After a long flight from Miami, we landed at the Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires at 12 noon. Once the immigration procedures are completed, the first thing we have to do is get Argentine pesos. Our intention was to exchange them for the euros we brought, but it was not going to be easy. There was only one exchange office in the entire airport. There we found a long line that, as time went by, was barely moving forward so we went to plan B to take out from an ATM.
Day 1 - Buenos Aires
But it was not going to be a simple task either. Although there were several distributed by the airport, all of them belonged to the Argentine network Link. After testing in several ATMs and with several cards, we managed to get 500 pesos, but in exchange for a brutal commission.
As with that money, we would not get very far we continue testing. In the end, we found an ATM where we could get another 500 pesos with no commission. We think that with what we had already obtained we would have enough and that we could exchange in the center of Buenos Aires.
The next step was to procure a transport to go to the city. From the Ezeiza airport, there are several urban buses that link to the center. Although these lead to the area of Puerto Madero, far from Palermo where our accommodation was. As we were tired we decided to throw for the easy and take a taxi. In the Lonely Planet said that the journey was worth 180 pesos, a price that seemed reasonable.
When we left the terminal we asked a taxi driver and he told us that it was worth 400 pesos! In one year the price had doubled! And all the taxi companies had the same price. As we were tired from the trip and we had been in the terminal for a long time, we decided to accept the price. In the end, we got a little cheaper.
It took us three-quarters of an hour to get to the neighborhood of Palermo, a time that passed quickly through the conversation we had with the taxi driver (he became interested in the happiness of Leonel Messi). For that day we had hesitated a lot to book accommodation, since at 4:45 in the morning we had to take the flight to Ushuaia and we would hardly have time to sleep.
Until a few days before leaving, our plan was not to book a hotel and get some sleep at the airport, but this had the logistical inconvenience of keeping our backpacks during our visit to Buenos Aires during the day. At the end, we found a cheap accommodation and relatively close to Aeroparque airport. More than a hotel it was a hostel or motel, old and seedy.
Our room was spacious, with a few pieces of furniture worn out by the passage of time. The bathroom was shared, with a bathtub and some tiles with scab embedded since time immemorial. But we could not ask for much more for the price we were paying. The place was enough to sleep a few hours, which was what we needed.
As we had to leave so soon the next day, the owner booked us a trusted taxi to take us to the airport. We had to leave around 2:30 and we did not know if it would be easy to stop a taxi on the street at that time. Between some things and others we left the hostel at 3:30 pm.
The atmosphere was hot and suffocating, very different from what we would find the next day in Ushuaia. Our idea was to visit the northern neighborhoods of Buenos Aires (Recoleta and Palermo) since on the last day of our trip we would also be in the Argentine capital to explore the rest.
But first, we had to put some food in our punished stomachs. Near the hostel, we found a pizzeria-cafe where we bought empanadas Argentinas. Throughout our trip, we are very fond of eating them for lunch, as they are delicious and inexpensive. The empanadas (ham and cheese, minced meat and filleted meat) were great!
Our first objective was La Recoleta, the most exclusive and bourgeois neighborhood in the city. To get there we took the metro (there called subway), one of the few cheap things in the country. First, we went to the most known place in the neighborhood, the La Recoleta cemetery. Here not only prominent members of the Buenos Aires bourgeoisie are buried, but also the most important people in the history of Argentina. The cemetery is so big that tours are made to discover all its secrets. However, we decided to explore it on our own, walking aimlessly through it.
The first thing that surprised us about the cemetery is the magnificence of its tombs and mausoleums. Many are decorated with statues that express a heartbreaking sadness. Others are so spacious that they house a small chapel inside. It is clear that not everyone can afford to be buried there. The cemetery was quite crowded with tourists, which left a bit of charm and silence that a place like this should have.
It was not difficult to find the most famous grave in the Recoleta cemetery before it was crowded a huge number of tourists. It is the mausoleum of the Duarte, where Evita Peron is buried (Duarte is her maiden name). This actress and politician is one of the most revered characters in Argentina but also has her detractors.
We spent almost an hour wandering around the cemetery of Recoleta, we found it as interesting for its aesthetic as for all the history that it contained. Then we went to one of the most distinguished streets in the neighborhood, Avenida Alvear.
Although on the way to the cemetery we had already seen that this was a well-to-do neighborhood, that street was lined with the stately mansions and the most luxurious hotels. Until we visited the other neighborhoods of the city we did not realize how different this was.
We continue walking towards the north of the Recoleta, under an inclement sun. This is a wide area, with many gardens, where the city gives way to museums such as the Fine Arts or faculties such as Law. In one of the many garden squares, we find a curious sculpture, the Floralis Generica. As its name says, it represents a large-scale flower, made of aluminum and concrete.
And the surprising thing is that it has a system that opens the flower in the morning and closes it at night, as some flowers do in reality. We are used to the sculptures being something static, so finding something like that was extraordinary.
We left La Recoleta and we entered the north of Palermo neighborhood. There are a lot of green spaces, such as the Japanese Garden or the Zoological Garden. But it was beginning to be late, although it was not noticeable by the sun that shone, and those gardens were already closed.
So we took refuge from the heat in an ice cream parlor. We were surprised that a large part of the customers went there to buy ice cream in bulk, in boats of a couple of kilos. We settle for a small cone. It was good to savor the delicious ice cream and rest for a while. We began to weigh our legs, we were tired of walking and lack of rest.
We continue towards Palermo Soho, a sub-neighborhood completely different from La Recoleta. When walking through its quiet streets we seemed to be walking through a town, as the vast majority of houses are one or two floors. These little houses became more predominant as we went through the old town of this sub-neighborhood, Palermo Viejo.
Some of the houses were old and very neglected, but the area was full of shops, cafes, and restaurants, with many people walking around. Its epicenter is Plaza Serrano, full of bars and pubs, but that afternoon was a little sleepy. Surely at night, there would not fit even a pin in their terraces and markets.
We were already bursting with walking, so we decided to go to our lodging and have dinner there. This was in an adjoining sub-neighborhood, Palermo Hollywood, named for a large number of TV producers that are there. Aesthetically it is very similar to Palermo Soho, although we thought that the state of the streets and houses was generally more neglected and shabby.
There were quite a few restaurants, so we chose a typical Argentine restaurant, specialized in grilled meat. How much we wanted to try the famous Argentine meat! We ordered two classics of bife de chorizo and roasted strip, accompanied by a green salad with cheese and croutons. Both were delicious along with beer and a lemonade! A good way to start the gastronomic part of the trip.
About 22:00 we went to sleep at the hostel. Good thing we did not have to sleep at the airport! The 5 hours we would sleep we would thank them very much. After two long flights and a fleeting visit to Miami, we needed some rest, even if it was a few hours.
Day 2 - Ushuaia
At 2 in the morning the alarm clock rang, we had not slept much or well, but at least we rested something. As we agreed, the taxi came to pick us at 2:30 pm. At that time there was no one on the road and we arrived in a half hour to the Aeroparque airport, from where the internal flights depart (there called cabotage flights).
The Aeroparque terminal was full of people trying to sleep. It was probably people who were on our flight on the first of the day. Our flight left at the time and on board, we were given a breakfast as soon as we took off. This way we could spend the rest of the 4 hours of the trip taking a nap.
The plane arrived at 8:30 am at Ushuaia airport. In the terminal, we looked for a house of change since in Buenos Aires we had not been able to change our euros, but there were none. To go to the city there is only the option of the taxi, there are no buses or transports like that. Although the race with the taxi was not very expensive. We went directly to our hotel for those days in Tierra del Fuego.
