Category Archives: Reviews

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Tina & Steve’s W Trek & Huemul Circuit

Tina and Steve returned in November from a W Trek in Torres del Paine and Huemul Circuit in Los Glaciares National Park. Here they tell us abut their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners….

‘I would unhesitatingly use these agents again if we return to Patagonia and we have already been recommending Swoop very highly to friends who are contemplating a trip. Very many thanks.’

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Our trip started with a visit to Swoop’s office in Bristol where we met Luke and some of the team. Other than having heard a bit about Torres del Paine from a friend, we had no real knowledge of the region or what we could do in the short time available to us. During that visit and over the course of subsequent e-mails Luke, and the Swoop Team, helped us come up with a plan to squeeze plenty of activity into our two-week timeframe.

Torres del Paine National Park

We started in Torres del Paine where we did a Self-Guided W Trek organised by Swoop’s recommended partners in Puerto Natales. We had just one night in Puerto Natales at the start after a 36-hour journey from Devon, with an early transfer next day into the park to begin the walk.

The walking was great, very mixed terrain, and hugely changeable weather; we really did get everything from hot sun to snow, invariably accompanied by the notorious wind; luckily the rain was largely overnight. It was nice to be able to change and shower in the Refugios each night (contrast the next bit of the trip), although Refugio food was distinctly unmemorable.

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Walking highlights here were the beautiful lakeside walks, and the trek to Glacier Grey. Sadly the French Valley (the middle bit of the W) was closed to walkers due to snow. Swoop’s partners were superb – Johana met us (unannounced, which was a lovely surprise) off the bus when we arrived late in Puerto Natales, got us to the hotel safely, and came up with the best packed lunch of our whole trip for the first day’s walking the next morning.

We must also mention the young lady who was waiting to check us back into the hotel when we returned from the park, again late at night. I’d stupidly left our passports, travel documents and lots of cash in the taxi we’d taken from the bus station – she confidently made lots of phone calls, poured us a cold beer, ushered us over the road to eat in the fab restaurant Aldea (highly recommended) just before they closed, and happily the young cab driver bowled up with all our stuff about 15 minutes later.

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Los Glaciares National Park

We transferred to El Calafate, visited the Perito Merino glacier, and had a night in Hosteria La Estepa – very comfortable, lovely welcoming manager Agustino, and a very nice dinner.

Then on to El Chalten; Swoop had put us in contact with a Chalten-based expedition company who organised this bit of our stay. We picked up some rental camping gear, had one night on a self-guided (rather wet) walk, and then went off with our guide Fabio to do the Huemul Circuit. This was just awesome and for me was the very best bit of our trip. The walking was strenuous at times, but we saw some amazing stuff. The trek involves four days of walking with three nights of wild camping – I think we saw no more than four other people during the whole period.

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Highlights – the zip-wire river crossing, the joys of very basic camping food, wonderful scenery, the blow-you-off-your-feet (literally) winds, and the last night camp eating our supper just below the glacier Viedma.

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Again, this partner of Swoop’s was absolutely faultless – a friendly welcome, very helpful in the shop, a great mountain guide, and an upgraded hotel in Chalten. Both agents were responsible for recommending and booking various hotels, bus transfers, taxi pick-ups etc, and everything went totally smoothly – not a single glitch in the plans.

Our trip ended with a stopover in Buenos Aires, where we had some great cocktails (we seem to have developed a Pisco habit), and the biggest steak you’ve ever seen. So top marks to Swoop – always available to respond to questions or with advice during the planning stage, but also happy to leave us to communicate directly with their partners in Patagonia, who (as I’ve said) were both superb.

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I would unhesitatingly use these agents again if we return to Patagonia (there are some other interesting-looking challenges); and we have already been recommending Swoop very highly to friends who are contemplating a trip. Very many thanks. Antarctica, anyone?

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Jon & Deb’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Jon and Deb returned in November from a Half & Half Full Circuit (half guided and half self guided) in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking through Swoop and our partners…

‘Thanks for your help with our trip to Patagonia. It was amazing!’

