Tag Archives: Argentina

Ali’s Trek and Ice Hike in Los Glaciares National Park

Ali returned at the end of January from a trek in Los Glaciares National Park, where he hiked in and around El Chalten, exploring the many mountains, glaciers, lakes and valleys around the dramatic Mount Fitz Roy. Here he tells us about his trip and his experience of booking with Swoop and our partners, and shares some fantastic photos and videos!

Ali Habbtar Viedma Glacier from Paso Huemul

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of my ‘Complete Chalten’ trip was seeing the Continental Ice Field and trekking between Paso del Viento and Paso Huemul with very few people and amazing scenery.

Video: Viedma Glacier & the Continental Ice Field

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

 Not this time, but hopefully next time.

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

Swoop did an excellent job, the flexibility in trying to meet my schedule was great and the operator recommendations were fantastic.

Were you well looked after by the operator in El Chalten & their guides on the trip?

Zoe and the crew did an outstanding job in terms of adjusting the trek to get maximum benefit, it helped that I was a one-man group :)

The equipment and food provided was great, the hotels recommended and booked were excellent, and the guide, Gaston did an outstanding job- very professional, knowledgeable, and fun to trek with.

Ali Habbtar Snow-covered peace

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

Hopefully next time I’ll be able to plan further in advance without many changes.

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

Be ready physically and mentally, and enjoy nature at its best.

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.

emILIE ROEDERER LAKE 2

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.

Reciprocity fee for entering Argentina (USA, Canada, Australia)

This one definitely falls into the boring-but-important category, and if you are a UK passport holder then you’re lucky enough to not need to read this.

If however you hold a US, Canadian or Australian passport then please get yourself a strong coffee and read on…

First and foremost this is a payment that MUST be made PRIOR to arriving in Argentina.

The lack of such proof of payment will generate the denial of entry of the passenger and consequent returning to their departure city by the airline. We strongly urge passengers to take the necessary precautions so that those passengers who travel to the mentioned airports with a scheduled arrival starting on November 1st, 2012 (Jorge Newbery) and December 29th, 2012 (Ezeiza) have the electronic receipt with them.

The National Immigration Agency has changed the method by which tourists and business visitors from the US, Canada, and Australia will be required to pay in order to gain visa entry to Argentina. The reciprocity fee will shortly no longer be payable at the airport upon arrival. Instead the payment must be carried out online, prior to arrival, using the credit card based Provincia Payment System.

How do I make payment?

1. Sign up here https://virtual.provinciapagos.com.ar/ArgentineTaxes/Registro.aspx. You’ll need your passport number. You’ll also be asked to create a password which you’ll need for….

2. Go to bottom left of this page to login: https://virtual.provinciapagos.com.ar/ArgentineTaxes/. This is where you’ll enter your credit card details and make payment.

3. Print the payment receipt, and present it to Immigration Control on arrival in Argentina

When does this take effect?

The system will be effective as of 31st October 2012 for flights to Aeroparque and 28th December 2012 for Ezeiza International Airport. A press release clearly states that “after these dates cash payments will not be accepted at the airport”.
The change in payment method follows a decision to increase the fee for US citizens from US$140 to US$160, which came into effect in April of this year.

 What if I’m entering Argentina by land or sea?

This fee is ONLY payable for international air arrival at the two Buenos Aires airports (Aeroparque and Ezeiza)for Canadians , Australians and Americans. It does NOT apply for international arrival by air at any other airport (such as Mendoza, Cordoba or Salta), and NOT to arrival by land, road or sea. Also it does not apply to any other nationalities.

How much is the feee?

Australians: get multiple entries for their $US 100 fee, but it only lasts one year from the first entry after payment, after which you need to pay again.

Canadians: get a single entry for their $US 75 fee.

Americans: get multiple entries for 10 years (transferable to a new passport if you show your old one) for their $US 160.

Books and films About Patagonia

So the trip’s all booked, you’re fantasising about the new trekking gear you should (or maybe could) get, and you’re hungry to find out more about Patagonia.

Here are a few recommendations that we think will inform and inspire you before your big trip, you may also be interested to read our Patagonia Guide.