By our standards, it was with new facilities, well maintained and equipped. The room was equally good, very spacious and clean. In addition, it was very well located, in the center of Ushuaia. All that was evident in the price! It was the most expensive hotel of our trip. We sin a little to reserve it at short notice (1 month), a big mistake because of the great demand that exists on the dates we went.
From the Hotel, the main tours of the region could be booked without any surcharge. We booked first the navigation through the Beagle Channel for that same afternoon, since it is a tour that can easily be canceled due to bad weather and we wanted to do it as soon as possible in our stay. For the next day we booked transportation to the Tierra del Fuego National Park, which included the transfer to the hotel. They also offered currency exchange service at an unbeatable price.
Between some things and others, we went for a walk around Ushuaia around 11 o'clock. The weather was not very good, it was drizzling continually and it was very covered. At least it was not a very intense or annoying rain, and it was not as cold as we expected. We found the center of Ushuaia pleasant, with quiet streets surrounded by low houses.
Most buildings are modern and dull, but there are still some wooden houses with metal roofs, testimonies of the old architecture of Tierra del Fuego. The main street is Avenida San Martin, partially pedestrian, with many shops and people walking despite the rain.
We approach the area of the tourist dock, where is the information booth. There we informed about the excursions in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, where we would go the next day. Nearby is the famous poster "Ushuaia end of the world", where we took the photo of rigor. This is one of the main claims of Ushuaia since it is considered the southernmost city in the world.
Although it is a half-truth since there are other human settlements further south, in the Chilean Tierra del Fuego, such as Puerto Williams or Puerto Toro. However, these do not have enough population to have the rank of a city, which is what Ushuaia has. So, it is a technical precision.
In the port area, there were many posters advertising Antarctica as a tourist destination. And is that the vast majority of cruises that go to the white continent depart from Ushuaia, since they are only separated by 1,000 km. The price of these cruises is prohibitive, from 6,000 USD for 10 days. Although there are tourists waiting in the city to leave last minute offers, with which the trip can go for 5,000 USD. Better to leave the visit to Antarctica for another occasion.
Then we went to one of the most popular tourist attractions in Ushuaia, the Maritime Museum and the Presidio. As its name says, this museum is located in the premises of an old prison built at the beginning of the 20th century by its prisoners. Here they brought the most dangerous prisoners of Argentina since at that time the region was the most remote and unpopulated. A priori it seemed a gloomy place, but it turned out to be an interesting sea.
And it is that there are four museums within the same building. In addition to the two mentioned, it houses the Antarctic Museum and the Marine Art Museum. First, we took a look at the Maritime Museum, where several ancient objects related to navigation and model ships were exhibited. The pieces that we found most interesting were the navigation charts, which showed the hundreds of shipwrecks that had been by Cape Horn. That's why the Beagle Channel was so important for navigation, it allowed to avoid the stormy cape.
Then we continue through the Museum of the Presidio, where the history of the prison and the life of the prisoners in it is recreated. The truth is that they had to endure painful conditions, subjected to forced labor, such as the construction of the End of the World Train (the southernmost of the planet). There were two pavilions, one was rehabilitated and recreations of cells were shown and the other, more interesting, seemed to be as it had been abandoned in the 50s.
Another part that we liked a lot was the Jose Maria Sobral Antarctic Museum, where the human and natural context of Tierra del Fuego is explained in a shallow and pleasant way. The most interesting thing was everything that was explained about the Yamana, the nomadic indigenous people of the region. Although Tierra de Fuego is a cold place, the Yamana people lived half naked, and to warm up, they lit bonfires.
It was precisely after seeing these fires, that the European discoverers decided to call this island Tierra del Fuego. The attempt to civilize the Yamana's by the European missionaries was their downfall. The clothes they were forced to dress was rotted with the frequent rain that fall in Tierra del Fuego, making them more prone to diseases that they were decimating. Unfortunately, today the Yamana people and culture have almost disappeared.
We were just in the last part of the museum, the Marine Art Museum, where local artists exhibit their works. In all, the Maritime Museum and the Presidio we liked a lot. The objects on display are not very special, but everything that is explained is very interesting. And the old prison module exudes a great history. This is definitely a place to visit if you are going to Ushuaia.
When leaving the Presidio we were very tired. The jet-lag, the lack of sleep and the bustle of that day was taking its toll. We decided to sit down to eat at a fast food place popular with locals, specializing in huge sandwiches. We ask for the king of the sandwich in Argentina, the Milanese, based on the well-known breaded meat.
What we did not know when we asked for it was that they were going to bring us a gigantic sandwich with tenderloin, omelet, tomato, lettuce, and cheese, in addition to the Milanese. The good thing is that we only ordered one! It was delicious. Throughout our trip we ate several milanesas and none of them seemed as rich as this one.
To lighten the food, we walked to the western part of the city center. There is Casa Bevan, the residence of a rich local family of the early twentieth century. They brought all the materials from Sweden to make it, but they respected the style of the region. Before it was in the center of Ushuaia, but later it was moved to its current location and it became a museum.
Right next to it is the Plaza de las Islas Malvinas, where tribute is paid to those killed in the war with the United Kingdom in the 80s. Throughout Argentina, we could see samples of the claim of these islands that are under British control. All the maps of the country show the Malvinas as Argentine territory, so it is a conflict that is still latent.
Back in the center, we decided to try to make a management that worried us. We wanted to buy the tickets for the night bus from Trelew to Bariloche (cities located in the center of Patagonia, far north of Ushuaia). And since we were going to travel the day after New Year, we were afraid that it would be full. We approach to buy the tickets in a travel agency. But after several attempts, the woman who looked after us thought it was impossible, the route we wanted to take did not come out on her computer.
She recommended us to try another agency. At first, we were not lucky either, and we started to be a little restless with the subject. But when we told them that the bus was going via Esquel they found it! Thank God we were well documented and we knew that! Actually, it was not a direct bus but two, one from Trelew to Esquel and another from Esquel to Bariloche, with a transfer time of five minutes.
Then we went quickly to the tourist dock, since at 16:30 the boat left to sail through the Beagle Channel. The day was probably not the best, it was still very covered and with poor visibility, but at least it was hardly raining. Immediately we begin to advance by the wide channel, that there separates the Argentine and Chilean part of the island of Land of Fire. Although the clouds prevented us from seeing the land that extended beyond the canal, the landscapes seemed beautiful to us. Navigating the vastness of the Beagle Channel was exciting!
The catamaran slowed down as it passed a small island that was crowded with cormorants and other seabirds. Although they were a bit far, they could be seen more or less well (well-prepared people wore binoculars). A few minutes later the boat approached another island to see a large colony of sea lions. It was one of the best things about the tour since the boat got so close that we had the animals a few meters away.
In these two stops we could see the animals without much stress because, although the boat was quite full of passage, many people did not go out because of the cold (they preferred to drink mate to see the landscapes).
The next stop was also good, as we disembarked on one of the small islands that dot the canal. There we could begin to soak up the flora of Patagonia and enjoy beautiful views. The boat left us on a pebble beach, from where a short path led to a lookout. We would have liked to be longer on the island.
The last stop was to surround the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, which many agencies advertise as the "End of the World Lighthouse", although the true lighthouse of Verne's novel is much farther east. Even so, the lighthouse and its islet colonized by cormorants shaped how wild this land is.
The tour lasted about 3 hours and as a whole, we liked it, although time prevented us from enjoying more of the landscapes. Once again in Ushuaia, we returned to the hotel to rest a little. Later we went out to dinner in the center, where there is a lot of restaurants, although most of them seemed very expensive. In the end, we ended up in a family restaurant with a medium price.
