Tag Archives: patagonia

San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Buenos Aires & San Telmo

Sally’s thoughts on Buenos Aires and  San Telmo

Unfortunately Buenos Aires is not as safe as it once was. There are more homeless people, shanty towns have grown enormously and so inevitably the level of crime has increased as well. At night, a certain level of caution is an absolute must (i.e. don’t stray too far from well lit, busy areas where there are bars and restaurants, and take taxis).

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Plaza Dorrego – San Talmo

San Telmo was once a poor neighbourhood (and parts of it still are), but vast amounts of money have been invested opening up boutique hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes and clothes shops. It also has the lovely Plaza Dorrego which is buzzing with life until at least 1am. It is definitely not as polished or affluent as other neighbourhoods like Palermo or Recoleta, but in my opinion it has more character.

To give you an idea, the following links are to my four favourite restaurants in the area:

http://www.parrilladelplata.com/

http://www.parrillalabrigada.com.ar/

http://www.cafelapoesia.com.ar/english/que-notable.php

http://barelfederal.com.ar/

Graham and Anne’s cruise and road trip experience.

Graham and Anne returned from Patagonia in February where they enjoyed a cruise as well as a road trip.
Here they tell us all about their experiences and how Swoop helped them on their way.

How did Swoop Patagonia help you plan your trip?

You gave lots of advice in the planning stage, with several options to consider but left enough for us to feel it was ‘our’ trip. You also had local knowledge both of the things to see and local contacts who could make arrangements for different activities. The Google session where we spoke to Luke on line enabled us to ‘put a face to a name’ and gave us confidence in your operation. You responded well to e-mails and kept us in touch with developments.

We would recommend your company to anyone contemplating a trip to Patagonia.
The hotels you specifically suggested: Amerindia, Aguas Arriba and Marianas were all good recommendations with which we agree.

How was your cruise with Cruceros Australis?

 It was very well organised with a complete programme which we were able to take full advantage of.

The ship, Via Australis was great –cabin the equivalent of 4 star hotel bedroom, and the facilities in terms of food, drink and programme were excellent. The excursions (twice per day) were the highlight and you need to be prepared to experience these to get full value –this means getting occasionally cold and/or wet. We were fortunate with wonderful weather, most of the time. Some of the excursions might have been unavailable (landing at Cape Horn) or a bit miserable in the event of bad weather so potential clients need to be aware of this.

The guides were faultless –they were helpful and extremely knowledgeable. The briefing sessions were good at preparing the passengers and putting the excursions in context. The guides were obviously well-trained but they made every effort to help the passengers enjoy the experience. We felt that we learned about the flora and fauna, the history and the geology of the area.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

When we checked in on the morning of departure,we were perturbed to find that we had to sign a disclaimer regarding the potentially hazardous activities and possible difficulties if there was a medical emergency. In reality they were painstaking over safety and the care of the passengers, so this seemed unnecessary but it gave a poor early impression. The crew and guides could not have been more helpful. I can only think that this is a consequence of having some elderly (mostly American) passengers.

Otherwise, as we had hoped this was one of the best parts of the whole trip!

How was your time in Chalten with Walk Patagonia?

We really enjoyed their itinerary.  The bus connections and transfers were particularly helpful as this would have been difficult to organise locally and still keep to the same schedule. The Puerto Natales –El Calafate bus was delayed for a long time at the border (approx 2 hours) but the local taxi driver was waiting and allowed us to drop our bags at the hotel before the trip to Perito Moreno. Although we had already seen a number of glaciers, we weren’t quite prepared for the scale of this one. Worth a visit. The hotels Sierra Nevada (El Calafate) and Senderos (El Chalten) were very comfortable, especially Senderos. However Aguas Arriba was in a different league –wonderful and probably the one place we would return to if we could.The food and service here was exceptional - it is difficult to see how they can improve on what they offer but clients need to be aware that its isolation means that the lodge may sometimes offer a more limited choice than some people expect (not us!). 

