Tag Archives: patagonia

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Peter’s Winter W Trek

Peter recently came back from a winter W trek, here he tells us about his experiences with Swoop, our partners and the trek itself.

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How was your winter W trek through Torres del Paine?

The walk was great and we were really lucky with the weather.

Day 1 was super windy with a few clouds – but was good to see how harsh this place could be.

Day 2 & 3 were the most perfect blue sky no wind days for the hikes into the french valley and grey glacier.

Day 4 the moving day was totally low cloud, couldn’t see a thing, but was okay because we walked out.

Day 5, was snowing on the drive and first hour or two of the hike to the towers. Then we continued on up through dense fog, and on the last scramble up to the towers it cleared to blue skies, so it couldn’t have been better. Just was we were heading down the fog rolled in again.

Overall our timing could not have been better, yes we got some bad weather but it came at suitable time. Although it made me realise in winter we could have easily been unlucky – we met some people doing hikes at slightly different stages to us and couldn’t see the towers or other parts.
Our guide was great. Couldn’t fault him. Was very accommodating and understanding when Natalie got sick.

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What were the guides like on your trek?

For me, my highlight would have been the walk into the french valley. Obviously the view to the towers on the last day was also incredible. Natalie really enjoyed the grey glacier, as she had never seen one before.

What would you have changed about your trip to Torres del Paine?

One thing that would have changed our plans was the advice we got (before leaving aus) that we couldn’t get a bus in winter from puerto natales over to el calafete in argentina to see perito moreno. We found this was not correct, it seemed buses were leaving natales almost every day to el calefete and we met multiple people who had done just that and see both. Anyway I can’t remember if it was you guys or the contacts at chile nativo that gave that advice, but that’s not the case and because we had already planned the next stage of our trip back up in northern chile we couldn’t just go while we were there. Our guide on the ground knew that it was possible, so perhaps the chile nativo contact based in Santiago (I think) could get updates from the guides in natales.

 

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Bader Valley – Paine’s hidden valley

In Torres del Paine the W trek is the classic route that many people hike that takes you to 3 magnificent valleys – the ascencio, Frances and Grey valleys. For more experienced hikers there are a number of different routes including the Paine Circuit and others that take you off the beaten track and allow you to see another side to the park. On my recent trip to Torres del Paine I wanted to see these routes that I hadn’t seen before.
Read here about my foray up to the Oggioni pass.

The second route was the Bader valley, a small valley that most hikers walk straight path. The turnoff isn’t obviously and it slices into the range between the Cuernos and the Torres giving you an extraordinary close up of the Cuernos and a different view of the south tower.
We took some camping kit and spent a day hanging out at the climbers camp there.

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When you wander from the ascencio valley to refugio Cuernos you’d never notice the Bader valley or the path that takes you there.

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But a teeny tiny path heads right at the Cuernos. Snow had fallen in the night and the Cuernos were white with a thin layer of snow

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As we climbed the Nordenskjold lake lay below us …

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 …the fresh snow made the going tough at times.

 

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As we climbed the valley revealed itself and the Cuernos towered overhead…
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…until our necks had to strain upwards to see them.

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In a small thicket of trees we pitched our tents…

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…and continued up the valley with just the lids of our rucksacks.

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The path stops at the camp and to continue onwards we hopped from rock to rock which was made tricky by the fresh snow.

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We continued to marvel at the Cuernos ( I really am obsessed with these fellas) as they changed shape and size. My guide Justin traced mental climbing routes up them with his eyes

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A toothy ridge of pinnacles played in and out of the clouds up ahead, and the wind started to build.

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The snow, boulders and wind made for slow going so we decided to leave exploration for the morning when better weather was forecast.

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Bader camp is a climber’s camp with no facilities just a shelter made from branches, tarpaulins and string. A shovel for digging cat hole toilets hangs from a tree trunk in the centre of the shelter.

