felt like a frontier town at the edge of the earth.

Then we also flew in a tiny plane down to Isla Navarino, where there really is the last town before Antarctica (and the most southerly Yacht Club in the world!). This was definitely the most unusual aspect of our trip, and included our best story: drinking with the locals on the German frigate (now a bar) at the Yacht Club, with a Penguin swimming in the bay – and especially the luxurious Lakutaia Lodge and services of local guide Denis (quite brilliant).

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

Patagonia is pretty huge – we would have liked to see more of it; then again, with some smart planning of flights and buses (which are excellent for long distance travel in Chile) we could get around in not too many days. There are so many options for hiking and National Parks – definitely pick your top ones and don’t try to do everything.

We’d also have liked to cross the border into Argentinian Patagonia (a well trodden path at different points) and to take a boat ride (whether the Navimag or a more luxury cruise ) – would recommend investigating these options.

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip and operators for you?

They were great: very generous with their advice and support when we were considering  options before making a decision. It was a very personal, tailored service; and thus felt very responsive and flexible to our needs.

What did you think of the operators we set you up with in Torres del Paine?

The operators were reliable, helpful and professional. The Fast Track W Trek we did in Torres del Paine was quite expensive (as there were only two of us in the group); but in return we received a great service, excellent guide (just for the two of us), top equipment and planning and good food. It suited what we needed very well.

How was the W Trek itself, and how were your guides?

The trek was fantastic: we did a 3-day Fast Track loop which suited perfectly as we only had 3 days to spare. I would recommend this itinerary – others do a 5 day W Trek or the Full Circuit, but the 3 days were honestly pretty stretching, even for us as pretty seasoned walkers. The variation on each day was marvellous too, meaning we felt like we saw the range that Torres del Paine had to offer; we left very satisfied.

Talking with other walkers, it’s worth choosing your refugio carefully – some had a reputation as serving pretty meagre portions of food which isn’t great when you’ve walked 9 hours!

Our guide (Viktor) was fantastic – seasoned, professional, good fun, knowledgeable, everything we could have wanted. The packed lunches, tent and equipment which he bought from them were very good quality, and they provided excellent fresh bread for my partner who is gluten free. He went above and beyond to support us and make sure things ran smoothly. Would definitely recommend the operator and Viktor in particular.

How was your stay at Lakutaia Lodge?

Lakutaia Lodge was great too – again, there were only about 6 guests staying there so we had 1:1 attention and service – for instance, they changed the menus around so we could have King Crab on our last day when we had to leave early.

Their excursions were thoughtful and really interesting (bird watching – not something I’d ever think I’d have enjoyed but was breathtaking), tour of the town of Puerto Williams, short trek, museum…); and we also loved using their bikes and canoes.

Local guide Denis accompanied us solicitously during our stay and was so knowledgeable and accommodating – it really made the trip.

The Lodge manager was equally very hospitable and accommodating, looked after us very well. She even introduced us to a famous Chilean opera singer who arrived to stay as we were leaving!

Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened?

Only the weather coming in on our third day, and my falling over & spraining my ankle! Otherwise perfect.

Sam’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Sam returned in January from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

What was the highlight of your trip?

The geography I witnessed on my 5 day W Trek in Torres del Paine was absolutely stunning. Trekking through the rolling hills and craggy mountains for hours a day was an incredible experience. I never tired because I was constantly struck and energised by the beauty of its nature.

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

Yes – Santiago, Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

You guys were great! Thank you for everything!

How were our partners who ran the trek, and how were their guides on the trip?

They were great. Carlos was an excellent, informed and thoughtful guide. He made the experience unforgettable.

Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened at all?

Nope!

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

It’s no joke when they say you could experience four seasons in one day – pack layers!

Also, I stayed an extra couple nights to see penguins and Punta Arenas is a bit of a sleepy town. Could have done just one there.

Nada’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Nada returned in February from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip and in booking with Swoop…

How were Swoop Patagonia?

Swoop were very quick to reply to emails and provided very helpful information!

Did you enjoy your 5 day W Trek itinerary?

On the first day of our 5 day W Trek I would have preferred if we walked a little more than two hours, for example it might have been nice to walk into the park (rather than travelling in by bus), or to start very early in the morning on one of the days so that we could have seen the sunset/ escape the crowds. I understand  however that such alterations would probably depend on the preferences of the other people in the group as well.

