Tag Archives: Cruise

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Holiday or Hard Work? Luke’s Trip to Antarctica.

Last night  my 7 year old son asked about my upcoming trip…
Where are you going? What are you going to see?  Who will you meet?  Why are you going? Do you NEED to go?

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Let me answer his questions and a few others that are often posed.

What are these research trips all about?
We aim to get out to Patagonia at least twice a year and to Antarctica once a year. We meet with our network of partners across Chile and Argentina – those that we’ve been working with for four years, others who just finished their first season with us, and new partners who are hoping to look after Swoop’s customers in the season ahead.

By day we’re out on the hiking trails, kayaking, horse riding to get first hand experience of the routes, guides and operators that we work with. By night we check out as many accommodation options as possible, from refuges and hostels through to some of the most unique and exclusive properties in the whole of Latin America. For our customers we try to avoid itineraries that involve unpacking and repacking their bags every day; but for us it’s quite the opposite – the rule has always been try a different hotel every single night.

In November 2012 I travelled 1,500 miles overland, staying in a different place each night. Then in February 2013 I treated myself to an expedition climbing Aconcagua  and then ran a three day adventure race around the volcanoes of northern Patagonia.

So of course it’s not just about the practical matters. I love it down there – the landscapes (both the wonderfully familiar and the excitingly new) feed my soul and my passion and drive to help people plan and arrange unforgettable holidays to the Andes. To a large extent these trips are about recharging the Swoop batteries.
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Where are you going on this trip?
Each trip has had a different purpose, but this one in principally about gaining first hand experience of an expeditionary cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula, and forging partnerships with new partners in Argentina and Chile to support our customers.
I will be:
- Spending 2-3 days in Buenos Aires to meet local guides and hoteliers who will support some of our customers when they first arrive into Argentina.
- Flying south to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world and base for not only some amazingly wild and adventurous treks across Tierra del Fuego, but also the gateway to Antarctica.
- Setting sail aboard the Ushuaia to the Antarctic Peninsula for 4-5 days of zodiac boat excursions amongst the icebergs and marine life of the Great White Continent.
- On our return I’ll stretch my legs on a trek in Tierra del Fuego before taking the 12 hour bus up to Punta Arenas (which is better than it sounds, I’ve done the reverse route before).
- We have six different partners based in Puerto Natales alone and we’ll be meeting with all of them.
-  Then flying to the Chilean Lakes to meet other operators and hoteliers and my first visit to the island of Chiloe.
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Do you have any concerns?

Out on the Antarctic Peninsula I’ll be offline for 8 days. I know this sounds ridiculous but I’ve always been there for customers planning their trip, and those on the ground in Chile and Argentina. The decision has been a hard one for a long time, however things were made a lot easier yesterday when Sally Dodge joined the Swoop team. Sally has been a Tour Leader in Chile and Argentina for the last 8 years and her knowledge of the region and passion for helping people explore it are very special indeed. I’m confident that our customers will be in very good hands while I’m away.

And, yes, I’m a little nervous about crossing the Drake Passage. It’s the most infamous waterway in the world, and this is the last voyage of the season. However, like anyone Antartica bound my overwhelming emotion is the excitement of catching my first glimpse of the icebergs, whales and the peninsula itself.

For my son Alec let me answer your questions in a few words…

- I’m going to the most charismatic city in South America, a wild island at the end of the earth, a place where the whales live amongst huge icebergs, the gateway to the eighth wonder of the world, and a land of lakes and volancoes.  

- I’ll meet dozens of guides, expedition leaders, hoteliers and travellers, each of them with their own wonderful story to tell

- Yes, I do need to go. Swoop needs the best of friends and helpers down there, and every year we need to learn about new places to go and things to see and do. But it’s also time to recharge my batteries…Swoop’s batteries.
 
And, in a few years time, when you’re ready, it’s going to be a lot of fun introducing you to Patagonia and Antarctica.

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Barbara & Douglas’ 5 Week Patagonian Adventure

Barbara and Douglas returned in February from a 5 week trip that included a 4 night Patagonian Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Here they tell us about their trip, and their experience of booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘Swoop Patagonia was the main reason why we had such a successful trip… Luke was absolutely brilliant in helping with our itinerary’

What was the highlight of your trip?