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We prepare and consume an enormous pot of lentils and precooked pork with enough garlic to keep the vampires away.

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After a 12 hour sleep we wake to the roaring of the wind in the trees. The wind is so strong that we can’t walk in a straight line, it is certainly not great for boulder hopping. So we pack up camp and head down.

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1Check out the squalls on Lago Nordenskjold!

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There are beautiful blue skies and the Cuernos look spectacular!

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…as we descend with legs braced against the wind.

If you want to know more about Paine’s hidden valley, get in touch today.

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Bushwhacking the Oggioni Pass – The Paine range’s most adventurous trek 

 In Torres del Paine the W trek is the classic route that many people hike that takes you to 3 magnificent valleys – the ascencio, Frances and Grey valleys. For more experienced hikers there are a number of different routes including the Paine Circuit and others that take you off the beaten track and allow you to see another side to the park.
On my recent trip to Torres del Paine I wanted to see these routes that I hadn’t seen before.

The first route was the Oggioni pass high up above the Ascencio valley. This pass slices through the Paine range from the towers viewpoint directly to Dickson camp and looked incredible.  As I was short on time I recced the pass as a day hike from Hotel Las Torres but for very strong walkers you can hike across the pass to shorten a circuit trek or to create a completely different trek. Here is a description of the route and how we got on.

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The sun rose in a glorious and triumphant glow,

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We set off along the trail up the ascensio valley to the towers.

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Instead of following the general migration toward the viewpoint…

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…. We turned off and only caught this Scoundrels view of Las Torres.

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The path became small as we stumbled through a boulder field….

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….and into the woods.

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We followed the Ascensio river as it bubbled its way down through beech forests.

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There was no one around and we were on tenterhooks, certain that we would see a Huemul deer.

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Our target lay on the ridge ahead.

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At Japones Camp a climber’s camp with a ramshackle shelter made from Tarpaulin, string…

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…and fallen branches and hung with victoriously and carefully chiselled wooden plaques in celebration of climbs past.

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As the path narrowed we turned off it altogether…..

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A tricky river crossing followed which involved crossing on all fours.

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Before doing this trek ask yourself if this is a river you feel able to cross.

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The forest thickened…

– Swoop Patagonia’s BlogKfnWIhS-sN-Zv6zXj1x0BrEaLyaSa4wQ1dRR0ExdcmI,r4gPXkGuXJPX-Dd8Aa4Pm4aTztAIMSAK2preDebs7U0

…and we wander up through the forest, free of paths and people.

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WAHHHH!!!!!!

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The edible Pan de Indio didn’t tempt us as we toiled.

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As we left the treeline…

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…the views started to open out…

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…and as we climbed…

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…the peaks of Escudo and Fortaleza dominated the Silencio valley.

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Rock dykes guided us towards the pass.

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The scree slopes became tougher……

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…and tougher

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We left the valley far below, this was no place for vertigo…

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The final push to the pass was snowy and early in the season much of the scree slope can be covered in a layer of snow.

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At Paso Oggioni the view opened up to reveal Dickson lake. If you are continuing onward the trail bushwhacks down to Refugio Dickson at the near end of Lago Dickson.

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A further climb to Punta Oggioni reveals the Silencio valley. and a view back the way we’ve come…

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…and a peek at the back of the towers and the peaks of Escudo and Fortaleza peaks.

 

 

 

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My guide, Justin had been to the pass but never scrambled up to the viewpoint above. We whooped with excitement for a good 5 minutes…

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…AMAZING!!!

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The wind was starting to throw us around so we descended back to camp.

For more information on The Paine range’s most adventurous trek, get in touch today.

Hotel Review: El Paraiso


This is a good, alpine hut like hotel with all the facilities that you need. The rooms are a good size, the bathrooms are also big with a great shower.

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There is a pleasant reception/dining area but no frills.
Tiled floors meant when I arrived sopping wet and covered in dirt I didn’t feel to bad about making a mess. Reception staff’s english was not so good so we spoke in Spanish. Internet was quite slow and not available in the room.