We decided to try some Italian cuisine, very important in Argentina because of a large number of emigrants from this country. We ordered some salmon sorrentinos (fresh ravioli-like pasta) and a provolone pizza (a type of Italian melting cheese). Both dishes were good, although the filling of the pasta did not know how to find the salmon (it looked more like fish leftovers!).
To accompany the dinner we ordered a bottle of wine from Mendoza, the famous wine region of Argentina. Along with a homemade flan, the dinner cost us a more than reasonable price for Ushuaia, one of the most expensive cities in Argentina.
Sleeping in a good bed and a few good hours made us feel great. After sleeping on planes and in a shabby room, we really needed it. The breakfast was composed of what is known in Argentina as invoices, an assortment of all kinds of sweets and cakes, a key part of the first morning meal (not usually salty foods). The queens of the invoices are the croissants, very similar to croissants, with a very intense butter flavor. The croissants are very easy to find all over the country, and they are a delicious and cheap way to have breakfast.
The main objective of the day was the National Park of Tierra del Fuego, which houses Patagonian forests, lakes, and fjords. It can be crossed by a good network of trails, a delight for hikers. To arrive there are 6 buses one way in the morning (from 9 am to 2 pm) departing from the center of Ushuaia (Maipu - Fadul).
We booked them through the hotel, and for the same price we were picked up by him. Once in the National Park, the bus stops at three places, the Ensenada, the Roca Lake and the Lapataia Bay, from where different paths are born. In the afternoon there are 4 return buses, at 13, 15, 17 and 19 h (the latter did not circulate that day at the end of the year).
Day 3 - Tierra del Fuego
About 9 in the morning we went to find the minibus we had booked the previous day. In half an hour we were at the entrance of the park, paying the mandatory entry. We got off at the first of three stops, the Ensenada. Our plan was to make the Coastal Path, a trail of about 8 km that goes from there to Lake Roca.
There we would connect with other trails that lead to Lapataia Bay, where we would take the bus back from 5pm. So before 10 we started walking along the Coastal Path. As its name says, this road goes along the northern coast of the Beagle Channel first, and then Lapataia Bay. The first impression we had of the landscape could not be better.
On one side we had the immensity of the Beagle Channel, with the Chilean part of Tierra del Fuego to the south. On the other side, there was an enormous coigues forest, a tree from the coldest areas of Patagonia and related to our beech. The path itself does not offer any difficulty, it does not have a lot of unevenness and it is quite well indicated.
The most beautiful of the Coastal Path is the spectacular contrast offered by coigues forests, with beaches, rocks and the sea. And it seemed that the shape of the coigue itself made it easy to take fantastic photos, because of its pretty bonsai-like shape (but large). We did not stop marveling at each beach or cove we passed, they were unforgettable landscapes!
The sections of the road that went inside the forest were a bit heavier, although that allowed us to discover the rich Patagonian biodiversity. One of the most curious things we saw was Indian bread, a spherical fungus that parasitizes coigue. It is called that because the ancient Yamana Indians ate it raw. Most of the trees had this parasite and it was easy to see them on the road floor when they fell off.
Later we arrived at the entrance of the Lapataia Bay, with which the landscape was enriched by snow-capped mountains such as Cerro Condor. In this area the beautiful beaches that we had seen disappeared, but the rocky coast also offered beautiful prints. Then the road turns north and leaves the coast, entering the forest. This is different, the coigue give way to the lengas and nires, the most abundant trees in the forests of most of the Andean Patagonia. About 3 and a half hours after starting the tour, we arrived south of Lake Roca.
At Lake Roca we went to the park's interpretation center, where there was an interesting exhibition about its flora and fauna and its ancient inhabitants, the Yamana. When we left, we rested for a while while we ate nuts to fill our stomachs. Then we got closer to see the Roca Lake, since until then we had only seen a narrow channel that connects the lake with Lapataia Bay.
On the shores of the lake there was a huge campsite, with was a good view of it. We found it immense, and it was surrounded by beautiful snowy mountains. From there comes Senda Hito XXIV, a long excursion that leads to the Chilean border. But we decided to go to Lapataia Bay, where we could take the bus back to Ushuaia.
To go to Lapataia there is a more or less direct way to walk along the gravel road that the vehicles use. However, near the track there are some small trails that go a little further but allow you to discover very beautiful places. As we had time, we decided on this second option. The first path led us to discover the last stretch of the Lapataia River before emptying into the bay.
We thought it was spectacular, a mixture of rivers, lagoons, forests and small coves, for which we also can not find a single soul. Another small path led us to another branch of the Lapataia River, where there was a viewpoint with beautiful views of the whole and the omnipresent Cerro Condor. The last path ran inside a large forest and took us to the viewpoint of Lapataia Bay, although the views were not very good.
After an hour and a half from Lake Roca, we arrived at Lapataia Bay. This is where the National Route 3 ends, the longest highway in the country (more than 3,000 km) and that was born in Buenos Aires. The bay is really a fjord, surrounded by landscapes that did not seem like anything special. It was half an hour before the bus went to look for us, so we rested a bit contemplating the fjord. At 5:00 PM it happened punctually, and an hour later we were in Ushuaia. This tour is very worthwhile and is suitable for all audiences, it is the best memory we take from the region of Tierra del Fuego.
Back to the hotel we took a well-deserved bath and rested for a while. At 7:30 pm we went for a walk to see how things were going for the end of the year dinner. In the hotel we had been warned that there was a lot of demand and that the prices had skyrocketed. We found after a small prospecting of restaurants, most were full or did not open that day.
Among the few with a table available, we chose the restaurant. They really did not have a room available, but since they had a loft on the top floor, they set up tables there and sheltered the poor people like us who had no place to dine that night. We started dinner at 9:00 pm.
First there was a buffet with several cold starters, like Russian salad, meat with cream, matahambre (round of stuffed chicken), stuffed eggs, and salad. Everything was good without being extraordinary, although there was a handicap that the sources with these dishes were in the floor below and you had to go down if you wanted to serve.
Then they took out some hot starters like meat patties and baked turkey. The main courses we could choose, are king crab and Patagonian lamb. The meat was very good. And for dessert a refreshing ice cream, that we could not finish because of how full we were.
The attic was encouraged more and more, since it was where they lodged to the people who entered the restaurant already eaten and that simply wanted to take something. When midnight approached, bottles of champagne were served to everyone. On the ground floor they had a TV to live the last moments of the new years eve, but not in the attic.
Someone took out a mobile phone with internet and tuned a television to at least countdown. Three, two, one...! In this way, surrounded by foreigners like us we welcomed the new year in the southernmost city in the world. People continued with the party, but we paid right away and went to sleep. Spending all day walking in the Tierra del Fuego National Park had left us beached!
Day 4 - Patagonia
That morning it was hard to try a bite despite the delicious bills that were at breakfast. It gave us the feeling that we were still digesting the end of the year dinner the day before. At the time of check-out we asked to call a taxi to take us to Cerro Martial, to make time before our plane left (13:15 h) and see its famous views of the Beagle Channel.
Despite being a new year, the hotel managed to get us a taxi to take us there and then to the airport. The bad news was that the chairlift that leads to the Martial Glacier, the place where there are the best views, had not worked for months. We did not care, at least we would walk around for a while.
The taxi to the base of the Cerro Martial chairlift. We meet with the taxi driver who will pick us up an hour later to take us to the airport. We did not have enough time to get to the glacier but we also decided to start up a wide forest track to see if we could get a bit of a view. The unevenness was very pronounced and soon the air began to be lacking.
