Patagonia is located in the South of South America, and is shared by both Argentina and Chile. Although there are many Cities in which it is possible to visit, I chose to visit the popular destinations of El Calafate and El Chalten.
Day 1 – Flight – Buenos Aires to El Calafate with Aerolíneas Argentinas, Private airport transfer with VES Patagonia (cost 900 Argentinian Pesos return). Hostel – America Del Sur – 4 bed female dorm room (cost 204 Argentinian pesos)
Day 2 – I took a morning transfer to El Chalten with Cal Tur (950 argentinian pesos, open return). Duration is 2 hours 45 minutes and is very scenic! When I arrived in El Chalten, I was taken to the visitors centre for a briefing regarding the Los Glaciares National Park, in which El Chalten is situated, they gave me an overview of the hiking routes, and also some information about safety and how to protect the local area. As I arrived on the morning bus, I headed out and completed the two smallest hikes in the area; Los Cóndores and Las Águilas viewpoints, these are only 3.5 miles long combined, each way. The condor lookout was really nice with multiple condores soaring high above my head, they prefer warm windy conditions. I stayed in the Lo De Trivi Hostel, it was small but nice and had free english tea, so I was happy! There are self catering facilities (2 kitchens in fact) and sky television, the staff were really friendly and gave great advise regarding the local area, treks and weather (cost £10 per night)
Day 3 – On my third day I hiked to the Laguna Torre, 7.5 miles. Unfortunately we had strong winds, rain and lots of cloud so this hike was a little tough and the lake was a little hard to see. However, the view was still beautiful with ice bergs in the lake.
Day 4 – as a rest day, I decided to hike the Al Chorrillo del Salto 5km bike, this short trek is the easiest of the treks I completed in El Chalten, and leads you to a small but powerfull waterfall.
Day 5 – This was my favourite day In Patagonia, Inhiked to the Laguna de los Tres 10km+. Despite the previous days bad weather, the sky cleared, and I got my perfect view of the Fitz Roy! Due to visiting Patagonia in the Winter, the trail to reach the top of the Tres Laguna hike can be snowy/icy and very steep! I had initially planned to reach the Poincenot veiw point but am so glad I continued on until the end! It was fantastic and I think one of the best best veiws I have seen yet!
The Laguna Capri Veiw point of the Laguna Los Tres hike is amazing also, and only 1hour 45 from El Chalten if you are short on time, you could complete the round trip here.
Day 6 – I begrudgingly returned to El Calafate on the 8am bus, and rested in the hostel for my Day Trip the next day. The America Del Sur is a short walk from the bus terminal.
Day 7 – Hielo and Aventura Big Ice Trek – I spent 3.5 hours treking on the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares with Hielo, it was superb. the cost was £254.99 and I felt that it was worth every penny. It was a full day tour, I was collected at 7am from America Del Sur and transported into the national park where there is a £22 admission fee to pay, then we continued to the scenic walkways where you can view the Glacier for 1 hour and 10 minutes. You witness large amounts of Ice crashing from the Glacier into the water below with a thunderous sound. The bus collected us again and took us to board the boat to transfer to the other side of the lake so we could be adjacent to the Glacier. Here we were given a safety briefing and walked for 45 minutes to the edge of the glacier, we were provided with a precautionary harnesses to wear and also our crampons. We then entered on the Glacier and hiked for 3 hours and 30 minutes, the veiw was spectacular, the landscape so diverse on the Glacier and beautiful pure water lagoons of the deepest blue. Then we returned by foot and caught the returning boat where we were provided with a Whiskey with ice from the Glacier and a cute souvenier keyring of a crampon. We then returned to El Calafate.
Day 8 and 9 – I had to spend a couple of days resting in the hostel because I had caught a cold – but with the beautiful views and comfortable beds, I can think of worse places to be stuck!
Day 10 – Flight back to Buenos Aires.
Patagonia, The Geography
The South American Andes Mountain Range, a massive 8000km in lenth was formed between 144 million and 65 million years ago, when 2 of the earths tectonic plates, the pacific and south american plates collided together and the latter was thrust up into the air. As the pacific plate was forced underground, its contents were subjected to an enourmous of pressure and heat, and parts of it liquified into magma and hardened below the surface as large parts of igneous rock. This igneous rock began rising above the surface during the last ice age, the Pleistocene epoch, which finished around 10’000 years ago, as the weaker sedimentary rock that surrounded it was slowly ground away by huge sheets of ice that covered the continent. As it did so, in southern patagonia great granite peaks began to rise majestically into the air, being sculpted by the ice into a landscape reknoned throughout the world, for the raw beauty and symmetry often missing in other mountain environments.
The Los Glaciers National Park was creatd by the National Parks Department of Argentina in 1937, with the purpose to protect and preserve a vast wilderness area which remains heavily affected by the geological process of glaciation. This park has been UNESCO world heritage site since 1981.
47 Big Glaciers exist in Southern Patagonia. 13 make their way into Argentina, they drain into three huge glacial lakes; Lago Argentino, Lago Viedma and Lake San Martin.
The Perito Moreno Glacier
Surface: 254 km2
Length : 30km
Location : 50°30’ 73°00’
Accumulation Zone: 188km2
Percolation Zone: 70km2
Maximum Measure Thickness : 720m (8 km from the front)
Height ice walls above lake level : 55m Average
Height ice walls below lake level: about 120 mts
Speed: 1.1 a 2.64m daily
What is a Glacier?
A glacier is an an immense mass of ice which has two zones: the accumulation zone and the percolation zone. In the accumulation zone, it is constantly snowing. In the percolation zone, the glacier looses ice mass due to evaporation and melting. These huge masses of ice move down due to the slope of the valleys in which they are situated and end abruptly in lakes or cliffs, or softly forming terminal moraines. There are Glaciers all over the world, but the Perito Moreno Glacier is a little unique in that it is so accesible, it can be reached easily and the conditions on the, altitude and temperature do not prevent access. It is very stable and therefore safe for us to enter also, the Breaking phenomenon that occurs is also unique and can occur years apart.
When to Visit
The Seasons in South America are the reverse of the northern hemisphere. The Austral Summer; November to March is the most popular time to visit, December and January is High Summer and can be extremely busy. The vast numbers whilst good for local economy put huge pressures on local resources such as accomodation. Trekking in the park is possible in Winter, Spring and Autumn. Settled weather is often recorded during this time with days of lower wind and sunshine, however, winter trekking and camping is advised for the experienced, the snow and cold leaves the peaks and forests at their most photogenic. In bad weather conditions it may be possible to reach El Chalten.
I visited in the last weeks of September, and had mixed weather, but enjoyed the quiet trails and cheaper prices.
Supermarkets – there is 1 main supermarket in both El Chalten and also El Calafate, and depending on the season there is a range of restaurants and bakeries.
It is also possible to book many day tours from both, including various Glacier trips, Day tours Kayaking or to Torres del Paine.
Patagonia is somewhere I wish to return as soon as possible. I’ve heard great things from my friends Exploring Kiwis about the Chilean side of Patagonia, specifically the W trek which they recently completed, so this is next on my list!
Love B x