Books

1. In Patagonia, Bruce Chatwin

Chatwin’s collection of stories about his journeys through Patagonia, written in 1977, is a literary classic. Whilst it’s not exactly an easy going travel journal with a clear view of places to visit and things to do, it does provides some wonderful stories about the characters that he met and their own history in the region. http://tinyurl.com/6w2ec6k

2. Patagonia – a Cultural History, Chris Moss

Chris Moss has lived in Argentina for years and provides an insightful view of Patagonia’s history right from the start. You’ll get a sense of Patagonia’s influence on everyone from its indigenous people to 19th century explorers, the Welsh pioneers and even Butch Cassidy. http://tinyurl.com/7dtzc76

3. Mischief in Patagonia, Bill Tilman

This is out of print, but you should be able to find a copy and I’d recommend it wholheartedly. Tilman sailed from Britain, through the Magellan Straits, and up the Pacific Coast. He then embarked on an expedition across the Patagonian Ice Cap east to west. A wonderfully understated account of what must have been a truly extraordinary journey. http://tinyurl.com/7p4yxqt

4. Trekking in the Patagonian Andes

For a more practical guide to hiking in the region this is an excellent refernce and, in fact, I still have my 1998 edition on the bookshelf from my first visit. http://tinyurl.com/7383yhl

Films & Videos

1. In Patagonia (2010)

In Patagonia charts the journeys of an elderly Argentine lady exploring her roots in Wales, and a Welsh couple visiting Patagonia . It is filmed mainly in northern Patagonia around the Chubut Valley with some beautiful shots of the steppe, and in Wales. It received mixed reviews, but the shots of northern Patagonia are stunning and we certainly enjoyed it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1020559/. More about the Patagonia film on the Swoop blog. One of our partners runs a trip to all the top locations in the film – a great way to see the area.

2. Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race 2011: The Last Wild Race

The 10 day race may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a good one to enjoy from your armchair. The race is run in Southern  Chilean Patagonia every year, through both iconic national parks and areas that are very rarely seen. You’ll be wowed by the landscapes as much as by the endeavours of the participants of the race.
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/movie/wenger-patagonian-expedition/id498965561

3. A story for tomorrow, Gnarly Bay Productions

We only came across this beautiful short video of Chile and Patagonia today, but Charlotte and I were both mesmerised. http://vimeo.com/36519586

 

Of course, this is just a selection. Please do add your own suggestions and comments below.

Hannah & James

Customer Review: James’ and Hannah’s Chilean & Argentinian adventure!

Hannah and James visited Patagonia as part of a month long trip to the region starting off in northern Chilean Patagonia, before making their way down to Torres del Paine and exploring Chalten. They share some wonderful photos of their time in Patagonia, and we ask them about the highlights of their trip:

1. Where did you go in Patagonia and what did you do? 

We went to Pucon for one night and then drove to the Huilo Huilo reserve via the Termas Geometricas. We stayed in the Magic Mountain for two nights and then drove to Puerto Varas and spent the night there before going sea kayaking for three nights with a guide from Secret Patagonia. We spent two of these three nights camping in Parque Pumalin. We then flew to Puntas Arenas and transferred to Puerto Natales for one night before embarking on a 5 day trekking expedition in Torres del Paine. We then spent a night in Puerto Natales at the Indigo hotel before catching the bus to Calafate in Argentina. We hired a car and then drove to Chalten and spent the night at Estancia La Quinta. We walked up to Mt Fitzroy before driving back to Calafate and spending two nights there. While there we did a day excursion to the Perito Moreno glacier where we walked on the glacier. We book-ended our South American trip with nights in Santiago at the start and Buenos Aries at the end.

2. What was the highlight of your trip?

Everything was a highlight! Some of them would be:

Termas Geometricas in Pucon. We drove there on our way from Pucon to Huilo Huilo, and spent a relaxing few hours moving between slate terma baths situated in a beautiful ravine. There were very few people there and it had to be by far the best termas we went to on our trip.

Magic Mountain hotel in Huilo Huilo national park. Whilst staying at the stunningly amazing Magic Mountain hotel we did the XXL canopy walk trip, which is included the highest zip line in South America and a zip line over a waterfall. Needless to say, this was a breathtaking experience I will never forget, if not partly because I was terrified of heights!

Trekking in Torres del Paine, and waking up to see the Towers looming above the refugio in the sunshine, a view which we could see from our beds. The overwhelming beauty that we woke up to every day whilst on our 5 day trek of the ‘W’ route is simply something that cannot be replicated. Whilst we did not find the trek overly challenging, it is the only way to see all of the beauty of the park and we highly recommend it! In the bus on the way back to Puerto Natales every person in the bus held on to every last glimpse of the Towers, trying to ingrain it into their memory, before promptly falling asleep.

Recovering from the trek in the rooftop hot tubs in the Indigo Hotel in Puerto Natales. After 5 days of overwhelming beauty, we recovered on the rooftop hot tubs followed by a pisco sour at the bar. A perfect way to end those 5 days.

The Majestic isolation of Parque Pumalin. Another amazing experience that cannot be summed up easily in to words. Highlights of those days must have been seeing the dolphins, having the sealions swim a few metres under our kayak, the beauty of being in the fjords and the satisfaction of reaching your destination after a hard days’ kayaking!

