Tag Archives: Tierra_del_Fuego

Lis’s Trip to Torres del Paine & Tierra del Fuego

Lis returned in December from a trip to Patagonia during which they took W Trek in Torres del Paine followed by a visit to Isla Navarino in Tierra del Fuego. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners in Patagonia…

What three words would best sum up your experience in Patagonia?

Wild, Beautiful, Fantastic.

What was the highlight of your trip to Patagonia overall?

It’s genuinely hard to pick one thing overall, it was so varied and beautiful. The light and the windswept, dramatic wilderness of it all was perhaps the most abiding memory of Patagonia – the sheer space and also the diversity.

We dipped in and out of different parts of Patagonia, including a 3 day W Trek (thanks Swoop Patagonia for organising it for us!) in the stunning Torres del Paine National Park, and spending time in Punta Arenas which really felt like a frontier town at the edge of the earth.

Then we also flew in a tiny plane down to Isla Navarino, where there really is the last town before Antarctica (and the most southerly Yacht Club in the world!). This was definitely the most unusual aspect of our trip, and included our best story: drinking with the locals on the German frigate (now a bar) at the Yacht Club, with a Penguin swimming in the bay – and especially the luxurious Lakutaia Lodge and services of local guide Denis (quite brilliant).

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

Patagonia is pretty huge – we would have liked to see more of it; then again, with some smart planning of flights and buses (which are excellent for long distance travel in Chile) we could get around in not too many days. There are so many options for hiking and National Parks – definitely pick your top ones and don’t try to do everything.

We’d also have liked to cross the border into Argentinian Patagonia (a well trodden path at different points) and to take a boat ride (whether the Navimag or a more luxury cruise ) – would recommend investigating these options.

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

They were great: very generous with their advice and support when we were considering  options before making a decision. It was a very personal, tailored service; and thus felt very responsive and flexible to our needs.

What did you think of the operators we set you up with in Torres del Paine?

The operators were reliable, helpful and professional. The Fast Track W Trek we did in Torres del Paine was quite expensive (as there were only two of us in the group); but in return we received a great service, excellent guide (just for the two of us), top equipment and planning and good food. It suited what we needed very well.

How was the W Trek itself, and how were your guides?

The trek was fantastic: we did a 3-day Fast Track loop which suited perfectly as we only had 3 days to spare. I would recommend this itinerary – others do a 5 day W Trek or the Full Circuit, but the 3 days were honestly pretty stretching, even for us as pretty seasoned walkers. The variation on each day was marvellous too, meaning we felt like we saw the range that Torres del Paine had to offer; we left very satisfied.

Talking with other walkers, it’s worth choosing your refugio carefully – some had a reputation as serving pretty meagre portions of food which isn’t great when you’ve walked 9 hours!

Our guide (Viktor) was fantastic – seasoned, professional, good fun, knowledgeable, everything we could have wanted. The packed lunches, tent and equipment which he bought from them were very good quality, and they provided excellent fresh bread for my partner who is gluten free. He went above and beyond to support us and make sure things ran smoothly. Would definitely recommend the operator and Viktor in particular.

How was your stay at Lakutaia Lodge?

Lakutaia Lodge was great too – again, there were only about 6 guests staying there so we had 1:1 attention and service – for instance, they changed the menus around so we could have King Crab on our last day when we had to leave early.

Their excursions were thoughtful and really interesting (bird watching – not something I’d ever think I’d have enjoyed but was breathtaking), tour of the town of Puerto Williams, short trek, museum…); and we also loved using their bikes and canoes.

Local guide Denis accompanied us solicitously during our stay and was so knowledgeable and accommodating – it really made the trip.

The Lodge manager was equally very hospitable and accommodating, looked after us very well. She even introduced us to a famous Chilean opera singer who arrived to stay as we were leaving!

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

Only the weather coming in on our third day, and my falling over & spraining my ankle! Otherwise perfect.

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Things to do in Punta Arenas

There are many interesting sights and activities in and around Punta Arenas, and here we’ve gathered together a few ideas for things to see and do in this wonderful city…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mirador Cerro de la Cruz

For a stunning panoramic view of the city, the straight of Magellan, and the island of Tierra del Fuego in the distance, climb to Mirador La Cruz Hill Viewpoint (Mirador Cerro de la Cruz). This spot is just a ten-minute walk from Plaza de Armas (Plaza Muñoz Gamero) and is one of the most iconic places in the city, particularly beautiful at night.

Plaza Muñoz Gamero

The Central Plaza in Punta Arenas: Muñoz Gamero, and it’s surrounding area is an interesting place to visit, with many beautiful buildings to take in, including the government buildings and cathedral. For some good luck on your trip, rub or kiss the toe of the statue of the indigenous Ona man in the centre of the Plaza!