How were your guides on the trip?

Victor was a chilled & a nice guy. He was able to provide very good information about Flora & Fauna, you could tell he knows the area well. There were a few moments where I got the feeling he has been doing it for a very long time and is a little bit fed up with it…

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

Yes, I had another two weeks to travel in Chile.

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

You need to book bus ticket in advance – luckily Swoop and their partners in Torres del Paine told me that and booked everything for me! That was a great service!

Graham and Anne’s cruise and road trip experience.

Graham and Anne returned from Patagonia in February where they enjoyed a cruise as well as a road trip.
Here they tell us all about their experiences and how Swoop helped them on their way.

How did Swoop Patagonia help you plan your trip?

You gave lots of advice in the planning stage, with several options to consider but left enough for us to feel it was ‘our’ trip. You also had local knowledge both of the things to see and local contacts who could make arrangements for different activities. The Google session where we spoke to Luke on line enabled us to ‘put a face to a name’ and gave us confidence in your operation. You responded well to e-mails and kept us in touch with developments.

We would recommend your company to anyone contemplating a trip to Patagonia.
The hotels you specifically suggested: Amerindia, Aguas Arriba and Marianas were all good recommendations with which we agree.

How was your cruise with Cruceros Australis?

 It was very well organised with a complete programme which we were able to take full advantage of.

The ship, Via Australis was great –cabin the equivalent of 4 star hotel bedroom, and the facilities in terms of food, drink and programme were excellent. The excursions (twice per day) were the highlight and you need to be prepared to experience these to get full value –this means getting occasionally cold and/or wet. We were fortunate with wonderful weather, most of the time. Some of the excursions might have been unavailable (landing at Cape Horn) or a bit miserable in the event of bad weather so potential clients need to be aware of this.

The guides were faultless –they were helpful and extremely knowledgeable. The briefing sessions were good at preparing the passengers and putting the excursions in context. The guides were obviously well-trained but they made every effort to help the passengers enjoy the experience. We felt that we learned about the flora and fauna, the history and the geology of the area.

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

When we checked in on the morning of departure,we were perturbed to find that we had to sign a disclaimer regarding the potentially hazardous activities and possible difficulties if there was a medical emergency. In reality they were painstaking over safety and the care of the passengers, so this seemed unnecessary but it gave a poor early impression. The crew and guides could not have been more helpful. I can only think that this is a consequence of having some elderly (mostly American) passengers.

Otherwise, as we had hoped this was one of the best parts of the whole trip!

How was your time in Chalten with Walk Patagonia?

We really enjoyed their itinerary.  The bus connections and transfers were particularly helpful as this would have been difficult to organise locally and still keep to the same schedule. The Puerto Natales –El Calafate bus was delayed for a long time at the border (approx 2 hours) but the local taxi driver was waiting and allowed us to drop our bags at the hotel before the trip to Perito Moreno. Although we had already seen a number of glaciers, we weren’t quite prepared for the scale of this one. Worth a visit. The hotels Sierra Nevada (El Calafate) and Senderos (El Chalten) were very comfortable, especially Senderos. However Aguas Arriba was in a different league –wonderful and probably the one place we would return to if we could.The food and service here was exceptional - it is difficult to see how they can improve on what they offer but clients need to be aware that its isolation means that the lodge may sometimes offer a more limited choice than some people expect (not us!). 

We were met promptly on arrival by the Walk Patagonia rep. The guided walk at El Chalten was interesting and Pablo, the guide, was again knowledgeable and keen to inform but also sensitive to the needs of the clients. The hosts of Aguas Arriba (Ivor and Pato) treated us like guests in their home and made us feel immediately comfortable. Pato took us out for two exhilarating walks (one lasted all day) and she was good company and proud to show off her locality including more glaciers, waterfalls and forest flora.

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

We would have liked three nights at the lodge but this wasn’t available to fit our schedule, but we did enjoy the night in El Chalten too. (El Chalten seems a good alternative to Torres del Paine for which we couldn’t get our selected accommodation.)  Overall, we would have preferred to have some sort of breakdown of costs within the overall price as we felt in total this was expensive, even allowing for the cost of Aguas Arriba. We got the feeling that Walk Patagonia were getting a good fee for a limited input. However, from our very positive experience we did feel it was worth it.

