Tag Archives: camping

Off the Beaten Track Expedition in Torres del Paine

John and his friends returned in February from an off the beaten track trekking and kayaking expedition out of Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his trip and his experiences in booking with Swoop and our local partners…

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Did the itinerary fit with your plans and aspirations for the trip? 

Yes the itinerary was as I had hoped and fitted our aspirations.

How would you describe the route, and terrain?

The route was manageable in general; we had one hard day of 10 to 12 hours, followed by an easier day of 6 hours. It was demanding overall due to the fact we trekked for 2-3 weeks overall, camping throughout.

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The Oggioni Pass was demanding, but not overly so, and took us about 10 hours. Cristian did say he might change the plan to go to Perros Camp rather than Dickson on coming down the pass but in my opinion it would be a pity to miss Dickson Camp, which is a lovely setting.

How was your guide?

One error from our guides was to try and take us ‘off piste’ to a higher track when going over the John Garner pass. This was a bit much for us on an already long day. He did learn from it but could have discussed it with us beforehand. I think he felt we were going well and were up for a challenge and felt as we had a guide we should make use of him by going off the track. In reality, Perros Camp to Lago Grey Camp is a long enough day without adding a couple of hours detour.

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The Pingo Valley was blissfully quiet although Zapata Camp had lots of mosquitos. Climbing Zapata was a demanding day and we were on the hill for 15 hours (5am to 8pm), partly because we started at Zapata Camp, not the Base Camp, and this did add and hour at the start and end of the day. Personally I think this was sensible and cannot see the sense of moving camp an hour nearer the mountain and taking a day to do so.

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The river crossing was also difficult and the usual crossing point was impassable. The crossing point used was above the lake and involved 2 smaller river crossings. I would have thought this was a more sensible and reliable route to use. Our guide had not used it before himself but I suspect he may do so in the future.

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The day on Zapata was windy and at times it looked doubtful if we could continue. To the credit of Cristian, we did plough on through difficult winds when it may have been tempting to stop and did make the summit.

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The 2 older members of our partly (aged 60) did not do Zapata but did have a long and rewarding day in the Fossil area around the mouth of the Tyndall Glacier. Having done Zapata, I feel their decision was a good one, as they would not have managed to last the day or move fast enough over the ground. To do Zapata you need to be able to sustain a long day in the mountains and move promptly over uneven ground.

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Our 2 guides were both very good and spoke excellent English. Cristian was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife especially the birds and knew all the English names and their calls. For me that was a real bonus.

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Jamie, the cook, made some excellent food and this was very much appreciated by us all but especially by Richard, who sometimes feels ill on extreme exertion if not fed well but did not at all on this trip.

Jose, our Kayak guide was perhaps the most impressive as he did all of the cooking and guiding himself.

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Did our partners in Torres del Paine do a good job with the planning and logistics?

I could not really fault the operator’s planning and logistics, which was very flexible throughout the trip. For example they managed to get a food dump to Camp Dickson for us to pick up to avoid too much food being carried over the Oggioni Pass and arranged for wine to be carried into Zapata Camp and fresh coffee for the kayaking when we said we found Chilean coffee poor.

The kayak down the river was a lovely way to finish. At times it was windy and the single lady who joined us needed a tow at one point and the two Germans who joined us on the first day fell in, which must have been miserable we had wet suits which were fine the guide had dry suits and I know Cristian was considering dry suits for future multi day trips.

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Would you recommend Swoop for its help in finding the right trekking route, guide and operator for your trip?

The benefit of Swoop from our point of view was a contact in the UK and an ability to arrange a bespoke tour. Most companies just want to sell the W trek and are not interested in any other options.

Valerie’s Montes Martial Circuit in Ushuaia

Valerie returned in early February from a 3 day trek in Ushuaia, experiencing the valleys, forests, lagoons and summits of the Montes Martial Circuit. Heres she tells us below about her experiences on the trek, and in booking through Swoop Patagonia…

‘I really enjoyed the 3 days on the trek and the guides helped to make the time special.  I know anyone who decides to join this trek will truly enjoy themselves.’

