Tag Archives: Tips

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.

Sam’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Sam returned in January from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip and in booking with Swoop and our partners…

What was the highlight of your trip?

The geography I witnessed on my 5 day W Trek in Torres del Paine was absolutely stunning. Trekking through the rolling hills and craggy mountains for hours a day was an incredible experience. I never tired because I was constantly struck and energised by the beauty of its nature.

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

Yes – Santiago, Vina del Mar and Valparaiso.

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

You guys were great! Thank you for everything!

How were our partners who ran the trek, and how were their guides on the trip?

They were great. Carlos was an excellent, informed and thoughtful guide. He made the experience unforgettable.

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

Nope!

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

It’s no joke when they say you could experience four seasons in one day – pack layers!

Also, I stayed an extra couple nights to see penguins and Punta Arenas is a bit of a sleepy town. Could have done just one there.

Nada’s W Trek in Torres del Paine

Nada returned in February from a W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here she tells us about her experiences on her trip and in booking with Swoop…

How were Swoop Patagonia?

Swoop were very quick to reply to emails and provided very helpful information!

Did you enjoy your 5 day W Trek itinerary?

On the first day of our 5 day W Trek I would have preferred if we walked a little more than two hours, for example it might have been nice to walk into the park (rather than travelling in by bus), or to start very early in the morning on one of the days so that we could have seen the sunset/ escape the crowds. I understand  however that such alterations would probably depend on the preferences of the other people in the group as well.

How were your guides on the trip?

Victor was a chilled & a nice guy. He was able to provide very good information about Flora & Fauna, you could tell he knows the area well. There were a few moments where I got the feeling he has been doing it for a very long time and is a little bit fed up with it…

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

Yes, I had another two weeks to travel in Chile.

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

You need to book bus ticket in advance – luckily Swoop and their partners in Torres del Paine told me that and booked everything for me! That was a great service!

Laurie & Rob’s W Trek from an eco camp

Laurie & rob returned in March from a W Trek based from an eco camp in Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their trip and their experiences in booking with Swoop and our partners…

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

Swoop were great at coordinating with their partners who ran the trek we wanted to do in Torres del Paine. Overall we appreciated all their input, and there is nothing we would have wanted to go differently.

How was your 7 day W Trek?

Overall the 7 day W Trek and stay at eco camp was awesome. We found the itinerary a little strict at times. For instance a little more down time would have enhanced the overall experience. So too would the ability to have dinner when we wished to. We do, though, appreciate that when running a large group a schedule is helpful in order to keep things running smoothly.

How were the staff at the eco camp, and their guides on the trek?

We were a group of 6 that travelled with another group of 6. Roberto and Niko were our guides. Both were great, however, we found Roberto offered more information to the group. Niko was quieter, his stated philosophy being that if you want to ask questions he is more than willing to answer.

What did you think of the eco camp and the accommodation there?

The camp was great. We stayed in both the Superior and Standard Domes. Certainly the Superior domes were more comfortable with the bathrooms, but the Standard domes were also great.

In terms of the Refugios: Refugio Los Cuernos was not great overall; very crowded; very ‘basic’ facility; nowhere to hang out other then your bunk when the dinner rotations start. We arrived around 3 pm, this is a long time with nowhere to hang out (it was raining outside).

A number of items should have been recommended in the ‘suggested things to bring’, such as flipflops for showering, Chilean dollars (note that when we picked up by Cascada, we were not given the opportunity to obtain Chilean currency).

Our group was split into two rooms, one had 9 bunks (all allotted to our group) and the other had 3 bunks allotted to our group. My husband and I were to be split up between the two rooms. I wasn’t very happy about that! When I mentioned this to our guide he said that there was nothing he could do. A group of 3 women were travelling together and one of the women offered to go into the other room. Nonetheless it was a loud (snoring and no insulation in the walls of the very small and crowded rooms) and uncomfortable night. Our experience in the other lodge (Lodge Paine Grande) was much better.

Is there anything you would have changed about the trip?

Perhaps arriving later in the day, at the Refugio Los Cuerros might be an option, making sure all partners are in the same room, having a detailed ‘suggested things to bring’ for both EcoCamp and in particular for the trek, or perhaps camping instead of staying at the Refugio.

We would also have appreciated learning ahead of time that Refugio Los Cuerros has private ‘cottages’ available (none available by the time we arrived) so that we could perhaps have obtained one! Or continue on to Camp Italiano, and camp. Camping could be an option for those who wish it, and of course this option might be a little more expensive.

What was the highlight of your trip overall?

The beauty of the landscape. It felt surreal at times.

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

Pack light. Get Chilean pesos before heading out to the Camp.

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

Buenos Aires, El Calafate, El Chalten, and Bariloche (Villa La Angostura); all were fantastic!!