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Punta Arenas Cemetery

It might sound strange to visit a graveyard on your holiday, but this cemetery dates back to 1840′s, and is internationally famous for its magnificent mausoleums, beautiful European architecture, and perfectly shaped pine trees.

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Many local aristocratic families and European immigrants are buried here, particularly English and Croatians. We’d definitely recommend a visit!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Museums

The following are Swoop’s top four recommendations for Museums to visit in Punta Arenas…

-Palacio Mauricio Braun, Magallanes 949

This palatial mansion houses a regional history museum, which shows great evidence of the wealth and power that Punta Arenas had in its hay day (perhaps not so obvious today). The house’s original owners, the Brauns, were a family of huge importance throughout the Southern Patagonian region. The museum is divided into two sections, one displaying regional history and the other displays the families original opulent furnishings.

(Open Mon-Sat 10:30 – 17:00; Sundays & Public Holidays 10:30 – 14:00;  Entrance $1,000)

-Museo Regional Salesiano Maggiorino Borgatello, Av. Bulnes 336

This museum is considered one of the most complete on the natural and human history of Patagonia. On its four stories it houses collections of stuffed animals, history of the indigenous inhabitants of the region, displays on missionary history, Antarctica and its explorations.

(Open Tues – Sun 10:00 – 12:30 / 15:00 – 17:30; Closed on Mondays;  Entrance CLP$2,000)

-National Maritime Museum, Av. Pedro Montt 981

An in-depth look into the extensive maritime history of Chile. The museum also has specific displays on the War of the Pacific (1879) and its great naval hero Arturo Pratt.

(Open daily 09:30 – 12:30 / 14:00 – 17:00;  Entrance CLP$1,000)

-Museo de Recuerdo, Av Bulnes 01890

The Patagonian Institute (Instituto de la Patagonia) houses the Museo del Recuerdo, with a collection of antique farm and industrial machinery imported from Europe, a typical pioneer

house and shearing shed (both reconstructed), and a wooden-wheeled trailer that served as shelter for shepherds. The library also has a display of historical maps and a series of historical and scientific publications. Best to take a taxi.

(Open Mon – Fri 08:30 – 12:00 / 14:30 – 18:00; Sat 08:30 – 12:00; Closed Sundays; Entrance CLP$1,000)
Austral Brewery, 508 Patagona St. 

This is the southernmost brewery in the world, where you can learn about the production process of the traditional Austral beer (the most popular beer in this part of the country) and enjoy a beer tasting session.

Shepherd’s Monument

This traditional monument is located in Bulnes Avenue, 11 blocks away from Plaza de Armas, and is one of the many iconic places of the city.

Places to Avoid

We’d recommend avoiding Zona Franca if you can it is a very commercial shopping experience although seemingly popular with the locals!

For more information of trips and excursions from Punta Arenas contact us at advice@swooptravel.co.uk

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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!

John & Laura’s Christmas Trip to Patagonia

John and Laura returned in January 2014 from a Christmas trip to Patagonia, where they took a Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, and a Kayaking trip in Torres del Paine (both organised by Swoop), as well as arranging a Self Guided W Trek and various other day trips independently. Here they tell us about their experiences on their trip…

‘We had a great time…it was a brilliant trip!’

 

What was the HIGHLIGHT of your trip?

The 3 day Kayaking Trip and the Cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia were probably the highlights… the kayaking for being a bit wild, and the cruise for being very luxurious but also in a wild place.

On the kayak trip on Lago Grey we were close to an iceberg when it turned over. I think the guide was rather shocked as we were within about 5m of it!

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

We started off in Buenos Aires (the only place that was hot), and from there we travelled to El Calafate, and on to El Chalten.

We then headed back to El Calafate, and on to Puerto Natales, from which we took the W trek in Torres del Paine, and a Kayaking trip.

Afterwards we headed to Puerto Natales, and on to Punta Arenas, from which point we took a Cruise to Ushuaia, and then headed back to Buenos Aires.

How well did SWOOP PATAGONIA do helping you plan your holiday, and finding the best trips or operators for you?

Very good – booking the kayaking through Swoop with a reputable company with good access to the lake was the most useful and didn’t cost much more (if any)* than the other quotes we had. 

*NB, you will not pay any more by booking through Swoop than you would by booking direct with a local operator. Read more about how we work here.

How were the OPERATORS Swoop put you in contact with?

Both the companies you put us in contact with (the Kayaking and Cruise companies) were very good.

How were the other operators you found yourselves?

Other operators were a little patchy.

We found a great guide kayaking for a day in the Tierra Del Fuego national park but the kayaks weren’t very good (although the clothing was).