What was the highlight of your trip?

There were so many highlights, it’s difficult to pick just one, but possibly the camping spot was so beautiful beside the calm lake with the mountains rising above the lake.

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

We stayed pretty much around Ushuaia, but did visit more of the Tierra del Fuego park, and took a Beagle Channel cruise to Penguin Island-beautiful!

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

Swoop looked after all details, all we had to do was pick up our backpacks, sleeping bags and pads the day before the start of the trek-everything else was taken care of!

Were you well looked after the operator we put you in touch with & their guides on the trip?

The company looked after all the details…and the guides were excellent-they helped us so much while actually trekking and at the camping spot!

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

The trek was great and I can’t think of anything to change!

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

Be prepared for the wet weather and mud-makes the trek interesting but when outfitted in wet weather gear, so much more comfortable!

Don’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Don returned in February from a trip to Patagonia where he embarked on a Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his trip and his experiences in booking with Swoop Patagonia and our partners…

How was your trip?

I thoroughly enjoyed my Classic Full Circuit Trek, my fellow hikers and guides, and the overall Patagonian experience – and in saying this, I had just spent a month in Antarctica on a yacht just before walking this trek, so I had a high hurdle for being impressed! 

What was the highlight of your trip?

There were a couple – the mental and physical exhilaration of the John Garner Pass day was great, but what surprised me most was the enormously beautiful meadows and bush in the Enchanted Valley… It really seduced you into the delights of Patagonia.

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

Antarctica – Ushuaia/ Puerto Williams.

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

The Operator you recommended for my Full Circuit was great, so yes. Also the way you thought outside the box on the trip departure dates really helped make this work for me.

Were you well looked after by Chile Nativo & their guides on the trip?

Extremely well – Mauricio (Guide Leader) and Miriam (Assistant) were terrific on the hike. Very professional and fun as well. Johanna in the office is an outstanding organiser as well.

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

No.

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

Keep your pack light! 

Gary’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Gary recently returned from a Full Circuit in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his experiences…

How was your trip?

Overall the trip was excellent. A few days were quite gruelling for us old folk but we made it and were very happy we chose the full circuit over the “W Trek”… there were fewer people, and the scenery was much more beautiful and varied.  

What was the highlight of your trip?

The day hike to and past Gray Glacier was the highlight of our trip. It was very difficult but also very rewarding with the magnificent vistas and varied terrain.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Patagonia? 

We spent the second week about 1 1/2 hrs NW of Coyaique at the Rio Paloma Lodge on the Rio Paloma.  Good accommodations and good brown trout fishing.   

What did you think of the operator we put you in contact with in Torres del Paine? 

We thought the operator did an excellent job. Their equipment list was good although there are a few additional items I would suggest (see question on tips for other travellers).

How were your guides on the trip?

Our guide Armando was absolutely great, and other than the scenery was the best part of the trip (or equal to). He was patient with us, spoke excellent English, and provided lots of interesting facts and sights out to us.    

How were your accommodations on the trip?

Our only minor dissatisfaction was the Hostel Amerindia on the W Trek:  Cramped rooms, poor beds, and lousy showers!  Accomodations in Punta Nuestra were very good however. 

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

-I would recommend taking “Buffs” (which you very nicely sent us) and gaiters to the kit list for the W Trek.  We ended up purchasing them in Puerto Natales at high prices at the recommendation of or guide and they came in handy for “the bogs” and snowfields.

-I cannot remember if gloves were on the kit list but were necessary over Gray Pass.   

-I’d also emphasize the layering of clothing as we were fairly warm, obviously, while hiking but at night and when we came to a pass the temperature dropped considerably.  Luckily our guide always warned us just before this happened to put on another warm layer!