How was your road trip with Tierras Patagonicas?

The hotels were variable on Ruta 40 but choice is very limited –we stayed in some extremely isolated places and basically had to take what was available e.g at Lago Posadas which was ‘quirky’ but staying here meant that we were able to spend a fantastic day around the lakes and go out to observe the night sky! Hotel Mora at Los Antiguos was fine and in a good position on the lake but the meal seemed pricey. The hotel Tehuelche at Esquel has definitely seen better days –maybe a smaller more intimate hotel would be better? However, Esquel was a good base to stay and we had two very good meals- in a local parilla and at a restaurant in Trevelin (Fonda Sur –recommended)

Jose, like all the guides we met, was fantastic but because this was his company we felt he really made an effort to ensure we enjoyed the trip. He was good company both on the drives and at the evening meals and always discussed plans for the next day, sometimes with alternatives. He was knowledgeable about the flora and fauna and the sights and this helped us to appreciate the surroundings more. He was very calm and good natured and we enjoyed talking to him about his life in Argentina. .

 Jose had planned an interesting schedule and knew the area very well. Once or twice we weren’t able to carry out the plan e.g. one of the national parks had restricted opening, but Jose was still able to provide interesting days and he was always ready to adapt his schedule to suit our preference.

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

As we expected, two of the days were long drives but this didn’t really affect us –there was usually lots to see. Jose coped very well with these and there is no real alternative in terms of the mileage you need to cover and the distances between stopping places. The ‘days off’ were really interesting and took us off the beaten track to places that we would have been unable to find if we were on our own. We felt that we were seeing some of the real Patagonia. The scenery and sheer wide open spaces were amazing, especially compared to our home in the south of England.

If anybody was contemplating a Ruta 40 trip on their own they need to be aware there are still significant amounts of ripio so you would need a 4WD especially to visit some of the places off the main road. We found the projected hire charges for a self-drive vehicle with drop off at Bariloche were exorbitant and Jose therefore presented good value, particularly when we shared the cost with another couple.

We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jose, although it was good fortune that we got along very well with the other couple.

 What was the highlight of your trip? 

All good but especially Aguas Arriba

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

Do lots of research (with Swoop’s help) so that you know what to expect, what to look out for and what alternatives there are. We would have liked to visit Iguazu falls but couldn’t fit it in –you need to appreciate the size of Argentina and the distances involved. From our son’s experience (cycling from Ushuaia to Bolivia!) we would also have liked to spend some more time in Chile –maybe Torres del Paine (which was on our original list) and the Carretera Austral which has different scenery and climate to Ruta 40.

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

We left Jose at Bariloche staying at Hosteria Las Marianas probably the best small hotel we stayed in. We then went on to San Rafael by bus and spent a week there. This was also interesting and worth a visit –we met up with our son and his girlfriend here before bussing to Buenos Aires for the flight home. The overnight Andesmar buses we used were very comfortable (cama suite –so we were able to get a good sleep) but the food provided was terrible! and the loos were in a poor state by the end of a 14 hour bus ride. They are a good way of covering large distances if you can overlook minor inconveniences.

Charles’s ‘W Trek’ experience in Torres del Paine

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Charles just came back from a W Trek trip in Torres del Paine with Chile Nativo.
Here he talks to us about what the trek was like and the perks of staying in a refugio.

How well did Swoop Patagonia do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trip or operator for you?

I had a stellar time in Patagonia with your group.  It was particularly freeing to not have to book each refugio nor worry about meal reservations, etc.

How was Chile Nativo, and how were their guides on the trip?

Going with the tour group was a great way to see the W circuit, well worth the extra expense. Carlos was an excellent guide, and it was a great adventure. I’d strongly recommend to anyone. It was especially nice not to have to haul tent, sleeping bag, cooking gear, etc, but I still had a sense of being in the outdoors. 

Was there anything that you wish had happened differently/or not happened at all?

One suggestion would be to survey those planning on going on a trip and attempt to group together those of similar skill levels and risk thresholds, etc. (if at all possible, perhaps during the highest season when there are many folks going on trips). I say this because there can be a bit of disconnect between some in a group who want to push a little harder and others who prefer more relaxed style…anyway somehow that consideration should be worked into the way folks are grouped together (but I realize the main driver is WHEN folks are departing, etc.)

