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A Journey to Patagonia

We boarded a 36 hour bus bound for El Calafate near the bottom of Patagonia and one of the southernmost towns on Earth. The drive was long, the scenery beautiful, and we arrived in the small village of El Calafate ready to step out into the cold, clean Patagonia air.

If you are a lover of the outdoors and you’ve never been to Patagonia in the autumn there are two things you need to know. Number one is that you should absolutely make it a priority in your life. Number two… see number one. The picturesque village of El Calafate is set among golden and orange trees on the shores of a blue mountain lake that is home to flamingos and other migratory birds with the snow capped Andes in the background. The air is clear and crisp and the tap water is as cold and clean as the glacier from which it came. Our primary reason to visit El Calafate was to see the many surrounding glaciers, the most well known being the massive Perito Moreno Glacier. Named after 19th century explorer and environmental preservationist Francisco Moreno, the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only a few Patagonian glaciers that is still growing.

Our visit to the glacier began early in the morning as we bussed about 45 minutes to the docks a few kilometers from the glaciers face. Hopping on a boat we headed up lake towards where the behemoth of ice meets the water. Icebergs of blue glacial ice broken off the face of the glacier floated by as we headed closer and closer to the 100′ tall and mile wide wall of ice that relentlessly pushes forward at 2 meters a day into Lake Argentino. It was a spectacular sight to behold. Our boat got within 100′ of the face as we watched in awe giant chunks of ice crack and break free from the face, crashing with a thunderous roar into the water below. Some blocks as large as a 4 story building which created waves so powerful our boat rocked and swayed and we had to hold onto the rails to keep upright. Nature seemed to be showing us how impressive it can be.

The rest of the day would be spent hiking the trails and viewing the glaciers many crevices and intricacies from viewing platforms throughout Los Glaciares National Park. It was only our first full day in southern Patagonia and already we were dumbfounded with it’s shear beauty and grandiosity. The next day we would visit the Glaciarium, an extremely well laid out local museum about the geology and structure of glaciers. It was truly fascinating and we concluded our visit to El Calafate with a stop at the subteranean ice bar Glacio Bar Branca, a bar built entirely out of ice!

At a consistent temperature of -14 degrees Celsius they give you a parka and gloves at the entrance which when your sitting on a chair made of ice, at a table made of ice, holding a cocktail in a glass made of ice you are very, very thankful for. It was quite an experience but after about 30 minutes it was just so bone chillingly cold that we had to make our exit. It was one of those El Calafate experiences though that we will look back on with a smile and a laugh in our heart. But El Calafate was only the beginning of our Patagonia experience. We were off to the Fitz Roy Range and the even smaller village of El Chalten on the edge of the Patagonian wilderness.

In southern Patagonia winter comes fast and furious. By May 1st most hotels, restaurants, stores and even entire towns in the southern regions have shut down for the 4 month winter. El Chalten is definitely one of those towns. The gateway to some of the most amazing trekking and spectacular scenery in the world, El Chalten is a speck of a town perched on the edge of the Los Glaciares wilderness and the Fitz Roy Mountain range. When we arrived in the last week of April, windows of hotels and stores were already being covered with plywood, streets were empty and El Chalten was well on its way to becoming a ghost town. We absolutely couldn’t have picked a better time to visit. The trees in the hills around us were blazing oranges and reds and the trails that are typically packed during high season were practically empty. We came to Patagonia to experience nature in its rawest form and truly get away from it all. That is exactly what El Chalten was now offering us…

Our first day trek would be a wonderous adventure to Laguna Torre, a majestic glacial lake dotted with blue icebergs at the foot of several massive mountain spires which seem to crown the icy waters. The 8 hour trek took us along gorgeous rivers through gold and orange forests and fields of boulder covered grasses. Up and down, up and down, the trail wound its way through the mountains beneath moss covered trees and the shadows of the many great peaks around us. We were seriously out there, and the natural beauty, the silence and the smells of the forest enveloped us as we sat beside the lake in the chilly mountain air. We had arrived.

Our second day would bring yet another awe-inspiring journey as we made our way along the Fitz Roy trail to the gorgeous Laguna Capri. An orange and red tree shrouded lake with the great peak of Fitz Roy Mountain reflecting in its mirrorlike calm icy waters. We sat for hours in the cold silence, the breeze, the warm sun and the gentle sounds of the wind rewarding us for the long hike to get here. Southern Patagonia is a magical place and in the late autumn it is that much more enchanting. We spent a few more days in El Chalten in a constant state of awe over the beauty and bounty of the nature that surrounded us. As May 1st arrived and even the small town grocery store was closing, we headed north fulfilled from our time and ecstatic that after hustling to get to Patagonia before it was too late, we had done it. And done it very, very well.

Fitz Roy Mountain

 

Recommendations

El Calafate

Hostel: America Del Sur Hostel – a little bit outside of town center (an easy 5 minute walk) but with incredible lake views and a great staff. This is an extremely nice full service hostel, highly recommended.

Activity: Perito Moreno Glacier – This is why you’re in El Calafate right? Definitely take the inexpensive boat tour to the face of the glacier as well. Very much worth it.

Activity: Glaciarium/ Ice Bar Branca – This museum about glaciers is so well laid out it is definitely worth a visit. Also there is an amazing bar made entirely out of ice in the basement. A truly must see unique experience.

El Chalten

Hostel: Patagonia Hostel – Almost like a hotel, the very nice HI Patagonia Hostel is a good deal in good location. The dorms are a bit cramped but the privates are quite nice. You’ll be out trekking all day anyway and so tired when you get home it doesn’t matter that much though.

Activity: Trekking – The big two are the beautiful Torre Trail to Laguna Torre and the Fitz Roy trail to Laguna Capri and Laguna De Los Tres. All trekking from El Chalten is spectacular though. Going in the fall when the leaves are changing is highly recommended.