 -Although the trekking during the day, especially on the “Big O” circuit was not too crowded, the “W” parts were fairly crowded and not as enjoyable.  I think clients should realize that the campgrounds are very crowded, with “tents on top of tents” and noisy, and that that this not a pristine camping experience.  Be that as it may, we were much happier in the tent than staying in refugios with several other in the room. The tent was quite comfy and roomy.

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

 I appreciate very much Swoop Patogonia’s help in choosing our itinerary and picking a great operator for us in Torres del Paine. You did an excellent job.

John & Laura’s Christmas Trip to Patagonia

John and Laura returned in January 2014 from a Christmas trip to Patagonia, where they took a Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, and a Kayaking trip in Torres del Paine (both organised by Swoop), as well as arranging a Self Guided W Trek and various other day trips independently. Here they tell us about their experiences on their trip…

‘We had a great time…it was a brilliant trip!’

 

What was the HIGHLIGHT of your trip?

The 3 day Kayaking Trip and the Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia were probably the highlights… the kayaking for being a bit wild, and the cruise for being very luxurious but also in a wild place.

On the kayak trip on Lago Grey we were close to an iceberg when it turned over. I think the guide was rather shocked as we were within about 5m of it!

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

We started off in Buenos Aires (the only place that was hot), and from there we travelled to El Calafate, and on to El Chalten.

We then headed back to El Calafate, and on to Puerto Natales, from which we took the W trek in Torres del Paine, and a Kayaking trip.

Afterwards we headed to Puerto Natales, and on to Punta Arenas, from which point we took a Cruise to Ushuaia, and then headed back to Buenos Aires.

How well did SWOOP PATAGONIA do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trips or operators for you?

Very good – booking the kayaking through Swoop with a reputable company with good access to the lake was the most useful and didn’t cost much more (if any)* than the other quotes we had. 

*NB, you will not pay any more by booking through Swoop than you would by booking direct with a local operator. Read more about how we work here.

How were the OPERATORS Swoop put you in contact with?

Both the companies you put us in contact with (the Kayaking and Cruise companies) were very good.

How were the other operators you found yourselves?

Other operators were a little patchy.

We found a great guide kayaking for a day in the Tierra Del Fuego national park but the kayaks weren’t very good (although the clothing was).

We also did half a day of Horse Riding which was OK but I really wanted to see the gauchos and how they managed the estancia and the landscape. That seemed difficult to arrange although Estancia Mercedes sounded the best but was booked up. 

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

-Traveling on Christmas day was a PITA.

We had to leave at 4.30am and had a few hours kicking about El Calafate in the bus station as everywhere was closed. At least we managed to do it but getting information was a challenge (thanks for your help by the way – but it was pretty clear that the bus operators just made things up as they went along). Some buses were completely empty (e.g, El Chalten to El Calafate at 4.30am! on Christmas day :-) and others seemed to be fully booked so we had to run around to get a seat, even days in advance.

-We decided to book our W Trek in Torres del Paine independently [without Swoop's support], and this was awkwardIt was very unclear from the website we used if we could cancel or rearrange the bookings.

On this trip we had a mix of tents and bunks, and availability was tight. But when we got there it seemed like certain guides were taking groups around who had booked late and companies must have been holding group bunk reservations, which we might have done had the procedure been clearer.

The tents were pretty pants to be honest. Neither of us are very tall but we struggled to fit in the tent with a small amount of kit – and it rained and rained and the tent leaked – partly as kit was unavoidably touching the sides and the ventilation wasn’t very good. They ought to spend more money on them considering how much they charge.

Also, Vertice’s huts were noticeably better than Fantastico Sur’s in the quality, warmth, food and service despite costing the same. In fact, accommodation seemed to be a lottery – for USD45 in Buenos Aires we got a huge posh suite with a kitchen but for USD135 in Ushuaia we got a pokey, noisy ground floor room that was somewhat dated. We booked both late due to the uncertainty with our plan. There is little correlation between price and quality.

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

1. Don’t travel on Christmas day

2. Try and get up to date info – even the latest Lonely Planet Chile is pretty poor for accuracy, which was frustrating.

3. It is an expensive place to visit, everything and everyone seems to have a chunk of your money, taxes, booking fees etc. Planning a budget was difficult – they are not afraid to ask for tips!