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We were extremely blessed with the weather, as we only experienced rain once throughout the entire trek, and that was during the evening, whilst we were asleep.

The group of people that we hiked with were great – we spent10 days together and there were no real niggles. Our equipment worked really well, the guide your partners arranged was an amazing individual with a high level of professionalism, and the porters were rock solid.

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We ate amazing meals for the two days in Puerto Natales after the trip, on recommendation of your partners who ran the trip: Aldea and the Red Crab. Great food next time you are in town.

[See Sally’s Restaurant Guide for more recommendations on great places to eat throughout Patagonia]

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On a down note – and beyond your control – we had everything that could go wrong with the flights go wrong…Luckily we had such a great trip that this is only a minor distraction!

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Swoop for the great work you did for us and for making our time work so well. We had an amazing experience and feel lucky that we came across your company online. You and your partner in Torres del Paine helped make the ground part of this trip run extremely well. Thank you.

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Nicole & Dustin’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Nicole and Dustin returned in November from a Camping W Trek in Torres del Paine, here they tell us about their experiences on their trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘We had an amazing time in Patagonia! We loved it! Swoop and their partners organized an amazing trek for us!! We loved Torres del Paine!!’ 

How were Swoop Patagonia?

We really appreciate you putting us in contact with your partners in Torres del Paine directly. That was super-helpful, in particular given the short timeframe we had to organize this. Just based on this, you clearly differentiated yourself from others.

What did you think of your W Trek itinerary?

Your partners organised an amazing trek for us! We never went up to Japones, as the Torres campsite was open and perfectly secluded in the woods. Next time, we would probably keep our guide another day, go to Campamento Italiano and skip Los Cuernos – it was just too crowded there. Once we arrived at Paine Grande, it felt like a 4-star hotel ;-). It was a great, great trip!! We saw sooo much, and were incredibly lucky with the weather – our rain gear never had to come out once.

The transfers in and out also worked very well – even though the bus ride is very long. We would always cut out the loop via Puerto Natales again though.

How was your guide?

Carlos, our guide, did a truly amazing job!! He is very knowledgeable about flora and fauna, but also knew many anecdotes about how the names of the lagoons and peaks came about and changed over time… We really enjoyed that!!

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

Once back in El Calafate, we had independently planned to do the kayaking at the Upsala glacier, but even though we had paid for this (almost AR$ 6,000 (!!) for the two of us), the travel agent we used (Not Swoop) lost our reservation and never came to pick us up on Saturday morning. That was very disappointing that we missed that trip.

We have since investigated this ourselves and been informed by various hotels and other agents that they all avoid working with the company we used, even though they are  the only ones that offer this trip from Calafate and are also the ones doing Estancia Cristina – this company is apparently known for making this kind of mistakes and mishaps.

Else, all was perfect!!

‘Again, thanks so much for all your help in arranging this trip for us!! We really, really appreciate it!!’

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Regina & Chris’ Honeymoon Cruise from Ushuaia-Punta Arenas

Regina and Chris returned in November from a 3-night Adventure Cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas as part of their Honeymoon in Patagonia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘Our trip was incredible and the cruise was definitely a highlight of our honeymoon! We are thankful for all your help for making it happen!’

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How were Swoop Patagonia

Swoop were very attentive, friendly, knowledgeable, and responsive.

What did we do well? 

We were a little late planning our trip and wanted as much flexibility as possible. It was very helpful that you guys took the time to respond to many of our questions (via chat, email & Skype) despite the time difference to help us think through options and still book the cruise in a timely manner.

What could we have done differently? 

Nothing that I can think of.

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

Definitely.

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How were our partners who ran the Cruise?

Wonderful and memorable. We are so glad that we booked the cruise although it was a bit pricy. We loved how it was outdoor and environmentally focused, and the ship was not too big. We were spoiled with delicious meals, beverages, and excursions.

How did you enjoy their itinerary and excursions? 

They were great! Although we did not get to disembark at Cape Horn, the staff explained that 100 miles per hour wind is something that doesn’t happen often. It was amazing to have experienced it on the boat. We loved that the places we visited during days 2&3, which were more private (only accessed by our ship), and ending the cruise with an early morning walk around the penguin colony was incredible. We could understand why some of folks, who could afford it, did the round trip ride.