We also did half a day of Horse Riding which was OK but I really wanted to see the gauchos and how they managed the estancia and the landscape. That seemed difficult to arrange although Estancia Mercedes sounded the best but was booked up. 

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

-Traveling on Christmas day was a PITA.

We had to leave at 4.30am and had a few hours kicking about El Calafate in the bus station as everywhere was closed. At least we managed to do it but getting information was a challenge (thanks for your help by the way – but it was pretty clear that the bus operators just made things up as they went along). Some buses were completely empty (e.g, El Chalten to El Calafate at 4.30am! on Christmas day :-) and others seemed to be fully booked so we had to run around to get a seat, even days in advance.

-We decided to book our W Trek in Torres del Paine independently [without Swoop's support], and this was awkwardIt was very unclear from the website we used if we could cancel or rearrange the bookings.

On this trip we had a mix of tents and bunks, and availability was tight. But when we got there it seemed like certain guides were taking groups around who had booked late and companies must have been holding group bunk reservations, which we might have done had the procedure been clearer.

The tents were pretty pants to be honest. Neither of us are very tall but we struggled to fit in the tent with a small amount of kit – and it rained and rained and the tent leaked – partly as kit was unavoidably touching the sides and the ventilation wasn’t very good. They ought to spend more money on them considering how much they charge.

Also, Vertice’s huts were noticeably better than Fantastico Sur’s in the quality, warmth, food and service despite costing the same. In fact, accommodation seemed to be a lottery – for USD45 in Buenos Aires we got a huge posh suite with a kitchen but for USD135 in Ushuaia we got a pokey, noisy ground floor room that was somewhat dated. We booked both late due to the uncertainty with our plan. There is little correlation between price and quality.

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

1. Don’t travel on Christmas day

2. Try and get up to date info – even the latest Lonely Planet Chile is pretty poor for accuracy, which was frustrating.

3. It is an expensive place to visit, everything and everyone seems to have a chunk of your money, taxes, booking fees etc. Planning a budget was difficult – they are not afraid to ask for tips!

4. TAM airlines are not very comfortable, or attentive

5. It is cold. Even colder than I expected

6. Don’t eat for a week before or after a Cruise (the staff here were fantastic, friendly and fun – superb)

7. I think I’d advise against travel over Christmas as it is windy, very busy, expensive (due to availability) and there is nothing particularly extra to see. If (when) we go again I think we’d wait until February or March.

8. It was very safe at all times and we never really got any hassle – even from the stray dogs.

Some of that sounds a bit blunt but none of it spoiled the trip (or is any different to any of our other traveling experiences). We saw another person with a Swoop buff and they seemed very happy too. I’ll pass on your details to anyone who is interested in planning their own trip – I think you’ll hear from my mother once she has rounded up a few of her trekking buddies!

Stephen’s Independent W Trek & Visit to Ushuaia & Los Glaciares

Stephen returned in early January from a trip to Patagonia that included a visit to Ushuaia, a Self Guided W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park, and a trip to see Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. Here he tells us about his experiences…

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip was visiting Perito Merino Glacier. It was one of the most awe inspiring things I have seen.

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

My itinerary included, in this order, Ushusia, Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and El Calafate

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

Swoop Patagonia was extremely helpful. I would highly recommend Swoop Patagonia to anyone considering a trip to Patagonia. Swoop helped make the best use of my time and also helped me identify the must things to do.

How were the operators we put you in contact with in Torres del Paine and Ushuaia?

The operator in Torres del Paine was excellent. Their service was spot on. They were very organized and kept me well informed. The accommodations they arranged for me were perfect. Everything went as planned.

The Ushuaia Operator was also very good. Great guides – very knowledgeable, enjoy their jobs, lots of fun and great food. You cannot go wrong recommending them to future clients.

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

This is not your fault; it’s totally on me but I wish I knew I needed the Reciprocity Form completed and paid for before I left home. I was not allowed to board the plane to Buenos Aries without. I Lost a day of my trip because of it. I thought I could pay for it when I arrived. I now see this is mentioned on your website but with so much coming at me I did not see it.

Thank you so much for your help. My trip was an excellent experience. You saved me much time and the trip flowed beautifully. After I arrived I could relax and just go with the flow as a result of your help.

Horse Riding in Torres del Paine & Cape Horn Adventure

Arthur returned just a few weeks ago from his trip to Patagonia, where he spent 3 days horse riding across the Fjords of Torres del Paine, followed by 4 days exploring ‘The End of the World’ on our Cape Horn Adventure. This was all after having run the Patagonia Marathon on Sept 28th! Here he tells us a little about what he got up to…

Highlight of the trip…

The ride from Rio Serrano to the Fjord, and camping stopover at Lake Brush.

