Tag Archives: chile

Volunteer work in Patagonia

We’ve had lots of people ask us recently about volunteering in Patagonia and we haven’t been able to offer as many opportunities as we’d like to.

However this message arrived yesterday from Paula at Conservacion Patagonica and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.

I was lucky enough to visit the future Patagonia National Park when I was touring Aisen in November last year. It’s an absolutely beautiful location and you can already see the benefits of all the hard work that has gone in there.

Volunteering with Conservacion Patagonica, November ’13 to March ’14

Photo credits to Eugénie Frerichs

Want to contribute sweat and muscle to the creation of a future national park? Think that building trails, collecting seeds, practicing a second language, and baking backcountry bread sounds like a good vacation?

Willing to get hailed on, hike hills, pull thistle and make new friends, all in the name of saving and restoring this spectacular landscape?

We’re accepting applications now for our volunteer program for the 2013 – 2014 summer season. The program will run in five three-week sessions, from early November through late March, with eight participants per group. Young and old, from Chile to China– all those who are fit, game, comfortable in Spanish and English, and willing to live and work in the backcountry of the future park are encouraged to apply!

Photo credits to Eugénie Frerichs

Applications are due by June 1, 2013.  If you’re interested in applying, please read more here. They are also looking to hire a field leader for the volunteer program; see job description here. And if the program’s not for you (or if you’ve participated already but can’t make it back), please spread the word to anyone you think might enjoy this experience.

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Why Cruceros Australis is a Must-Do on any trip to Patagonia

For many people, making sure to see all the highlights you read about in your travel guide is really important on a trip to Patagonia. And in general, we’d agree. Although the visit to Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the more touristy aspects of a trip, the sheer size and magnificence of Perito Moreno means it’s a fantastic way to start understanding Patagonia.

That is, if you can combine it with getting off the beaten track or seeing places that the average Joe just won’t reach. One of the most exciting ways of doing this is taking an Adventure Cruise along the Chilean coast. Cruceros Australis stops off at some of the most secluded bays and islands in Patagonia, where you can see penguins and sea lions and gaze at some of Patagonia’s most impressive glaciers. You’ll also sail along Glacier Alley, a fjord lined with 15 glaciers that can’t be seen from any other angle.

If you like the sound of leaving the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind you for a few days, have a look at our Patagonian cruises: start in Punta Arenas or in Ushuaia.

Apart from luxurious cabins, delicious meals and expert guides, on the cruise you’ll learn about the Yagahan people who inhabited Patagonia before they were wiped out by hunters, disease and a lack of seal blubber. For us, the combination of beautiful scenery, wildlife and history is truly a winning formula.

But our top 5 reasons for cruising with Cruceros are:
1) Cruceros Australis is the only cruise company which regularly travels throughout the season to Cape Horn, the last point before Antarctica.
2) Not only is the cruise a luxury experience, but an educational one too, with lecturers on board, and specialist, multi-lingual guides accompanying guests throughout the trip.
3)  You’ll sail through the Strait of Magellan and the Beagle Channel, walk alongside the Pia Glacier; visit spectacular locations, see unique glaciers, flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world.
5) See South American Sea lions, dolphins and numerous bird species, and have the chance to get up close and personal with Magellan penguins and elephant seals, in their natural habitats.

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.

Restaurant in Puerto Natales: Afrigonia

If you find yourself in Puerto Natales before starting your hike in Torres del Paine National Park but don’t have much time to find somewhere for fine dining, head towards a great restaurant in the centre of town called Afrigonia. We speak to Rolando, who visited the restaurant in 2011 as he explains and shows why this African/Patagonian fusion really does work. It’s not hard to see why this is Puerto Natales’ best rated restaurant.

‘I had heard about Afrigonia before I arrived to Puerto Natales. As it turns out, this restaurant is owned by a charming Zambian and his a Chilean wife, both chefs and hence the reason for Afrigonia’s name.

You soon notice the African table décor, soft lighting and a enormous green bank safe transformed into a wine cellar.  Afrigonia is not your average restaurant, the food is  creative, flavoursome and topped by impeccable service. The atmosphere is relaxed with a mix of locals and foreigners. The menu is not extensive but it is focused on local produce and the prices are more than reasonable, you can get a starter from approximately £5 and a main course of up to £14.
 