Swoop Effort Levels

Swoop’s trips are all categorised with our own ‘Effort Levels’, which range from 1-10; 1 being a walk in the park, and 10 being a high altitude, technical mountain ascent such as K2. This table summarises the 10 Effort Level categories, hopefully allowing you to best select and prepare for your trip to Patagonia.

Level Description Example(s)
1 Walk in the Park A Walk in the park ;-)
2 Walking for 3 to 4 hours, with some up and down Walking in the South Downs
3 6 to 8 hour day hikes, significant ascent, with a daypack Day hike up Ascensio valley; Full day’s hiking in the Lake District
4 2-3 days trekking, significant ascents, with rucksack, but with support, and comfort overnight W circuit, with support and overnight in lodges/refugios
5 2-3 days trekking, signficant ascents with limited support W Circuit of Torres del Paine, un-aided
6 Trekking with major ascents and tough terrain over 6+ days, but perhaps with some porter support, or comfort overnight Torres del Paine full circuit, but with support / nights in refugios
7 Trekking, major ascents, 6 days+, camping overnight, tough terrain 8 day trek in Torres del Pain, off the beaten track
8 Trekking including some mountaineering or work on ice Trekking Patagonian Ice Cap
9 Mountaineering, one of either high altitude (6,000 to 7,000 metres plus) or technical Climb Aconcagua
10 High altitude technical mountain ascent Climbing K2

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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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Mt. Tronodor, Argentina

Meet Sally, the Latest Swoop Member

Sally, the latest member of the Swoop team, is a true Patagonian enthusiast. Having worked as an English teacher and Tour leader in Chile and Argentina throughout the last 8 years, Sally has a wide and diverse knowledge of Patagonia. Take a few minutes to find out about her Patagonian adventures and her top tips on where to go.

Mt. Tronodor, Argentina

What is it that you love so much about Patagonia?

It is impossible to name just one attribute, but a combination of many is what makes it such a unique place. Here is a list of a few of the reasons why Patagonia has really got to me…..

  1. The Landscape – a bit of an obvious choice, but the Patagonian landscape really is simplyincredible, surprising and at times completely unexpected. For example, I have been fortunate enough to visit the Torres del Paine National Park many times, and it never once looks the same; the light changes, the clouds frame the peaks in different and unusual ways and as the colours change through the seasons, they are landscapes that are hard to tire of.
  2. The birds – as an avid bird enthusiast (a true twitcher at heart), Patagonia is an exciting place to be. From the mighty Condor to the tiny Wren, the Patagonian steppe and forests have a surprisingly large variety of birds. The stunted growth of trees in the Southern Beech forests make the birds easy to spot and even a novice can become a birding expert by the end of a trip.
  3. The food – I’m sure many people don’t think too much of food when they consider Patagonia, but it can be quite the gastronomic experience; from roast lamb to hearty stews, fresh Trout to delicious King crab, Patagonia really is a place to get the taste buds going. And obviously, with a large range of vineyards in both Chile and Argentina, there is never a shortage of wine to wash it down with.
  4. The history – Patagonia has a huge wealth of history and the incredible part of it is that much of it is relatively modern; whether to do with the indigenous peoples, Colonial wars, Darwin, Missionaries or Gauchos, knowing a little will add a whole new dimension to your visit. Drop me a line if you’d like some recommendations.

Do you have a favourite place in Patagonia?

A very difficult question to answer – I love it all! But to name my top 5, I’d have to go with:

  1. Chiloe Island – come rain or shine the beauty and magic of this place always leaves me wanting to stay.
  2. I still can’t decide which I find most impressive, Torres del Paine or El Chalten – both are incredibly breathtaking and great  for trekkers of all abilities.
  3. The Argentinian lake district – a great place for cycling as every tough up hill climb is always rewarded with a another stunning lake view.
  4. The Beagle Channel – a place full of history that really gets your imagination going as you sail up the channel accompanied by soaring albatross.

What is your best memory of Patagonia?

It would have to be reaching the glacier line of Mount Tronodor, reached from Bariloche, it literally translates as ‘The Thunder’ due to sound made by avalanches from its many glaciers. After a steep 5 hour hike through a glacial valley and up through virgin forest, I popped out onto a high plateau where I was faced with one of the most incredible views I have ever seen. I was surrounded, 360°, by the snow capped Andes and I was higher than all of them (or so it seemed!). Mt. Tronodor sits at 3491 meters above sea level and I was at about 2400 meters, at the snow line, where there was a little refugio to spend the night. A moment I will never forget was, as the sun set it turned the 3 peaked Mt. Tronodor a shade of pink that was so intense and surprising, when seen in a photo, you would never believe it to be true.