We were met promptly on arrival by the Walk Patagonia rep. The guided walk at El Chalten was interesting and Pablo, the guide, was again knowledgeable and keen to inform but also sensitive to the needs of the clients. The hosts of Aguas Arriba (Ivor and Pato) treated us like guests in their home and made us feel immediately comfortable. Pato took us out for two exhilarating walks (one lasted all day) and she was good company and proud to show off her locality including more glaciers, waterfalls and forest flora.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

We would have liked three nights at the lodge but this wasn’t available to fit our schedule, but we did enjoy the night in El Chalten too. (El Chalten seems a good alternative to Torres del Paine for which we couldn’t get our selected accommodation.)  Overall, we would have preferred to have some sort of breakdown of costs within the overall price as we felt in total this was expensive, even allowing for the cost of Aguas Arriba. We got the feeling that Walk Patagonia were getting a good fee for a limited input. However, from our very positive experience we did feel it was worth it.

How was your road trip with Tierras Patagonicas?

The hotels were variable on Ruta 40 but choice is very limited –we stayed in some extremely isolated places and basically had to take what was available e.g at Lago Posadas which was ‘quirky’ but staying here meant that we were able to spend a fantastic day around the lakes and go out to observe the night sky! Hotel Mora at Los Antiguos was fine and in a good position on the lake but the meal seemed pricey. The hotel Tehuelche at Esquel has definitely seen better days –maybe a smaller more intimate hotel would be better? However, Esquel was a good base to stay and we had two very good meals- in a local parilla and at a restaurant in Trevelin (Fonda Sur –recommended)

Jose, like all the guides we met, was fantastic but because this was his company we felt he really made an effort to ensure we enjoyed the trip. He was good company both on the drives and at the evening meals and always discussed plans for the next day, sometimes with alternatives. He was knowledgeable about the flora and fauna and the sights and this helped us to appreciate the surroundings more. He was very calm and good natured and we enjoyed talking to him about his life in Argentina. .

 Jose had planned an interesting schedule and knew the area very well. Once or twice we weren’t able to carry out the plan e.g. one of the national parks had restricted opening, but Jose was still able to provide interesting days and he was always ready to adapt his schedule to suit our preference.

Is there anything you would have changed about this part of your trip?

As we expected, two of the days were long drives but this didn’t really affect us –there was usually lots to see. Jose coped very well with these and there is no real alternative in terms of the mileage you need to cover and the distances between stopping places. The ‘days off’ were really interesting and took us off the beaten track to places that we would have been unable to find if we were on our own. We felt that we were seeing some of the real Patagonia. The scenery and sheer wide open spaces were amazing, especially compared to our home in the south of England.

If anybody was contemplating a Ruta 40 trip on their own they need to be aware there are still significant amounts of ripio so you would need a 4WD especially to visit some of the places off the main road. We found the projected hire charges for a self-drive vehicle with drop off at Bariloche were exorbitant and Jose therefore presented good value, particularly when we shared the cost with another couple.

We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Jose, although it was good fortune that we got along very well with the other couple.

 What was the highlight of your trip? 

All good but especially Aguas Arriba

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

Do lots of research (with Swoop’s help) so that you know what to expect, what to look out for and what alternatives there are. We would have liked to visit Iguazu falls but couldn’t fit it in –you need to appreciate the size of Argentina and the distances involved. From our son’s experience (cycling from Ushuaia to Bolivia!) we would also have liked to spend some more time in Chile –maybe Torres del Paine (which was on our original list) and the Carretera Austral which has different scenery and climate to Ruta 40.

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

We left Jose at Bariloche staying at Hosteria Las Marianas probably the best small hotel we stayed in. We then went on to San Rafael by bus and spent a week there. This was also interesting and worth a visit –we met up with our son and his girlfriend here before bussing to Buenos Aires for the flight home. The overnight Andesmar buses we used were very comfortable (cama suite –so we were able to get a good sleep) but the food provided was terrible! and the loos were in a poor state by the end of a 14 hour bus ride. They are a good way of covering large distances if you can overlook minor inconveniences.

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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.

Don’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

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

How was your trip?

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

What was the highlight of your trip?

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

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

Antarctica – Ushuaia/ Puerto Williams.

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

Keep your pack light! 