But it was better for us to get fitter for the excursion days that were still to come. There was a narrower path that ran beside a stream, with a landscape that was pretty good. Surely we did not make even half of the way up, but at least we could have a bit of view on the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia. The full tour to climb is one hour and a half and has a difference of 400 m.
At the agreed time, the taxi driver picked us up at the Martial. After we went through the hotel to pick up the backpacks and went to the airport. Our flight left a little before its time and arrived at 3 pm to Trelew. It was a rare way to continue the route through Patagonia, but we were forced to do so by the lack of flights to El Calafate (the most logical step from Ushuaia).
In Trelew, we went basically to enjoy the fauna of the Peninsula Valdes and Punta Tombo. We only had a day and a half before taking the night bus to Bariloche, so we had to optimize the time a lot. That's why we decided on the rental car as a transportation system. These areas can also be visited with organized tours, but we have always liked more to move at our leisure. In addition, it would have been impossible to go that same afternoon as we wanted to Punta Tombo with a tour.
At the Trelew airport we picked up the rental car that we had booked. Because it was January 1 and many rental agencies were closed, the car came out for a fortune for a day and 5 hours. In addition, in all the rent-a-car in Argentina that we consult, you pay an extra for each kilometer you travel, excluding the first 200 km.
And if we wanted to visit the Valdes peninsula, there were going to be a few more. Total, that at the end of the car, adding the mileage, we ended up going for twice the price. The alternative would have been to hire a couple of tours, but as they are expensive we are not sure if the price difference would have been very large. The car they gave us was quite old. We are not very demanding with the car, but for the money we were paying we expected a little more.
Our main objective for the afternoon was the Punta Tombo penguin colony, more than 100 km south of Trelew. It is the largest penguin breeding area in continental South America, and houses a colony of several hundred thousand individuals. These are Magellanic penguins, a species that lives in the southern part of South America.
It took us about two hours to get there, driving along some straight and practically deserted roads. As it was January 1, the entrance to the penguin colony was free. The bad thing was that the interpretation center was closed, although by the time it was not we would have spent a lot of time.
We entered the penguin colony without having a clear idea of what we were going to find, and maybe that's why we liked it so much in the end. The best thing about Punta Tombo is that the path for visitors literally crosses the penguin colony, allowing you to see penguins and their young.
At first it was hard to see the first, which was hidden behind a large bush. The aforementioned was his, he did not seem to care much about our presence. Each time we went forward we were seeing more and more penguins, many with their young. It was incredible! We did not expect there to be so many!
As the path crossed the penguin colony, occasionally penguins crossed it to go from one place to another. It was very cool to meet face to face with these animals, who watched us with great curiosity. There were many posters that discouraged touching them since they could bite. But many times the penguins themselves were those who sought contact with humans. They were particularly interested in the laces of our shoes.
Closer to the sea the vegetation became scarcer, making it even easier to see the penguins. Their nests were a simple hole in the earth, and they seemed to defend them with zeal. Definitely, there is nothing better than seeing the animals in freedom. At the end the path ended in a viewpoint overlooking the beach entrance to the penguin colony. There were more penguins there if there was room, with an enormous amount of comings and goings. We could contemplate the elegant way of swimming of these animals, before reaching the beach and start walking with that characteristic shape.
In the end we spent an hour and a half in Punta Tombo. And because they were going to close the facilities to visitors, because if not surely we would have stayed a while longer. Punta Tombo exceeded our expectations, to see so many penguins and especially so close. We left delighted, sure that we had just been in one of the most fascinating places of our trip to Argentina.
We went back to Trelew and went directly to our accommodation for that night. It was located on the outskirts of the city, in a somewhat sordid industrial zone. The good thing was that it had free closed parking, we had heard some bad experiences regarding security in that city. The room they gave us was huge, it was designed for 4 people.
Both the hotel and the rooms were old and decadent, as if nothing had been done to improve them since their inauguration. The price did not seem in line with the quality of the facilities, 57 USD with breakfast included. Although with that money, in Argentina it is very difficult to find any accommodation.
We had the idea of having dinner in the same hotel, since they prepare dinners, but being the new year was not possible. At the reception they indicated a couple of nearby restaurants open that night. We ended up at a pizzeria, with a variety of 50 different pizzas. We ordered one of ham and onion and another one of pork, of 6 elongated portions. They seemed good, but the dough seemed a little fat, but a focaccia pizza.
Sleeping in a good bed and a few good hours made us feel great. After sleeping on planes and in a shabby room, we really needed it. The breakfast was composed of what is known in Argentina as invoices, an assortment of all kinds of sweets and cakes, a key part of the first morning meal (not usually salty foods). The queens of the invoices are the croissants, very similar to croissants, with a very intense butter flavor. The croissants are very easy to find all over the country, and they are a delicious and cheap way to have breakfast.
The main objective of the day was the Tierra del Fuego National Park, which houses Patagonian forests, lakes, and fjords. It can be crossed by a good network of trails, a delight for hikers. To arrive there are 6 buses one way in the morning (from 9am to 2 p.m.) departing from the center of Ushuaia (Maipu - Fadul).
We booked them through the hotel, and for the same price we were picked up by him. Once in the National Park, the bus stops at three places, the Ensenada, the Roca Lake and the Lapataia Bay, from where different paths are born. In the afternoon there are 4 return buses, at 13, 15, 17 and 19 h (the latter did not circulate that day at the end of the year).
Day 5 - Valdes Peninsula
This morning we forced ourselves to get up early, as we had a very long day ahead. We set off after the spartan hotel breakfast and in an hour and a half we arrived at the gates of the Valdes Peninsula National Park. We made a brief stop at the Visitor Center, with interesting information about the fauna, flora and vegetation. There was an observation tower where we could begin to get an idea of the general landscape of the Valdes peninsula, almost entirely covered by a semi-arid steppe.
At the Visitor Center we asked for the best places to visit with the time we had. They told us that the distances were very large and that we focused on the area of Caleta Valdes and Punta Cantor. We would then stay in the Punta Norte inkwell, with an important colony of sea lions. That's why they advised us to go through Puerto Piramides, where there is another colony of these animals. And we must say that later we found that they were 100% correct with their advice. It is always appreciated that in a site of this style you help so much
The first stop was in Puerto Piramides, the only town on the peninsula. There we fill the deposit of the car, since here is the only gas station in the peninsula. In a bakery we took advantage of the opportunity to buy 6 empanadas for lunch, and also fruit and drinks at a nearby supermarket.
Then we went to the colony of sea lions, only 5 km down a hell track. Here came the first disappointment. The sea lions were on a rocky beach at such a distance from the viewpoint where we were that it was difficult to see them well. Also, they were quite inactive, they were just lying on the beach without moving at all.
This first disagreement did not matter to us, the main fauna sighting sites would come later. We took the gravel track that went through the peninsula, in which we realized that nothing was exaggerated when it was recommended not to drive more than 60 km/h.
The gravel was composed of a thick layer of gravel, and had the marks of the ruts of the two supposed circulation lanes to which you left these ruts, the car began to lurch, because of the little stability that gravel had. In the end it took us two hours to make about 80 km of gravel. The truth is that it was a very heavy road, in the middle of a steppe without any grace or living animal.
Finally we arrived at Caleta Valdes, where we made a stop to see its penguin colony. Second disappointment! This penguin colony is much smaller than the one we saw the day before in Punta Tombo. It is spread mostly by a cliff and the beach below. But from the viewpoint enabled for visitors you can only see the few nests of penguins that are on the cliff.
The bulk of the colony is out of sight or far away. A little further on we stop at another viewpoint to see the curious shape of Caleta Valdes, where the sand bars that make it up change shape year after year depending on the currents and storms.
