Tag Archives: Review

Off the Beaten Track Expedition in Torres del Paine

John and his friends returned in February from an off the beaten track trekking and kayaking expedition out of Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his trip and his experiences in booking with Swoop and our local partners…

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Did the itinerary fit with your plans and aspirations for the trip? 

Yes the itinerary was as I had hoped and fitted our aspirations.

How would you describe the route, and terrain?

The route was manageable in general; we had one hard day of 10 to 12 hours, followed by an easier day of 6 hours. It was demanding overall due to the fact we trekked for 2-3 weeks overall, camping throughout.

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The Oggioni Pass was demanding, but not overly so, and took us about 10 hours. Cristian did say he might change the plan to go to Perros Camp rather than Dickson on coming down the pass but in my opinion it would be a pity to miss Dickson Camp, which is a lovely setting.

How was your guide?

One error from our guides was to try and take us ‘off piste’ to a higher track when going over the John Garner pass. This was a bit much for us on an already long day. He did learn from it but could have discussed it with us beforehand. I think he felt we were going well and were up for a challenge and felt as we had a guide we should make use of him by going off the track. In reality, Perros Camp to Lago Grey Camp is a long enough day without adding a couple of hours detour.

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The Pingo Valley was blissfully quiet although Zapata Camp had lots of mosquitos. Climbing Zapata was a demanding day and we were on the hill for 15 hours (5am to 8pm), partly because we started at Zapata Camp, not the Base Camp, and this did add and hour at the start and end of the day. Personally I think this was sensible and cannot see the sense of moving camp an hour nearer the mountain and taking a day to do so.

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The river crossing was also difficult and the usual crossing point was impassable. The crossing point used was above the lake and involved 2 smaller river crossings. I would have thought this was a more sensible and reliable route to use. Our guide had not used it before himself but I suspect he may do so in the future.

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The day on Zapata was windy and at times it looked doubtful if we could continue. To the credit of Cristian, we did plough on through difficult winds when it may have been tempting to stop and did make the summit.

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The 2 older members of our partly (aged 60) did not do Zapata but did have a long and rewarding day in the Fossil area around the mouth of the Tyndall Glacier. Having done Zapata, I feel their decision was a good one, as they would not have managed to last the day or move fast enough over the ground. To do Zapata you need to be able to sustain a long day in the mountains and move promptly over uneven ground.

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Our 2 guides were both very good and spoke excellent English. Cristian was extremely knowledgeable about the wildlife especially the birds and knew all the English names and their calls. For me that was a real bonus.

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Jamie, the cook, made some excellent food and this was very much appreciated by us all but especially by Richard, who sometimes feels ill on extreme exertion if not fed well but did not at all on this trip.

Jose, our Kayak guide was perhaps the most impressive as he did all of the cooking and guiding himself.

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Did our partners in Torres del Paine do a good job with the planning and logistics?

I could not really fault the operator’s planning and logistics, which was very flexible throughout the trip. For example they managed to get a food dump to Camp Dickson for us to pick up to avoid too much food being carried over the Oggioni Pass and arranged for wine to be carried into Zapata Camp and fresh coffee for the kayaking when we said we found Chilean coffee poor.

The kayak down the river was a lovely way to finish. At times it was windy and the single lady who joined us needed a tow at one point and the two Germans who joined us on the first day fell in, which must have been miserable we had wet suits which were fine the guide had dry suits and I know Cristian was considering dry suits for future multi day trips.

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Would you recommend Swoop for its help in finding the right trekking route, guide and operator for your trip?

The benefit of Swoop from our point of view was a contact in the UK and an ability to arrange a bespoke tour. Most companies just want to sell the W trek and are not interested in any other options.

Bo & Deb’s family trip to Patagonia

Deb & her family returned in February from a trip to Patagonia during which they spent 6 nights at a private lodge on the edge of Lake Nahuel Huapi, and embarked on some trekking in Bariloche. They then headed to Los Glaciares National Park for some trekking in and around El Calafate and El Chlaten. Here Deb tells us about the highlights of their trip, and their experience of booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘Bo and I want to thank you for helping us to arrange a trip of a lifetime that came through for us in a mighty way. We had such a greatly blessed time!’

Every place we stayed was very nice and the private lodge in Bariloche was by far the most incredible accommodation and lodging experience of our lives! What a place and the personal, kind, professional staff there added so very much! Every meal and every snack was homemade and precisely made and we enjoyed such tremendous food and times together! The Argentinian barbecue topped it off the last night we were there.  What an experience!

Thank you so much for helping to arrange all of this! It so set the tone for the rest of our vacation, which was also top notch in different but appreciated ways! Patagonia is spectacular: Majestic mountains, beautiful glaciers, all just sensational.