4. TAM airlines are not very comfortable, or attentive

5. It is cold. Even colder than I expected

6. Don’t eat for a week before or after a Cruise (the staff here were fantastic, friendly and fun – superb)

7. I think I’d advise against travel over Christmas as it is windy, very busy, expensive (due to availability) and there is nothing particularly extra to see. If (when) we go again I think we’d wait until February or March.

8. It was very safe at all times and we never really got any hassle – even from the stray dogs.

Some of that sounds a bit blunt but none of it spoiled the trip (or is any different to any of our other traveling experiences). We saw another person with a Swoop buff and they seemed very happy too. I’ll pass on your details to anyone who is interested in planning their own trip – I think you’ll hear from my mother once she has rounded up a few of her trekking buddies!

4 Day Horse Riding & Camping Trip in Torres del Paine

 Marie-Lisa and her friend returned in early January from a 4 day Camping and Horse Riding trip in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip…

The trip was awesome- we had a really great time! 

How was your guide and horsemen on the trip?

Os was great- really helpful, very enthusiastic, and obviously a great rider.

All of the horsemen were very patient with us and helpful with any questions and help we needed. Alberto in particular was chatty and danced like a dream.

How would you rate the horses you had on your trip?

Amazing- they were really responsive (although each with their own personalities) and were well looked after.

How would you rate the tack?

The tack was all in good order, and was comfortable, although as it was changed most days it took a bit of getting used to.

How would you rate the accommodation during your trip?

The tents were great (although complicated to put up), and the choice of wild camping locations was great –all were really beautiful.

Having hot stoves at some of the camps was brilliant, and we really appreciated that we stayed at Gonzales’ family home.

How did you find the food on the trip?

The food was brilliant- plentiful and tasty, we were a bit spoiled to be honest! Livio was charming, funny, and a cheerful spirit on a rainy morning.

How would you rate the transport and logistics on your trip?

There were no problems at all with transport- it was comfortable, spacious and on time. The logistics ran very smoothly, and were accommodating of different arrival times.

Do you have any other comments or suggestions about the trip?

We had an amazing four days, and although it was tough going at times, it was extremely worth it. The pace of the group worked well, Gonzalo and Alberto were patient when some needed to slow down, but kept the pace of the group going. We had such a laugh and would recommend the trip to anyone. Thank you! Sorry, we can’t suggest any improvements!

Standard dome bed

Eco Camp Patagonia

I think so far this has to be the most exciting place I’ve stayed at in Patagonia and the most unusual. It’s located at the start of the W Circuit in the national park and from Puerto Natales it takes about 2.5 hours to get there. It’s elevated above the other hotels and refugios in this part of the park on a hill overlooking the start of the valley. In fact, from some of the domes you have a fantastic view of the Torres. The Eco Camp is an exclusive camp for its clients and you can’t just turn up, it has to be booked in advance. This is because the Eco Camp isn’t just accommodation, they run their own trips including the W and Full Circuit but also a Safari trip which takes you to a lesser known part of the park around Laguna Azul.

 The Eco Camp consists of standard domes for 2 people, which are small and just have twin beds with a shared bathroom, located in the centre of the camp. The bathrooms are clean and spacious but you do have to go outside to get to them. The standard domes don’t have central heating in them but the Eco camp uses extremely warm fleecy bedding which prevents you from being cold. Your wil also have a hot water bottle at night just to make sure you don’t get cold.

 

In turn, the suite domes are bigger with more space, a table and chairs, a fire and a bathroom. Each morning a guide will come into your room at 7:30 to relight your fire which will have gone out during the night. He’ll also bring you hot water to make tea in your room if you remind him the night before. I had a great sleep in the dome and found it comfortable and exciting to stay in such a place.

