Tag Archives: Santiago

mcdavid trek

Barbara & Douglas’ 5 Week Patagonian Adventure

Barbara and Douglas returned in February from a 5 week trip that included a 4 night Patagonian Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Here they tell us about their trip, and their experience of booking with Swoop and our partners…

‘Swoop Patagonia was the main reason why we had such a successful trip… Luke was absolutely brilliant in helping with our itinerary’

What was the highlight of your trip?

Our trip was 5 weeks altogether with 4 nights of it on the cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia. Overall the cruise was one of our many highlights, with the landing on Cape Horn very special and the experience at Pia Glacier quite something.

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

Yes, we visited Santiago and Valparaiso before flying south to Balmaceda where we picked up a rental 4×4. We spent a week driving south on the Carretera Austral and were able to drop the vehicle at Villa O’Higgins. This was difficult to arrange and expensive but we managed to book through a local agent and Europcar.

Another highlight was our 2 day crossing into Argentina, from Villa O’Higgins, by boat and on foot and our first sighting of Mt. Fitzroy! 5days in El Chalten was a recommendation from Luke which was excellent, great day hikes and fantastic food and drink.

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We had a brief visit to El Calafate and visited Perito Merino glacier, then on to Puerto Natales to go to Torres del Paine. We completed  the W Trek ourselves using pre booked refugios which proved to be very good and Luke had given us advice about this.

The weather was kind and the scenery was awesome. We went to Punta Arenas and the the cruise after this. Spent 2 nights in Ushuaia and 2 nights in Buenos Aires before flying home.

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

Swoop Patagonia was the main reason why we had such a successful trip. Luke was absolutely brilliant in helping with our itinerary and we organised the whole trip ourselves using  Luke’s knowledge and advice. He directed us to their excellent partners for both our flights and our cruise booking.

Were you well looked after by the cruise operator?

The cruise operator was excellent, not cheap but a very special part of our trip at the end of our 5 weeks. We were ready for some luxury and they hit the mark, nice cabin, great meals, excellent service and well organised excursions.

How did you find the services and excursions provided?

Services and excursions were all very well executed, swift disembarkation for all excursions with safety a high priority. Enjoyed the on board presentations by knowledgeable staff.

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

Not at all, all our pre planning paid off and we would do the exact same.

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

-For anyone planning to do the crossing from Villa O’Higgins to El Chalten: be aware that the company Heilo Sur in Villa O’Higgins does not operate this any longer and the website information is out of date. The boat across Lago O’Higgins is now run by Robinson Crusoe, the man and horse who helps with luggage was not there(!) so be prepared to walk the 22kms if you go. Robinson Crusoe sold us tickets for a bus from Desertio Lake to El Chalten which never turned up.

-Bring American dollars if you plan to visit Argentina as this is the currency they wish.

-The crime levels in Buenos Aires seem to be escalating, we heard many reports of street crime and scams to distract tourists while pickpockets were at work.

-The walking tours for tips are an excellent way to see a city, we did these in Valaparaiso and Buenos Aires

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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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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Review of Patagonia, Santiago and Torres del Paine

We speak to Jon who spent a day in Santiago before flying down to Patagonia to trek the Full Circuit of Paine and mountain bike for 12 days in November.
 
 
 
What did you think of Santiago and what did you do there?
I had a day stop over in Santiago so decided to venture into the city. A frequent bus takes you from the airport to the city for a very cheap return fare dropping you in the main thoroughfare. The city is easily navigable with a guide book and has a number of parks and other tourist type attractions.
 
From what I saw it’s a nicely spacious well laid out city with a laid back population. Wandered around the Barrio Bellavista area which is the bohemian quarter. Brightly painted houses, walls and (tasteful) graffiti add colour to the area of relaxed bars and coffee shops. One of Pablo Neruda’s houses is situated nearby which you can view but only on one of the scheduled tours, so check beforehand if possible. I walked up to the summit of Cerro San Cristobel (there is a funicular service available if you don’t fancy walking) to see a fantastic view over the city with a great view of the mountains in the distance.
 
What did you think of Patagonia?
Well you don’t need me to tell you what an amazing place Patagonia is but needless to say the trip was fantastic. I’ve been wanting to visit the place for sometime now and it didn’t disappoint. The scenery was spectacular, everything I imagined and more. The combination of green forests, snow capped mountains, glaciers and blue sky is the natural world at its most beautiful. I often say I want to return to a country I’ve visited but this one really is a must, there is still so much more to see. Having seen it in spring, I would also like to see in the other seasons. Since it is such a beautiful place, the area consequently attracts people from all over the world, the ones I met who had settled there all had interesting stories to tell.
 
How was your trip and what was your guide like?
I combined the circuit trek of the Torres park with two days cycling. Trekking was easier than I anticipated, if you have a reasonable level of fitness then you won’t have any difficulties.  The scenery was amazing, one of the group summed it up quite nicely when they said it was like appearing in a postcard. We were constantly in awe as different parts of the park came into view. The park didn’t just boast great views of the mountains and glaciers but equally stunning  lakes, rivers and forests.
 
Mountain biking was much harder than I bargained for though on the first day when the legendary Patagonian wind made an appearance. Second day was much better and cycled the remaining distance from just outside Camp Serron to Puerto Natales about 80K so was pleased with myself for that. The guide (Dario) had recently won the a race on the same route we took but luckily he went easy on me! I finished off with a couple of days in Puerto Natales. I was still feeling active so walked up the nearby vantage point Cerro Dorothea which offers stunning views over the town, fjord and surrounding areas.
 
The guides were fantastic, knowledgeable friendly and were sympathetic to the differing abilities of  the group. As well as knowing all about the mountains they were conversant with the fauna, birds and animals that inhabited the park. The porters were equally friendly, helpful and efficient as well.
 
 
What was the top highlight?
I can’t choose a single one but the top two for me were the Torres towers and Glacier Grey, I’ve seen them before in photographs but they really don’t do them justice. You’ll never forget seeing them with your own eyes. I’ve seen some amazing views during my life and travels but these two were something else.
 
The Torres towers had an almost mystical aura to them, nothing else was on my mind as I sat looking up at them. You couldn’t help but just focus on them and be absorbed by their sheer presence. The expanse of Glacier Grey as it came into view as we passed over Paso John Gardner was a similarly mind blowing experience. It streched as far as the eye could see and only as we got closer could we get an idea of how high it was and how big the crevasses were.
 
What do you think of Swoop and the operator that we recommended?
Swoop were really helpful in putting together the trip and tailoring it to my needs. What attracted me to them was they were focused on the area, offering a number of choices. The local operator was equally as helpful sorting out the itinerary and transfers. I particularly appreciated the efforts  they went to in retrieving my bag when it went missing between Santiago and Punta Arenas. I hope to be able to use them again if I can make another visit.