Our trip was 5 weeks altogether with 4 nights of it on the cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Overall the cruise was one of our many highlights, with the landing on Cape Horn very special and the experience at Pia Glacier quite something.

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

Yes, we visited Santiago and Valparaiso before flying south to Balmaceda where we picked up a rental 4×4. We spent a week driving south on the Carretera Austral and were able to drop the vehicle at Villa O’Higgins. This was difficult to arrange and expensive but we managed to book through a local agent and Europcar.

Another highlight was our 2 day crossing into Argentina, from Villa O’Higgins, by boat and on foot and our first sighting of Mt. Fitzroy! 5days in El Chalten was a recommendation from Luke which was excellent, great day hikes and fantastic food and drink.

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We had a brief visit to El Calafate and visited Perito Merino glacier, then on to Puerto Natales to go to Torres del Paine. We completed  the W Trek ourselves using pre booked refugios which proved to be very good and Luke had given us advice about this.

The weather was kind and the scenery was awesome. We went to Punta Arenas and the the cruise after this. Spent 2 nights in Ushuaia and 2 nights in Buenos Aires before flying home.

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

Swoop Patagonia was the main reason why we had such a successful trip. Luke was absolutely brilliant in helping with our itinerary and we organised the whole trip ourselves using  Luke’s knowledge and advice. He directed us to their excellent partners for both our flights and our cruise booking.

Were you well looked after by the cruise operator?

The cruise operator was excellent, not cheap but a very special part of our trip at the end of our 5 weeks. We were ready for some luxury and they hit the mark, nice cabin, great meals, excellent service and well organised excursions.

How did you find the services and excursions provided?

Services and excursions were all very well executed, swift disembarkation for all excursions with safety a high priority. Enjoyed the on board presentations by knowledgeable staff.

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

Not at all, all our pre planning paid off and we would do the exact same.

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

-For anyone planning to do the crossing from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten: be aware that the company Heilo Sur in Villa O’Higgins does not operate this any longer and the website information is out of date. The boat across Lago O’Higgins is now run by Robinson Crusoe, the man and horse who helps with luggage was not there(!) so be prepared to walk the 22kms if you go. Robinson Crusoe sold us tickets for a bus from Desertio Lake to El Chalten which never turned up.

-Bring American dollars if you plan to visit Argentina as this is the currency they wish.

-The crime levels in Buenos Aires seem to be escalating, we heard many reports of street crime and scams to distract tourists while pickpockets were at work.

-The walking tours for tips are an excellent way to see a city, we did these in Valaparaiso and Buenos Aires

Rob’s Patagonia Cruise

Rob recently returned from a Patagonia Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia and back to Punta Arenas as part of a wider trip to South America. Here he tells us about his experiences on the cruise, and booking through Swoop…

How was your trip?

Overall I had a great time and the overall enjoyment was greater than I had anticipated before departing.

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip for me was always going to be the landing on Cape Horn, and this was one of the prime reasons for undertaking the trip in the first place. The glaciers, the penguins and the wind and the waves were all part of a fully supportive cast and all played their part in making the whole thing so good.

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

I didn’t visit anywhere else in Patagonia other than the Cruise, but continued on to visit other areas of South America.

How well did Swoop and our partners do in planning and arranging your trip?

The holiday was planned well and if there were glitches they were not major and were probably because I hadn’t read the itinerary properly.

Is there anything you wish had happened differently?

The cruise itself was excellent in most respects.

I do feel that more care could have been taken by the ship in ensuring that there were at least 3 English speakers out of the six people on each meal table. On the return leg we had five -a Chilean doctor and his wife who could speak Spanish English and some Italian and who was happy to translate in order to be inclusive, and the lovely smiley mother and grandmother of the waiter, who could speak no English. At the mealtimes when the doctor was not present or engaged in doctoring there was a lot of pointing and smiling but not much else! I don’t remember being asked which if any other languages I could speak or understand.

How were the other sections of your trip in South America, organised by our partners?

All of the trips and events around the cruise were good particularly the tour of Santiago. The guide was informative and knowledgeable and obviously loved her job and her city.

