How close have you been to the end of the world? Where is that place on earth?
We were 1000 km away from the end of the world when we visited El Calafate in March, 2018. And decided that we need to go to Usuaia (which is the last inhabited point of the world) one day for sure. Keep your eyes on our blog for future posts, now let me tell you about our trip to El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province of Argentina.
This place is pretty far from the rest of the world which is famous for huge glaciers in the Andes Mountains and a couple of years ago I couldn’t imagine even coming down so far. We had 3 hours long flight from Buenos Aires, Argentina directly to El Calafate International Airport. It’s interesting that this airport was built in 2010 and the only transportation to reach this place used to be on-land transportation. Can you imagine how many days you might have spent to reach this town before? I feel so lucky to live in a time of airplanes and airports in detached places of the world which made traveling much easier.
This town is in Patagonia and major occupation of people living here used to be sheep breeding. Right, used to be as you can’t find thousands of Patagonian sheep in the steeps any more. When this area was discovered in the first decade of XX century it was inhabited by wool traders. They were exporting wool to the whole world. Later on in 70s farmers decided that this business was not so profitable and left the wool trading. Due to Los Glaciers National park this place was well developed for tourism and became one of the major tourism hubs of Argentina.
So, let me tell you the details of our trip which might help you to plan yours.
We purchased the tour package from the agency which arranged an airport pick up too. But there are taxi and shuttle services working between airport and town. If you travel without the agency, you will be fine to find your way to town.
The very first day we decided to go to Perito Moreno Glaciers at Los Glaciars National Park. We were so excited that we didn’t want to postpone for the second day. Our trip to the national park was also included in our tour package. Now, be aware when you purchase packages. Along with the tour to National Park the agencies will offer you bunch of other tours. I would suggest not to buy them and take the tours by yourself. Keep reading to know how.
Our agency picked us up from hotel and we went right to the National Park. It was great to have a guide as she was telling us interesting stories. This is the only place that you might need to take a guided tour. While driving to National Park there was the Lake of Argentina on the way and the Andes Mountains which opened breathtaking views. We made a stop to take fabulous shots of this view.
The National Park entrance fee per person is 500 AR pesos (which was around $40 in March, 2018). Once you enter the park you drive around the mountain going up. And there comes more fascinating views of the mountains and glaciers in the distance. I took thousands of photos, couldn’t get enough of them.
Shuttle stops at the information center which also has a nice café to take some snacks. We had packed some snacks from our breakfast (who else gets snacks form Hotel Breakfasts? J) to eat in case if we don’t find food in the park, but you may not bother about it. Because, the café in the park is pretty nice and you can’t eat your own food in this café. You have to buy food there. We sat on one of the benches on the trails and had our medialunas (Argentine croissants) looking at incredible endless piece of ice going between mountains.
The walking trails in the park are perfect to walk or ride the stroller. We walked for around 2 km to get closer to the glaciers. While walking we went through the forest with colorful autumn leaves. I could walk there for hours!
Getting back to our start point on the trails our shuttle took us to another point to take the boat tour. And this was the most exciting part of our adventure. The boat takes you very close to the glaciers. Yes, it gets freezing, windy and you can’t even hold the camera to take photos as your fingers get icy. But the view of huge glaciers opening in front of you is breathtaking. We couldn’t imagine it would be that much fascinating. The boat tour took an hour after which our shuttle delivered us back to our hotel.
Another thing about these glaciers is, the ice chunks fall of the glacier regularly and we could hear bumping voices when they fell into the water. If you are lucky you can see big falls, but we didn’t see them.
You remember I told you not to buy tours from agencies? Here’s why. The tour agencies sell the tours to areas where you can get a bus and reach by yourself and walk around. If you buy the tour package it costs you twice more than you could pay for a bus ticket. You can go to the bus station and check the availability of the busses to the area you want to visit, buy the ticket and go ahead. That’s it.
The most important place that you need to visit while being in El Calafate is El Chalten. It’s a small village 3 hours of driving away from El Calafate. We visited El Chalten to see Fitz Roy mountain peak and turquoise blue water lakes around it. It was a tremendous adventure that I will cover in another post. Otherwise this post will never end:).
We spent our last day exploring the town and buying souvenirs. Who else can’t feel the mission completed without souvenirs? 😀 The town is very tiny and neat reminding of German or Swiss villages. We couldn’t believe that we were still in Argentina, as this place reminded us a European town rather than a South American. It was very clean, organized and safe!
While walking in town you will see lots of homeless dogs. They are safe and not aggressive street dogs. They used to be pets, but people had to leave them on the streets when moving away. It was so sad to see very cute puppies freezing outside. Oh, I almost forgot to tell you about the weather. As it’s pretty close to the South Pole, there’s almost no summer to wear shorts and tees. Though we were visiting in late summer, it was pretty chilly. The first day was extremely windy and freezing. But we were lucky to have two sunny days with +17 C temperature. If you visit from December to March which is the summer time you better pack some jackets and warm clothes too.
The local indigenous people of this region is called Tehuelch which means in local language “Fierce People”. There are also caves with hand prints of these people who lived thousands of years ago. You can find tours at the agencies to get to these caves. Not sure if you can get there independently.
Finally, let me give you some hints for food. Once you happen to be in Patagonia, the best thing that you should have there is the lamb! Yeah, even thinking about the taste of lamb makes me so hungry. We went to the restaurant Mi Viejo and honestly it was a bit below my expectations. They made the grilled lamb too tough, but served the best empanadas with lamb :). But you can find many other options on Libertador street and enjoy the lamb, yumm!!
I’ll start writing about El Chalten soon, for now enjoy your day and let me know your feedback in comments!