All of our tours and guides were better than our best expectations: expert staff, who were friendly, helpful, endearing, and the transportation which went smoothly and was timely and comfortable.

Thank you for your advice, help and the wonderful results we enjoyed from your services and planning. Our LORD, my husband, much prayers and Swoop Patagonia teamed up to bring forth a real WIN WIN!!! Our regards and best to you.

John & Pene’s trip to Torres del Paine

John & Pene returned in February from a 5 week trip to Chile and Argentina, during which they spent 5 days exploring Torres del Paine National Park from an eco camp on the edge of the National Park. Here they tell us about their experiences on this trip, and in booking through Swoop and our partners…

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of our entire trip was definitely Torres del Paine and our time in the eco camp.

Summer arrived with us and we spent three days hiking in perfect weather. Paine is truly stunning, not just the rocks, but also the enormity of the space and the big, big skies.

How was your stay at the eco camp?

We felt sure we made the right choice in this eco camp, which was a lovely place: the yurts were perfect and the guides’ enthusiasm and passion for the park was infectious.

The food was good, though not exceptional, and it was a pleasure to have good wines and beers readily available. It was also a pleasure to meet and enjoy the company of other guests in small groups, and we felt that four nights/three days was probably the right length of time.

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

Your advice was spot on and your administration was responsive and efficient.

Thanks also by the way for the ‘buffs’ which were awaiting our return and which will I am sure come in useful when I walk the West Highland Way later in the year.

Is there anything you would have liked to happen differently?

The main downside, which I know you recognise, is the distance you have to travel both in getting there and once you are there. I did the base of the towers, the horns and the condor cliff and each day I spent a minimum of 4 hours in transit. The situation is made worse this year because they are repairing the road, which means it is closed for large parts of the day and we had to return on a more circuitous route. Being driven through the park is no great hardship but it is disappointing when you have spent so much time, money and effort getting down there not to be able to spend more time in outdoor activities. For anyone spending more than 4 nights there they probably need to think of some alternative activities closer to hand around the Camp itself or on the outskirts of the park.

Another area of some confusion and frustration was in the timing of pick-ups. We were told we would be picked up at Puerto Natales at 5.30pm, then at 5.00pm and in the event they arrived at 4.00pm when we were out. We were not alone in having such difficulties, others complained of worse. Given that time in the Camp is so precious this is one area where they need to make improvements in their arrangements.

Lyndsay’s Trekking holiday in Torres del Paine, Los Glaciares & Tierra del Fuego

Lyndsay and her partner returned in February from a trekking holiday in Patagonia where she first did some day hikes from El Chalten. Next she embarked on a W Trek in Torres del Paine, finished off with a Kayaking trip out of the national park. The final segment of her adventure was a Trek Across Tierra del Fuego, finished off with a visit to a penguin colony. Here she tells us about each part of her trip, and her experiences in booking through Swoop and our partners… 

‘We had an amazing time, it was so much more than we thought it would be, and such a beautiful place to be, it was a privilege to spend time in that part of the world.’

El Chalten: Personalised Trekking Itinerary

The service provided by your partners in El Chalten could not be faulted, they booked great hotels, which suited our needs and were clean, comfortable with welcoming staff.

The personalised itinerary was great as it gave us a good feeling for the area and allowed us to feel comfortable to hike independently. The day we spent with the guide was great as we went to an area outside the national park, somewhere we would have not gone by ourselves, and the guide was very knowledgeable and friendly.

I don’t think we would have changed the itinerary but if we had had more time available a days rest in El Calafate before heading of to Puerto Natales would have been nice.

W Trek & Kayaking in Torres del Paine

The operator who ran our Self Guided W Trek and Kayak trip in Torres del Paine provided an excellent service. The guide for the kayaking part of the trip was very good, and was from the US so language was not a problem, he was very knowledgeable took us to a great campsite. All of the equipment provided was in excellent condition.

The only suggestion we would make about this trip is perhaps to walk the W Trek in the reverse direction, as you would then have a great view of the mountains as you walked.

The only hiccup here (and indeed of the trip as a whole) was that our hotel at the end of the kayaking trip had not been booked (I’m not sure if this was down to the hotel or the operator). The hotel moved us to another hotel, which unfortunately was not great, it had no hot water, or heating, and breakfast was not available early in the morning, and we had to leave early to get the bus to Rio Grande. Although not a major issue, an apology from them would have been nice.

I would recommend taking a padlock with you so that you can store your luggage in the lockers at the refugios. You can leave luggage at Refugio Torre, Refugio Paine Grande and at Campo Italiano whist you walk up the valleys, this is useful as it eases the amount you needed to carry during the day.