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Breakfast consisted of cornflakes, cakes or toast with a choice of spreads and hot drinks.

This is a great 3* option for those who want a good comfortable and functional hotel but don’t need any luxury.

Top Tip: Head up to the top floor for mountain views.

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Hotel Review: La Aldea, Chalten

Harriet recently stayed at the motel-esque La Aldea in Chalten, here she reviews and gives her top tips for staying there.

La Aldea has a slightly motel-esque feel with external doors on all the rooms leading off from the garden and a first floor balcony. The rooms have all your basic requirements, hot shower, comfy bed, clean towels and sheets but they are a bit dated.

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Laminate flooring covers the floors,  the shower rail is easy to fall down and there is a cheap/antiquated feel to the fittings. 

The Aldea has the best internet in town, is close to the bus station. It is a good option for those looking for a private room with bathroom on a budget. 

Top Tip: Upstairs rooms are better than downstairs because the wooden floors make the downstairs ones noisy.

 

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Hotel Review: Hosteria Senderos, Chalten

Of all the places I stayed in Chalten on my recent trip this place had the friendliest staff. You are greeted by beaming smiles and the reception/dining area is stylish with large sofas to lounge and large windows. The interior is all made of varnished wood and this hotel definitely feels stylish. After this excellent intro the rooms actually feel quite small.

My room was in the eaves of the hotel and had views of Fitzroy and Cerro Solo (and would have had views of Torre). Once again the varnished wood interior gave a stylish feel and there were plenty of lights, sockets and functional furnishings such as drawers, hangers, a large side storage area under the window made good use of the small space.

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The breakfast was a huge buffet with fresh fruit salad, an array of cheeses and meats, croissant, breads and cereals.

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My only complaint would be the poky bathroom. Although the shower was hot and powerful it was quite a small space to shower in and if you were any taller it would be uncomfortable.

Top Tip – Eat at their wonderful restaurant. I ate in the restaurant in the evening and the food was excellent. The waiter went out of his way to be accommodating.

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The Estancia Peuma Hue

On Sally’s recent visit to the Argentinian Lake District, she stayed at the Estancia Peuma Hue enjoying the fine food, hiking trails, stunning scenery and utter tranquility. Read on for her review.

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Sitting on the shores of the glistening Gutierrez lake nestled between forested slopes and surrounded by jagged granite peaks, The Estancia Peuma Hue really is a place of dreams.

The main house of the estancia is just a stone’s throw from the beach which sweeps for 2 miles in front of the property. The water is icy cold so swimming is only for the bravest, but once you’ve taken the plunge it is a refreshing, invigorating satisfaction.

The 500 acres of the lodge includes the Southen end of the Cerro Catedral or Cathedral Mountain – aptly named because of its Dali like granite pinnacles. This side of the range is only accessible from the lodge and hiking trails have been marked by Evelyn, the lodge owner. You are unlikely to meet other hikers on the trails which gives you a definite sense of being ‘off the beaten track’ and makes for some excellent bird watching. Whilst out on the trails myself, I was able to get extremely close to a family of magellanic woodpeckers who continued their work totally undisturbed as I sat filming them.

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The Estancia is passionate about animals of all shapes and sizes. They have their own horses that graze in the field in front which guests can ride and a gaggle of friendly dogs that love nothing better than accompanying guests on their hikes.

It wasn’t unusual to see Austral Parakeets flying over head, ashy headed geese out on the grass feasting on the fallen apples, dark bellied cinclodes on the beach and southern lapwings and black faced ibis on the grass in front.

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On arrival guests are given an introductory briefing about the different excursion options available to them and are well and truly made to feel at home. From the moment I arrived I felt like I had entered somewhere very special and was eager to head out and explore the beauty that lay outside.