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Become a Patagonian Gaucho with these horse riding trips.

A unique way to experience Patagonia is on horseback , you’ll see the sights of Patagonia from the viewpoint of a gaucho and have a truly one of a kind experience.
We have a number of great horse riding trips throughout February,March and April.
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Firstly take a look at the Estancia ride: A 10 day trip that allows you to experience gaucho life, spending each night at different Patagonian Estancias. It’s great for people who prefer not to camp and are up for spending long hours in the saddle and is best suited for experienced riders that are up for some fast and technical riding throughout the Patagonian mountains and pampas.

We have availability for trips starting on 19th February, 4th March and 19th March 2014.

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For something a bit more challenging there’s Riding to Glaciers with Gauchos.
This trip is run by incredibly experienced horse riding specialists from the area. It is a trip for experienced riders that are up for a real adventure in the Patagonian wilderness. You’ll get to see some of the very best of Torres del Paine National Park and camp underneath the stars like true Gauchos.As well as horse riding you will take a fabulous boat trip that travels up the Last Hope Sound and you will get a chance to see some of the other wildlife Patagonia has to offer as well as the Balmaceda Glacier before docking at the Serrano Glacier.

We have availability for this incredible trip from on the 2nd February and 2nd March.

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We also have a spectacular horse moving ride that includes 3 days riding alongside free-running horses, where you’ll get the chance to see parts of Patagonia that not many people get to see. The route takes you across Torres del Paine , through the lush greens of the south to the dry pampas of the north, all on horse-back. You’ll be staying overnight at estancias adding to the authenticity of the trip.
We have availability for this once in a lifetime trip for the 2nd April 2014.

If you are interested in any of these trips get in touch with us and start your gaucho adventure.

Gary’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

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

How was your trip?

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

What was the highlight of your trip?

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

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Patagonia? 

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

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

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

How were your guides on the trip?

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

How were your accommodations on the trip?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jenny & John’s Full Circuit in Torres del Paine

Jenny and John returned in January from a Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences…

‘We had a superb time. The other people in our group were lovely and proved to be great company and our guide, Fransisco, was brilliant.’

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What was the highlight of your trip?

Seeing the Grey Glacier for the first time as we went over the John Garner Pass and completing the Torres del Paine. Also the wild flower meadows between Torres and Seron. 

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

We spent 12 days in Pucon and enjoyed climbing Volcan Vilarrica and Sullipulli, rafting, hydro-speed, thermal springs etc. We have now picked up a couple of Honda Falcon 400 motorbikes for three weeks & plan to ride down the Caraterra Austral through the seven lakes of Argentina.

We spent New Year in Valparaiso to see the fireworks which were fantastic and spent a few days in Santiago going to good steak restaurants and shopping. After the bikes we plan to go to La Serena to star gaze and chill out on the beach.

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

Luke and Chloe were both helpful in answering our many questions.

We endured terrible weather during the TDP and it would have been helpful to add mountaineering boots instead of walking boots on the kit list along with lightweight trainers for muddy camps in the evenings. 

Nonetheless, whilst the weather was poor, it actually added to the challenge and made the circuit more memorable. 

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How was the operator we put you in contact with for your Full Circuit Trek, and how were their guides on the trip?

Gonzalo was on hand to answer all my emails! We didn’t get to meet him unfortunately, however Francisco our guide was absolutely exceptional, working tirelessly as the group of 5 had two distinct paces and was like a yo-yo between the two groups ensuring our safety was paramount. He had a good knowledge of the park and landscape, mountings etc. he was so kind and thoughtful and just basically made the trip. He was exceptional.

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

Better weather!!!!!

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

Even if the weather is lousy it is still well worth the challenge!

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Thank you very much – we really are very proud of our achievement and grateful to Swoop for organising the trip.

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Heather’s Guided W Trek in Torres del Paine

Heather took a guided W Trek in Torres del Paine in early December, and here she tells us about her experiences…

‘I loved the trip, and highly recommended the trail and your company to everyone I spoke to.’

What was the highlight of your trip?

It’s hard to pick a highlight; I thought the whole W Trek was really great. I enjoyed the hiking, especially the second day (to the Torres) and the fourth day (through the French Valley).

