HOW BEST TO EXPERIENCE THE ARGENTINA SIDE OF PATAGONIA
In the summer of last year, I was on the phone with one of my best friends, Bobby Mack, and I was sharing all of our adventures during the first month traveling through South America. Bobby and I have had some truly incredible experiences together working in Guam, exploring all around a tiny island called Saipan, trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp, and riding camels through the Rajasthan desert in India. I knew that I had to get him down South, so I put out the idea for him and Michelle (his fiancé) to meet us in Patagonia this December. Fast forward five months, and both of them had began a thirteen hour journey taking three long flights to meet us in one of the most beautiful places on earth for the holidays!
ARRIVING IN PATAGONIA
The following day after arriving in Santiago from a surprise week in Easter Island (Our Engagement Story!), Corinne and I boarded our flight to Punta Arenas - the gateway to Patagonia. We met Bobby and Michelle at the airport, and took the morning bus to Puerto Natales about three hours away. Immediately after arriving there, we hopped on the next five hour bus crossing the border into Argentina, and arriving in a small town called El Calafate.
[Side Note]: Puerto Natales is the destination to stay if you're interesting in visiting Torres Del Paines, which is the other major attraction in Patagonia. We made the final decision to skip Torres Del Paine with Bobby & Michelle, and experience the entire week in El Chaltén. This was the BEST decision that we could have made. Corinne and I actually spent a few days in Torres Del Paine after exploring El Chaltén, and yes, we agree that the scenery is truly breathtaking, but it's 100X more packed with tourists. We would love to return to Torres Del Paine someday and trek the less traveled O Circuit in the future. At this moment, we vote El Chaltén as our favorite destination in Patagonia!
GLACIER ADVENTURES IN EL CALAFATE
When we arrived in El Calafate, we immediately found our cozy, two-story apartment: Hosteria y Apart Jardin de los Presentes. After cooking a delicious pasta dinner while singing Christmas classics, we played card games and sipped delicious Argentinian red wine. The following morning, woke up early, cooked breakfast and headed out the door to explore the Perito Morena Glacier. This ice formation is just under 100 square miles and is one of the main tourist attractions in all of Patagonia. Glaciers National Park is similar to a US National Park with wooden plank walking paths, railings, and tons of tourists snapping selfies, but it didn't at all take away from the absolute beauty surrounding us.
[Side Note]: When inquiring about pricing, you'll find that a bus ticket round trip will cost you US$37. We split a taxi for half the day and paid only US$30 per person. This also gives you the freedom to choose what time you would like to leave and how much time you want to spend at the park.
For all of us, this glacier was well above our expectations! I read in an article that it's one of the only glaciers in South America that is actually growing - even with this crazy climate change. Upon arriving into the park, our taxi driver attempted to convince us to take the boat tour, but I read in several blogs that it's not worth it. We're glad that we chose the land option instead the boat tour because the views were absolutely incredible from above. Plus, we didn't have the pressure of cramming around a ton of people trying to capture the perfect photo. We also were able to witness several massive ice blocks (the size of buildings) collapse into the lake below!
Tucked between two mountain peaks, this massive blue glacier extends farther than our eyes could even see. It's hard to fathom how massive this glacier really was, especially when the ice ledges collapsed and created tidal waves throughout the glacier lake. We stayed in the park for two to three hours (which we felt was the perfect amount of time), and met our taxi driver at the cafe near the trailhead.
[Side Note]: We only felt it was necessary to stay in El Calafate for one day because we wanted to spend as much time as possible in El Chaltén. If you're also crunched on time, I would suggest booking the 6pm Chalten Travel bus so that you can spend all day at the glacier, as well as knocking out the three hour bus ride.
TREKKING TO FITZ ROY
Our first night, we stayed in a small and quiet hostel so that we could get a good night of sleep before the big day! Our hostel was called Luna Country Hostel. This was a perfect option because the family allowed us to leave our bags with them for free while we spent the next three days camping. It's a simple and clean, family-run accommodation that was the most affordable option in town.