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The Trails

The trails have been separated into 4 trails of different lengths and difficulty which can be combined to create 1 full day hike or 2 half day hikes. These trails can all be done self guided as they have handily been marked by different coloured ribbons on the trees which represent the different colours on the hand drawn map which you’ll be given on arrival.

The trails all start from the western side of the property and head up into Cerro Catedral which does mean that they start with an inevitable uphill. The shortest trail, the orange trail named ‘Camino del Jabali’ is a great one to do on the day you arrive to stretch your legs and get a feel for the place and surroundings; this trail is just a short 3 kms but affords lovely views back onto the Estancia and lake shore.

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The blue trail, named ‘Jacuzzi Falls’ is the longest and steepest of the trail and takes you up high above the estancia to give great views back on the Gutierrez lake and the estancia and valley far below. The trail continues up to a wonderful view point out over the Jacuzzi Fall. This trail is only 6.2kms but due to the gradient will take 3-3.5hrs.

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The remaining 2 trails, the pink and yellow, ‘Hilltop and Mirador Claussen’ can be tagged onto the blue trail or done separately. They lead to trails south of the estancia, with an initial climb then quite flat and give great views of the southern Mascardi Lake and southern mountains.

As I was visiting during the first days of Autumn, the lenga beach forests were starting to change colours which created some incredible shades of orange and red across the mountains which combined with the volcanic snow-less peaks in the distance and gave the foreground and background vibrant, unusual colourings.

Other Activities

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Whilst staying at the lodge, guests can spend their days riding the horses, guided, in the surrounding hills and valleys. They cater for complete beginners to more advanced riders.

There are kayaks which can be taken out on the lake and they even have a boat which can take the less adventurous out for a spin. These are all included in the price of your stay. Additionally guests can pay to take a day out fly fishing with an expert guide or perhaps take a hike up high over the ridge of the Cathedral Mountain.

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Gourmet Food

I was taken aback by the quality, variety and finesse of the meals I was served; even the pic-nic lunch was 5*! I was served delicious fish, juicy steaks, hearty soups, local craft beer, full bodied wine and the best breakfast of my whole 3 week trip. For the food alone I would return time and time again.

The owners are very involved with the day to day running of the Estancia and in the evening when the guests gather for a drink they personally come to chat with the guests, a really lovely touch. If you are looking to relax after a challenging hike in the south or perhaps looking for somewhere to enjoy a variety of activities from a luxury, cosy base then the Estancia Peuma Hue should not be missed.

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As I drove away, back onto the main road to Bariloche airport, I was saddened that I had to leave but full of gratitude to have been fortunate enough to have experienced such a truly unique, spellbinding place.

 

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Hotel Review: Kaulem Hosteria, Chalten

Kaulem is a cosy hotel with just 4 rooms set around a spacious sitting room and dining area. It feels more like a house than a hotel and the reception staff will make you feel instantly welcome. The art of local artists hangs on the walls and the cosy setting means that you will easily make friends with your fellow guests.

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In the morning, I drew back the curtain to views of Cerro Fitzroy and then sat guzzling my yoghurt with fruit and granola from the breakfast bar gazing at ‘Fitz’. Eggs and toast and a range of spreads were also available.

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My room accommodated a king size bed without feeling too snug but was not overly spacious. The ceilings rise up to the eaves of the building and give the room more breathing space and there are photos of local wildlife on the walls.

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The history of Patagonian wine

Swoop Guest Blog: Richard Power @thewineoceros

My good friend and wine-lover Rich Power has kindly shared some background on Patagonian wine. The main region he refers to lies about 5 hours to the north east of Bariloche and a visit to the vineyards here could be integrated into a visit to the north Patagonian Andes.

History of Patagonian wine:
When confronted by one of the world’s most remote yet beautiful landscapes, or exploring mountain rivers and lakes etched from glaciers with rugged terrain that seems hijacked from another planet, it is easy to get the sense of awe that the early explorers felt when they came to South America. What is not so easy to comprehend is how this country could come to produce such incredible wines given the climate and terrain.

