Tag Archives: accommodation

Larry & Susan’s Trek in Torres del Paine & Los Glaciares, & Cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas

Larry and Susan returned in March from a trip to Patagonia with friends Jane and Jim. Their trip included an Independent trek in Torres del Paine and El Chalten, followed by a cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in planning and arranging it with Swoop and our partners in Chile and Argentina…

What was your experience of planning and arranging your trip with Swoop?

Speaking for Susan and myself, I think that the most important point in terms of the structure of the trip was that it worked very well.  I believe that there are certainly logistical and language issues with a trip such as this, and I feel that the arrangements made by Swoop and the other operators were well worth the money.  Having self-arranged trips elsewhere in the world, at least 5 times previously, going via Swoop was a different structure, and I would encourage others to do likewise, especially with potential language issues.

What were the highlights of your trip?

In El Chalten, we were pleasantly surprised that a small village of its size has the amenities that it does.  Nothing like walking into the Mirador for Fitzroy, and walking out to enjoy a pint at the microbrewery, followed by a great restaurant meal, and a good sleep at Kaulem. For me, El Chalten was the highlight, given the total surprise at what we had expected for facilities, and the relative ease at getting into the objectives.

The cruise was wonderful; great meals, wonderful tablemates, very knowledgeable interpreters.  The choice of a berth in the lower deck was the right one, given the rough seas, going towards Cape Horn.

Swoop is commended for recommending Parc Nationale los Glaciares; this was a highlight also.

How did you find the Trekking in Torres del Paine & Chalten?

I would not describe the “W Trek” as a life-changing experience.  Having hiked, scrambled, and climbed in the Canadian Rockies for 35 years I guess I have been spoiled.

The trails in both countries are well maintained and clean; the daily itinerary was very do-able, for people of our age and relative fitness.

We found the Refugio staff to be less than helpful, not at all service based, and the meals monotonous and of dubious quality, especially some of the vegetarian options.  I certainly think these young people could learn a lesson about guest expectations and service from the folks at Palermo, and on the Crusie.  I picked up bed bugs at one of the Refugios as well.  Could they not charge a little more, and offer a little more?

On the ground , we found your partners in Torres del Paine very helpful and a good resource, although we also took in the 3:00 p.m. talk at Erratic Rock.  She could do with a little more prominent sign.

How were your other accommodations during  the trip?

In Buenos Aires, we found the Palermo Hotel and its concierge service quite exceptional.  We are not normally effusive in our praise, but Luke really picked a winner here. The facility in El Calafate was unexceptional,  no strong memories, one way or the other.

In Chile, the people at both Erratic Rock were helpful, and it was appreciated that they held our spare kit while we were elsewhere (as did Palermo, in Buenos Aires).

The B&B in Punta Arenas could have been better.  We were in side by side rooms, nearby the upstairs dining area.  Noise from the front desk carried, the staff seemed to be oblivious to their all night “yakking” and then the German group got up (or maybe never went to bed) at 4:00 a.m. or so, to have breakfast.  So, a real lack of commitment to other guests, and I’d encourage you to find something smaller, and quieter.

Overall…

In conclusion, a well planned and well organized trip, for which considerable recognition should also go to my wife, Susan, as well.  I really think her secret job is also tour operating, and should you have any vacancies, please keep her in mind!

This is a trip we have been working on since we read Bruce Chatwins’ book, “In Patagonia”, in approximately 1980.  We still have the book, and brought it along to reread.  Then, we were poor University students and all we could afford was “armchair travelling”.  So, 34 years later and the circle closes.  We have fulfilled one of our dreams as a couple, between armchair and wheelchair, I guess you’d say.

Thank you, once again, for the effort. Cheers! Larry.

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Luke Reviews Casita Chil-Hue, Chiloe

Britt and his wife have lived here for 15 years, and have built two cabanas and a couple of smaller lodges in the land around their home. You couldn’t ask for a host more knowledgeable of Chiloe’s history and culture and passionate about sharing it.
He cooks a great breakfast too!

I stayed in the Casita which would suit a family of 3-4 really nicely, with a beautiful bedroom, kitchen/dining area and a loft area that kids would love.

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I woke up here to wonderful views out to the Pacific, put on my trainers and took as little as twenty pace to reach the beach and enjoy a wonderful early morning jog. The beach lies on the northern coast of Chiloe and stretches all the way to the island’s second town, Ancud.
It was a beautiful morning and, as is the case all the way along the coastline of Chiloe I saw so many different birds and not a single human being.
Screen Shot 2014-05-30 at 13.15.45Ancud is a 10 minute drive away, and given that the town has little to offer in the ways of nice restaurants and bars that’s probably no bad thing.

Use this as a base on Chiloe if you want:
peace and tranquility and wonderful hosts, just a few feet from the ocean

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Marcel’s 3 day Winter Trek in Torres del Paine

Marcel returned in May from a 3 day Winter Trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Here he tells us a little about his trip, and his experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

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What was the highlight of the trip?