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How were their staff and guides? 

They were professional, friendly, knowledgeable, and just fantastic!

What did you think of the vessel? 

The ship was modern and quite stable, rooms were surprisingly spacious and comfortable, and the zodiac boats for the excursions were great.

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

Absolutely not. It was just perfect.

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

We visited Glaciar Perito Moreno, which was an incredible day trip, Mendoza and Buenos Aires.

What was the highlight of your trip overall? 

The cruise was definitely a highlight of our overall trip, and it was a perfect indulgence for our honeymoon.

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

Flying into Ushuaia is amazing as the plane goes over the snowy peaks so closely before landing into a town at the end of the continent. Day hikes to the Tierra del Fuego national park is great – we combined Pampa Alta trail and Costa trail to get the view from the top and along the water. It ends up being about 8 miles and well worth the effort. Being indulged on our cruise after few days of roughing it in Ushuaia enhanced our appreciation for everything on the cruise even more.

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Anja & Dave’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Anja and Dave returned in November 2014 from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on their trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

anja dave 3What did you think of Swoop and our partners?

We had an amazing time and I would recommend you all any time to friends and family. In fact, I am getting together with a friend this afternoon who is heading down to Patagonia and will make sure that she contacts you for the planning and tour.

The overall experience with Swoop and your partners in Chile was seamless and very positive. You were responsive, helpful and very pro-active. Communication remained fluid and up-to-date and the follow through on everything promised was on point. So, overall, the experience was excellent!

Your partners in Chile did an excellent job communicating with us right until our departure for the trek – they were great on email and coordinated the different players wonderfully.

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What did you think of the W Trek itinerary?

The ‘Original W-Trek’ itinerary was excellent – we had a great guide who was really wonderful and very concerned with our well-being and safety. I would have appreciated a tad bit more education and history, but it was an excellent experience.

Is there anything you would have changed about the trip?

Regarding the itinerary, if we could have gotten to the starting point of the Trek with a tad less “waiting around” that would have been even greater. With just a bit of more efficient travel planning, we might have been able to shave off a day by spending less time in Punta Arenas…this would be my only suggestion for optimizing the trip.

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How was your accommodation on the trip?

The lodging was great. We stayed at the KAU Lodge in Puerto Natales and the staff was great but I wish they had been a bit more forthcoming with suggestions about where to go and where to eat in that city…in addition, we almost missed our bus to Calafate…on the day we left after the trek was over, a cab was supposed to pick us up at 6:40 to catch the 7:00am bus to Calafate. The cab never showed up so at the last minute, the only present manager at the lodge, who was scheduled to serve breakfast and spoke NO English, abandoned his task at the breakfast bar and hopped in his private car to drive us to the bus station. That was truly outstanding service and I hope you can thank him for us.

[Read more about our most recommended hotels in Patagonia]

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Did you manage to visit anywhere else on your trip?

In addition to the W Trek, we also spent time in Los Glaciares National park ( at El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier, which was amazing). We heard about it during the trek and ended up taking a taxi there but not having much time to see it or to walk the glacier. One suggestion I have is to integrate the return from the W Trek with the bus ride to Calafate and the tour of the Moreno glacier a bit more.

That’s it – thanks again and well done!!!

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Jimmy’s Winter W Trek in Torres del Paine

Jimmy returned in early September from a Winter Trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking through Swoop and our Chilean partners…

What did you think of Swoop Patagonia? 

I found Swoop very helpful and informative in giving me all of the options available, taking into account my preferences and finding the most appropriate tour company and itinerary.

What did you think of Chile Nativo?

Our guide for the trip was excellent, very friendly and knowledgeable, however I was a little disappointed with some of the 3 day Winter W Trek itinerary. This was partly because of the time of year and restrictions on where we could stay in the park (with the refugios not open at the time). I felt that for the price we paid, we didn’t get to see as much of the park as we would have liked to. If I could have done the itinerary myself, I would have chosen to do a lot more hiking or tried to plan the trip a little later, so that we could have done the full W circuit.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of Torres Del Paine was the first day as we got to do a full day of hiking and got right up to the towers.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else on your trip?