Marilyn’s W Trek from a Torres del Paine eco-camp

Marilyn recently returned from a 7 day W Trek in Torres del Paine based from an eco camp in the National Park. Here she tells us about experiences on the trip…

What did you think of the service provided by our partners in Torres del Paine?

They had a good website containing comprehensive information & an efficient payment system.

How was the W Trek itinerary and how were the guides who accompanied you?

The itinerary and guides on the trip were excellent. Porters are provided for you on days 2, 3, & 4 so you don’t have to carry anything except your daypack on any day of the trek. You are provided with a small but adequate dry bag with a weight limit of 4kg for days 2, 3, & 4, and this is more than adequate.

What were your thoughts on the eco camp?

The camp is in an excellent position, with very unobtrusive architecture and wonderful views of the towers, which are particularly impressive at sunrise. Another benefit is that it is above, & well removed from, the zoo of traffic on the road to the park trailhead & Hotel Torres.

How did you find your accommodation?

The basic domes at the eco camp are comfortable, but very hot in the sun & not able to retain heat well when it’s not sunny…and you need to be a hobbit to get in & out of the doors comfortably!

The bedding is cumbersome & heavy (this seems to be a Chilean thing), so I’d say you’re better off in a sleeping bag.

They need to treat the doors of both domes & toilet blocks with a good dose of WD40 – they were really loud & squeaky & therefore disturbing especially during the night.

The showers were good, but there were only 2 washbasins & no laundry basins which seems to be a bit of an oversight

Eco-toilets are an admirable idea, but it is difficult to flush all matter away with a foot pump.

On the nights where we stayed at refugios elsewhere, the sleeping bags were decent, and cotton sleep sheets were available if needed. Refugio Los Cuernos is a bit of a bun fight unless you are put in a cabin. There was blocked plumbing, no soap or loo paper, 3 toilets between over 100 women, and noisy corridors with banging doors.

Did you enjoy the food?

The food at the eco camp and Refugio Paine Grande was great, but the food at Refugio Los Cuernos was awful. The dining and lounge domes at the eco camp were great, and beautifully furnished.

Food at the eco camp is plentiful & very good. You do not need to bring much in the way of additional snacks for any day where lunch is provided by the eco camp (days 1,2, 5,6,7), and you get to make & choose your own lunch items – as much as you like.

How was your trip overall?

Overall a splendid trip but lacking cultural interest cf Himalaya. Stunning scenery – I really lucked in with very good weather.

Do you have any tips for future visitors?

Don’t take too much snack food – Ecocamp is not a weight watchers venue.

In peak season the number of trekkers is out of control for the facilities available- there seems to be no regulation on the number of people camping in every square inch of the campsite areas with little or no hygiene/facilities = defaecating in bush, contamination of water sources.

Watch your knees- I was warned about this by a work colleague who had done the W trek. The pace is fast as not at altitude & 2 of days are long with much of it steep uphill & downhill. In hindsight, I would have been better to go slower & use a trekking pole

What was the highlight of your trip?

Highlights were Mirador Britanico, Glacier Gray, Torres Del Paine, views driving from Lago Gray back to the eco camp via Lago Pahoe in glorious weather.

Did you manage to visit anywhere else in South America on your trip?

I also went to Easter Island – a fascinating but bizarre place.

Incidentally, many thanks for my pre-departure present. It was so hot though that the best use for it would have been to mop up sweat.

Roy’s Self Guided W Trek in Torres del Paine

Roy returned in February from a Self Guided W Trek in Torres del Paine. Here he tells us about his experiences on his trip, and in booking through Swoop and our partners…

First of all everything went well and the whole trip was beyond expectations… and I have been lucky enough to have travelled a bit.

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

The next day when I arrived at your partners’ offices in Puerto Natales, they had all the paper work done, I received my vouchers, and they then explained the itinerary to me very clearly using a map. After that I was on my own, which is what I wanted.

I left my big bag at the hostel and only took with me to Torres what I would require over the next few days, again from when I arrived in the National park until I left everything went so easy, no complications whatsoever.

The process of going through Swoop Patagonia and their partner in Puerto Natales was effortless and if I ever had any queries they were dealt with swiftly.roy scobie 3

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip was the unique scenery and taking it all in, I was lucky to have met people from various countries and every one of them now I would call friends.

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

I went up to San Pedro de Atacama for a week and in hindsight I should not have bothered, it was good and I got a lot out of it, but apart from a couple of places if you want to go anywhere then you had to go by bus or four wheel drive and everywhere you went there were hundreds of people, you never had much control and sometimes like one of those tourist packages not my thing.

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

If I was to give anyone any advice I would say do the longer tour around Torres, go West to East I went East to West, if you go West to East you see the views and give yourself a couple of days more in case you have bad weather then you can go back and see what you have missed at your leisure.

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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…