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Winter Trek in Torres del Paine and Fitz Roy Review

Alex visited Patagonia during May and trekked in both Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks, with a local operator. He visited some of the top highlights such as Fitz  Roy and Last Torres and camped along the way. Here Alex shares some great photos with us and we find out how his trip went!

What was it like visiting in winter?
The relatively unusual and perhaps relevant aspect of my experience for others looking into this trip is that it was during the winter.  My observation is that provided you are OK to spend the night in somewhat crisp temperatures (frankly, it’s actually fine), the winter has a number of advantages:
- much fewer people around you – I understand the areas can be crowded in the summer and I basically had the parks pretty much entirely to myself
- statistically better chance to get clear days
- less wind (again relative to the summer)
- wonderful snow-covered landscapes
- a lot of facilities, refugios, etc are shut – but those that are around or willing to brave the cold in the outdoors appreciate your visit and have more time for you, contributing to an overall more enjoyable experience

What were the top highlights of your trip?
Overall a great mix of outdoors, physical activity and superb views so not sure it is fair to reduce this to highlights – but those might be the sunrise at Mt Fitz Roy and its glacier on skis, playing on the French glacier at TDP, and the light at the end of the day on Lago Grey.

What would you have changed about your trip?
Not much – perhaps a warmer sleeping bag…  Also wish I had more time to spend over there.

Did the logistics run smoothly?
Yes, very – no problem, also taking into account adjustments for weather/flight delays – basically great planning job by the operators and I didn’t worry about anything.

Would you recommend the operators you hiked with and would you recommend Swoop?
Yes and yes

Would you go back to Patagonia?
Of course (even though you can’t just pick the magic Calafate berry in the winter..)

To find out more about Alex’s trip, or to do the same itinerary, get in touch.

Patagonian field

‘A Few Memories of Our Own’, Tim Moss Walks Patagonia

We were very excited indeed when, in early December, Laura and Tim Moss contacted us about their plans to walk all the way across Patagonia from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Not an everday request at all, but for Tim and Laura this expedition is the latest in a long line of extraordinary adventures.
I was lucky enough to meet them in Bristol and look through the maps with them, however many places on their itinerary were new even to us. It was a pleasure to help out such bold explorers, and I’m delighted that Tim has taken a moment to share his story here.
The word “Patagonia” will mean many different things depending on who you ask but I suspect in any game of free association, it wouldn’t take long before the words “beautiful” and “mountains” sprung up.
So why then had we decided to spend our precious time in the region marching along a dirt track away from those beautiful mountains?
Well, because beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
 Or, for a less trite explanation, it’s because I enjoy approaching things from a different angle to get a novel perspective. Let me give you some examples:
After living in London for many years, my now-wife, Laura, suggested that we explore some new areas of the capital by following the route of all the London Underground Tube lines. We did it by running (above ground!) and not only did we get to visit new parts of the city and connect those coloured dots from the map, but we formed many new memories for places already familiar.
A few years prior, I went on a climbing expedition to Bolivia – a country with four major mountain ranges. Rather than going for the biggest and best mountains, we deliberately picked the smallest and least popular of the four areas because we knew no Britons had been there before. As a result, we were the first team to wave a Union Jack on their summits (metaphorically speaking, you’ll be pleased to hear).
Then, last January, my wife and I set out to walk across Patagonia. We didn’t know anything about the area. We selected our start point – Rio Bravo – not because it was a well known tourist destination with things to see and do (on the contrary, no one seemed to have heard of it) but simply because it was the only way we could reach the Pacific coast without crossing the ice cap.
It’s a pretty boring place – nothing more than a single building and a dusty trail – but it was disproportionately exciting for us as the start line for our adventure.
Similarly, we spent many days slogging alongside roads that could just as easily have been driven at 20 times the speed. Sometimes this was debilitatingly demoralising, undermining any purpose for being there. But it also provided a challenge and a sense of achievement at the end of each day as we rose to it.
We weren’t completely blinkered though. We did see some of the better known areas. We diverted our route to spend the first week walking parallel to the mountains on the recommendation of others and spent a few days in the stunning Torres del Paine National Park too – some truly beautiful areas. But it was nice to add to these well-known beauty spots, a few memories of our own, wild camping and walking on paths less trodden.

Cost of a Patagonia Holiday

We’re often asked to help people with the budgets for their trips, and help them understand whether (with all the different factors and variables) a trip is at the ‘cheap’ or ‘expensive’ end of the spectrum. So I thought it was time to try and answer the all important question: how much will my Adenture Holiday in Patagonia cost me?

We’ve looked at a variety of trips and options and worked out the average cost per night, to give you an idea how much you might budget for an Adventure Travel holiday in Patagonia. This obviously excludes flights (more on Flights to Patagonia).

Generally speaking you can expect to pay around $220 to $400 per day for a Trekking Holiday in Patagonia. For a luxury holiday, tailor-made trip, cruise or horse-riding/Estancia trip you can expect to pay $400 to $800 per day.