We travelled throughout South America on our trip but nearby we also visited Los Glaciares (El Chalten, El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier), the Lake District in Chile and Argentina (Bariloche, Pucon etc.), which were all fantastic. I very much enjoyed the hiking and scenery in El Chalten.

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

Advice to other travellers would be to try and plan the trip so that you are in the park at the start of the peak season so that you can do the Full Circuit and stay at the refugios.

Amina’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

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

‘This trip was amazing and beyond my expectations. Patagonia is so beautiful.’

What did you think of Swoop Patagonia?

The first thing I noticed about Swoop Patagonia is how fast you reply. Untypical for me I started planning/booking this trip very late, and your great service helped a lot to make this trip possible for me. You provided me with all the information I needed and connected me to your partners in Chile very quickly.

I am talking about this trip non-stop and recommending everybody to do it. And telling them how great it is, that you offer different trips, and also options for people traveling alone. So, yes I am recommending Swoop Patagonia to friends and family :)

What did you think of our partner in Chile who ran the W Trek?

Your partner who ran the W Trek was great too. There were a few bits of information that I would have preferred to receive earlier (for example that I needed to book a hotel first to buy a bus ticket, or where to meet the group when I arrive in Puerto Natales). But mistakes happen… So, it’s more important to me how do you deal with it. And they were always very polite and very eager and quick to fix these things.

And more important is the hiking trip… Our guides were amazing!!! Soo much knowledge, so funny, always looking out for us, making sure we hydrate and asking how we are feeling an if we need a break, taping my toes to avoid blisters… It was just great!

Just two things that they should mention to travellers before they arrive… There is no cell phone service during this trip and no wifi/internet service. It felt good to be disconnected for a few days. I just wished to know it before, so I would have send my parents and friends a message letting them know to not be concerned if they can’t reach me.

The other thing is that our whole group share one room- boys & girls together. I was surprised, but didn’t mind. I just think some people could feel uncomfortable and should have a chance to know about it before.

What was the highlight of your trip?

I can’t choose one highlight. The whole trip is amazing. The nature is breath-taking. I was lucky to have a great group and we bonded right away and were laughing a lot, and having nice conversations.

All my concerns about going hiking for the first time were unnecessary (I had never been hiking before. Not in Germany. Not in the US). I definitely want to do more hikes and am looking to book a hiking trip abroad next year.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else during your trip?

I visited a friend in Buenos Aires for the first week, did a day-trip to Colonia, Uruguay and another day-trip to Tigre, during that time. Before the trekking-trip, I took a flight from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, where I stayed one night (visited Perito Moreno Glacier), and took the bus to Puerto Natales to start the Patagonia trekking-tour. After the tour I returned back to Buenos Aires and caught a flight back to Boston the following day.

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

The only tips I would give people is, pack light, and bring waterproof clothes and shoes.

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Cathy’s Full Circuit, Montes Martial Circuit and Chalten Mountain Escape

Cathy returned in November from a Full Circuit in Torres del Paine, a Montes Martial Circuit in Tierra del Fuego, and a Chalten Mountain Escape in Los Glaciares. Here she tells us about her experiences on the trips, and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

cathy 1How were Swoop Patagonia?

I wouldn’t have managed such a great trip without your help & expertise. I met several other people who used Swoop and they all felt the same. I am already recommending you to other people.

I think the only thing I would say is your idea of sending a pre travel gift felt very last minute – I wouldn’t have noticed had you not offered a gift, but since you did having it before I left would have given a better view of your efficiency!

How were our partners who ran your trips in Chile and Argentina?

All were very good, those who organised the Full Circuit especially. The itineraries were all as expected. The guides were excellent, again especially Armando on the Full Circuit.

They all dealt well with my requirement for a gluten free diet in the end, although one company were less proactive about this. I didn’t help by not being crystal clear on their form but instead of querying it as the Full Circuit partners did, they decided to ignore it. The guide, Luis, was very helpful about trying to remedy this and luckily I’m not coeliac, just gluten intolerant so I could cope with eating the fillings out of sandwiches for instance. The other two companies were brilliant with this, again especially on the Full Circuit.