Laurie & Rob’s W Trek from an eco camp

Laurie & rob returned in March from a W Trek based from an eco camp in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their trip and their experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

How did Swoop Patagonia do in helping you plan and arrange your trip?

Swoop were great at coordinating with their partners who ran the trek we wanted to do in Torres del Paine. Overall we appreciated all their input, and there is nothing we would have wanted to go differently.

How was your 7 day W Trek?

Overall the 7 day W Trek and stay at eco camp was awesome. We found the itinerary a little strict at times. For instance a little more down time would have enhanced the overall experience. So too would the ability to have dinner when we wished to. We do, though, appreciate that when running a large group a schedule is helpful in order to keep things running smoothly.

How were the staff at the eco camp, and their guides on the trek?

We were a group of 6 that travelled with another group of 6. Roberto and Niko were our guides. Both were great, however, we found Roberto offered more information to the group. Niko was quieter, his stated philosophy being that if you want to ask questions he is more than willing to answer.

What did you think of the eco camp and the accommodation there?

The camp was great. We stayed in both the Superior and Standard Domes. Certainly the Superior domes were more comfortable with the bathrooms, but the Standard domes were also great.

In terms of the Refugios: Refugio Los Cuernos was not great overall; very crowded; very ‘basic’ facility; nowhere to hang out other then your bunk when the dinner rotations start. We arrived around 3 pm, this is a long time with nowhere to hang out (it was raining outside).

A number of items should have been recommended in the ‘suggested things to bring’, such as flipflops for showering, Chilean dollars (note that when we picked up by Cascada, we were not given the opportunity to obtain Chilean currency).

Our group was split into two rooms, one had 9 bunks (all allotted to our group) and the other had 3 bunks allotted to our group. My husband and I were to be split up between the two rooms. I wasn’t very happy about that! When I mentioned this to our guide he said that there was nothing he could do. A group of 3 women were travelling together and one of the women offered to go into the other room. Nonetheless it was a loud (snoring and no insulation in the walls of the very small and crowded rooms) and uncomfortable night. Our experience in the other lodge (Lodge Paine Grande) was much better.

Is there anything you would have changed about the trip?

Perhaps arriving later in the day, at the Refugio Los Cuerros might be an option, making sure all partners are in the same room, having a detailed ‘suggested things to bring’ for both EcoCamp and in particular for the trek, or perhaps camping instead of staying at the Refugio.

We would also have appreciated learning ahead of time that Refugio Los Cuerros has private ‘cottages’ available (none available by the time we arrived) so that we could perhaps have obtained one! Or continue on to Camp Italiano, and camp. Camping could be an option for those who wish it, and of course this option might be a little more expensive.

What was the highlight of your trip overall?

The beauty of the landscape. It felt surreal at times.

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

Pack light. Get Chilean pesos before heading out to the Camp.

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

Buenos Aires, El Calafate, El Chalten, and Bariloche (Villa La Angostura); all were fantastic!!

Ariana’s Full Circuit & Ice Cap Expedition

Ariana is still travelling on a round the world trip, but contacted us in March to let us know how she got on during her stint in Patagonia, during which she Trekked the Full Circuit in Torres del Paine, and embarked on an Ice Cap Expedition. Here’s what she had to tell us…

I had such a great experience that it is hard to find the right words to explain it :)

How was your Full Circuit in Torres del Paine?

I had an amazing experience on my Full Circuit in Torres del Paine. The guides were great, very well organised and helpful, always looking after us and making the whole experience delightful. I cannot think of anything that I would change about this trip.

How was your Ice Cap Expedition?

I had a great experience on the Ice Cap Expedition, and the guide was very professional. One thing I would mentions is that I was a little unsure on my route to El Calafate, and I may have appreciated more detailed information on this. Once there however, the operators took care of everything, and did all they could to help me with any equipment I needed to rent.

How did Swoop do in helping you plan and arrange your trip?

The way in which Swoop handled my trip was a real treat for me. You helped me a lot, and so far it has been one of the best moments of my whole round the world trip.

Do you have any tips for other travellers planning a visit?

The only thing that I would have appreciated, which may helpful to other people visiting Patagonia with limited time on their hands, is some information on the time it takes to travel between places, and how best to go about it. I was a little confused on where to fly from/ to in order to reach certain destinations, and allowed extra time for this unnecessarily, as in reality it was simpler and faster than I expected.

