Argentina: Hiking the Glaciers in Patagonia
Walking, Trekking and the Great Outdoors in Ice-Capped Argentinian Patagonia
By Lise Griffiths
The windswept, dramatic landscapes of Patagonia dwarf the few tiny towns spread across the colossal land. Enormous jagged peaks, turquoise lakes, and snaking glaciers prevail - it is a place for adventure seekers, nature lovers, and anyone who appreciates awe-inspiring natural beauty.
Unimaginably vast, Patagonia is best experienced sticking to one particular area. Travel is possible - and of course part of the excitement - however there are hundreds of miles between each town or village.
The two main areas discussed below are part of the beautiful Los Glaciares National Park. They are more than enough to cope with for a week or two, offering endless opportunities to appreciate the wilds of this unspoilt, ice-capped land.
Winter can be great for skiing, and summer for wildlife, however autumn is particularly beautiful with the trees full of colour, weather more stable, and skies at their most reliably blue.
El Calafate & Perito Moreno Glacier
El Calafate is a town built mainly around tourism, but it is nevertheless very charming and full of funky little gift shops. It is named after the local Calafate berry, and you will find many products made with it - but mostly jam!
Glaciar Perito Moreno
Some of the biggest attractions in Argentinian Patagonia are the enormous glaciers – most famously the Perito Moreno glacier which is the main attraction in the El Calafate vicinity by far. Tour company Hielo Aventura offer fantastic tours to take a boat trip out to see the glacier.
You can add a one hour 30 minute or three-hour 'ice trek' element - walking on the glacier (which is a total must-do). With spiky rented crampons strapped to your boots, you’ll climb up onto the shining ice, down steep inclines and past gleaming blue pools of clear melt-water lying in deep crevasses on the ice. The views of the lake and the endless icy peaks is something y
With spiky rented crampons strapped to your boots, you’ll climb up onto the shining ice, down steep inclines and past gleaming blue pools of clear melt-water lying in deep crevasses on the ice. The views of the lake and the endless icy peaks is something y
With spiky rented crampons strapped to your boots, you’ll climb up onto the shining ice, down steep inclines and past gleaming blue pools of clear melt-water lying in deep crevasses on the ice. The views of the lake and the endless icy peaks is something you will never, ever forget.
Hielo Aventura is found in the central part of the small town near the casino. The tour
leaves from a remote part of Lago Argentino (around 45 minutes by car from El Calafate, which is ‘on the doorstep’ by Patagonian standards) however you can easily hire a car, or take a tour bus out to the port.
The tour guides are such friendly people, full of fun and humor, and extremely knowledgeable.
Xelena Deluxe Suites Hotel is an exquisite and generally affordable 5-star hotel for a real comfort option whilst you’re residing in the wilds of Patagonia. Their spa service and indoor pool overlooking the lake is something really special, the décor is tasteful, and the staff are extremely helpful.
El Chalten & Fitz Roy
The tiny town of El Chalten is around 3 hours by car from El Calafate. It maintains a genuine wild west feel about it, and the avid tourist trade consists of mainly independent travelers seeking enjoyment in the great outdoors - as you will find in most places in Patagonia (as opposed to a roaring trade of package deals).
Hikes and Trails
El Chalten is situated at the very foot of the Fitz Roy range with a myriad of exciting hikes and walks to lakes, waterfalls and mountains. The popular and famously jagged Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy peaks are simply stunning to see close-up after a hike, or from a distance across turquoise Lago Viedma.
Most hotels and hostels will provide a simple map of the various trails possible in the area - many of which are possible in just a few hours. Cycle hire is possible also.
Another fantastic glacier boat trip and ice trek (of many) is possible in El Chalten from Tunel Bahia (signposted just before the entrance to El Chalten when coming from El Calafate or the South). Depending on the time of year and the weather, the glacier calves huge chunks of ice into the lake where they float bright blue, reflected serenely in the milky blue lake.
Glacier Viedma offers very different scenery to the Perito Moreno glacier and it is not unrealistic to take both tours. Glacier Viedma is lesser-known, providing more of an exclusive experience.
Cumbres Nevadas is an excellent 3 star hotel with immaculate rooms. The staff are so friendly and the hotel is furnished very comfortably. It is also conveniently located in the town with lovely shops and restaurants just across the road. Internet access is available but forget being able to load anything after the homepage anywhere in El Chalten. Also there is no phone signal in El Chalten.
Driving or Car Hire
Car hire can be expensive, however it is cheaper if you pick your car up away from the airport and you drop it off in the same location.
It is possible to drive between El Chalten and El Calafate - the roads are well-paved (and deserted). It takes around 3 hours and there is no phone signal, however there are SOS posts at fairly regular intervals in the vast wilds of the windswept desert.
Most of the smaller roads around El Chalten leading to some of the trails are gravel roads, however, cycle hire is possible if you don't feel like negotiating narrow wooden bridges and extremely bumpy roads at an exceedingly slow pace. Or you can walk, of course, after all this place is a walker's paradise.
Lise Griffiths travels the world as an obsessive compulsive travel addict. She is from England.
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