Unlike somewhere such as the Explora Patagonia where the focus is primarily on service, the philosophy of the eco camp is also heavily focused on being as eco friendly as possible. This means that all the water used comes directly from a lake in the mountains and you can tell as the water looks a glacial grey in colour. The waste from the toilets goes into a compost and 90% of it is evaporated, so toilet roll goes in the bin. They are proud of their green philosophy which starts with using biodegradble soap and shampoo and ends with using energy from solar panels to top up the generator. The domes are also a green colour in order to blend in better with the surroundings and not to alter the landscape too much.

The shared areas are comfortable with a room for reading and listening to the guides talk, the bar and restaurant in three separate spaces. Each is warmed by a fire and are cosy places to congregate. The meals here are delicious and well thought out. We had a nut and orange salad for starters, which wasn’t to everyone’s taste but was unusual at least. Then they brought out ‘lamb claw’ with mashed potatoe and chestnuts. The meat was melt-in-the-mouth delicious and tender and the mash was wonderful, I think it may have been one of the best meals I’ve ever had. Desert consisted in a toffee wafer cake which also lovely but rather big – oh well, the more the better! Not only this, the evening meal was a great chance to get to know the other members of our trip – two Australians, two Brazilians and a Brit. Each had their own story to tell, each had been travelling for a few weeks and everyone was excited for the days ahead. Not only this but even though the Brazilians didn’t speak much English or Spanish, we all conversed round the table with our guide and chipped in with words that we knew in Portuguese, it was really nice. Breakfast was a similar affair with copious amounts of tea and coffee, scrambled eggs and toast. Fresh fruit was also on offer as was juice, yoghurt, ham and cheese.

I think this gives you a bit of an idea of the Eco Camp, the kind of spaces you spend your time in and their friendly attitude. However, the safari trip we did deserves its own post with a map but as I am en route to Ushuaia please watch this space!

Review of Refugio Paine Grande in Torres del Paine National Park

I stayed at Refugio Paine Grande in Jan 2011 for one night and I got a very good night’s sleep there. I was sharing a room with 3 other hikers, whereas at the other refugios it’s usually 5, and there were two well built and spacious bunk beds. The room itself was a good size, carpeted and comfortable with shower rooms just down the corridor. When I first went to my room I found a towel and a small bottle of shampoo and a bar of soap on my pillow, which I was really grateful for!

We arrived at the refugio on day 4 of our 5-day W circuit trek, having started the day at Refugio los Cuernos and hiking the French Valley. The refugio is tucked behind the hills on the north-west corner of Lago Pehoe, which is a brilliant blue colour. Although the refugio isn’t much to look at from the outside, (like a big, brown, wooden box), it’s the biggest of the refugios on the circuit and there are rooms with sofas for relaxing, a large cantine, a bar with fantastic views of Paine Grande and a shop with lots essentials and t-shirts with slogans such as ‘I trekked the W Circuit and survived’…

There is also a campsite here, which although doesn’t look very sheltered, is actually a nice place to stay save for the noisy Patagonian wind, strongest in summer. Campers are also able to buy hot food such as burgers from the refugio’s cantine, whilst the main meal on the menu is reserved for guests at the refugio.

The meal we had that evening was probably the best I’d had in the park and there was lots of it. I had vegetable soup for starters, ceviche, a typical seafood dish of raw seafood marinated in citrus juices & spiced with chillies, and chicken and rice. The wine was also reasonably priced and was the nicest of the wines that I had tried in the other refugios. After dinner I was also able to use the internet on one of the two computers that they offer, which cost $2000 clp for half an hour (the equivalent of £2.50). Although the price was extortionate, it’s pretty impressive that they could provide internet in such a remote place as this.

On day 5 of the W Circuit, we set off at 8am as we had to catch the boat at Refugio Grey at 1 o’clock. Some people I spoke to were setting off at 6 in the morning just so that they could walk up almost as far as Paso John Garner to look down over Glaciar Grey and walk back down to catch the boat across Lake Pehoe. The breakfast we had that morning was the same as those we’d had at the other refugios; scrambled eg, toast, coffee, squash and cereal, but it certainly felt nice to be in a big sunny cantine, looking out at the lake.

