Wednesday, 4 September 2013
El Calafate in Patagonia, Argentina, is where the journey to Patagonia for most people starts. It's a fairly small town but has everything you need. On the recommendation of another traveller I stayed at the America del Sur hostel. It's a short walk just out of the main town centre and it's situated on top of a hill so the views are brilliant. It's clean, friendly, really warm and the staff are really friendly. The people who work there will also help you book tour and buses to other parts of Argentina. I walked into town to see if we were going to be paying more by booking it through the hostel but it wasn't the case. A tip for Argentina is take lots of American Dollars. It's easier to pay for things in dollars and the rate is generally better if you change dollars.
Apart from changing currency, the first on the list was the Perito Moreno Glacier. There are boat trips that take you to see lots of glaciers but there are also day trips that let you see the Perito Moreno Glacier and then go walking on it. I opted for the day trip which included the glacier hike. The actual glacier is breathtaking. The sheer size of it is just phenomenal. There are viewing platforms opposite the glacier so you can really appreciate its size and beauty. I saw a pice of ice fall away from the side which was magnificent. Take a look for yourself...
Day tours cost around £70 but the whole day is worth it, especially if you go walking on the glacier. You get a little treat of whiskey at the end of the walk which was sublime!
Another great place to visit n Southern Argentina is El Chalten. It's a smaller town than El Calafate so if the weather is bad you can't really do anything. But from El Chalten you can do lots of walks. There are paths leading out of the town up to lakes and mountains. Monte Fitz Roy is a huge mountain which dominates the landscape and it is beautiful. I went in winter so I was lucky with the weather. If you get a bad snow storm or it's overcast you can still walk but the views aren't as great. The best thing about this area is that all the walks are free and getting into the National Park around El Chalten is free.
As I was there in the winter there weren't that many people in the town but I can imagine that in the summer the paths are packed with tourists from abroad and Argentina. Depending on the weather I would spend about 2 nights in El Chalten in winter. You could camp and stay for about a week or so in summer I should think.
I found it was hard to find travel information during the winter months in Patagonia. There are buses but the routes and times are limited during winter. It's also worth noting that most buses from the south go from Rio Gallegos. So if you want to travel from El Chalten up to Bariloche, you would have to go back to Rio Gallegos to get a bus, rather than travel up the middle of Argentina. I think the roads are open during the summer so it's easier, but in the winter, some of the roads are shut.
Visiting El Chalten and El Calafate was a highlight of my South America trip. It is more expensive in Southern Argentina than other places but it's worth it.