Tag Archives: penguins

Mary’s trip to Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares and Tierra del Fuego

Swoop helped Mary plan her independent trip to Patagonia in February, during which she spent some time in Santiago, Valparaiso, Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares, & Ushuaia. Here she tells us about her experiences…

I’ll tell you what, we barely scratched the surface! There is so much to do in Patagonia!!! We flew into Santiago, saw little of the city, but what I saw I liked, and we also spent a day in Valparaiso.

Next we flew down to Punta Arenas and got straight onto a bus to Puerto Natales, where we took a day trip to Torres del Paine and trekked up to the Torres on a one-day trek, beautiful and knackering! Wish we’d had the time to also see the Cuernos but eh, can’t do everything and glad we at least made it to the Torres.

Also, alarmingly caught bed bugs from a hostel called the Singing Lamb! Not impressed and hope I have got rid of them successfully and not imported them into the UK. I was riddled with bites so first stop once we got to Calafate was a laundry for a complete wash of all items, including backpacks, camera bag etc! We were lucky to get a coach there; for a while (until we checked with every single company!) it looked like we would have to change our plans and stay longer at Puerto Natales so would definitely recommend booking that particular coach well in advance!

From El Calafate, we took a day trip to Perito Moreno (astoundingly awe-inspiring for a place that is so popular with tourists). We then went on to El Chalten, where we climbed up to Laguna de Los Tres and Fitz Roy, it was scorching hot!!! Could not believe it. The owners of the posada where we stayed had recommended we drive to the north side and start from there rather than from the village, which I think was a great idea and made the trek much easier than it would have been if we had started from the centre of El Chalten. All of it was most enjoyable.

We then flew to Ushuaia. The city, as I am sure you agree, is not much to write home about to be honest but we got our stamp for having visited the most southern city in the world! It was also surprisingly expensive to eat out though I must say we decided to go “posh”! Lovely food at Kaupe and Volver, compared with the UK the prices are fine of course but not what I had expected in Argentina. We did take a trip to Isla Martillo to see the penguins (you can’t ever have enough of penguins!) and cute smooching sea lions, which was great. On the way back to Punta Arenas, we took the coach and saw baby orcas in the Beagle Channel, which was also fantastic. We also did the coast trail at Ushaia national park, a piece of cake after Fitz Roy and the Torres :-)

All in all, it was a great holiday and thank you both so much for your help. Hopefully we’ll get to go back there soon, it would be great to see the fjords and do more trekking, although we would definitely give Ushuaia and Punta Arenas a miss :-) . We would also love to see more of Chile, Pucon, Puerto Varas, the lakes etc etc etc… :-) Rather fancy the north as well…

Rob’s Patagonia Cruise

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

How was your trip?

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

What was the highlight of your trip?

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

Did you visit anywhere else in Patagonia?

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

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

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

Is there anything you wish had happened differently?

The cruise itself was excellent in most respects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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