The highlight was our second day hike to the base of the Towers! This was supposed to be day one, but horizontal hail and gale force like winds made us change the itinerary and stay low the first day (good decision!).

How were your guides on the trip?

The guide (Carlos) was great, very good English, nice, knew great hikes, would want to have him as guide again in a heartbeat. All in all 3 great days.

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Is there anything you would have liked to happen differently?

If we had to choose something, it would probably be the accommodation. We experienced some troubles with hot water and heating, which was not ideal after returning from a day’s hiking in very cold temperatures! Compared to the very high level of everything else on the tour, this was the only area that fell a little short I think.

Overall…

Overall we had a very good time, beautiful park, nature absolutely great, transport there and back, all very well organized. We’d like to come back next year!

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Puma Tracking and Adventure Cruise Patagonia

Kush and his friends returned in March from a trip to Patagonia during which they embarked on a Puma Tracking trip in Torres del Paine, followed by a 4 night Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Here Kush tells us about their experiences on the trip…

‘It’s an incredible feeling seeing a Puma on foot less than 5 meters away from you. All of us were elated and kept replaying every moment again and again. It is a fantastic experience.’

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How was your Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia?

The cruise was fantastic. We really enjoyed the food the hospitality and the excursions.

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How was the Puma Tracking trip? It was again fantastic. I can’t recommend our guide Carlos enough. He went out of the way to accommodate us and to make sure we were comfortable at all times. He even woke us up as early as 0430 and brought us back home as late as 2200 just because we were so determined to see Pumas. He carried packed lunch with us on our hikes and put up an extraordinary spread in the middle of nowhere. He was great and so was our driver.

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What was the highlight of your trip overall? We managed to see Pumas and that was the highlight of the trip. We saw a sub-adult drinking, walking stretching and eating a day old Guanaco carcass, and the next day in the early morning we saw an adult (most likely its mother) walking quickly across the steppe. It’s an incredible feeling seeing a Puma on foot less than 5 meters away from you: all of us were elated and kept replaying every moment again and again. It is a fantastic experience.

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Is there anything you would have changed about your trip? At our accommodation at Hosteria Pehoe we had problems with hot water, and the food at our first accommodation at the Ranch was very poor, but other than that it was good.

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Overall… Overall we had a great time and I will definitely be returning with a few adjustments to the accommodation.

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Remota Hotel

Luke’s Review of the Remota, Puerto Natales

The Remota was the first of a handful of top-end hotels on the outskirts of Puerto Natales. We should use the word ‘luxury’ carefully out here. This isn’t a silver-and-gold style of luxury; it’s more about unique, memorable and comfortable rooms with spectacular views, attentive service and amazing excursions.
photo (2) The hotel is designed to resemble a cattle corale, and remind us of southern Patagonia’s sheep farming history. The bar, restaurant and numerous sitting areas all look out across the Last Hope Sound, at the time of my visit we had beautifully clear skies all the way out to the Balmaceda glacier and the peaks of Torres del Paine. In fact, yesterday evening I enjoyed one of the best Patagonian sunsets I’ve ever experienced from their roof.
photo (6) The team here were eager to remind me that guests spend 80% of their time outside the hotel and we spent most of our time talking about their excursions. There’s an ongoing discussion amongst those in the know about the merits of a hotel that isn’t actually inside Torres del Paine National Park. Which customers are going to want to stay in place that’s 2-3 hours from the main hiking trails of the ‘W’!
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My view is that properties like Remota (and nearby Singular and Altiplanico) are not an alternative to hiking in and staying in Torres del Paine, but they are a wonderful, indeed important, complement. That the ‘W Trek’ offers the region’s most iconic, photogenic and dramatic landscapes is without question; however the trails get busier each year and offer people little in the way of experiencing Patagonia’s remoteness and isolation, and understanding it’s natural, historical and cultural context.
I think this is where Remota comes in: after you’ve hiked the ‘W’, use Remota as a base to go horse-riding with a real local gaucho, fly-fish for trout on a remote river, explore a vast cave and archaeological site with an expert local guide, hike to a Patagonian peak that few tourists have ever set foot on.
Horse Riding excursionBook 3-4 nights here if you want: to experience the hidden landscapes and cultural context of southern Patagonia, from a stylish and comfortable base.

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Luke’s Review of Arakur Hotel, Ushuaia

Arakur is a new hotel up on Cerro Cortez, above Ushuaia. I stayed here after my trip to Antarctica and welcomed a bit of luxury after 10 days on a small expedition vessel. The hotel is about 15 minutes from the centre of town and several hundred meters higher up the mountain. This gives you spectacular views across the Beagle Channel. The light down here is amazing even from sea level, and from this position up on the mountain you have a view that will mesmerise anyone with an eye for Mother Nature.
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The hotel has only recently started receiving its first guests so they are still finding their feet when it comes to service; however you can already see that they are aiming very high in terms of the levels of attention they will provide their guests. It’s a large hotel but has some interesting and unique design features that make it feel a bit more boutique, and they’ve succeeded in giving it the feel of a classic Patagonia ‘Lodge’.
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The hotel has many selling points, but  the most important in my opinion is that this is, I think, the only hotel in/near Ushuaia from which you can walk straight onto beautiful hiking trails. They have 100 hectares of wildlife reserve (tbc) with some beautiful trails for walks of up to 3 hours. You will walk through Lenga forest to some spectacular views of the Valle Andorra, and the Glaciar Vinciguerra, and of course out across the Beagle Channel.
Having met their senior guide, I suspect that over time this may evolve into the number one base for day hikes around Argentine Tierra del Fuego.