A little further south we arrive at Punta Cantor, one of the most important places on the peninsula and with a famous colony of elephant seals. And third disappointment! When we arrived at the viewpoint we saw that the animals were very far away, more than in the case of Puerto Piramides. And they were equally inactive, they could pass perfectly as elements of props. We would have needed some good binoculars to see something. Later we were told that elephant seals usually rest near the viewpoint, so maybe that day they decided to do it somewhere else to our disgrace.
In Punta Cantor there was a short path to see small terrestrial fauna. Throughout it we find many lizards, although on the soffits it said that you could also see snakes. But the best part was finding a small furry armadillo. We have never seen such an animal! We found the cuirass that they have to protect their backs very curious. The funny thing is that we followed the armadillo to a place where there was an information panel about these animals.
As it was very windy at Punta Cantor we ate our empanadas inside the car. It was about 3pm and we had to return the car in Trelew at 7pm, so it was not going to give us much more time. On the way back we were lucky to see some animals, such as the common martineta or a large herd of guanacos. Before leaving the park we approach to take a look at the Island of the Birds.
It is an island off the coast that is totally colonized by seabirds. Obviously, from that distance the birds were just black and white spots. In an observation tower there was a telescope of those that work with coins. Thanks to him we could see something, although the view was not fantastic either.
As a general assessment, we have to say that the Valdes Peninsula disappointed us a lot. The marine animals were at a considerable distance from the viewpoints and it was difficult to see them with the naked eye. We do not know if it was bad luck and the animals rested that day away from the viewpoints, as they pointed us later.
It is also true that we were a little conditioned by the previous day, that we had seen the Punta Tombo penguins so closely and enjoyed them so much. In addition, for the time it was we could not see the biggest attraction of the park, the whales, and we believe that that also detracts from the Peninsula Valdes.
We need about two more hours of car to return to Trelew airport, where we had to return it. The office was deserted and the employee arrived 15 minutes late. At the time of payment, the employee rolled up and told us that he would make a reduction in the price charging us a couple of hours less rent.
But when leaving the airport by taxi we realized that we had put more kilometers than we had actually done. We do not know if it was a mistake or he did it on purpose to deceive us. If we had not been in such a hurry, we would have told the taxi driver to return to the airport.
We had to go quickly to the Omnibus de Trelew station to catch the night bus to Bariloche that left at 9:45 p.m. Contrary to what we thought, it was two buses. The first went from Trelew to Esquel, and the second from Esquel to Bariloche. The difference between both buses was only 5 minutes, so it would be practical to get off one bus and immediately get on another.
The tickets we had bought a few days ago in Ushuaia, since we thought that at that time it could be that the buses filled up easily (although at the end we saw that there were several seats available).
We chose semi-bed (seats that recline almost as if they were a bed). In this type of night trips we do not usually skimp on money, since it is about sleeping well to be rested the next day and be able to be at 100%. The seats of Don Otto were very comfortable, reclining almost horizontally and with very practical footrests.
Day 6 - Bariloche
In the course of the night bus from Trelew we had slept quite well. We arrived before the scheduled time (6:25 h) to Esquel, where we had to change buses to get to San Carlos de Bariloche (known in short form as Bariloche ). The trip lasted about 4 hours, during which we enjoyed the Andean landscapes. On the bus from Don Otto we were served a small breakfast that helped us to activate a bit.
Once at the bus station from Bariloche we went to the tourist office where they gave us maps of the buses and schedules of the area, very useful and practical to move around freely.
To go to the city we were going to take an urban bus from the company Grutas, the only one where you can buy the ticket from the driver. As it took so long we decided to share a taxi with a couple of Dutch people who were waiting at the bus stop like us.
Our lodging for the following three days was in the center of Bariloche. The room was fine, although it had no luxury. The bed occupied almost the entire small room, and had a functional closet. Being in the center of Bariloche had a price, and in our case it was 74 USD per night (including breakfast), which we found quite expensive, although we were already getting used to the high prices in Argentina.
At that time there was a great demand for accommodation, since Bariloche is a very popular destination among the people of Buenos Aires. One of the good things about the hotel was the breakfast, with a variety of food (although always sweet) and juices and drinks.
One of the first things we had to solve was the issue of public transport, which is essential to move freely around the region. And it was that a few days ago a new system of urban buses managed by the company 3 de Mayo had been implemented in the city. The most important change they had made was that you could only pay for the buses with a rechargeable card (there were only a couple of bus lines that accepted the payment in cash). And this could only be purchased at the company's main office, on Moreno Street (in front of the hospital), which was packed with people to buy it.
Once we bought the card for the buses we went to the nearby information office of the Nauhuel Huapi National Park, the natural zone where Bariloche is located. And rather we should call it "disinformation office". The girl who took care of us was dedicated to systematically dismantling all the plans we had, the fruit of many hours of searching for information in guides and blogs.
According to her, it was not worth climbing any of the mountains we had planned, above we would not find anything. And for the next day, in which we wanted to make a tour known as Circuito Chico, he recommended us to rent a car, although he also warned us that those heights would not find any available.
We were surprised that he did not advise us to do it by bus as many people had done and as we thought we did. The truth is that we have serious doubts that that girl was well informed of what could be done in that region and how to do it. It seemed that if you did not have a car you could not do anything in Bariloche!
We decided to ignore the disinformation office and go to Cerro Catedral, one of the closest mountains to Bariloche. To get there you have to take the Catedral bus, coincidentally one of the few that accept payment in pesos. While we were waiting for it, we ate the Milanese that we had left over from the previous day. At 14:40 we took the bus, at the end we had been late but luckily in that time the days were very long.
The bus left us at Villa Catedral, a kind of urbanization and resort dedicated to winter sports (Cerro Catedral is one of the most important ski resorts in the region).
To climb the mountain we used a combination of cable car and chairlift. Before going up we were told that a small excursion could be done up to 1 hour, but that we had to be careful to get off at the last chairlift (6:15 pm). We were very attracted to the idea of doing the tour, something that had not been explained to us in the disinformation office.
In half an hour we did the two cable car and chairlift journeys. We thought that at that altitude (about 1,900 m) it would be colder, but it was the same heat as in Bariloche (it seems that we arrived in a heat wave). From the station of the chairlift we were already starting to have fabulous views of Lake Nahuel Huapi and Bariloche. You could also see Cerro Otto, the closest mountain to Bariloche, which has a revolving cafeteria at its top. That is another of the famous mountains that can be climbed to have views of the region, but we did not have any time during the days we were there.
The trail of the excursion was not very well indicated, it started from a track that left the Punta Princesa chairlift station. The excursion itself was not very cool, it ran in a rocky and desolate landscape, with some accumulations of snow. The best were the views that there were to the lake and Bariloche, they were fantastic. The track ended in front of a steep slope covered with fields and snowfields, which had to be climbed where possible. There was no clear path, and the ascent became difficult due to the great unevenness and the instability of the rocks.
When we reached the crest of the mountain we had a reward that rewarded our effort as there were spectacular views! From there we had a view to the west, where the snowy peaks of the Andes stretched. The contrast of rocks, forests and snow had incredible beauty. At our feet the valley of the Rucaco stream opened, with a typically glacial profile. To the south we had the rocky spurs of Cerro Catedral Norte, completely devoid of vegetation, it seemed that it was the entrance to Mordor. That viewpoint we loved, had unforgettable landscapes.
To go down we use the chairlift and the cable car again. We had weighed the idea of doing one of the routes of descent on foot, but the path did not seem very nice. Also, they did not give you the option to buy a single upload ticket. At 18:15 we were already in Villa Catedral and immediately we took the bus to return to Bariloche.