I was surprised by the day adventure up into the hills on the turn around day in Ushuaia as I don’t recall that being mentioned. It was enjoyable but came as a bit of a surprise to get a phone call saying that the guide and land rover were outside! I still can’t see it mentioned on the itinerary.

I suppose the one slight problem for me was the transfer from the cruise ship to a rendezvous in a café c 0.5 kms away. My bag was 18 kgs and had no wheels and I struggled somewhat even over that distance (I had earlier in the trip hurt my leg a little bit). I think that someone older than I would have struggled more particularly if it had been raining and /or very windy even over such a short distance. Many travellers were being met with taxis, perhaps to get to the airport, but I think a meet and greet at the ship would be a nice idea.

Apart from these few relatively minor things the trip was thoroughly enjoyable and was helped by the large amount of support out there -it wasn’t just getting you to the airport, it included check in, emigration, customs etc and really took the pressure off.

‘I would have no hesitation in recommending the whole experience to others. Despite the little grumbles it was really a wonderful holiday…Thanks a lot for making it so enjoyable!’

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!

Family Trip to South America

Lyn and her family returned recently from a trip to South America, where she and her family embarked on a 4 Day Cruise from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas. Here she tells us about their experiences…

 What was the highlight of your trip?

There were so many!

We loved the Cruise, and we also loved Iguazu, Salta and the north, which we enjoyed much more than I expected, it was rather spiritual the scenery was stunning.

We really want to go back to Chile, it was too short a stay , the people were lovely, and the estancia we stayed at in El Calafate was fantastic- in fact we just loved everything! Writing about it makes me quite emotional!

I’ve never done the guide thing before but this was the best thing ever. The guides were superb, each in their own way and sooo knowledgeable.  They took us to things we didn’t know about or might not have bothered with and there was nothing that I felt was a waste of time. Everyone turned up on time, and was enthusiastic, the transport was good especially in the north (fab guides in Salta).  Worth every penny.

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

Thank God for Swoop Patagonia… we might have still been wandering in Argentina without your help.

How happy were you with the Operators we put you in contact with?

Your suggestions were spot on and putting us in touch with your partner, Steph, was inspired…what a girl! Nothing was too much trouble, she was always to hand, full of ideas and advice, couldn’t recommend her highly enough. Her personal contacts for guides in Rio and BA worked brilliantly, (as did those through Wanderlust).

All of the accommodation was excellent, there was a real variety and everything lived up to Steph’s promises. Even our last minute request for change of itinerary during the holiday itself was handled efficiently and without fuss and worked really well for us. So big thanks to Steph.

Is there anything you would have changed about your trip, looking back?

The only thing I could have wished for was to stay longer , especially on the estancia- I have fallen in love with the country and its people and definitely want to return…..

On behalf of all of us, thank you so much for you help and if you need someone to recommend you or your partners, I’m your girl.

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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.

Cruce Andino

An exciting way to see the mountains and lakes of the Patagonian Lake District, Cruce Andino is a boat and bus journey that mixes pleasure and adventure with views of snow-capped volcanoes, glaciers and forests. It’s practical too – leaving each and getting you get from A to B across the sometimes tricky border from Argentina (Bariloche) to Chile (Puero Montt) or vice versa.

       (Volcano Osorno)

Starting out at 7:45 from Puerto Montt or 8:30am from Puerto Varas by bus, you’ll soon move on to Petrohue, bordering Llanquihue Lake, where you’ll have wonderful views of Osorno and Calbuco volcanoes. Your journey will take you into Vicente Perez National Park where you’ll discover Patagonia’s diverse flora and fauna, waterfalls and impressive volcanic rock shapes. Stopping at the village of Peulla you’ll have lunch and relax or enjoy outdoor activities before staying in Hotel Natura or Hotel Peulla for the night.

Day two sees you crossing the Andes and thus the border by bus, always with spectacular landscape surrounding you, before getting on board to cross the turquoise waters of Lago Frias. After a hearty lunch, no doubt of exiquisite seafood or steak, you’ll depart ‘Puerto Blest’ by boat along the huge Nahuel Huapi Lake, which stretches some 204 square miles. Eventually you’ll end in Bariloche’s Puerto Pañuelo (Port Handkerchief, named so because women would wave goodbye to their husbands off to sea from here) at about 5:30pm, plenty of time to wander this alpine town, try it’s famous hot chocolate and get ready for a hike in the stunning surrounding mountains.