3. What, if anything, would you change if you could do it again?

Given the same amount of time I wouldn’t change anything but I wish we could have had more time to explore at bit more and savour things without having to move on so fast. We would have loved the opportunity to visit Valdes, Argentina to see the whales.

4. How were the logistics – did everything run smoothly?

The logistics were challenging as we left ourselves no room for error. On one 20+ hour day we got up before 6 at the end of a fjord in Parque Pumalin and finished the day at 2am in Puerto Natales before catching the early morning bus to Torres del Paine the next morning! Everything ran smoothly except the flight from Puerto Montt to Puntas Arenas was delayed so we missed the last bus to Puerto Natales. Luckily a call to Gonzalo from Chile Nativo was enough to save the day as he was able to arrange a private transfer.


5. What did you think of the operators Swoop recommended?

Absolutely fantastic. We could not have asked for more from Secret Patagonia or Chile Nativo. Andres from Secret Patagonia was an incredible guide and kept us happy and entertained throughout our long days of kayaking. His fieldcraft was top notch and we ate well even in the middle of nowhere! As mentioned Gonzalo from Chile Nativo saved the day with a transfer from Puntas Arenas and there was a member of his team waiting at the hotel at 1 in the morning to give us all the vouchers and details we needed for the self-guided trek. We had all the information we needed and it wired perfectly.


6. Would you recommend Swoop?

Yes definitely. Swoop/Charlotte were incredibly helpful with suggestions and tips for the trip as well as helping us find the right operators for the specific sections where we couldn’t organise it ourselves. It was a massive comfort to know that these operators were recommended by Swoop because they required payment in full in advance so we were putting a lot of trust in them and this would have been harder to do without the Swoop recommendation.

Kim’s Review of Patagonia: Torres del Paine & Chalten

Kim visited Torres del Paine national park in December. She has kindly shared her experience in the park which gives you a real idea of what trekking is like. Kim went self-guided, and spent 4 days visiting the park before heading over the border to El Chalten.

I allowed four days for the whole trip.  On day one I was picked up from outside my hostal and taken to the Park.  Once there, I transferred on to one of the waiting mini buses to transfer to Refugio Torres.  From there, I slogged up through the rain to Refugio Chileno.  It took me the better part of 3 hours to get there, with much of the hike being a steady climb (and a slow one in my case). The track is obvious, open to the elements (ie not amongst trees) and there’s no chance of getting lost.  I checked into the Refugio and later in the afternoon (after it had stopped snowing up top!) I walked up to Las Torres.  The first hour of that walk is a very pleasant forest walk. On reaching the turnoff to the Torres campsite, the track proceeded for about 45 minutes up the last boulder clambering climb to the mirador, where, miraculously, the weather cleared for a spectacular view of the towers. 

Day 2 I returned  early down the hill (one hour down!) to Refugio las Torres to catch the bus to connect to the lunchtime ferry across the lake to Lodge Paine Grande.  I had a relaxing afternoon doing a short walk to a nearby mirador and not much else.  We had a snorer in the dorm room tonight – fortunately I had my ear plugs!

Day 3 was my big day, a day trip up to Valle de Frances, one of the jewels of the Park. The full day, leaving and returning to Paine Grande and walking all the way up to the Valle de France mirador, was a 9 ½ hour epic and it’s safe to say that I was fairly knackered by the end of it and never been so happy to round a bend and see a hostal come in to view. It was well worth the effort though.  The weather was stunning  – sunny but not hot and for the most part not much wind.  Leaving at 8am, a flat and easy two hour walk takes you from Paine Grande to the mouth of the valley and the Italiano campsite.  From there, the first section of track heading up the valley was more difficult and much slower going, being mostly over boulderly river stones. It’s necessary to keep an eye out for paint markings on the stones or ribbons on the occasional tree to ensure you are staying on track. 

The track then briefly traverses along the top of a thin and attractively treed ridge, with views to French Glacier, before emerging onto a windswept hilltop.  The track soon ascends back in to forest, for the remaining climb to the head of the valley.  The forest track is undulating rather than a continuous steep climb, relatively obvious and straight forward, though again you do need to keep an eye out for track markers in some places.  There isn’t a lot of undergrowth in these forests so it’s generally easy to spot the track markers up ahead. You emerge briefly at the beautifully situated Britanico campsite (pausing to replenish water supplies from the adjacent river) before walking on another 10-15 minutes to the Mirador itself, which involves a short steep climb at the end.  The total climb from the mouth of the valley took me 3 hours. The view at the top of the Mirador on a clear day is absolutely stunning, essentially comprising a beautiful forested valley amidst a spectacular mountain amphitheatre. I highly recommend it and this recommendation is coming from someone who lives in the South Island of New Zealand (and so has quite high standards for scenery). From there of course there was nowhere to go but down. It took me two and a half hours going down, including a very cautious walk down the last boulderly part, where I figured the risk of injury on tired legs was highest. It was a relief to safely reach the mouth of the valley. Then two hours flat walking back to Lodge Paine Grande, a welcome meal and a big sleep.