Heading back to the 16th Century, the Americas was unchartered territory, which meant that explorers keen to claim the world for their own would be plentiful. The Europeans – from Spain, Portugal, Britain and the Netherlands, all had designs on new places, and like any good expedition into the unknown, the Europeans liked to bring with them a decent shipment of religion and vines. And so it was that vines came to South America. I am sure that Alfred Dreyfus was one French export that didn’t enjoy being sent to South America, but Malbec clearly has had other ideas, and has flourished like no other grape.

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Within the last 100 years wine is now being produced in many parts of South America, and often to an extremely high standard. I have to admit that it was not until relatively recently that I chanced upon Patagonian wine, and discovered to my surprise the variety and pleasure to be had with the wines from this region. I was eager to learn more…

I, like the original explorers, have been awed by the diverse terrain of Patagonia, and was more than a little surprised to discover the incredible work being done by some of the talented vignerons, putting Patagonian wines squarely on the map.

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Rio Negro South of Mendoza is home to superb Patagonian wines

Competition is hotting up

If Mendoza Malbec is Argentina’s superstar pin up boy at present then Patagonian wine represents the young, slightly more refined, upstart – daring to try something a bit different in order to get recognised. Whilst Mendoza wines can be characterised by their power, fruit and macho qualities, Patagonian wines offer a bit of a twist on the style with cooler minerality and a bracing streak of acidity, perfect for more delicate dishes.

So what should you look out for?

In general, the wines here are usually low production, boutique wines, which has really allowed the wine makers an opportunity to try out new things, with the style and expression of their vineyards. The main quality wine producing areas are:

Rio Negro plateau – 700km South of Mendoza, predominantly Malbec, but with a typicity and sense of place, that other parts of South America struggle to emulate.

Neqúena (1300ft above sea level) – Old vines planted in the 1950s, which create complex wines full of bite, expression and rich in acidity and freshness.

Viedma (on the Pacific coast). At over 1000 km South of Buenos Aires, Viedma is extremely Southern for a wine growing region. It is well worth a visit in October to witness the mass movements of the potbellied silversides as they swim up river in the annual spawning ritual. Locals prepare the fish by simply breading and frying lightly in oil, and of course washing down with a glass or two of the local wines next to where they were caught see below.

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Unique climate

What makes Patagonian wine so unique and capable is the cooling winds that keep the sun at bay on the Rio Negro plateau. It also keeps the nights cool, helping the grapes ripen more evenly. Inventive winemakers have also mastered the use of altitude, which goes some way to creating the bracing acidity and crisp fruit flavours, not really achieved elsewhere in South America. While Malbec is understandably king in this part of the world, there are a number of growers using other varieties that add further interest to these wines. Don’t be surprised to come across Pinot Noir, Cabernet or Semillon on your travels – and of course they make a wonderful accompaniment to the local cuisines.

“Altitude and attitude – get both right and the wines speak for themselves”
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Vineyards with the incredible mountain backdrops

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Traditionally clad horseman can still be found working the vineyard

If like me you are a sucker for incredible vineyards (I could quite happily spend days in them), and you also like seeking out new wines from unusual regions, then you should certainly look into the wines from this area. In much the same way those early explorers found the land to be diverse, full of character and ripe for exploring, you will find the wines exhibit similar qualities. You can usually find a bottle or two at a good independent wine merchant (you may have to try a few off the beaten track) but it is certainly worth making the effort and seeking out. Equally if you are lucky enough to be visiting the region, be sure to look up a few of the wineries in the area, who will no doubt extend a warm welcome and a glass or two of their charming wines!

http://www.bodeganoemia.com/

 

 

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Dramatic Day Hiking from Santiago

 Just a 2 hour drive from Santiago takes you right into the heart of the Andes. Be surrounded by deep valleys, high peaks, glaciers and specular striated mountains of colours that give you a taste of the scenery in the Atacama desert.

