Patagonia is unquestionably one of the world’s greatest natural wonders and although the time we spent there was nowhere near enough, what we did see was nothing short of incredible and we can safely say, it definitely didn’t disappoint.
We spent 4 days in El Calafate with a day trip out to El Chalten and by doing so, we were able to discover the most spectacular scenery along with walking on the 3rd largest glacier in the world (Antarctica taking 1st and Greenland 2nd). We never in a million years thought we would ever have the opportunity to do something so incredible and unique.
El Calafate is a city in Patagonia, Argentina. It is situated in the southern border of Lake Argentino, in the southwest part of the Santa Cruz Province. El Calafate is also the gateway to visiting Parque Nacional Los Glaciares where the famous Perito Moreno Glacier can be seen (above).
The glacier is a magnificent must-see, and due to the massive popularity, it has encouraged rapid growth in the once quaint town of El Calafate. In saying that, we still really enjoyed El Calafate as a town, although small, it was peaceful to walk around and everything was within walking distance. Apart from eating and drinking, there isn’t a whole lot to do in the town itself but it’s surrounding activities definitely make it a place worth visiting.
Accommodation, Restaurants & Bikes
We stayed at Bla Hostel and can highly recommend to any backpacker. It had a very homely feel with a decent breakfast included, helpful staff, comfortable beds and functioning WiFi (most of the time). If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, Esplendor has magnificent rooms with a stunning lake view but make sure you check you’ve been placed in the right room as they can sometimes mix up bookings.
One of our favourite restaurants was a colourful local place, Pura Vida. They had many delicious dishes (perfect for sharing) and a colourful interior. Green Market located on the main street is also a great place to grab a quick healthy salad or sandwich. For meat lovers head to Don Pichón grill.
Not all activities require a guide, therefore we suggest renting a bike for an hour and navigating yourself around the lake. There is a paved road at the end of the town running alongside the lake. Don’t forget to look up, the views… have we said it already that they are simply amazing? A good place to rent a bike is La Barraca which is located at the end of the main street on the opposite side of the plaza.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Without any doubt, every traveller that comes to this area of Patagonia looks forward to visiting Perito Moreno Glacier. The surrounding areas and the 80 km drive from El Calafate boast landscapes that seem to come out of a dream.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that is still growing and is 250 km2 of pure ice and 30 km in length.
We booked our tour to the glacier through an online Boutique agency Travel-54, although it is very possible to book the tour the day before from any of the travel agencies in town, just be wary of increased prices.
Seeing and hearing the glacier for the first time was SO cool.
There are 2 options for seeing the glacier and we recommend to take both!
Walk – You can walk along the metal grated walkway and stop at all of the viewing points that surround the trail. The trails are easy to navigate and are colour coded the whole way around. There are multiple levels to walk on and they will get you closer than you expect. If only we had come one week earlier, we would have witnessed the recent ice break! Video footage can be seen here. We saw small pieces constantly cracking off, accompanied by a thunderous cracking sound.
Boat Tour – You’ve come all this way, why not get up close and personal with the glacier! It is very windy on the boat but it is totally worth it. We were only meters away from the glacier and this allowed us to see the different shades of blue the glacier had, not to mention the magnificent crunch of the glacier ripping away from its walls. If you don’t book the boat through your agency, Hielo y Aventura does boat tours from the port along with mini treks and treks to the centre of the ice.
Tips on visiting the glacier
- Regardless of who you book your tour with, to enter the park, you have to pay an entrance fee of 260 ARS ($17 USD) and this can only be paid with cash on the bus at the entrance.
- Pack Lunch from home to enjoy on the benches in front of the glacier.
- Tours are recommended but aren’t always necessary. It is possible to take public transport to reach the glacier, pay the entrance fee and take a bus back but for a stress hassle free day, arrange a tour directly from El Calafate.
- Bring an empty memory card and a full battery!
- Bring layers, it’s windy and cold.
El Chaltén is a small mountain village in Santa Cruz Province, Argentina. This is the newest town in Argentina, founded in the late 70’s early 80’s. It is a very small town and it is best known for being the gateway to Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, two of the most impressive peaks in the Patagonian Andes. El Chalten has many more ‘free’ activities and is mostly visited by a range of eager hikers especially over the summer months. As of now, all of the trails are free to hike but they say in coming years, they will slowly begin to charge a fee.
We wished we had more time to experience one of the many hikes El Chalten has to offer but unfortunately or fortunately (depending on which way you look at it) we focused a lot of our time on the glaciers in Patagonia. If hiking is something you wish to do then this post isn’t remotely helpful 😉 so check out these self-guided treks in El Chalten:)
The drive to El Chalten from El Calafate is fairly straight forward so renting a car is a great option to allow yourselves more flexibility to stop along the way and take in the surroundings. Cars can be rented in El Calafate for around 1400 ARS (USD $95 ). If you plan on hiking the glacier (like we did) then you’ll have to organise a tour as it isn’t reachable on your own. Tours can be made from El Calafate including transportation or just from El Chalten if you get yourself there via a rental car.
This is an experience we won’t soon forget. After a 3 hour journey from El Calafate and a 40-minute boat ride, we step foot right onto the mountains surrounding the Viedma Glacier and began our 3-hour hike in, on and around the glacier.
Staring at the Glacier, you can’t help but to think it looks solid, I mean all glaciers do from afar but regardless of how it looks, it’s easy to forget that they are in a constant state of movement. They are shifting, growing and moving forward constantly, we could see this by the striking blue ice blocks in the water in front of the glacier.
The water surrounding the mountains is like a musty green/blue colour that looks almost like a pastel green. The reason for this is the sediment from the surrounding rocks are constantly falling into the water creating this murky colour. It looks dirty, but it isn’t. The glacier itself, however, was ‘dirtier’ than we expected and this is also due to the sediment from the surrounding rocks. Despite its gravelly top layer, it is no doubt, beautiful.
Prior to stepping on the glacier, we are given crampons to help with the grip on the ice. The route we walk is to be determined on a daily basis as the guides never repeat the same path due to the constant moving and breaking of the glacier. The moving creates hugely interesting ridges, falls, caves and mini-cliffs.
After walking for almost 2 hours up and down the glacier, we came to our last stop, an ice-tunnel carved by water, polished into weird, smooth ripples. We walked through and felt the water drip down our back from above. The rich blue colours hiding underneath the white surface of the ice were so cool. It looked exactly like the blue flavour ICEE (slush puppy) drink we used to drink. To finish off our hike, our guides carved a hole in the ice and treated us all to Tia Maria (a liquor very similar to Baileys) with ice right from the glacier. This was the perfect way to end our hike.
Fortunately, we headed to Bariloche for 4 days to continue our adventures through Patagonia and there, we will be sure to venture out on the many hikes and bike tours this town has to offer.
We were sad to say goodbye to our friends after 2 weeks through Argentina but we know in no good time we will reunite again! Those who make it here will never forget it and those who don’t put it on your list of places to visit in this world!
See here for more things to do in Argentina.
Married days survived: 390