Land of unicorns and self proclaimed kings according to Chadwin, where its endless roads through nothingness are considered by some to be a spiritual experience to cross. An arid, cold desert which hides impressive giants in plain sight if you reach the end of the Andes.
The south of Patagonia is far from everywhere and expensive to the level of scandinavian countries, which makes you think twice before visiting it. If you can, it would be great to dedicate a full trip to explore this region, taking it slow and being able to hike all the trails that go through the mountains to glaciers, rivers and impressive peaks that look from another planet and animals that only live in this part of the world.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier, is the main attraction of the Patagonia. A 30km wide monster of blue ice that is impressive enough for people from all over the world to travel thousands of kilometers just to be able to see it break into the water.
It was formed 25.000 years ago during the last Ice Age, is the 3rd the largest glacier in the world and one of the most impressive for sure. What makes this glacier special is that is one of the few glaciers that is still in equilibrium instead of rapidly melting away allowing it to constantly form an ice dam, which the water from the Lago Argentino needs to break to continue its normal flow, making a spectacular show everytime the ice falls into the water. It is so massive, that seemly small pieces of ice make an explosion-like sound throwing pieces of ice tens of meters away, killing over 20 people in the last 50 years.
The glacier is inside the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which charges an entrance fee of 330 AR$ (20 EUR) for foreigners and 200 AR$ (12 EUR) for Argentineans. As in most touristic places in Argentina they will make a difference in prices if you are from the country or if you are from abroad, as the national parks are subsidized with taxes. In exchange of the entrance fee, you gain access to a beautiful natural reserve full with facilities such as toilets, restaurants, camping areas and the balconies that allow you to get impressively close to the glacier and admire it’s size from every angle and are accessible to everyone including people with limited mobility.
Another way of appreciating the glacier is booking one of the many tours that will take you by boat on the Lago Argentino and get very close to this wall of ice. For the more adventurous, and with no time or budget constraint, there is a tour called “Big Ice” which takes you on a 8h hike including a 3h walk on top of the ice.
This was the first time I´ve ever visited the Perito Moreno, and although I had seen thousands of pictures, as it is the crown jewel of my country, none lives up to what it really looks like once you are standing right in front of it. If you are looking for a “WOW factor” it will not disappoint you.
Is a small town in Santa Cruz, and the closest to the Perito Moreno, 90 Km away. It is expensive, probably because they know most visitors come from all over the world to see the glacier carring euros and dollars. A meal at a restaurant will not be under 30EUR per person not including alcohol, but there is one supermarket called “La Anónima” in the main square if you are looking to save a bit.
For accommodation even hostels are expensive with beds around 20 – 25 EUR per bed in a 6 bed dorm, but if you search for last minute deals in hotel websites like booking.com, hostels.com, hostelworld.com, etc you might be able to find really nice hotels for 50EUR for 2 people per night and cheap hostels for 13EUR per bed. In our case we managed to stay at a 4 star hotel because it was the cheapest option in hostels.com at 50EUR per night in a room with a view to the lake, including a very complete buffet breakfast, sauna and private bathroom.
Another big inconvenience of El Calafate is that most hotels and restaurants do not accept credit cards, only accept Argentine Pesos, and will take your Euros or Dollars at a really bad exchange rate of around 2 pesos under the official rate. So you need to come prepared with a lot of cash from your previous destination as there are only 2 banks in the city that close at 1PM and no exchange offices.
Finally you can avoid staying at El Calafate if you book a one-day tour from Torres Del Paine (Chile) or El Chalten, unless you want to do the “Big Ice” tour as it starts very early in the morning from this town.
El Chalten and National Route 40
Home of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, it’s considered the “Capital of Trekking” of Argentina with over 100Km of mountain trails to explore. It’s also a favorite destination for travel photographers, backpackers and hitchhikers, which makes this small village a wonderful place to meet incredibly interesting people from all over the world, and very affordable considering that it is in Patagonia.
Most of the accomodation available are hostels with beds from 10EUR in dorms and 30EUR for a private double room with share bathroom. But if you have camping equipment, there are many free camping spots which will allow you to really enjoy the landscapes, which look amazing during sunrise or sunset, and not have to hurry to walk back the several kilometers each trail has before it gets dark.
There are several cheap and delicious food options like typical empanadas, as well as a supermarket, with very few more fancy restaurants as most of it’s visitors are on a very limited budget.
To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of El Chalten before Marko found several pictures of his favorite photographers of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, and became obsessed with visiting it. Nonetheless, it has become my favorite spot of this region.
As we had very little time to visit the area, we rented a car from the Airport of El Calafate and did the 3hr road trip after having woken up that morning at 4am to board a plane from Buenos Aires, but those 270Km are exactly what I had always imagine Patagonia to be. The endless National Route 40, which goes all the way up to the north of the country bordering the Andes, with nothing but nature around it, where you can see everything from turquoise lakes and snow covered peaks to condors and guanacos by the side of the road.
If you don’t want to spend the excessive price of a car rental, there are several buses going out from El Calafate to El Chalten every day for around 28EUR (Taqsa) and 38EUR (Cal-Tur and ChaltenTravel), here you can find the updated bus timetables. Also there are several tours and private shuttles available that might adjust better to your schedule, as the best transport option will depend on how much time and money you want to spend on the road.
And if you are feeling adventurous, and have time and patience, you can hitchhike all the way to El Chalten. We picked up a couple of Germans who had been traveling around Patagonia only by bus and hitchhiking and told us that, although there aren’t that many people doing this trip, the few that are, are usually very willing to take a few extra passengers. In our case, we always lift hitchhikers when we see some next to the road. We have done it in several countries including Turkey, Serbia, Montenegro and now in Patagonia, and it has always been a great experience and a way of helping fellow travelers get to their destination. Maybe one day we’ll be on their side and will want a lift from someone too.
The trails are amazing but you need some physical condition to be able to walk the 20Km average distances with acents of 400-600 meters in less than a kilometer. Which for people who are not used to trekking or hiking, can be a challenge and make you rethink all your life choices that made you start that trail and even consider making the mountains your permanent residence just to not have to keep climbing up. Still, once you get to each viewpoint or see the peaks from the distance you forget how tired you might be and just want to keep going.
- Carry a bottle of water knowing that you will be able to refill it in the streams along the trails with pure mountain water
- Carry some fleece or warm clothes as it’s quite windy and cold next to the lagoon even when it’s sunny in the middle of the summer.
- Wear layers, as always in cold weather, and especially when you are going to be active.
The southernmost city at the end of the world or “culo del mundo” is located 3500Km south of Buenos Aires, in a small bay surrounded by snow covered peaks. It’s landscape is characterized by mountains which were scared by glaciers, making them look abnormally sharp, and “turbals” (bogs in English), which are black water lagoons formed where glaciers have melted.
It is very expensive to the level of Copenhagen, with very limited affordable options of quite bad quality. Hostels are expensive at a minimum of 25EUR per bed in 6-bed dorms and 1 star hotels for over 80EUR per night for 2 people. The services provided are very scarse and the general quality is low.