Tag Archives: patagonia

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
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Choosing your hotel and neighbourhood in Buenos Aires

On Swoop’s Sallys most recent visit to Patagonia she spent a few days in her beloved Buenos Aires checking out new hotels, old haunts and getting up close and personal with a few juicy steaks. Below she shares a few thoughts on choosing the right hotel for you in Buenos Aires.

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As in many big cities, Buenos Aires has its edgy side and so choosing where you stay can make a real difference to your enjoyment of the city. There are bohemian quarters, business quarters, the hustle and bustle of the city centre and safer neighbourhoods with bars and cafes. Where you choose to stay will be a very personal choice depending on how you enjoy cities, the style of hotel you feel most comfortable in and the length of time you have to enjoy this vibrant, diverse city.

Below I have tried to give a little detail on each neighbourhood where you might choose to stay so you can get a little more its flavour, style and close by amenities and attractions.

Palermo

Palermo is very pleasant! It has some historic buildings dating from the 1920s and is a more relaxed and safer neighbourhood than the ‘MicroCentro’ or ‘San Telmo’. It is residential with an abundance of bars and restaurants. What it lacks are the main historic sights and museums, but these are easily and quickly accessed by the metro. Many of the eateries are fairly new so, in my opinion, lack a certain amount of Porteño identity. That said, there are a few historic restaurants such as ‘El Preferido de Palermo’ and ‘Lo de Jesus’ which do ooze the porteño flavour.
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If you’re looking to mix with young porteños, visit historic sights by day then return to a trendy (safer) suburb in the evening, then Palermo is for you. Although not thought of as a bohemian area, I think that compared to most residential streets of anywhere in the UK, it would feel really rather bohemian, oozing with character, great food and a relaxed, charming character (there are enough holes in the pavement and graffiti to remind you that you’re in Buenos Aires).

Palermo is divided into 2 separate districts, Palermo Soho (Viejo) and Palermo Hollywood. The main hub of restaurants and hotels is in Palermo Soho and is my favourite of the two neighbourhoods. It is the area of the city of a massive block between Av. Santa Fe, Av. Juan B Justo, Av. Cordoba and Av. Scalabrini Ortiz. With most bars and restaurants concentrated within in this within Malabia, Cabrera, Thames and Guatemala.

 My 2 favourite boutique hotels are the Legado Mitico or the Bobo. They both are oozing with charm, local character, excellent service and both with good locations. The Bobo is a little more ‘trendy’ than the Legado but both are lovely.
For a mid-range option, the Esplendor Palermo Soho is a great choice.

San Telmo

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San Telmo gives you the historic ‘barrio’ feel but is also just a stones throw from the city centre (literally, 5 blocks). Although culturally more interesting with its historic cafes, facades and cobbles street, I’ll admit that it might feel a little dirty and daunting if you’ve just stepped off the plane.

My favourite boutique hotel in San Telmo is the San Telmo Luxury Suites right in the heart of the neighbourhood. More more budget friendly, midrange options you could choose either the Los Patios de San Telmo or the Babel Boutique.

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If you are making a visit to Buenos Aires at the start and end of your trip, it might be an idea to stay in Palermo at the start of your trip and in San Telmo at the end of your trip.

 Downtown / Centre – Micro Centro & Monserrat

This is the business district of the city where you also find the ‘Plaza de Mayo’, Government Palace and the Obelisc. The streets are small, cramped and rather pedestrian unfriendly but if you have just 1 night (midweek), then staying right in the heart of the city has its attractions. The Continental 725 is a lovely hotel choice right in the centre with stunning views from its roof top bar, a 2 minute walk from the main historic sights and you really are right in the thick of the hustle and bustle that drives this city.

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Once you’ve decided on your place to rest your head, then you can start to plan a little more with some ideas of ‘Things to Do“.

 

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Hotel Review: Legado Mitico


This luxury hotel offers a totally unique hotel experience. The door onto the street is unassuming with just a small plaque to suggest that the hotel is even there. The reception desk is manned by just 1 gentleman, and then behind a curtain leads into what is a cosy lounge and library.

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The library’s collection is really impressive with books by distinguished authors from all over South America, historical editions of books from Argentinean authors such as Martin Fierro – the classic tale of the Gaucho.

The hotel rooms all have a different name (rather than number), theme and decor. They are extremely comfortable with great attention to detail to all the decorations, furnishings and facilities.
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On my latest visit I stayed in the room called ‘La Primera Dama’, ‘The First Lady’ which is a room totally themed around Evita Peron. The touches are subtle but include, photos of her life, a cabinet above the bath of replica possessions and a bodice with pearls above the fireplace.

There are 3 categories of rooms – classic, deluxe and superior – for more details about the room categories, please just ask.

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The hotel doesn’t have a bar in the traditional sense but drinks and snacks are served upon request from reception in the lounge, library area – all guests are invited to a glass of wine in the library on arrival. The hotel has a spacious outside garden/terrace on ground level (and a sundeck on the roof which is really rather too small to mention).

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The hotel has a great location in Palermo Viejo (Soho), positioned just 4 blocks from the Subte (underground/subway) with pavement cafes and restaurants just a stone’s throw away – See ‘Restaurants Blog for more details.

This hotel is great for those who seek a unique, luxury, hotel experience which will add to your stay in this bustling city rather than just being a place to rest your head.

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Hotel Review: Mitico Puelo – relaxing, tranquil, idyllic

Sally returned from her trip in Patagonia and came back with even more knowledge about the region, along with some tales of bird watching, she wrote about her different experiences of hotels in the region.  Here she talks about the idyllic Mitico Puelo.

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The Mitico Puelo lodge sits on the shores of the Tagua Tagua Lake, accessible only by boat which makes getting to the lodge an adventure in itself. The drive to reach the lake takes you past lakes, volcanoes and fjords giving you a feeling of gradually leaving civilisation behind and reaching somewhere very special indeed.

The setting of the lodge is utterly idyllic surrounded by steep sided, thickly forested mountains, emerald waters and an abundance of birds. At night the only noise is the wind whistling through the trees and the sound of lapping water.

On the lake.

The building itself is beautifully built with large wooden beams, spacious lounges, big windows, large landings and open staircases. The rooms and bathrooms are very spacious and those on the first floor have large wooden balconies that look out over the lake and gardens in front. The interior decorations and fittings are all a little tired and old fashioned but this sense of faded glory does some how add to its charm.
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As I sat eating breakfast I was fascinated to watch some ‘Green-Backed Fire Crowns’ – a hummingbird native to the area, gorging themselves on the fuchsia bushes in front of the lodge. Morning and evening, there was a roaring fire in the lounge, a lovely space to sit, relax and take in the view. Dinner was served from 8pm, a 3 course set menu of wholesome local dishes – although there is no choice as to the menu, they are very good at catering for clients with specific dietary needs.
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The staff live on site and have quite a relaxed approach but do ensure that all clients feel totally at home; this is obvious from the comments made in the guest book.

The lodge is a great base for fly fishing, a jumping off point to the Tagua Tagua National Park and other excursions by boat and on foot up the Puelo river valley. This is an area visited by little so you really do feel like you are getting quite far off of the beaten track.

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If you are looking for somewhere to relax, surrounded by incredible scenery with the possibility of some activities but not looking for 5* luxury or service, then this lodge is the perfect option; a rustic choice in an idyllic setting.