The drive from Santiago takes you through the sprawling outskirts of Santiago where the houses gradually become smaller, simpler and more traditional, a fascinating glimpse into the average Chilean’s, Santiago reality. It also gives some idea of scale of the size of Santiago.

Having left Santiago at 7am, as we began to leave the city behind as the sun was rising up over the mountains bathing them in glorious shades of pink. After leaving the last, outlying houses of the city you then enter the Maipo Canyon and this is when the scenery really begins to change. The mountains rise up either side of you with cactus clinging to the edges, there are pastures with horses grazing, rural homes, honey and nuts being sold on the sides of the road and as in any rural place, the pace of life suddenly feels  slower.

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The last 10kms of the 100kms drive out to the National Monument of El Morado is a bumpy gravel road as you head towards the head of the valley with the smokey San Jose Volcano is looming ahead. At 1850 metres you reach the small oasis village of Banos Morales and here the hike begins. After registering with the park rangers you begin the climb up into the Morales canyon.

The name El Morado, meaning deep purple, comes from the colour of the Los Morales mountains that loom in a deep purple colour ahead.

The hike is a 16 km out and back route which takes about 6 hours (including photos and lunch stops) with a gain in altitude of 750 metres. The first part of the hike is a 1 hour ascent, but thankfully because of the early start, we were shaded from the sun by the mountain to our east. The vegetation throughout the hike, although variable, is low bushes and so throughout the hike there isn’t much protection from the blazing sun – high factor sun cream, hat and sunglasses are an absolute must.

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After the 1 hour climb you reach a high, flat plateau and the vegetation, trail underfoot and scenery beings to change. The second part of the hikes takes an undulating 1 hour through what feels like a meadow with horses grazing, grass and rosehip buses. After about an hour you reach the Laguna El Morado with the first glimpse of the San Francisco glacier – a great place to stop for a snack. If you are finding the heat a bit too much and don’t fancy the final 1 hour climb up to the look out point, then this would be an excellent place to reach as a turning back point.

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The final hour up is a gradual climb up and over moraine so is quite uneven underfoot. As you reach the head of the valley, in front of you rises the pointed peak of the Morado Sur and Morado norte both nearing 5000 metres and the San Frascisco Mountain. The view point that you reach infront of the face of the hanging glacier is at 2,600 metres. The glacier itself is mostly covered in sediment/moraine with a snow cover that depends on the time of year.  (The hikes opens in early December once the winter snow recedes).

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This is a great place to sit and eat your lunch with the possibility of bathing your feet in the icy glacial melt waters.

As you turn to make your descent, the colours of the mountains on the other side of the valley, which previously had been drowned by the glare of the morning sun take on a life of their own with greens, purples, reds, blues and white.  This is a little glimpse of what the mountain scenery of the Atacama is like which is so very different to the vegetated mountains or granite walls of Patagonia.

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The size of the mountains is astounding and as the sun moved across the canyon the changes in the look of the mountains was really fascinating.
For me what really made this day special was the variety of birds that we spotted (list included below), most of which aren’t seen further south and the vegetation and mountain scape felt like being in the desert. In just 2 hours from Santiago being able to get out into the mountains makes you really appreciate how close Santiago sits to incredibly stunning scenery.

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If you`ve a day to spare in Santiago and fancy getting out into the mountains, this excursion will not disappoint. The heat makes it strenuous but the distance and terrain isn’t particularly challenging and the scenery is truly breathtaking.

If you would like to include this great hike to your itinerary, then ask the Swoop team or view our Santiago page for more inspiration.

Birds spots at the Monumental Natural  El Morado

  • Crested duck
  • Rufous Banded Miner
  • Yellow Rumped Siskin
  • Grey Hooded Sierra Finch
  • White Browed Ground Tyrant
  • Plumbeous Sierra Finch
  • Correndera Pipit