When it’s getting too hot in Australia, it’s just the right time to head over to Argentina and spend some time in the cold south of the large country, Patagonia. The vast, impressive landscape has been formed by masses of ice, strong winds and the burning sun, turning it into a very difficult place to live all-year, but a marvellous place to visit during summer. Only in recent years, an airport was opened near the city of El Calafate, making it much more accessible for travellers. Once I arrived in town, I wandered down the main street and marvelled at the gorgeous houses, built with lots of wood, stone and glass. You’ll hear accents from all over the world as the entire city exists due to tourism, which makes it both very safe and perfectly adapted to traveller’s needs. You’ll find lots of shops with local and handmade products, shops for outdoor clothing and sports equipment, dozens of tour operators, cheap eats and fine-dine restaurants, that all pretty much serve the same, quintessentially Argentinian dishes: cow or lamb meat, cooked slowly for hours over the grill (the Argentinians call it „parilla“ and „asado“), empanadas (pastries filled with meat, veggies or cheese), fresh pasta and pizza.
The northern part of the city borders on the beautiful lagoon full of birds, which in turn borders on Lago Argentino, the largest Argentinian lake. While strolling along the coast, you can see the flamingos taking off and landing in the lagoon, their pink feathers in a beautiful contrast to the intensive light blue of Lago Argentino. Its name stems from the intensive, blue color, which reminds of the Argentinian flag. I had three tours scheduled over the next days to see the highlights of the region: The glacier Perito Moreno, the mountain village of El Chaltén with its incredible hiking trails, and the glaciers Upsala and Spegazzini.
The day started with a slow breakfast in the hotel, and at 2 pm, I was picked up for the tour to Perito Moreno. The guide welcomed us and we drove out of town, in direction of the Andes of Patagonia, leaving the houses behind and getting a first, real glimpse of Lago Argentino. The blue waters shimmered in the sunlight; huge, bare mountains created the fantastic background. The landscape kept changing. After the endless, open steppe, bordered by the dark brown mountains, their peaks covered in snow, we reached a higher vegetation zone with trees, some flowering in a beautiful red and yellow. When entering the Glaciers National Park, we embarked on a boat that took us to the southern side of Perito Moreno glacier. The view of the massive ice wall was incredible. The boat got closer and closer to the glacier, until we could see pieces falling off this giant ice block that constantly kept moving. Perito Moreno is one of the few remaining glaciers of the area that lost almost the same amount of ice as it continues to create. The guide explained about the phenomenon of the glacier… but I don’t wan’t to spill all the secrets yet. The sun reflected the white of the glacier ice, that seemed to be blue in the sunlight. The wind whistled through the ragged top of the glacier and created an eerie sound that mixed with the cracking noises of the glacier every couple of minutes, when it moved a few centimetres more. After an hour, we continued the journey on land for a few more metres, until we reached the „pasarelas“, which were a maze of specially created ways on the side of the coast facing the glacier. In the two hours time we spent there, I wandered around freely, getting views of the glacier from the northern side, embedded in the mountains. You feel so dwarfed by the incredible nature of Patagonia. There is no way to describe this experience except for experiencing it yourself.
The second day, the bus picked me up early at 7 am as we had to drive 220 km to El Chaltén. On the way, we barely saw any houses, just this breathtaking landscape that 20,000 years ago was all covered in ice. On the mountains, you can see the scratches and marks of the ice from when it moved. Arriving in the small village of El Chaltén, we had four hours time to go hiking. With an abundance of medium to difficult hikes through the mountainous landscape, El Chaltén is a paradise for people who love the outdoors. I decided for the hike to Capri Lagoon high up in the mountains, and the medium track was stunning. After the first hike up through the forest, a plateau enabled me to get a marvellous view of the stretched valley below.
Different arms of the same river with glacier-blue water crossed the valley, high mountains bordered it, and it was a view you could enjoy for hours without getting tired. But I continued upwards, crossing more forest, the path changing from dirt to steps, crossing small springs and balancing over halved tree trunks. When I arrived at Capri Lagoon, the view was so wonderful, I just stood and stared. The lake is crystalline and in the background, the granite peak of Fitz Roy is towering over the other mountains, capped in metre-high piles of snow. I enjoyed my lunch with this view and afterwards, almost reluctantly, returned to the pick-up point. El Chaltén was definitely a place to stay a few days and hike to your heart’s content.
Glaciers Upsala & Spegazzini
The last day, I also started around 7 am. The transfer bus took me to Puerto Bandera, the harbour on the northern side of the peninsula, to embark on a huge catamaran that would take us to the glaciers Upsala and Spegazzini. The cruise over Lago Argentino was wonderful, the blue of the water is a sight you’ll never forget. We passed by the first icebergs, listening to the fascinating explications of the tour guide, and imagining how we can only see 10-15% of this as the icebergs were so huge. Further on, we reached more icebergs, each one bigger than the last, before we had to stop in a bit of distance to the glacier Upsala. As it continuously loses ice and area, we couldn’t get too close, and instead we marvelled at it from afar, surrounded by the snowy mountaintops, the glaciers hanging in between them, and the differently formed icebergs drifting by.
For lunch, we stopped at the recently constructed refuge in front of glacier Spegazzini, so we could enjoy the overwhelming views of the area. Viewing platforms with explications and historic photos gave more details, and we finished the tour with a slow cruise in front of glacier Spegazzini. I still tried to comprehend the thousands of years the ice in front of me was old, and I couldn’t get enough photos of this landscape.
After four days, I had to head back to Australia, but I’d go back to Patagonia in a heartbeat. It’s an impressive experience for nature lovers and thanks to the recent developments, there are very accessible tours for every age group and fitness level. If you’re looking for an adventure, you can go hiking over the glacier, drive up the steep mountains in 4×4’s or go wild-water rafting in the glacier rivers.