[Side Note]: Before heading on your trek, I suggest visiting the tourist information center to get a proper trail map and ask the rangers any additional safety questions before taking off on your journey. This was so important for us because we were able to properly examine our route and look at their weather predictions for the upcoming days. It's often very difficult, but try to plan your hike to Laguna de Los Tres on a sunny day!
Within minutes of hiking up the trail, we were instantly blessed with stunning views of the valley and rivers below. I've never seen such vibrant green landscape with snow capped mountains surrounding us in the distance.
Our first rest stop was Lago Capri, which took about an hour for us to reach from the town center. It was so peaceful and illuminated blue from the bright sun above us. As we sat there gazing up at the mountains, the clouds began to dissipate with each passing minute. The large mountain in the middle is one of the most famous in Patagonia: Fitz Roy.
Even though we continued hiking up the mountain, this location is the perfect place to camp if you have more nights available. There is a beautiful campground beside the lake with stunning views of the mountains. This is also a very popular option for a day hike if you didn't bring camping gear.
Once we filled up our bellies on peanuts and glacier water, we continued on the trail up the mountain. All along the route, we stopped for brief moments to take in the surrounding beauty. Streams flowed beside the trail and we happily drank straight from the freezing, crisp glacier water. We heard so many horror stories of terrible weather within these mountains and all of us couldn't stop thanking God for blessing us with such an incredible day! Eventually, we arrived at the campground and set up our tents in the protected forest. We sipped our mate (a South American tea) and gobbled up our empanadas for lunch.
The last leg of our day-hike was up a strenuous path with endless switchbacks until finally reaching Laguna de Los Tres. The instant that we all arrived at the top, all of us gasped and shouted WOW! Nestled below us was a bright blue lagoon surrounded by snow capped granite peaks. Each of us spend time walking around the lagoon independently and soaking up this surreal beauty. Once we regathered, I ripped open our Cabernet boxed wine and we watched the sun begin to set over the mountains.
All of us were amazed that we were the only ones up at the lagoon enjoying these incredible scene! The peaks beamed a deep golden color as the sun creeped below the horizon. When I look back at my time in South America, this is one of those special moments that I will talk about for years.
CAMPING BESIDE LAGO TORRE
The next morning we packed up our gear and took off to the next camping destination. We traversed along the mountain range passing several small lakes and black sand beaches. Within an hour, we entered a forest and continued up the trail weaving throughout the trees. Thankfully, they provided the perfect rain cover from the sprinkles above us. Once we arrived next to a river, we followed the path along the rushing glacier water until we reached a dead end. The sign pointed left into the forest where we found the campground. We setup our tents right beside the river, ate a quick dinner, and all of us passed out before the sun even set.
Another one of those moments that I will always cherish is waking up early with Corinne and fixing breakfast, sipping our mate (tea shown in picture below), and watching the golden morning sun reflect on the river. This scene looking through the window of our tent will be a distinct memory that I will never forget. What I've realized on this trip is that usually the most epic viewpoints or reaching the top of a mountain are not always my favorite moments, but actually the simple instances that I'm spending quality time with Corinne.
Sadly, the rain and clouds started to creep over us as we finished packing up the tent, but we still hiked to Lago Torre anyway. It was pretty neat to see blue ice chunks floating all around the lake. After snapping a few shots, we strapped on our backpacks and headed back down the mountain towards town. The farther we walked from the glacier mountains, the clearer the sky became and eventually, we came across a beautiful vista overlooking several waterfalls and the raging river below. It felt amazing to feel the bright sun beat down on us once again.
Stay tuned for our next blog post highlighting all of our favorite hiking trails and incredible adventures during our entire week in El Chaltén. This place is in the TOP 3 experiences in our entire trip across South America. We hope that you have enjoyed the read!