Thanks a lot again for your help and to make my trip to Patagonia a great experience.

Catherine’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Catherine returned in March from a 10 week trip to Chile and Argentina, during which she spent 5 days on a Trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip…

 What was the highlight of your trip?

It was a great experience and we were lucky enough to have great weather…One of the highlights of my whole trip was the W Trek in Torres del Paine that you helped me arrange.

How were Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine?

Your partners in Torres del Paine were very accommodating and easy to work with. Besides the W Trek, they arranged for bus tickets and a stay at the lovely Amerindia Hostel.

How were your guides on the W Trek?

Our guide Armando was so knowledgeable about the area including the geology, the history, and the flora and fauna.  He also had an amazing ability to spot wildlife.

How did Swoop Patagonia do in helping you plan and arrange your trip?

I really appreciate that you let me know that I could easily do the hiking out of Calafate to Parque Nacional Las Glaciares on my own.  This helped me keep the trip expenses down and I did a lovely three day backpack there on my own — my first solo backpack! Thank you so much.

Trekking in Torres del Paine & Los Glaciares

Chris & Steve recently returned from a trip to Patagonia where they spent 5 days Trekking in Los Glaciares National Park, followed by 7 days on the Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine based from an eco camp. Here they tell us about their trip and their experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

How was your experience of booking with Swoop?

I was very happy with the service we got from Swoop Patagonia – you helped us create an itinerary that enabled us to do all that we wanted to do in the short space of time we had for the trip. I think ultimately that saved us a lot of time and effort in organizing the trip and we were grateful for that. It did prove exhausting, but we knew that and coped well and I am glad we didn’t have to miss out on anything, in fact I’d say we were super fit by the end of the trip!

How was your time with our partners in Los Glaciares?

The 3-day trek in Los Glaciares was excellent. I liked the guide, he was very knowledgeable about the local fauna and flora and had a good sense of humour, and so he was good company.

Luckily for us the people who joined us for our trek were very fit and keen and also wanted to do a more challenging walk. It was a great, scenic climb and set us up well for the rest of the trip. I loved the campsite where we spent our first night, and the food was great.

The second day’s walk was probably the highlight of this trek, with some amazing scenery culminating in the lagoons underneath Fitz Roy. I liked the fact that our guide was happy to take his time to allow us to enjoy the scenery and we arrived into camp after 8pm that night, and so we felt like we had made maximum use of the day.

On the third day we felt that we could have spent more time enjoying the views on the way down, but having said all that, the scenery was again amazing.

How was your time with our partners in Torres del Paine?

The Full Circuit Trek was scenically spectacular (obviously, that being why its famous). We again got lucky with the weather – we barely had any rain over the whole trip except for the John Gardner pass. I didn’t mind that so much as it kept it cool for the climb.

A lot was made out to us about the strength of the winds, but as someone pretty experienced at walking in the Lakes and Dales in winter and have nearly been blown of mountains in the UK in those conditions, didn’t find it too worrying.

The ecocamp was pretty cool. The food was really good and on the first day there was a Puma casually walking round the campsite, which was different. We could have happily spent a few days chilling out there.

I think on this trip we slightly regretted not doing it on our own. I think what would have worked best for us would have been a self guided trek but still with the porters – I don’t know if anywhere has that option. We did appreciate not having to carry our tents and having our food cooked for us though.

We again enjoyed the company of the others on our trek, who were really nice people and we had many nice evenings chatting with them and working our way through many bottles of Carmenere.

We also greatly appreciated the guides offering us the chance to walk up to the towers in the dark using our head torches and sit under the stars for a few hours before the sun came up on the towers. This was a highlight of the trip for me and I realize the guide didn’t have to do that. That experience, along with the hike into the French Valley under the horns, were probably my highlights on the Paine trek, though I also really enjoyed the quietness of the northern part of the circuit.

Overall, it was a really great trip and lived up to our expectations.

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

I’d say if you have a little more time than us, then do the Full Circuit trek independently. If Id have had a few more days I’d have taken a little longer over it to do shorter distances each day, and that would have made it easier to carry all our stuff.

We also had a great Steak Stew in a place called Isobel in El Calafate and can recommend the Pop hotel in Buenos Aires as a convenient, good value and English speaking place (for those whose Spanish was as inept as ours). Oh, that brings me to another tip – learn some Spanish!