Before going up to the room we went to tour the tourism agencies of the area to hire the tour of the 7 Lakes for after two days. We had been traveling for a week, with the weariness that comes with it, and the idea of doing a tour in which they took us everywhere and that we did not have to worry about anything attracted us. Of the many that can be done in the area we chose the one of the 7 Lakes because it allowed us to see a very large region that we could only explore on our own if we had more days to spend in the region. In all the agencies, the price of the tour was the same, but the discount they made for paying in cash varied greatly.
We went back to the hotel to rest a little and wash the little summer clothes we had. We thought that in Patagonia it would be colder and we had brought summer clothes only for the two days that we were going to be in Buenos Aires. Then we went out to dinner in the center of Bariloche, very lively and full to the brim. We opted for the Cantina de la Rivera, a small restaurant with Argentine cuisine.
From starter we ordered a dish that we really wanted to try, the smoked bite, a set of small smoked or pickled foods to share (similar to the Italian antipasti). They were good, although they had very strong flavors. From the second we ordered trout from the papillote (one of the star products of the lake) and eye of steak with chimichurri (a classic of roasts). Everything was very good. Although the dinner ended up being expensive, since the bite is a dish that is always expensive.
Day 7 - Puerto Panuelo
The day started late for us, we were still tired from the long bus ride from the previous day, from Puerto Madryn. The breakfast at the hotel was quite good, as was usual in Argentina, the sweet predominated, but we were doing well. We set off about 10 o'clock (very late for our usual pace), and we headed to the bus stop. Our plan was to do the Small Circuit for free by bus, although there are options to do it on tour or rental car.
Then the bus 20 passed that took us to Cerro Campanario, the first stop on the route. This is one of the mountains that dominates Lake Nahuel Huapi, with a great viewpoint on its summit that dominates the entire area. To get to the top we use the chairlift, although you can also reach it on foot after exceeding 200m of altitude (we only saw a couple of people who did it).
The view we found on the summit was overwhelming. Before us we had a wonderful panoramaof the whole area, monopolized by Lake Nahuel Huapi to the east. And in the opposite direction the mountains of the Andes rose, whose colors contrasted with those of the lake. It was a blast!
There were several viewpoints oriented towards different directions and we could not resist to contemplate the sight of each one of them with tranquility. The landscape was more beautiful than the one we found the day before in Cerro Catedral, since being further away from Bariloche everything looked greener and better preserved.
We went back down and took the bus again to its final stop, a luxury super-hotel built following the architecture of the region and surrounded by beautiful gardens. Very close to the hotel we come to see Puerto Panuelo, the place where boat trips on the lake depart. The pier was crowded with tourists, we had been told that all tickets were sold out for the next few days. And the vast majority of people were Argentines, which shocked us at first as we thought that the country was experiencing a difficult economic time. We had no intention of doing the tour, but we approached the port as there were beautiful views of the lake.
From there we had to continue the Small Circuit on foot. On the map they had given us at the Tourist Office it seemed that a bus covered the journey, but it really was not like that. A bus told us that there were 3-4 hours walking to the point where you could get another bus. He told us that we could also ride the bike, but in some places there were steep slopes, and you had to be a bit fit.
As it was not too late we decided to start walking, it did not seem like so many hours. Then we arrive at the great Llao-Llao Municipal Park, by which we deviate to walk along one of its paths.
This one did not have any difficulty, it was flat and very wide, thought for all the publics. It was a kind of semi-natural park, where the native coihues alternated with other planted trees. We were delighted to find a small forest of myrtles, a tree easily distinguished by its curious reddish bark.
The path almost always ran between tall trees, so there was not much view of the landscape and sometimes it got a bit boring. There were only a couple of moments in which we had some view, in some viewpoints on the shores of Lake Perito Moreno Oeste. A little further on we found the Escondido lake, but as its name indicates, it was so surrounded by vegetation that it could hardly be seen.
Later we reached the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, at a place called Los Troncos Bay, where there was a small pebble beach with some people sunbathing as if it were a normal beach.
Here the park path ended and we had to continue walking along the shoulder of the busy road to theLopez bay, with beautiful views of the lake. It was a sun of justice and a terrible heat for which we were not very prepared logistically. It's a good thing that someone from up there sent us a miracle in the form of a cold drinks stall, it was our salvation!
At the end of the Lopez bay there was a hotel and, what mattered most to us, the longed for bus stop 10. We had been walking for 3 hours under the inclement sun and we were getting tired. But when we got there we saw that this bus only passed by three times a day, and that the next would take forever to pass.
A guy told us that at 3 kilometers there was a stop where more buses passed and we could arrive by hitchhiking. It was not a system that we have used a lot, but we decided to try since we were a bit righteous at that point.
After 10 minutes, a middle-aged couple stopped in an SUV and had no problem taking us to the bus stop. Before we went to look for their children who came down from Cerro Lopez, one of the steepest and most complicated mountains in the area.
At the bus stop we had bad luck again, the next bus passed after almost 1 hour. So we decided to start walking along the dusty gravel road, it was 4 or 5 km to Colonia Suiza. As before we had done well with the hitchhiking, we decided to try our luck again while we were walking. And after a few minutes we were stopped by a very nice young guy who was driving a dilapidated car, full of empty beer cans and with a puppy dog.
During the short trip we talked about politics and in a few minutes he left us at the Swiss Colony. As its name says, during the 19th century, many Swiss settlers settled here to live off their land. The truth is that we arrived there without knowing what that place would bring, we thought it would be some kind of traditional town.
But all we found was a great artisan fair, some selling Swiss products like cheeses and beer. Scattered here and there, there were a few interesting Swiss buildings, but that did not justify the great trip we had made there. We took to buy a kind of bread stuffed with ham and cheese, we had not eaten almost anything but the heat and fatigue had taken away our hunger.
The Swiss Colony is well known for the curanto, a way of preparing food by roasting, in a hole dug in the ground, meat and vegetables covered with leaves and stones. It requires many hours of cooking, so the curanto does not start serving until night. We were tired and decided not to stay there and return to Bariloche. As there were few buses, the stop was so crowded that the bus quickly filled up and left half of the people on the ground, us among them.
They said that they would send another bus, but we were afraid that we would have to wait for the next one, which would happen after two hours. But finally it arrived and we were able to enter. We were so tired that we decided not to get off at the last point of the Little Circuit, the so-called Panoramic Point, a viewpoint over Lake Perito Moreno Oeste with views over the region. We just wanted to get to the hotel and give us a well-deserved shower.
After resting a little we went out to dinner in Bariloche. We opted for a pasta restaurant. We ordered gnocchi stuffed with olives sauce and lamb tortellini with butter sauce, which were spectacular. For dessert we shared a good pancake of dulce de leche. Along with a Patagonia beer and a soft drink, the dinner include a discount when paying with cash (it is common in all types of establishments).
Day 8 - San Martin de los Andes
A few minutes before 8 o'clock in the morning we went to look for those of with whom we had contracted the tour of the 7 lakes. They caught us in the middle of breakfast and we had to hurry to the room to get our things, we did not expect them to be so punctual. The minibus was picking up the rest of the passengers for their hotels, almost all of them Argentines except a Colombian woman. The driver was a very nice and talkative guy, who was also a guide. Nothing else to start us began to explain a lot of interesting things, both what we saw as more general data.
The first stop was Villa la Angostura, a town located north of Lake Nahuel Huapi. They gave us half an hour to take a tour that we tried to make the most of. It was a very touristic town, full of low wooden houses very well maintained. The guide had explained to us that they had maintained the typical architecture of the area, which had disappeared from the city of Bariloche as a result of uncontrolled urban speculation. The truth is that it was a good place to take a walk, nice and quiet, a good way to start the tour.