How was your Guide in Torres del Paine?

Our guide Carlos was objectively brilliant. The right mix of being there but not overbearing. He was also very knowledgeable and altogether a nice bloke.

The stop at Estancia Mercedes we did with Carlos was a great moment too, they are a fantastic family and we had an exceptional stay with them.

How did Swoop do?

Your help was really great, honestly I kind of found you randomly and it served me very well.

The little hiccup* with Paola was annoying but not of great consequence, and the other staff at Lakutaia Lodge were very helpful in every aspect.

*[Customs in Ushuaia delayed Arthurs crossing of the Beagle Channel]

How was your time on the Cape Horn Adventure?

Lakutaia Lodge is a good place, maybe not all that exiting as compared to the rest of the trip but I really like hikes and trips on/from Isla Navarino.

 

Arhtur's Patagonia Marathon

Things to do in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego

Ushuaia is a great place to visit and we often find that clients spend at least a couple of days there and sometimes longer. Although many operators there prefer to run multi-activity day tours which are easy to manage and mean they aren’t involved in providing accommodation, there are certain operators of longer adventures which take you trekking in Tierra del Fuego, out into the mountains surrounding Ushuaia.

Whilst I was in Ushuaia in October 2011, I spent a day in Tierra del Fuego National Park, doing the coastal trek offered by one of our Argentinian partners. Although it was a very enjoyable 3-hour hike, with pretty bays, a lenga forest and mountains as a backdrop, it wasn’t as spectacular as some of the mountain ranges surrounding Ushuaia. If I’d have planned more carefully, I would definitely have undertaken a longer tour that would have allowed me to get out into the mountains and lakes of Tierra del Fuego and further away from the city. But it has to be said that it would have been a lovely excursion if I had just been there for the day.

It’s also worth noting that only part of Tierra del Fuego National Park is open to visitors. This means that during high season, the park is often full of bus loads of tourists on conventional tours, (e.g the tourist trap; Tren Fin del Mundo) stopping at the local Lago Roca cafe for food and drinks before returning to Ushuaia. In this sense, it’s definitely best to do the coastal route if you want to avoid bumping into them.

Perhaps some of the most adventurous routes off the beaten track are far away from the national park. One of the most exciting in my opinion and described as ‘one of the most beautiful trails that can you can do in South America’ by the operator is this Crossing Tierra del Fuego Adventure. In 7 days you’ll cross the French and Cinco Hermanos Pass, places which few other travellers get to. En route you’ll trek through forests, see wild guanacos and camp in the wilderness. Some beautiful spots visited on the itinerary include Lago Fagnano (an enormous lake to the north of Ushuaia which stretches some 61 miles) and the famous Beagle Channel, through which Darwin sailed in 1833.

 

 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a shorter hiking trip, we recommend three days trekking around Ushuaia in the Andorra Valley on this Trek in and Around Ushuaia trip. You’ll have fantastic views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel – as evidenced by this photo below, and you’ll ascend to 1,300 metres up Mount Falso Tonelli. This trip allows you to hike through Tierra del Fuego’s lush green forests, see its turquoise lakes and rivers and also experience it’s towering peaks in the space of just 3 days. If you are still yearning to see a bit more of Tierra del Fuego, why not add on a boat trip in the Beagle Channel to see penguins or a 1-day tour of the national park.

 

Hotels

Hunting for hotels in Ushuaia can be difficult, particularly if you don’t have a good idea of the geography of the place. Ushuaia has a wealth of accommodation to offer, but unfortunately due its remoteness, prices tend to be high. I’ve stayed in three hotels in Ushuaia and would recommend them all. To find availability for my recommended hotels, click the links below or alternatively search for other hotels in Ushuaia.

 

Hotel Alto Andino is my first choice as it’s in the very centre of town, close to the harbour, restaurants and shops. It also means it’s easier for the operator to locate you when they pick you up before your hike. Alto Andino is modern, with wifi, tv, comfortable beds with a filling breakfast included.

 

Secondly, about 10 minutes walk out of the centre is Hotel Las Lengas, based further up the hill looking down onto town and with some partial views of the Beagle Channel. A circular glass restaurant allows you to look out over Ushuaia during breakfast and the food is delicious. Rooms again are comfortable (and have been recently refurbished) with tv, wifi but only 1 plug socket available in the room!

 

Finally, if you’re looking to pay less, it’s probably best to stay outisde town. Hotel Tierra de Leyendas is a 15 minute taxi drive out of Ushuaia but a very warm, friendly, comfortable place to stay, it’s more like a huge b&b than a hotel and the owner used to work at the Marriott in Buenos Aires as head chef, so do try the food!

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..