Tag Archives: park

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.

Review of Hiking and Kayaking in Torres del Paine

We speak to Tim about his trip to Patagonia and Atacama. He talks kayaking, hot springs and hiking.

What did you think of Patagonia and how was your guide?
The W-trek was very good and the guide, Julieta, was excellent. The accommodation was all very good and the hot tub at the Los Cuernos cabins was well worth the extra. There were two others on the trek, a couple of 19 year old americans, so it was a very small group adventure which was fine for a honeymoon. One thing we weren’t ready for, probably misread the trip notes, was having to carry everything we needed for the 4 days in our rucksacks. Fortunately we managed to cram everything in with some rapid repacking.

How was the kayaking?
There were just the two of us on the Rio Serrano kayak trip with a scottish couple acting as guides. We got on very well and had a great time – shame it was only two days. We did the full river trip in one day in the hope of kayaking at the small glacier close to the ferry but there was too much ice in the entrance to the lake.

What was your top highlight?
The kayaking and the Taito Geysers – swimming in the thermal pool while the air temperature was below freezing – in Atacama.
What was the Atacama like, would you recommend it to others?
The accommodation in Atacama was booked as part of a package with Altiplanico Discover and we recommend it if you have other people wanting something similar. Unlike some of the larger, all-inclusive hotels, the Altiplanico  was within 15 minutes walk of the center of town so fine for just strolling in to eat at night. The Tatio Geysers and salt flat with flamingos were the best of the tours.

What do you think of Swoop and the operators that we recommended?
All in all a great holiday and we are happy to recommend yourselves and all of the companies in Chile. Even LAN managed to pull their finger out for the return flight!


Perito Moreno: the man, the glacier, the town, the national park

The first time you try to get to grips with Patagonian geography Perito Moreno can be the cause of great confusion.
Why on earth is the National Park 332km from the town! And why, oh why, is the town 695km from the Perito Moreno Glacier!

Why is the National park by the name of Perito Moreno different to the National Park that he was responsible for creating in 1903, and the first of its kind in Argentina. See all of these places on our Perito Moreno map.
The main answer to all of the above is that he was a spectacularly impressive bloke who achieved so much that his namesakes span far and wide, and well beyond just one place.

Francisco Moreno is one of Argentina’s great heroes. He was given the title Perito (an official title that translates, fairly poorly, to ‘expert’) in 1902, having successfully defined and gained international acceptance for the border with Chile, through a combination of extensive exploration, expert geography, careful diplomacy and pure passion for the region. The fact that there was no defined international border between these countries in the 20th century is testament to Patagonia’s incredible geography.

                                                                    (Glaciar Perito Moreno)

It’s fair to say that over the quarter century that preceded this award he discovered the majority of the Patagonian landmarks that draw visitors today: Mount FitzRoy, Lago Nahuel Huapi, the glacier that was, many years later, named after him. It’s difficult to imagine the hardships 19th century explorers into Patagonia endured. His first journey south from Buenos Aires to Nahuel Huapi took 4 1/2 months. The terrain ranges from semi arid desert to glaciers, vast lakes and rivers and 4,000m mountains. [Today you can cover the 1,600km journey from Buenos Aires to Bariloche by bus in 19 hours].  And it wasn’t just the environment that presented challenges – at one point he was captured by Indians and sentenced to death (he managed to escape the night before his execution). And yet he remained sensitive to the needs of the indigenous people and a vocal critic of the War of the Desert.

He was awarded land in Patagonia by the the Argentinian government in recognition of his services to his country, and in 1903 donated the majority of this to form the first National Park in Argentina, Nahuel Huapi. Some 18 years after his death, The Perito Moreno national park was also established  in his honour. The town of Perito Moreno several hundred kilometres north was given its new name in 1952, and whilst small (population less than 4,000) it is an important access point for the Cueva de Los Manos.

It’s humbling to think that one man could be so many things: explorer, geologist, paleontologist, diplomat, museum director, anthropologist, historian, teacher; and perhaps easier to see why the places named after him are several hundred miles apart.

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!