Then we made a road trip of a hundred kilometers to see some of the lakes in the area. The first was Lake Espejo, which did not live up to its name, since the day was very cloudy and the lake did not look very pretty. The next was the Correntoso, with a beautiful backdrop of rugged mountains. Then we stopped to see the Escondido, which did honor to its name, since we could only see its surface a bit among the branches of the trees.
Then came the Falkner, the one that we thought was the nicest, with a small beach where you could walk and sunbathe. The last of this section was the Machonico, which we also find cool, although it was probably because the sun came out and we could see it as god mandates. In general, the lakes seemed beautiful to us, but after a few they were all the same. In addition, the stops were five minutes, just enough to take a picture and return to the bus, just the kind of tourism that we usually criticize when we see these tours.
Towards noon we arrived at San Martin de los Andes, where they gave us two hours to eat and take a walk. The first thing we did is find somewhere to eat, to be able to be cheap. It was not going to be an easy thing since that day was the eve of kings and many establishments were closed. In the end, we found a restaurant where they made fantastic empanadas. We ordered one of humita (a pasta based on cooked corn), one of bacon, two of chicken and two of meat. They were delicious, except humita, which was a bit bland.
Then we went for a walk around San Martin de los Andes, which, like Villa la Angostura, had managed to preserve the typical architecture of the region. The houses were also mostly low and made of wood, but we thought they were more authentic here, it was not such a tourist place. We approached Lake Lacar, located at one end of the town, just enough to prove it was another of the many lakes we had seen that day. We spent our time in the Plaza San Martin, in honor of the Argentine general who was decisive for the independence of Argentina and other countries (like Peru, where there are many monuments in his honor).
We got back on the road and we got rid of part of the journey to Villa Traful, a small village that is accessed after a long gravel road. There they left us half an hour for a coffee or a walk (we did the second). More than a village, Villa Traful is a collection of a few houses, including a cafeteria and a small wooden church.
We come to see Lake Traful, one of the largest in the region. There you can do scuba diving to see the so-called Submerged Forest, a large piece of forest that fell off a piece of the mountain and fell into the lake, so that you can dive among the upright trunks of the trees.
We continue the route to the east, with which the landscape changed radically in a few kilometers. We leave behind the lakes and the lush forests to find the arid landscape of the Patagonian steppe. We arrive at Valle Encantado, a valley excavated by the Limay river surrounded by rugged mountains of capricious shapes.
Many rocks had curious shapes and the guide was telling us their names the totem, the finger of God, the nun, the two Basques. It was one of the areas that we liked most of the trip, since it was completely different from what that we had seen until then. Too bad we did not stop to see those rock figures calmly. Yes, we stopped at a place called the Amphitheater, a meander of the Limay that had excavated in the rock a structure similar to an amphitheater.
A while later we arrived again at Bariloche, our starting point. The tour was fine, we saw a lot of things, although in the end it was a bit heavy to see so much lake. It gave us the sensation that almost all the time we threw it into the minibus, foolishly we had made 400 km of route. What we liked the most was the part of Valle Encantado, which was what we saw more quickly, as in passing.
Then we saw that there is another tour called Circuito Grande, in which only the first two lakes (Correntoso and Espejo) are seen and then he goes to Villa Traful, spending more time in Valle Encantado.
Maybe it would have been better than the one we did. Also it must be said that it is a total tourist tour, they take you to the sites so you can take the required photo and then return to the minibus. But as we began to accumulate fatigue from the trip, it was also good that during one day we did not have to worry about anything and that they took us everywhere!
They left us quite late at the hotel, so we just went up to the room to leave the backpack and went out to dinner. We chose a simple restaurant, which advertised some offers of dishes. From them, we chose Provencal trout and stewed deer, which were nothing special. The fish was too salty and the meat had dried out. The best thing about the dinner was the free homemade pate that they put us as a starter, which says little in favor of this restaurant. The other positive thing was the price.
Day 9 - Nahuel Huapi Lake
As our flight to El Calafate was leaving at 1:50 pm, that morning we were not going to have time for much. We decided to go for a walk around Bariloche, since the previous days we had not had much time to see it. The city itself is quite ugly, the tall concrete buildings proliferated without control by the center as they were demolishing the old houses of popular architecture (that yes they have survived in Villa la Angostura or San Martin de los Andes, as we saw the day previous).
We are approaching one of the few places where this architecture is present, the Civic Center. Although it is relatively modern (40s), it was raised using the materials of the region (stone and wood) and respecting its style. We thought it was a good place to have an idea of what Bariloche was like before the real estate speculation that transformed the center forever.
Then we approach the shores of Lake Nahuel Huapi, hoping to find beautiful views. But none of that, its banks in Bariloche are very badly used, there are all kinds of chaotic buildings and even dumps. We returned to downtown, to walk for a while on Miter Street, the heart of San Carlos de Bariloche, full of all kinds of shops and shops.
There were many chocolate shops there, since Bariloche is well known for its chocolate. We entered one of the most famous, who sold many types of chocolate. We are not very chocolatiers, but we tried a little buying a glass of hot chocolate, and we must admit that it was delicious.
After doing some shopping, we returned to the hotel to pick up the backpacks and go to the airport. We had planned to go by bus, but the schedules did not go well, it happened every two and a half hours. In recent days we had made the purpose of saving a little more during the trip, given the rate at which our Argentine pesos disappeared. But that would have to wait, so we took a taxi to go to the airport.
The flight to El Calafate left half an hour late, landing at 3:30 pm. Our plan for the afternoon was to get closer to seeing the Perito Moreno glacier, one of the main reasons to travel to Argentina. You can go in many ways (bus, taxi, tour) but we decided to try our luck first with the rental car.
We asked at all the airport rent-a-car, but none had cars available. We went to Plan B, the taxi, but we thought to go first to our accommodation and ask for it from there, maybe they would meet someone who would make us a good price. To go there we used the only buses that were available to go to the center, some minibuses that took you to your hotel (later we thought that a taxi would have been better priced).
Our accommodation was a B&B located 5 minutes walk from the center and 10 from the bus station. The best of this establishment is without a doubt Bethlehem, its owner, a very nice girl who made us feel at home. Also, as we will see later, it helped us a lot in all the logistical problems that arose. The room was quite spacious and comfortable, although a little old, through the window it was cold glacial air. The price was quite good, including breakfast.
We wanted to go that same afternoon to the Perito Moreno catwalks, some viewpoints in front of the glacial tongue. For the next day we wanted to do the minitrekking on the glacier, which also takes you to the catwalks but only an hour, and we read that to see them well you have to be at least 3 hours. So we thought it was a good idea to go on our own the day before and stay with us as long as we wanted. Three days later we went to El Chalten so we did not have time to do the tour.
The only hope was that some agency had some last minute leave. We hurried back to the lodging. But there was no luck, none of the agencies had places for the next day. As we were very excited about the minitrekking by Perito Moreno, the only thing we could do was completely redo our planning. And we had to change everything to be able to do the minitrekking, interspersing the days of El Chalten within those of El Calafate. Good thing we did not have any flights or something whose date could not be changed! What we could do the next day was navigating the glaciers. We thought it was a great idea, since it was getting done later.
With so little notice and with so much demand there was not much choice. But at that point it was the least of our worries. At least with this planning, we would be able to do the minitrekking, one of the experiences that we most wanted to do on that trip.
All these changes depended on one last thing, that we could buy the bus tickets to El Chalten. We thought that with so much demand for tours there might also be a lot of demand to go to El Chalten, one of the paradises of hiking in Argentina. So we went quickly to the bus station and luckily we got lucky, there were bus tickets for two days later.
