Part two of Argentina was absolutely stunning and a highlight of the trip, and to be honest, Patagonia wasn’t even a must see location for me. When I thought of Argentina, I thought Buenos Aires, Mendoza, steak, wine, but not necessarily the southern-most point in the world that I have been to to date. I am glad that it was on the top of my friend’s list; however, because now I don’t think you can really come to Argentina and get the full experience if you don’t go.
Argentina is a huge country and Patagonia is a significant portion of it, so even deciding where do go within that expanse took some work, but we landed on two nights in El Calafate, the airport town and jumping off point for glacier viewing, and two nights in El Chalten, a famed town that is a hiking capital and home to the Fitz Roy Range. Think Patagonia logo. Really. [If you just want the photos, scroll to the bottom!]
El Calafate is the bigger of the two towns with some tourist shops and all the outdoorsy stores, in case you forgot or lost and critical gear. The both towns really just serve the purpose to house and feed you between treks into the wild. From El Calafate we ventured to Perito Moreno Glacier, which was recommended to me by multiple people. We really only had the shortest time here as one’s visit is not to stay in town, but to get out!
Perito Moreno is one of the only growing glaciers in the world and is an arm of the third largest ice cap in the world. Antarctica, Greenland and then Patagonia. It is also one of the the most active, since it comes down a huge valley and ends at a peninsula. It’s the pressure between the valley walls and the peninsula that keeps things interesting, and holds two different levels of water on each side of the glacier when the ice is touching the peninsula.
It’s an hour and a half drive into the national park and a 20 minute boat ride to the point of departure onto the Glacier. I had read in all the guide books about the thunderous crashes of ice into the water as they fall from the glacier walls, and how impressive it is. I wondered just how often this was actually happening and if we stood a chance of seeing this in action, and low and behold we did! And it WAS impressive! You hear the cracks, and just in the time it takes you to locate the sound an turn your head the ice is falling off in massive chunks creating ripples and waves flowing towards you.
The glacier walk itself was awesome. It was just about an hour, during which we got to hike around and look into caves and rivers formed by the melting ice. I loved all the layers of blue and just how massive it all is. At the end they treated us to a touch of whiskey poured over freshly procured glacier ice, and I went of a refill of pure glacier water. Side note: all the water in Patagonia is drinkable and it’s delicious. After the walk you picnic and bask in the glory of the glacier, and end the day with a visit to the main visitor site, where you can see both sides of the glacier and really take in the grandness of the glacier.
Tip – there is only one tour company that does the glacier walks. You can book there, but we did it ahead of time, since it was really our main reason for staying in El Calafate. Hielo y Aventura
El Chalten is just just over three hours from El Calafate and much smaller. There is some ‘sprawl’ to the town, and just like El Calafate it’s mostly hotels and restaurants targeted at boarding and feeding hikers. We arrived in the middle of the day to empty streets, and closed establishments, and while were never really there at night time I have to imagine it’s a bit busier when people return from their day adventures. It was cloudy and raining the day we arrived, and we couldn’t see anything, so our fingers were crossed that we would actually get the perfect day the next day of which our hotel assured us.
Our stay was a 25 minute drive up a dirt road from town and so so cool. It’s a quaint set up of nine or so individual glamping tents (they are permanent dome structures, with bathrooms, but definitely still tents at the end of the day). There is no cell phone/internet, so there is plenty of time to relax, read, and just stare at the mountains, which everyone has a direct view of through a huge window at the front of their tent. It was so serene and quite (save for the loud flapping tents in the night) and it was just perfect for unplugging and not caring about the outside world.
Laguna de Los Tres / The Fitz Roy
From the domes location it’s a nine kilometer hike to Laguna de Los Tres, which is THE place to view the Fitz Roy mountain range. It’s a gorgeous and relatively easy hike most of the way, shaded by a lush forest with glacier views all around. Not going to lie though, the last kilometer is HARD. People had told us this before, but experiencing it held all the impact. It feels like you are going straight vertical, climbing over rocks and wondering if it’s really all worth it in the end. It does; however, make the final destination all the more sweet. You can see the mountains getting closer and closer, and the final stretch is an exposed rocky incline, but when you get to the top of that last bit, you look down on a stunning lake, with the mountains as the backdrop. The water is a beautiful blue and with our perfect day (the hotel was right!) it was quite a sight to behold and totally worth every step.
We picnic’d, took lots of photos and rested while being in awe of the whole thing. The hike back was not nearly as joyful, we were ready to be done, but beers awaited us back in town. Instead of hiking return, we took the main trail further south into town, had a couple of drinks, then got a cab back to our hotel.
All in all this was a spectacular experience. I wouldn’t categorize myself as a mountain person, but I am so happy that we included this adventure. It was worth every hour of travel and ounce of sweat, and I feel that my Argentine experience would have been lacking without having seen this.
- If you have a way of doing more than just the trail from town out and back, I’d recommend that. I much preferred the hike from the domes to the lake rather than the hike from town.
- There are several other hikes to do from town, so in town would be a good place to stay if you were going to be there longer.
- See if your hotel does a bag lunch. We did the all inclusive package at the domes, which was so worth it. Very plentiful breakfast and dinner on site with a substantial bag lunch for each night of stay. So much easier than trying to shop for all that yourself as there aren’t a ton of markets.
- Go early! As with most hiking the later your start the more people there are. Our hike up wasn’t too crowded, even though there were many people at the lake, but on our way down throngs of people were doing their uphill climb, and I was so grateful we didn’t have to deal with that. Our hotel originally suggested leaving at 9/9:30, very Argentina, but I think we left around 8/8:30.
- We flew round trip into El Calafate, really the only option. From El Calafate, there are three bus companies who all run the same route to El Chalten, except all their times vary slightly. Your hotel will be able to direct you and it was easy to book there.