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

Swoop was excellent; very responsive and helpful to all of my questions concerning traveling and planning my trip.  It was so helpful for me because I did everything so last minute.

How was the operator, and how were their guides on the trip?  

My guide (Carlos) was excellent; he knew the area, terrain and environment, and spoke English very well. He knew when and where it would be windy and the best places to stop to take breaks.  He was also just a really nice guy.

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

The only thing I wish for was that I was with a big group rather than with a private guide (but that’s my own fault for planning too late).

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

Carry as little as possible on your back:)

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How to hangout with Swoop

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Swoop are now on google+ and were doing hangout’s twice a month to answer all the questions you may have about your trip to Patagonia.

Joining in a Google Hangout means that you can ask questions live and get involved in the conversation.

If you’re not familiar with Google Hangouts On Air here’s a helpful guide so you can join in too.

Before the hangout:

If you already have a Google+ account joining in a hangout is easy.

Step one: Follow Swoop on Google+ and RSVP

1) Type Swoop into Google + and click on our page and follow us

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2) RSVP the event on the page

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Step two : Joining the hangout

On the week running up to the hangout we will be letting you know via Facebook,Twitter and Google+ when the hangout will be, what the subject for the week is and which experts will be in attendance.

1. Go to Google+

2. Go to Swoop’s page at the time of hangout.

3. Look for the Hangout On Air in the page’s Stream.
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4. Double click on the play button on the “Hangouts On Air” image to join.

If you don’t have a google+ account and you want one find out how to set one up here.

If you want to join us on a hangout and are still having troubles our social media manager is always available to help contact clare via email: clare@swooptravel.co.uk 

Instead of joining in the hangout you can always watch live or at your own leisure on our youtube channel and as always you can email Luke your questions or give him a ring with any questions you may have.

 

 

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Doris’ Family Trekking and Kayaking Adventure in Torres del Paine

Doris and her family recently returned from a Full Circuit Trek in Torres del Paine, from which they kayaked out of Torres del Paine National Park back to Puerto Natales. On their travels they also did some independent trekking around Los Glaciares National Park and spent a few days in Buenos Aires. Here Doris tells us about their experiences and shares some fantastic photos from their trip…

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How was your trip?

Excellent. It was an unforgettable experience.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in Patagonia on your trip? 

We spent 3 days in El Chalten exploring Fitzroy before heading down to Torres del Paine. We previously spent 3 days in Buenos Aries which were also brilliant.

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

Your advice was spot on in terms of highlighting the attractions of two exceptional areas and the walking and kayaking were outstanding experience. 

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How were the local operators Swoop referred you to?

In the end we decided to arrange our activities around Fitzroy independently, but did call in to one of your partners’ office to say hello and try and arrange a climbing guide and they were very helpful. Given our extensive previous trekking experience, we probably wouldn’t have benefitted very much additionally from the involvement of a guide from a basic trekking perspective and would imagine they would possibly be more helpful for inexperienced travellers or those wishing to arrange more specific activities such as climbing or glacier treks or possibly mountain biking or horse riding. 

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Your partners in Torres del Paine provided excellent guides and service (Lucas for the Classic Full Circuit Trek, and Chappa for the kayaking). I would say that the enjoyment of the activities is certainly dependent on previous experience and weather and is not straightforward if the former is limited and the latter is bad. Mike and I managed to capsize our kayak in front of the Serrano Glacier in a gust of wind and, whilst all ended well and we considered it an exhilarating experience, that might not have been the case if our children had both been as inexperienced as us and also capsized!

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

Not really, other than wishing to have more time (and money) to explore Tierra del Fuego as well.

Another small detail was that pick-ups at the beginning and end of our time in Torres del Paine didn’t work and we had to find our own way to the operator’s offices, and to the airport afterwards. This was probably the fault of their taxi agent but is still something they need to improve on.

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

The activities are not entirely straightforward and some additional pre-screening and/or preparation might be advisable – in our case a few hours familiarisation with kayaking might have helped avoid some slightly worrying moments. However all’s well that ends well and it was an unforgettable experience.

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