Category Archives: Travel Tips

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The Babel Suites, San Telmo, Buenos Aires

The Babel Suites are a relatively new addition to the lively (and still slightly edgy) San Telmo. As a result they offer pretty good value in the lower-mid range of hotels.  This was my base for my first night in Buenos Aires and it served me very well.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘Suites’ the idea is for your room to be spacious, and some limited space and facilities for self-catering; so public areas are normally very limited.
In this case there’s a breakfast room and on the roof terrace a few tables and sun loungers, and a very small pool.

The rooms are nicely done with plenty of space, a sofa area, and a balcony overlooking the lively Calle Mexico.

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NB: there are a few different properties in Buenos Aires with the name ‘Babel’; be sure not to confuse them.

Book a room here if you want: to stay in San Telmo, with a cool spacious room, at a good price.

Swoop Effort Levels

Swoop’s trips are all categorised with our own ‘Effort Levels’, which range from 1-10; 1 being a walk in the park, and 10 being a high altitude, technical mountain ascent such as K2. This table summarises the 10 Effort Level categories, hopefully allowing you to best select and prepare for your trip to Patagonia.

Level Description Example(s)
1 Walk in the Park A Walk in the park ;-)
2 Walking for 3 to 4 hours, with some up and down Walking in the South Downs
3 6 to 8 hour day hikes, significant ascent, with a daypack Day hike up Ascensio valley; Full day’s hiking in the Lake District
4 2-3 days trekking, significant ascents, with rucksack, but with support, and comfort overnight W circuit, with support and overnight in lodges/refugios
5 2-3 days trekking, signficant ascents with limited support W Circuit of Torres del Paine, un-aided
6 Trekking with major ascents and tough terrain over 6+ days, but perhaps with some porter support, or comfort overnight Torres del Paine full circuit, but with support / nights in refugios
7 Trekking, major ascents, 6 days+, camping overnight, tough terrain 8 day trek in Torres del Pain, off the beaten track
8 Trekking including some mountaineering or work on ice Trekking Patagonian Ice Cap
9 Mountaineering, one of either high altitude (6,000 to 7,000 metres plus) or technical Climb Aconcagua
10 High altitude technical mountain ascent Climbing K2

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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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Reciprocity Fees for Chile & Argentina

What are Reciprocity Fees?

Five of the twelve independent countries in South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay) charge a fee to people of certain nationalities wishing to enter.

The amount payable depends on your nationality, and only residents of certain countries have to pay it (based on the fact that their governments charge the same entry fees in return).

The rates range from $23-160 USD per person.

The Chilean fee can be paid on arrival at the airport, whereas the Argentinian fee must be paid in advance.

Chile Reciprocity Fees

Recent News for US Citizens

In February 2014 we received excellent news from Santiago’s international airport that US citizens are no longer required to pay the $160 reciprocity fee upon entering Chile through any border. US citizens can now enter Chile for up to 90 days on a tourist visa with only a valid passport.

How/ When to pay?

On arrival to Chile (at the airport), citizens of Canada, Mexico and Australia will be charged the below fees payable in either US dollars cash, or by credit card. The payment is not required when entering the country by land/ vehicle.

Canadians:        $132 USD

Australians:       $95 USD

Mexicans:          $23 USD

All other countries are exempt from this fee.

Please remember…

Visa and entry requirements are subject to change and you should check with your consulate for the latest rules before you travel.

Make sure you have 6 months validity left on your passport before traveling to Chile. UK citizens do not currently require a visa to enter Chile as a tourist and are granted a 3-month stay upon arrival.

Argentina Reciprocity Fees

How/ When to pay?

The Argentinian Reciprocity fee MUST BE PAID AND PRINTED OUT BEFORE entering Argentina via land or air. The fee varies depending on your nationality…

U.S. Citizens:     $160 USD

Canadians:        $150 USD

Australians:       $100 USD

The fee can be paid here…

www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesibleingles or www.provinciapagos.com.ar/dnm

…and it will allow you to enter the country for 90 days at a time (duration depending on nationality)

Please remember…

Visa and entry requirements are subject to change and you should check with your consulate for the latest rules before you travel.

Make sure you have 6 months validity left on your passport before traveling to Argentina.

SARAH ALLEN KAYAK 3

Sarah & Tim’s Independent Full Circuit and Tyndall Glacier Kayaking trip

After independently trekking the Full Circuit in Torres del Paine, Sarah and her partner took a Kayaking trip to the Tyndall River, Lake and Glacier in late December 2013. Here she tells us about her experiences…

We had an amazing trip to Patagonia, thanks, we’ll be back!