We would have loved to spend an extra day in Puerto Natales after this part of the trip, but unfortunately we were on a tight schedule.

Tierra del Fuego Crossing

This was an amazing part of the trip, if somewhat hard work at times, an excellent trek. It may have been good to make the trekking each day more equal in time, but the nature of the terrain and the type of trip it is would make this very difficult to achieve. Nonetheless, it may be something that could be born in mind.

Our guide was knowledgeable, competent, friendly, amusing and inspired confidence when we where in the middle of nowhere and made us feel very comfortable with what we where doing. He looked after us very well and had even brought a Spanish /English dictionary along for times of miscommunication.

It was a great trip, however I do think an extra day after crossing the Beban Pass to camp in the valley would have been brilliant as the mountains where just so wonderful to look at.

Swoop Patagonia

Swoop provided a great service; you were so helpful and knowledgeable. Your partners were very professional and provided the service they said they would- there was no hassle!

The service provided by yourselves was second to none and we could have not asked for anything more, you were always ready and able to help with any query no matter how small. We will recommend you unreservedly.

Overall

I am sure you can gather our highlight was trekking across Tierra del Fuego. However we would say this is trekking and more! No paths, marked routes, climbing over tress, walking across rivers, through bogs, along the sides of valleys on scree for up to 12 hours a day. It was amazing and beautiful and tranquil but anyone undertaking it should realise it is not an easy trek it is serious hard work.

‘Once again thank you so much you made a dream come true and we had the most wonderful time.’

Valerie’s Montes Martial Circuit in Ushuaia

Valerie returned in early February from a 3 day trek in Ushuaia, experiencing the valleys, forests, lagoons and summits of the Montes Martial Circuit. Heres she tells us below about her experiences on the trek, and in booking through Swoop Patagonia…

‘I really enjoyed the 3 days on the trek and the guides helped to make the time special.  I know anyone who decides to join this trek will truly enjoy themselves.’

What was the highlight of your trip?

There were so many highlights, it’s difficult to pick just one, but possibly the camping spot was so beautiful beside the calm lake with the mountains rising above the lake.

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

We stayed pretty much around Ushuaia, but did visit more of the Tierra del Fuego park, and took a Beagle Channel cruise to Penguin Island-beautiful!

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

Swoop looked after all details, all we had to do was pick up our backpacks, sleeping bags and pads the day before the start of the trek-everything else was taken care of!

Were you well looked after the operator we put you in touch with & their guides on the trip?

The company looked after all the details…and the guides were excellent-they helped us so much while actually trekking and at the camping spot!

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

The trek was great and I can’t think of anything to change!

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

Be prepared for the wet weather and mud-makes the trek interesting but when outfitted in wet weather gear, so much more comfortable!

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! 

Ali’s Trek and Ice Hike in Los Glaciares National Park

Ali returned at the end of January from a trek in Los Glaciares National Park, where he hiked in and around El Chalten, exploring the many mountains, glaciers, lakes and valleys around the dramatic Mount Fitz Roy. Here he tells us about his trip and his experience of booking with Swoop and our partners, and shares some fantastic photos and videos!

Ali Habbtar Viedma Glacier from Paso Huemul

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of my ‘Complete Chalten’ trip was seeing the Continental Ice Field and trekking between Paso del Viento and Paso Huemul with very few people and amazing scenery.

Video: Viedma Glacier & the Continental Ice Field

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

 Not this time, but hopefully next time.

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

Swoop did an excellent job, the flexibility in trying to meet my schedule was great and the operator recommendations were fantastic.

Were you well looked after by the operator in El Chalten & their guides on the trip?

Zoe and the crew did an outstanding job in terms of adjusting the trek to get maximum benefit, it helped that I was a one-man group :)

The equipment and food provided was great, the hotels recommended and booked were excellent, and the guide, Gaston did an outstanding job- very professional, knowledgeable, and fun to trek with.

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

Hopefully next time I’ll be able to plan further in advance without many changes.

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

Be ready physically and mentally, and enjoy nature at its best.

Michal’s Self Guided W Trek in Torres del Paine

 Michal returned in late January from a Self-Guided W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park. Here he tells us about his trip and his experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘Thank you very much for all your help and advice. Our trip to Patagonia exceeded our expectations. Everything ran smoothly without any hiccups at all.’

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the Self Guided W hike was definitely Valle del Frances. The weather was perfect and the sheer beauty of this place is simply stunning.

How was the travel and accommodation on your trip?

Travel arrangements were perfect. Hotel Sierra Nevada was very good and Amerindia by means of the smile glued to Monica’s face, simply unforgettable.

I blessed the decision to overnight in Chileno twice due to the unsettled weather, as this enabled us to spend a few hours under the towers, to see them and to take these unforgettable shots.

