Zoe co-founded a hiking company based in the Los Glaciares region of Patagonia. As one of Swoop’s partners in Argentina, we have been working together closely for a number of years.
Having grown up in the UK, Zoe’s career began as a tour leader throughout Latin America. It was during this time that she met and fell in love with her now-husband, Leo, whilst leading the Patagonian Odyssey trip in Patagonia. A few years later they went on to co-found their business in 2007, running outdoor adventures such as day hikes, multi-day expeditions and tailored programmes.
When did you first visit Patagonia?
In my life before Patagonia, I was a tour leader for a travel agency specialising in Latin America. I was lucky enough to spend most of my time travelling, and visited many destinations on reconnaissance trips which enabled me to test out an area and later lead guided trips there. I visited Mexico, Cuba, Central America, Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls, to name just a few places.
As I didn’t know Patagonia, I did a reconnaissance trip there in January of 2005. One month later, I was back there leading my first group. It was on that trip that I met my first local guide, Leo, on the Fitz Roy trail. Walking up to Laguna de Los Tres we immediately connected and he invited me for a drink in a local brewery later that evening.
I continued on with my group going to Ushuaia, led trips in Central America, and ended up back in the UK in May. I decided to fly back to Argentina to visit Leo, we went trekking together in Cordoba and the rest is history! We tied the knot four years later at Lago del Desierto and went on to set up our business in El Chalten where we originally met.
Where do you go when you’re not guiding, including during the Covid-19 pandemic?
We choose to visit the same places that we go to with tourists. It is all so beautiful, so why try and recreate something that is already amazing? The big difference is that we can choose when to go, we can go for longer and we can take our time a little more.
The Los Huemules private reserve is a lovely place to escape during a busy season and it’s just a day away from El Chalten. This season there have been no crowds at all due to the pandemic, so we really don’t have to go far to enjoy peaceful trails.
If people are visiting for a bit longer we go up to the Rio Pinturas Cueva de Los Manos. There is amazing trekking through the valley right next to the Cueva de Los Manos. I also love the Perito Moreno National Park in Santa Cruz Province. We go there to get away from technology and embrace the wilderness and it’s not uncommon to hike for 2-3 days without seeing another soul. All of these places are within a 600km radius from home which is a real treat.
This past year, during Covid-19, I have had a lot more time in El Calafate to trek and discover new places that I didn’t know existed. That has been one silver lining of the pandemic.
We occasionally make the most of the domestic flights to the Falklands to go trekking and look out for the different types of penguins on the islands or at Volunteer Point.
My new sport in the winter is ice skating on a frozen lake, an 8km wide natural ice rink in the bay just in front of El Calafate. As long as the winter is cold enough and there is good enough ice we enjoy skating and drinking mate on the lake, which has been a really nice way to spend some time.
What’s your top tip for those visiting Patagonia?
I would recommend anyone have one night under canvas. I think it changes your whole experience because you suddenly have the flexibility of being at amazing places at different times of the day. Being at Laguna de Los Tres, for example, with 50 other people rather than 400 changes the experience to a unique moment that you will hold in your heart forever.
What are the things you love about El Chalten that someone wouldn’t get from researching?
What I love about El Chalten is the community feel. It’s such a small place and we don’t have a town centre or any suburbs, it’s just a town surrounded by nature. Everything is within walking distance and you always feel safe. I can go to the pub on foot or go to a pilates class just five minutes away from home.
Being right on the edge of the trails is fantastic. A one-hour speed walk away is the Torre viewpoint and I can head up there and be back in time for dinner or even breakfast. If you step outside my house you can see Fitz Roy, and that takes some beating.
What are your long-term goals?
To answer that question I’d like to look to the past. Everyone will probably look at our business today and see what we do in the present, which is not at all where we were before. When we started out in 2007 we only offered guiding services in El Chalten. Clients started asking us to offer services in El Calafate too, so we’ve expanded from there.
The company has grown very slowly every year adding on new destinations, but we have no desire to become a huge company. We want to keep it small and personal.
Looking ahead, we want to be able to create special moments for our customers and to continue working with different people from all over the world. We spend a lot of time out scouting and trying to understand the destinations that people want to visit. We want to continue building the fantastic relationships and experiences that we’ve been able to share with Swoop and with our clients, and we’ve also been working on the sustainability part of our business too, which is definitely a focus of ours for the future.