SARAH ALLEN KAYAK 3

What was the highlight of your trip?

Highlight of the kayaking trip was probably paddling up the pristine clear waters of the Tyndall River with fish jumping around us, to camp in the wild by Tyndall Lake and then paddle right up to the Glacier the next morning. The scenery was really dramatic, granite rocks glistening in the rain and the black glacier-topped cliff at the head of the lake looming closer and closer.

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

We did the Full Circuit in Torres del Paine independently prior to the Kayaking trip.

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

Great thanks, we were really happy with the kayaking operator you put us intouch with, and the kayaking trip was the icing on the cake of our trekking trip, which we wouldn’t otherwise have thought of or known about.

SARAH ALLEN KAYAK

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

Excellent. Javiera was great, really communicative with all the arrangements for booking, payment and gear for the trip.

Their gear was really good quality. We had full dry suits (brilliant given the water and air temperature!) and dry bags were provided for our kit. Kayaks were good too, and we had nice light carbon-handled paddles.

They met us off the catamaran at Pudeto where we were finishing our trek and took all our excess baggage off our hands, bringing it back to us in the car when they picked us up off the ferry after our kayaking. They also ran us around town, back to our previous hostel where they waited while we returned some hire kit and picked up a bag we’d left there, then back out to Hotel Altiplanico (gorgeous place for a little luxury after 11 nights camping!) where we were staying that night.

Our guide, Brooke, was awesome. She gave us a full safety briefing, was flexible with what we wanted to do, and cooked us yummy meals! She also took some photos and sent them to us.

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

Nothing to do with Swoop or Patagonia, but one of our bags went missing on the way out there, which meant a somewhat tense 48 hours until it turned up (containing half our tent, half our food for the trek, our camp cook set, and all of Tim’s clothes!!)

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

Do it! I would highly recommend the Full Circuit over the W for anyone who wants a little more adventure and solitude than what you’ll find on the W. We had a full rest day, so could easily have done it in 8 days and it could be done in less than that if pushed for time.

The views over Grey Glacier as you top the John Garner Pass are truly incredible and the valleys on the back side are beautiful, with enormous meadows of daisies, beautiful lakes and rivers, lush lenga forest, and mountains and glaciers all around.

Evening meals in the refugios are good value – the food is really good and it saves you carrying food for the whole journey. We also got a couple of box lunches, in which the fresh fruit was much appreciated! Although for breakfasts and lunches you can provide for yourself pretty easily. 

The kayaking, although it wasn’t cheap, was totally worth it to explore some areas that you just wouldn’t have otherwise got into. We really enjoyed spending 12 days in Torres del Paine, to really thoroughly explore it, rather than dashing around trying to see a little bit of lots of places.

Patagonia is perfect for people who want a bit of dramatic wilderness that is actually pretty accessible. We’ll be back!SARAH ALLEN KAYAK 2

Emilie Roederer glacier

Emilie & Xander’s Tailor-Made Week of Trekking in Los Glaciares National Park

Emilie and Xander returned just a few days ago from a trip to Patagonia, during which they embarked on a week-long tailor made Trek in Los Glaciares National Park. Here Emilie tells us about their experiences…

Thank you so much…it was an amazing experience and we are definitely coming back to Argentina!!

Emilie Roederer glacierHow was your trip overall?

We really enjoyed the trip and will be back for sure! We especially enjoyed the variation of accommodation and hikes, and the general way of travelling. Hiking with a guide is great as they give you so much information, and it is easier for you to plan your days.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The second day of hiking to the border and back to the lodge was our favourite.

The first day of hiking was quite tough. We went up to the glacier first, which was really nice, and then walked the length of Lago Del Desierto (the boat wasn’t functioning so the original programme was changed slightly). This walk was quite long and a lot of up and down, also it was raining.

The second day was a lot easier, we decided to walk to the border of Chile and back and continue on to the lodge halfway along the lake. It was sunny and the hike to the boarder was very scenic.

Gaston, our guide, told us a lot about the plants, trees, birds and glaciers which we much enjoyed. Eventually we hiked for about 8 hours on each day. The reason we also preferred this area to the last day’s hike is because it was more quiet. We did see quite a few cyclists, but overall it was a very secluded area.

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How was your accommodation on the trip?

We liked all of the accommodation we stayed in, especially the lodge on Lago Del Desierto.