The refugio was damaged during the fire in Torres del Paine over New Year 2011, but it is set to be refurbished over summer 2012. All in all, I’d definitely recommend staying at this refugio whilst you’re in Torres del Paine. It’s one of the more expensive refugios because of the high quality food and service it offers, but I would honestly struggle to find fault with it, apart from the fact that it isn’t the stereotypically ‘cosy’ or an ‘authentic’ mountain lodge, it’s more like a hotel. There are lots of guided W Circuit and Full Circuit trips that stay at this refugio, for a selection of them see;

The Original Torres del Paine W Trek

7-day Torres del paine W Trek

4-Day W Lodging

Full Circuit of Paine

The other great thing about this refugio is that there is the possibility of getting a private or 4-person room, but this is also subject to availability of course. Usually your guide will try and get you the best room possible on arrival, and local operators are usually able to give you a better rate than you would get if you were to go direct.

Review of the Refugios on the W Circuit in Torres del Paine: Refugio Los Cuernos

Nestled in the rolling hills on the dazzling blue Lago Nordenskjold is Hosteria Los Cuernos. It’s completely hidden from view as you trek towards it from the east of the park and you only see it properly once you cross the river and it’s on top of you. What’s special about this refugio is that adjacent to it is a sheltered camping area, (if you don’t want to stay in a dorm) and several pretty white little cabins near a waterfall.

The Italian couple that were in my group had decided to upgrade to a private cabin when they booked the tour and they commented that even though the cabin was quite simple, with 2 single beds and a porch to hang wet clothes, it was definitely worth doing for a bit of privacy and more importantly, access to the communal hot tub outside! However, bear in mind that there is no ensuite, you have to use a toilet which is located outside. If you’re travelling in Patagonian summer that’s fine, but if you’re there during the colder months of March/April, this isn’t really recommendable.

A night in a Los Cuernos Cabana for 2 people full board costs $116.000 Chilean pesos or approx £150. However, local operators normally get discounts on the price of refugios, it costs USD $80 USD per single occupancy or $40 USD per double occupancy to upgrade if you go on a guided trip like I did.

The refugio itself is a lot smaller than Paine Grande or Las Torres, and means that you rub shoulders with lots of other hikers in the dining room which also doubles up as the bar. There’s also a couple of board games and a hammock, or if you don’t fancy staying in the refugio, you can walk down to the lake or a waterfall, just a couple of minutes away. The only downside to the refugio is that the area outside the refugio is a bit messy & building material was piled up at the side of the lake, but you can avoid walking around that part of the lake and instead walk a bit further afield. Alternatively you may just want to have a nap like many people did. The rooms themselves were shared dorms, more mountain lodge style than some of the other refugios, with up to eight bunk beds, 2 of which were really high up with no railing to stop you falling out, so if you’re a restless sleeper, best avoid it. Outside the rooms in the corridor there’s a wood burning stove, which was a great place to leave any wet clothes to dry.

Although there were a few cons to staying at Refugio Los Cuernos, we only stayed there for a night and I was enjoying the trek so much that the negatives didn’t really matter. Plus, this refugio is right in the middle of the W Circuit, so it gets quite a lot of visitors and considering this, it really is in good nick. Furthermore, the evening meal was filling, we ate at 7:30pm and it consisted of vegetable soup with rice and beef and lots of Chilean bread (pan amasado). You’ll no doubt be so hungry at mealtimes that you’ll really enjoy some good hearty food in the evenings. The atmosphere in this refugio was great, some campers ate in the refugio and everybody sat on long tables together and chatted. All in all I’d say this refugio is good and perhaps one of the most sociable refugios – particularly good if you’re travelling alone.

N.B Campers could miss refugio Los Cuernos and carry onto Campamento Italiano at the start of the French Valley. However, this camp is not very well protected from the wind, it’s extremely busy and not very tidy so I wouldn’t recommend it.