 

 

 

 

The itinerary can also be done in reverse at any time of year and they also offer a 1-day trip if you’re pushed for time. The only extra recommendation we’d make is to make sure you go with an open mind about the weather. On the Chilean part side of the Andes in this part of Patagonia, the weather can be pretty rainy. January is usually the driest month, whilst June is the wettest. If you’re someone who can’t bear the rain, then coming to this humid but beautiful part of Chile probably isn’t for you!

Cruceros Australis; a journey to the End of the World through Chile’s little known fjords, glaciers & bays

I’d been looking forward to the Australis cruise for quite a while now and had been anticipating what it was going to be like during my time in Puerto Natales and Punta Arenas. When the day arrived, I was impressed with how smooth the boarding process was. You just had to drop your luggage off at the Cruceros Australis office in the main square of Punta Arenas between 1 and 5pm, fill in your details and you were handed a pass to put your passport in and given information about the cruise. Then you just had to go down to the harbour at 6pm ready to board.

The very short shuttle to the cruise allowed you to take in the Stella Australis in all its glory. Although it has capacity for 200 people, it’s not overwhelmingly big at all, and in fact only 130 people are actually on this trip with it being early in the season. Once on board we were shown to our cabins and given about 30minutes to settle in. My cabin, number 325 was far more spacious than I was expecting with twin beds, a chair, radio, closet and shelves to store your clothes, a neat bathroom and of course, a lovely big square window to watch the mountains rolling past. Although there’s no laundry service on board, the personnel looking after my room gave me a bag of detergent as I had a few items of clothing that I needed to wash. The fact that you can adjust the temperature of your room very easily meant that my clothes dried pretty much overnight.

The welcome drink at 7pm was held in the Darwin Lounge for English speakers and in the Sky Lounge for Spanish speakers. The crew has generally kept the two language groups separate throughout, in order to keep it simple, although I think a few people would have liked it if the groups could have been a bit more mixed somehow. The welcome drink of cava/cocktail/wine/juice was followed by a welcome address by the ship’s captain and an introduction to the staff, from the smartly dressed personnel in naval gear down to the waiters. We were entertained by a local folklore group who sang 3 traditional Patgonian songs and danced for us, which was a nice way to start the trip. Then the focus was really on safety. In the itinerary in my cabin, there was a note about trying on your life jacket to make sure it fitted properly. I hadn’t done it yet, but they highlighted this again in the compulsory safety meeting at 7:30, as we would wear the life jacket each time we went out in the zodiac boats (something I couldn’t wait to do!). So after hearing about safety on board, it was pretty much dinner time, 8:15pm.

The ship has two main bar/lounge areas and the dining room is located at the bottom of the ship, with views on each side through big square windows. The food on offer that evening was delicious. We started off with a starter of salmon pate in a smoked salmon coating with salad and bread. This was followed by prawn and vegetable soup which was light and refreshing and then I had a light white fish with potatoes. For desert we were presented with a vanilla mousse with liquor at the bottom and a chocolate stick, I was really impressed by the food and the way it was presented on the plate. I sat with a group of Australians who had come from Melbourne and the waiter asked us if we’d like to keep that arrangement for the rest of the trip. I was fine with it, as they seemed a really interesting group of people, but if you want your own table etc then just let the waiter know.

After dinner we were ready for the itinerary briefing at 10pm in the Darwin lounge. This started off as a recap of the safety instructions, and although I was annoyed that the guide was repeating himself, it’s important that everyone knows how to get in and out of the zodiacs and knows what time to meet and where. He also showed us the route that the ship was taking by highlighting it on the screen as well as the places we’d be stopping the next day. This was interesting and I was excited to hear that we were going to see penguins at Tucker Islets as they’d just started arriving for the mating season, whereas I’d been told previously that it was unlikely there’d be any there at this time of year.

That night I slept soundly in my cabin looking forward to the next day and without any sea sickness I hasten to add, the water was actually very calm on the first night..