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

Yes, we continued to do some hiking in Bariloche (Thanks for the accommodation tip, we stayed at Marianna’s hostel which was very nice), then at Hotel Tronador (very nice area but so many horse flies it was difficult to do long hikes. 

We did some small hikes, went to Tronador to see the black glacier and waterfalls, and did some canoeing), then to Villa de la Angostura (very nice as well, we did a boat trip and hiked up and down the peninsula – very nice hike), then to San Martin de los Andes (again very nice, we went to Quila Quina beach for a day and climbed to the base of volcano Lanin – very recommendable hike).

After about 9 days in the lake district we spent 4 days in Buenos Aires which was also good but very warm (heatwave - 40 degrees…). We did the usual touristy stuff and most enjoyed the Palermo Soho area.

EMILIE ROEDERER TORRES

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

Very well. We were extremely happy with the trip.

How was the operator, Walk Patagonia, and how were their guides on the trip?

Very good. Gaston, the guide, was really great. He told us all about the nature, area and Argentinian culture and was flexible in terms of hike options and durations.

The operator overall was also good, Zoe met us at the bus station and provided detailed information on the next days.

Emilie Roederer Lake

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

We would have liked more time at Perito Moreno. We were picked up at 9 and left at 3 so had about 4 hours there. This was sufficient for a boat trip and walk on the paths (which were really nice!) but we would have like to do the mini trek on the ice. We only heard about that option on the way there and there was space for us to do it, but not enough time as we had to catch the bus to El Chalten in the evening. We would have been keen to leave earlier so we could have done that. But good reason to go back :)

emilie roederer beach

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

We looked at some of your existing itineraries and picked one with varied hikes and accommodation (camping followed by nice lodge) and can highly recommend keeping it varied. The hikes are quite long (all at least 8 hrs) and it is nice to spoil yourself a bit in between and have a “rest day” (even though we did do some small hikes!).

Once again, thanks for everything.

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Ray & Co. Trek the W Circuit in Torres del Paine

Ray and his friends returned a week ago from a trip to Patagonia where they embarked on a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here Ray tells us about their experiences…

‘My friends and I had a blast. Thanks for the excellent service.’

Group2How did you find the trip?

We had an amazing time with some amazing people.  Our guide Lucas was amazing, and we are so happy to have had two others join our group of 4.  All 7 of us (including Lucas) connected instantly and enjoyed each other throughout the days.

The hiking was amazing and the rich knowledge Lucas had was astonishing at such a young age. 

We were very surprised with the level of comfort at the refugios we stayed in, and we even coined it… “5-star hostel glamping”!

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

We also visited Santiago and were a little underwhelmed.  Punta Arenas was OK, but we did wish we had had more time in Puerto Natales. 

In retrospect, we would have liked to have known more about what was on offer in Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales beforehand, and skipped Santiago altogether.

What was the highlight of your trip to Patagonia?

The hiking was easy to moderate overall, but the scenery and landscape was amazing.  And, of course the people we trekked with made a huge difference!

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

Bring lotion for the super dry air and wind.

No sleeping bags required… accommodations are immaculate.

TIP YOUR GUIDE.  They work hard and deserve it.

You can pack pretty light and reuse clothes since it was pretty chilly (perfect for hiking).  A mid weight wool shirt is thickest thing you’ll need under your jacket ever.

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

Everything was well arranged.  Our only wish is there had been more insight offered on other areas of Chile to consider (such as the two smaller towns mentioned above).

How was the operator Swoop introduced you to, and your guides?

Lucas was amazing!  Cannot say enough good things… humour, knowledge, empathy,… only improvement would be to have brought more avocados!!! JK…. Great guy!

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

Hot water at the last refugio (Cuernos)… but that is just because we were spoiled at the other two.  Also, the hot tub never worked in our cabana place.  

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Advice on Vaccinations for Patagonia

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First of all, this is NOT a qualified medical recommendation, merely our own experience from speaking to doctors and nurses here in the UK. You should definitely speak to your own healthcare providers.

We were given the following advice for visiting southern Chile and Argentina

Make sure your immunisation is up to date for:

  • Tetanus
  • Hepatitis A

Chile and Argentina are lower risk areas for the following…

  • Rabies
  • Hepatitis B
  • Typhoid

…some individual circumstances my require vaccination.

If travelling solely in southern Chile and Argentina you are not likely to need immunisation for:

  • Yellow Fever
  • Malaria

For more information you can refer to: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/yellowbook-2012-home.htm

Please seek qualified medical advice for confirmation of the above, and your own personal circumstances.

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

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.