Day 4 I left the Lodge at 8am, storing my pack in the Lodge’s secure left luggage facility, to do a quick trip to the first Glaciar Grey mirador (just over half way to the glaciar itself).  The return trip was 4 hours, including a brief rest at the Mirador to admire the glacier. The track to the first Mirador is obvious, gently undulating and fairly easy. On return to the Lodge, I caught the lunchtime ferry back across the Lago, connecting with my bus to Puerto Natales, arriving back in town in the late afternoon.

 

My other epic hiking day was a day trip I did to Laguna de los tres from El Chalten. Again I was really lucky with the weather and had stunning views of FitzRoy, photos attached just because I love to share them!  The last section from Camp Poincenot to the lake and back was hard work and I didn’t particularly enjoy that part  to be honest, but the rest of the walk was very pleasant and with great views.  If anyone was concerned about fitness on the last climb, I’d suggest just going as far as the camp and returning to El Chalten from there. The views of Fitz Roy (including the wee Laguna Capri stop) are still great and you don’t have to completely knacker yourself in the process (the one hour walk from Capri to Poincenot is essentially flat and really quite pretty).  To the camp and back for me would have been about four and a half hours to five hours I think (from the middle of town), including a stop at the first lookout and then at Capri.

Hotel in El Chalten: La Aldea, customer review

Tim and Carla spent their honeymoon in Argentina and Chile mixing Buenos Aires luxury with trekking the W Circuit of Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. They’ve been kind enough to share some of their experiences on the Swoop blog. This second post is about a relaxing and comfortable hotel they used at the base of Mount Fitz Roy in the small town of El Chalten, gateway to Los Glaciares National Park. 
 

 
‘What a great, reasonably priced hotel this is in the small town of El Chalten. Although the rooms are on the small side, they are cosy and warm, and the lounge area is nice to sit in if you need some space. Natalia and Eduardo were welcoming and very informative for advice regarding walks, excursions and restaurants. Definitely go to La Tapera to eat by the way. Eduardo (whose English is superb) is also keen for guests to help him use up his extensive whiskey collection if feeling sociable. Breakfast is basic but fills a hole. What a super base for checking out the walks and activities in this beautiful national park.”

To check availability and rates at La Aldea click here. Alternatively, you can look at other Hotels in Chalten or contact us for advice.

We also recommend that you read more about Tim and Carla’s experience at Hotel Legado Mitico in Buenos Aires.

Tipping guides in Patagonia

We are often asked the question: how much should I tip my guide if they’ve done a great job?

Rough rules of thumb might be:

  • If it’s a group of 1 or 2 people then maybe $10-$20 per day
  • For larger groups a tip of $3 to $5 per day might be appropriate

Obviously it’s always at your discretion, but there are some great guides out there who are passionate, knowledgeable and really go the extra mile to make your trip as good as it possibly can be, and it’s nice to reward them.

If you have a different view then please let us know in the comments…

Cost of a holiday to Patagonia: macroeconomic influences

 

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

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

First of some high level data points:

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

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

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

 

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

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


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

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

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

Hiking and ice trekking around Mount FitzRoy

In November 2011 Sarah, Amy and Felix flew into El Calafate for 5 days in Patagonia and went hiking and glacier trekking in the area around Mount FitzRoy. They were kind enough to send some photos and share some thoughts on ther trip, and on Walk Patagonia who supported them.
 
 
What did you think of Patagonia?

We had a fantastic time trekking (and ice trekking!) in Patagonia. The hikes themselves were just what we were after both in terms of the actual hiking and the landscapes (apart from the snow storms, though there’s obviously not much that can be done about those!). What a stunning part of the world.


How was your guide?
 
The guide Zoe provided for us, Peru, was fabulous – his English was very good, he was very knowledgeable about the area and was fun company.
 
What was the top highlight?
 
The whole experience!

What do you think of the operator that Swoop Patagonia recommended?
 
We thought Walk Patagonia were great. We were also very impressed by the little extras from Zoe – the very tasty pack lunches, the good recommendations for eating, driving us to and from the bus station, obtaining extra gear, meeting us on the trail when our friend hurt his ankle, the suprise bottle of wine when we went camping and always being super friendly and helpful.