Is there anything you would have liked to happen differently?

We noticed that during the walk people were getting lunches in big paper bags. This seemed a little excessive as no one needed them and they littered every refugio. This is probably something to pass on to Sur Fantastico… A few trees in Amazonia chopped down unnecessarily!

[Regarding the paper bags, we 100% agree with you, and have complained about it also. The good news is that from next season (Sept 2014) people will no longer be given paper bags, and will be given only recyclable bottle of water!]

Unfortunately, we were neither able to hike to Valle del Silencio nor to Campamento Japones as we did not have the climbing permit and did not know that such permit was needed. We also wanted to visit Valle Bader but again lack of permit stopped us. I understand it is something off the beaten track but certainly worth visiting.

[Regarding the special permission to get into the Silencio, Bader and Pingo Valleys: After the terrible fire in the park a couple of year ago, the rangers closed these valleys to tourists travelling without certified guides because there are no rangers to cover these areas. see our Off the Beaten track trips in Torres del Paine ]

The other thing worth mentioning is the need for sleeping bag liners in Refugio Chileno as I was not aware of this either.

We spoke today with the commercial manager and they told us that they ask for a security deposit of USD$ 50, or your passport, in exchange for the liner. When you leave and return the liner they return your deposit/ passport. Unfortunately this measure was put in place because several guests took the liners with them!]

These were all just tiny niggles however, which did not bother us at all. It has to be said that we found the service of your partners in Torres del Paine perfect.

Did you visit anywhere else on your trip?

We also hiked for a week in Nahuel Huapi Park. This equally blew us away.

‘To summarise, Swoop Patagonia and your partners scored 5 out of 5… We received what we needed in a very unobtrusive and friendly way what we appreciate. We only regret we did not have enough time to stay a few days in El Chalten and to hike there. I simply did not realise Patagonia being that beautiful.’

 

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!’

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Amanda & Patrick’s Multi-Activity Trip in Torres del Paine

Amanda and her brother Patrick returned home to New York in early January from a 10 day Multi Activity Trip spent hiking and kayaking in Torres del Paine National Park. Here Amanda tells us about her trip and her experience booking through Swoop and our partners, and shares some fantastic photographs…

‘Patrick and I can’t thank you all enough for helping organise a trip of a lifetime! Our friends and family back home can’t get over our photos and are quite jealous ;) We’ll make sure to refer them to you if they decide to travel down to Patagonia in the future.’ 

amanda corbett and patrick

What was the highlight of your trip?

I think the day our guide Nico took us on a 3 hour day hike in the morning to an “off the beaten path” view of Grey Glacier and then that afternoon/evening we went ice hiking on that same glacier. I also loved Laguna Azul and how hiking around that part of the park was so quiet and peaceful.

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

We flew right into Punta Arenas and spent a night in Puerto Natales on either end of our trip but we only had time for our expedition in Torres del Paine.

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

A+! It was so overwhelming at the start of our trip planning to know where in Patagonia we should go, then what guide company we should work with, etc.

After our conversation in August, you listened closely to what we wanted from our trip (a physically challenging trip without crowds with a mix of backpacking and kayaking) and the operator you put us in contact with did exactly that. So thank you for steering us towards Torres del Paine (a fantastic part of Patagonia in which to backpack and kayak), and toward this particular operator.

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

Another A+! They made us feel very welcome in Puerto Natales when we arrived and set us up in a wonderful hostel in town. We felt very well taken care of and they did a great job coming up with a Plan B itinerary at the last moment when there was an unexpected weather forecast (tons of snow!).

Our guide, Nico, was fabulous and we couldn’t have asked for a more knowledgeable, flexible and personable guide!

When my brother got sick on the first two days of the trip, Nico, helped create a “Plan C” on the fly that accommodated my brother and still kept in line with what type of trip we wanted. We couldn’t have been happier.

amanda corbett patrick

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

I think the only aspect of the trip that I would have changed would to have been more involved in the food planning. I am used to planning backpacking trips for myself in the States and love food planning and while I so appreciated the operator taking care of this part, I ended up missing a few of my “backpacking staples” and would have enjoyed being a part of that pre-trip planning.

It was a nice luxury to have Nico prepare all of our meals though – I am not used to that having never taken a guided trip before!

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

If you’re looking for fantastic backpacking conditions – go to Torres del Paine. No bugs, perfect temperature, no bears or other worrisome animals, and you don’t even have to treat your water!

Having backpacked a lot, I was amazed at the perfect conditions for hiking and camping in the park. I just loved it. Leaving from Puerto Natales is also wonderful – it’s a really fun, welcoming town in which to stay on either side of your trip with backpackers from all over the world!

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