The price of a trip will obviously depend on a whole range of different factors…

- Client:guide ratios. Knowledgeable, professional, english speaking, qualified mountain guides command high day rates, and quite rightly so. In large groups this cost can be spread out across many people, but most of us prefer to be part of smaller groups, especially when we’re in the mountains. There’s always the self-guided option as well, if you’re an experienced hiker and ready to miss out on local knowledge into the flora, fauna, geography and culture.

- Local Operator/Guide or Bonded Global Company. The big global companies gain efficiencies through their purchasing power, larger groups sizes, and itineraries on which there’s often zero flexibility, but they have more costs to cover as well. Smaller local players can often offer a trip for 4 people at the same rate a global company can offer it for group sizes of 12.

- Quality of the accommodation. For example a double room in and around Bariloche could cost anything between $40 and $400 per night. In some of Patagonia’s most iconic location there are hotels charging $1000 per night for their fully inclusive packages. In Torres del Paine National Park the strategically located Refugios cost $70 per night (or $130 including all meals), whilst camping costs only $9.

- Transport. Private transfers can be far more convenient and make much more efficient use of your time, but the public transport option can save a lot of money, and in Patagonia this is a safe, secure and comfortable alternative. Some trips will include all transport from the moment you land in Patagonia, on others you may need to pay more to get to the start point.

- Time of year. Christmas is a holiday for everyone; so guides cost more and demand for hotel rooms shoots up. For example the cost of a night in a Torres del Paine Refugio goes up by over 30%. Likewise in the ‘shoulder’ season of October and March/April it’s possible to get cheaper rates, especially on cruises.

- Porters in Patagonia don’t come cheap and there are limits on the amount they can carry. If you’re able to carry all your own gear on a multi-day trek that could save around $40 per hiking day.

- Meals included. Trips vary enormously in terms of the meals they provide, but if breakfast, lunch and dinner are included each day that could save a further $20-$40 each day.

- Equipment rental. whether it be tents and cooking equipment, or kayaks, ropes, crampons or mountain bikes (and even horses) all of that gear needs to be purchased, stored and most importantly maintained.

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..

Matty’s trip to the Atacama Desert – ‘Arid, beauty, unearthly’

First Name: Matty

Age: 37

Occupation: Academic researcher

Which operator did you go with or did you organise it yourself?

 I organized my trip from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama myself.

If you had a local guide, what was he like?

 I took three tours from San Pedro de Atacama with the same company (of which I do not remember the name). Their prices were reasonable and I was satisfied with their services.

Did the logistics of getting to San Pedro de Atacama run smoothly? (Flights, Buses etc)

 Yes, they did. Sky Airline flies to Calama from Santiago (with a stop-over in Antofagasta), and from the airport in Calama you can take a bus to San Pedro de Atacama for 10,000 pesos.

At what time of year did you travel to San Pedro de Atacama?

 I was there from 8 to 11 September.

How long did you travel around the Atacama desert for?

 I stayed in San Pedro de Atacama for 3 nights.

How many people did you travel with?

 I was alone.

What was your favourite place?

 I was really impressed by the altiplanic lagoons. These are lagoons that are at 4300 meters and are surrounded by volcanic peaks that soar up to 6000 meters. It is really as if you’re on another planet in those places.

What was the weather like?

The Atacama desert is the driest desert in the world, so rain was not expected and we did not get any. Temperatures during the day were very pleasant, around 25 degrees. During the nights, it cools down quite a lot, lows in San Pedro were just above the freezing point. The tour to the El Tatio geysers was early in the morning in order to catch the sunrise at the geysers. The geysers are at 4300 meters, so it was cold there, -10.

Did the weather impact negatively on your trip?


Laguna Miniques

What activities did you do whilst you were there? (trekking, horseriding, kayaking etc)

I took three tours that all started in San Pedro de Atacama. The first one was an afternoon/early-evening visit of Valle de la Luna, not far from the village. Then, on the second day I did a tour that included visits to Toconao, the Laguna de Chaxa in the Salar de Atacama, and the Lagunas Miscanti and Miniques. On the last day of my stay, I took the tour to the El Tatio geysers.

If you were to go back, what would you recommend packing that you couldn’t live without whilst travelling round the Atacama desert?

Sunscreen, hat, camera, different layers of clothing.

What was the most challenging part of the trip?

Some of the places I visited were above 4000 meters (the El Tatio geysers and the altiplanic lagoons). I was able to deal with it, but nevertheless I had to take it easy.

El Tatio Geysers

Is there anything that could have made your trip better?

San Pedro de Atacama is very touristy and all the sights around are heavily visited, especially the El Tatio geysers and the Valle de la Luna. Although they are very nice places to visit, it would have been even better if it had been less crowded.

Sum up Atacama in 3 words:

 Arid, beauty, unearthly.

Would you recommend the Atacama desert as an adventure travel destination to your friends?

 For sure!