Book a couple of nights here if you want: some well deserved comfort and luxury, and an opportunity to stretch your legs in the foothills of Tierra del Fuego.

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Excursions from an eco camp in Torres del Paine

Scott & Orlee returned in April from a trip to Chile, during which they spent 5 days of day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park, based from an eco camp. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and in booking through Swoop…

‘We had an amazing time in Chile, one that will not be forgotten with Patagonia being a definite highlight!’

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What did Swoop do well?

Communication and customer service which gained trust.  I also felt that I was being dealt with directly and not as part of the masses…a personalized service in helping organize our trip.

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What did you think of the eco camp in Torres del Paine?

This place is amazing.  Clean, comfortable, & hospitable.  I would (and already have) definitely recommend it to anyone!

We did encounter one issue that could have been serious…one morning the board walks connecting the domes and other facilities had frozen over with a very thin layer of ice that was not distinguishable from wet wood.  Unassumingly my wife led the way to breakfast and nearly fell right outside our dome (double scary when pregnant).  As I sort of rushed after her my feet went flying out from beneath me and fell within inches from hitting my head on the steps leading away from our dome.  I find it unlikely none of the staff noticed this on their way to prepare breakfast but regardless, guests should be made aware of this possibility and if the ground is unsafe, signs indicating icy or slippery ground should be placed in plain view at the very least. 

Also, our room had a hot water urn to make a tea or instant coffee.  These should be filled in anticipation of guests return from excursions so when we change for our brief & dinner we have hot water waiting for us (there was not much time to shower, change, etc…and the 1 time I went for hot water, there was none ready).

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How did you enjoy the excursions from the eco camp?

They were fantastic.  We also lucked out with the weather.  Our last excursion was the Lasso-Webber (sp?) trail hike in place of the French Valley (I think).  This should always be an option…just as rewarding as the towers and less effort.

 How were the staff and guides at the eco camp?

Guides were knowledgeable, funny, and comfortable to be around for long periods of time.  The drivers however went too fast at times on those bumpy roads and car sickness was not a welcomed addition to the trip.  

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

No, I don’t think so.

scott glacierWhat was the highlight of your trip overall?

Hard to say…the whole thing was a highlight.

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

If guests are not regular hikers I would definitely recommend this trip, it seemed a better mix of effort and comfort.

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

Yes, Santiago, Puerto Varas (driving around the lake and visiting Osorno was also amazing), and Chiloe.

‘All the best from us to you, Luke and Sally and thanks again for helping us plan a truly unforgettable experience.’

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Luke’s Review of La Campanilla, Ushuaia

La Campanilla, is a small owner-run hotel on the outskirts of Ushuaia.
I stayed here the night before my expedition cruise to Antarctica. As you enter La Campanilla the first thing you’ll see is a large photograph of Ernest Shackelton as his men in front of the ice-bound Endurance; especially thought provoking for anyone heading down to Antarctica. You also be welcomed by your charming hosts, whose photos of their own travels you can see up on the wall next to reception.

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The rooms are cosy but comfortable and breakfast will stand you in good stead for a day ahead exploring the Tierra del Fuego national park. A taxi ride to San Martin in the middle of town costs around $7 and takes about 10 minutes.

Book a room here if you want: friendly and familiar, at a good price, and don’t mind being outside town. 

San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires & San Telmo

Sally’s thoughts on Buenos Aires and  San Telmo

Unfortunately Buenos Aires is not as safe as it once was. There are more homeless people, shanty towns have grown enormously and so inevitably the level of crime has increased as well. At night, a certain level of caution is an absolute must (i.e. don’t stray too far from well lit, busy areas where there are bars and restaurants, and take taxis).

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Plaza Dorrego – San Talmo

San Telmo was once a poor neighbourhood (and parts of it still are), but vast amounts of money have been invested opening up boutique hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes and clothes shops. It also has the lovely Plaza Dorrego which is buzzing with life until at least 1am. It is definitely not as polished or affluent as other neighbourhoods like Palermo or Recoleta, but in my opinion it has more character.

To give you an idea, the following links are to my four favourite restaurants in the area:

http://www.parrilladelplata.com/

http://www.parrillalabrigada.com.ar/

http://www.cafelapoesia.com.ar/english/que-notable.php

http://barelfederal.com.ar/

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.