 
 
Out of the foods I have tried there my favourite dishes have to be: King crab ‘trilogy’, the spicy seafood soup, (a Patagonian Bouillabaisse), salmon ceviche with lemon, mango and coconut milk and roasted lamb rack with mint sauce. For dessert it has to be ‘Kilimanjaro’, a warm chocolate cake topped with a white chocolate and berry sauce. I was also impressed with the wine list, which offers an excellent selection of good Chilean and Argentinian wines.’
 
 
                                                   Owners Kamal Nawaz & Nathalie Reffer

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.

Kayaking in Torres del Paine National Park

 
 
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 their journey by kayak along the serene Rio Serrano and out of Torres del Paine.

Following the 4 days of trekking through the Torres Del Paine National Park, completing the W circuit, the thought of hopping in a kayak and paddling for 5 hours seemed slightly daunting! We left the stunning scenery of the Torres peaks in the background as we headed off in the beautiful sunshine to the start of the Serrano River. German (our very own hunter, gatherer and protector) supplied the dry suits and all the required equipment. The standard of equipment was first class and fitted perfectly although not the most fashionable! The initial trip meandered down the river for 1 hour before stopping for a homemade, light and much needed lunch. The wind was calm and the sun out, so we decided to make tracks as the forecast for the following day was less appealing!
 
Being the first trip of the season, the weather was a concern but we were very lucky! For the remaining 4 hours we paddled down the river in the most stunning scenery in the lea of the Torres Del Paine National Park and into the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park. As dusk darkened the skies, we arrived at the overnight stop at the base of the Serrano glacier. Not the usual overnight camping spot. While Herman erected the tents, cooked dinner, lit a fire and generally allowed us to relax and absorb the scenery! Spectacular! The food was fantastic and again much needed and amazing what one man can do with a billy can and some pasta, especially given he had to carry it all day in my kayak! His kayak resembled Aladdin’s cave when unpacking with more items being pulled from all parts, including a chilled bottle of wine! 
 
After a good nights sleep (too tired to hear the constant cracking, gurgling and generally unerring noises from the enormous glacier behind our tent!) we again had a good breakfast and prepared to lift the canoes over to the lake. Unfortunately, with the strong winds and cold conditions the lake was full of icebergs and impassable with kayaks. We had to settle with a walk to within 30 metres of the face and a jaw dropping sight of the glacier up close and personal!! 
 
The trip was completed with a boat trip home (too far to kayak after all the food) and a stop over at an estancion for a lamb asado with a Pisco sour en route! A perfect way to finish a fantastic short but inspiring trip. A highlight of our honeymoon. 
 

Fire in Torres del Paine: Update 2nd Jan

[Latest update 27th Jan: Patricio Salinas, Regional President of CONAF announced on Twitter on 27th Jan: @Pato_Salinas 'Catamaran's working, refugio Paine Grande open but not at full capacity, Refugio Grey open, Valley Frances and the rest of the park is normal']

[Update as of 25th Jan - Torres del Paine reopens fully: http://chile.travel/en/news/parque-nacional-torres-del-paine-reabre-todas-sus-zonas-tura-sticas.html]

[Latest update as of 13th January: Sernatur released information about open routes at 9th January (in Spanish) http://www.sernatur.cl/noticias/rutas-turisticas-disponibles-en-parque-nacional-torres-del-paine

We also have a map of the affected areas in the park as of 7th January:

[interim update at 6th January: the majority of the park has re-opened as anticipated, but the French Valley is currently closed to tourists. Further updates to follow.]

[latest information from the Chilean Tourist Board: http://www.sernatur.cl/torres-del-paine-update/situacion-en-torres-del-paine]

 

Following on from our original announcement about the fire in Torres del Paine, there’s now further clarity and some positive news:

The President has announced that the northern part of the park that has not been affected by the fire (including the majority of the ‘W Circuit’) wil reopen on Wednesday.

source: http://www.elpatagonico.cl/?p=27871

This map shows clearly the area affected by the fire. You’ll note that the main trekking area is to the north of Lago Nordenskjold.

Source: http://especiales.latercera.cl/INFOGRAFIAS/2012/incendio.html

What has happened to the Eastern shore of Lago Grey (the western strand of the W Circuit), and the southern part of the park is a terrible tragedy. However, it’s a blessing that the two other strands of the W Circuit (French Valley and Ascensio Valley) are unaffected.

Latest estimates are that 13,000 hectares of the park have been affected. In total the park covers over 240,000 hectares. So whilst the news is devasting it’s good to know that visitors will still be able to enjoy the majority of what this incredible destination has to offer.

More updates will follow.

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.