I was delighted with the 3 treks I did – it was a great combination and worked really well, even with the weather!

What was the highlight of your trip?

Difficult to choose a highlight! It was all fantastic. I think possibly waking up 2 mornings in a row to the view below from Lake Caminante is well up there.

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

I visited Buenos Aires briefly which was very enjoyable. Especially the cemetery at Recoleta which I visited on Halloween, appropriately!

I also did a Patagonian cooking workshop in Puerto Natales – it was brilliant and you should recommend it to anyone who has time to do it! http://encuentrogourmet.com

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Isabel’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Isabel returned in November from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here she shares with us her experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘We had an amazing time in Patagonia and the W Trek was a great experience!’

How were Swoop Patagonia?

I thought that the service you provided was very good – you were helpful with the information you provided and responded quickly to any queries.  I thought that the handover to your partners in Chile was done very well and smoothly and that you were flexible in how you communicate with your clients. I would recommend you to any friends looking to visit Patagonia.

How were our Partners who ran the trek in Chile?

Our W Trek was well-organised and professional.  In addition to organising the trek itself, the company was helpful in booking us bus tickets to/from Puerto Natales.  I thought that the itinerary on the W Trek was great – a good mixture of longer and shorter days and comfortable refuges to stay in. Our guide (Carlos) was excellent – he spoke good English and was friendly and responsible. The only minor comment I have is that we passed by their office in Puerto Natales the day before our trek started as we had not been told where and what time to meet the next day. An email confirming this would have been helpful.

What was the highlight of your trip?

I’m not sure I’m able to pick out a single highlight – we really enjoyed the whole trip.  We were in a group with three others who we got on very well with – we thought that five was a good number for a group.

Did you visit anywhere else on your trip?

We also visited Buenos Aires, an estancia outside Junin (near BA), El Calafate, the Bariloche area and San Martin de los Andes.

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

I would recommend that people planning a trip make sure that they bring all the recommended equipment as it all came in handy!  Also do not carry more that you absolutely need to in your backpacks.

[For some tips on what to pack, see Swoop’s Trekking Kit List]

Milton’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Milton returned in November from a Full Circuit in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his experiences on the trip and in booking through Swoop and our partners, and provides some useful tips for future travellers…

It was a great trip and the Full Circuit hike was excellent. I’d have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Swoop or your partners to family & friends for a trip to Patagonia. In fact, I’ve already recommended you to a friend who is thinking about it for next year.

I would recommend ensuring you have the right ’3 Season’ footwear, particularly if you are going in the Spring as we did. One person in the group had fabric ‘boots’ without a Goretex lining and, after walking through the marshes/mud/snow, her feet were soaking and she developed a blister on her heel. She was just about OK but it could have been a problem. I know a lot of women don’t like leather boots (too heavy/don’t look cool) but you can’t beat them…or at the very least good quality fabric with waterproof lining!

Because of when we went, there was snow on the John Gardner Pass. The day of our climb, the weather was unfortunately warm, so the snow was very soft. I know you don’t want to have to put people off, but I guess it’s being frank about the type of conditions that might be faced, particularly early in the season. Gaiters could also be needed in the event of soft snow (e.g. on JG pass).

[For tips on what to pack, check out Swoop’s Trekking Kit List]

It is customary in Chile to tip the guide and porters for good service. Armando, our guide was excellent, he really went out of his way to be supportive, he gave a lot of help to those who needed it, and made the trek even more interesting by his wide knowledge of wildlife and nature which he shared with us. Some advice on the subject prior to departing could be helpful.

I want to thank Swoop for their advice on the itinerary, and working out what was possible with the time I had available (from getting off the boat in Ushuaia to flight back from Santiago). It all fitted together perfectly, I’m glad I did more than just the ‘W Trek’. Also your advice on accommodation in El Calafate (La Estepa) and Puerto Natales (Amerindia), both were excellent.