We take advantage and buy the tickets to go later to Puerto Natales in Chile. Thank God, finally we had everything from accommodations, tours and transportation! It was an afternoon full of stress and bustle, but at least it had gone well. We would do everything we had proposed, although in a slightly different order.
To finish the preparations for that afternoon, we went through a supermarket to buy some food for the following days. We also collected the laundry and used the laundry service of the hostel. Now we could rest, we had thrown all afternoon going to offices, calling sites, booking tours, buying bus tickets. It was an afternoon unproductive touristy but a lot logistically.
We deserved a good dinner. Although it was going to be a bit complicated, it was kings' day and there were few restaurants open. We finish at the restaurant of a nearby hotel that had varied and quite cheap dishes. From first to share we asked for stuffed matambre, a type of cut of beef that is stuffed with several things (boiled egg, ham, vegetables), it was very good. Then we ordered gnocchi with the four cheeses and salmon ravioli with smoked curry sauce, both also very good. The dinner was well priced.
Day 10 - El Calafate
We woke up with the excitement that this was going to be one of the most special days of the trip, a sensation similar to the one we had the day we went to Machu Picchu years ago. The breakfast at the Hospedaje Lautaro was quite good, based on homemade bread, croissants, homemade jams and butter. Then they came to pick us up for the first adventure of the day, the boat tour, which we booked with the agency through the same hostel.
Like all the activities within the National Park of the South Glaciers, it was done through a company that has a monopoly, with which the prices on all sides is the same. The only thing that changes between agencies is the discount they can make for cash payment.
It's a lot of money, but if you go through half the world it's something you have to do, we've always thought that you can save on transportation, accommodation or meals, but never on tourism.
At 7:15 we were picked up by the bus on a bus that went through the different hotels of the passengers. In half an hour we arrive at Puerto Bandera, the place where the catamarans leave for the glaciers. Before boarding, we had to make a long line to pay the entrance fee to the park. Then we went to the boat that corresponded to us, which released mooring at 9 o'clock.
The boat was full to the brim, and we soon realized that the outer observation decks were very small compared to the number of people there. We were advancing through the North Arm of Lake Argentino, in the middle of a fjord so big that we could hardly see its banks.
After an hour of sailing we started to see some large pieces of ice floating in the water. In the background we could see over the horizon a long white horizontal line, which did not look like a glacier since it was too long. But as we got closer we realized that yes it was, we could not believe it, it was huge!
We were in front of the Upsala glacier, the third largest in South America, more than the well-known Perito Moreno. It should have an ice front of more than 3 km, we had never seen anything like it. The glaciers we saw in Iceland looked like a miniature next to this one. The pity was that the boat did not come too close.
Even so, we could see how its large ice tongue fed on a pair of smaller lateral glaciers. It was amazing to see such a big glacier. The negative of the moment was what we already smelled, the cover was so small that it could not accommodate everyone, with what the agglomeration became overwhelming.
Then the catamaran headed for the huge icebergs that had detached from the Upsala glacier. On this occasion, it was quite close, so we could see them very well (besides, not all the people showed up to see them). The day was quite cloudy, but at that moment the sun came out a bit, giving us the beautiful blue tones that were reflected on the ice. They even hoisted a small fragment so that people could touch it. It is a pity that I did not stop there any longer, but the experience was very good.
Next we went to the Spegazzini glacier, located further south. This time we caught quite unexpectedly, after a bend in the fjord we saw the glacier, luckily David had already occupied positions on the deck to have a good place. At first we did not see much, it was smaller than the Upsala. But the boat was getting closer and closer until it was almost below a high mass of ice. We are left speechless.
If the most spectacular of the previous glacier was its extension, this was its height. And is that the Spegazzini is the highest glacier in this area (double that of Perito Moreno). And if its height was not enough, the boat came so close that we could see perfectly its walls of ice. His bluish reflections only enlarged his icy beauty.
The ship covered all its ice front, so that we could see how the blocks were leaning dangerously towards the water. It was an incredible experience, it seemed difficult to us that day we saw something more impressive than that place. But Perito Moreno was missing!
We returned to Puerto Bandera, where we arrived at 2:00 p.m. We take the trip back to eat some super food and take stock of the tour. The two glaciers seemed spectacular, although at the time of seeing them from the decks it was a bit overwhelming due to the crowds of people. We thought it was a good idea to see these two glaciers so as not to see only Perito Moreno (as many people do), since this national park has many of them and very few are accessible.
In Puerto Bandera we take the car that we had agreed the day before to take us to see Perito Moreno. Since we had already paid for the entrance to the park to do the navigation, we did not have to do it again (if we had done the previous day yes, the tickets are only worth a single day, despite how expensive they are).
We went to park, we had almost all afternoon to see the glacier with tranquility. For the enjoyment of the visitors, there is a system of walkways at different heights that allow to cover the several kilometers of its ice tongue of Perito Moreno. The distances between the viewpoints are more or less large, so it takes a few hours to enjoy all the views they offer.
We went with emotion to the first balcony, the most central and highest viewpoint of all (the only one accessible for the disabled). As we went down the catwalk, we began to see the immense ice tongue of Perito Moreno that seemed to emerge from the coihue forest. We were mesmerized by its beauty, we had not walked almost anything and we could not move from our site.
Without taking our eyes off the glacier, we reached the viewpoint of the first balcony, where the view was incredible before us stretched a huge wall of ice, spectacular blue tones. We were surprised by the unevenness of its surface, with huge cracks and sharp ridges. Although we had seen the glacier in many photos, his vision deeply impressed us. We had fulfilled a dream!
We could enjoy the views of the glacier, since the walkway was so long that you could really see it almost from any point. So that, although there were many visitors, he enjoyed great tranquility. We go down to the second balcony, which is closer to the level of the ground and the glacier. Here we could see the glacier almost in front and at a short distance, and the truth is that its height imposed. The glacier was full of beautiful details, it was not a homogeneous mass of ice. And when the sun came out it was a festival of colors.
Some blocks of ice seemed to hold in a precarious balance. In fact, from the second balcony we could see some pieces of ice floating in the lake. With the calm that was breathed it is possible to hear the noises that the glacier produces, when the cracks in the ice open when advancing.
Every once in a while we heard a great roar when a large block of ice rushed over the lake. Although it was produced very quickly, a few times we could see it live and it was amazing. And the best part is that we were able to capture it with the camera. In those moments is when you appreciate that the camera has a quick shot.
Time flew past us before the spectacle we had before us. We go to the viewpoints of the Lower Circuit, which are located to the south. Although we had spent time admiring the views of Perito Moreno, those of the Lower Circuit seemed fascinating to us. On the one hand, it allowed us to see a part of the glacier that we could not see from the other viewpoints. On the other, it had two heights, so you could have more perspective when you went up the catwalk above.
We retraced part of the way to the footbridges of the so-called Central Circuit to the north balcony. Again, there was a different perspective, where the north front of the glacier is best seen. After marveling with new unforgettable views, we continued along the footbridges of the coastal path, a path that continued to the parking lot. Here the views were not so good, since the road was moving away from the glacier and the view of the whole was lost.
In just over three hours we gave up our visit to the observation bridges of Perito Moreno. We are very happy with its wonderful views. Despite the high expectations we had, not only did not disappoint us but it surpassed them. As much as we saw Perito Moreno on every walkway, from each viewpoint the view was different, it was like having a different glacier in front of us. For us it was worth it to spend the whole afternoon to contemplate it well, at our pace and without haste. Without a doubt, it was the main reason to visit Argentina, so all the time invested in it seemed little to us.
We go back to El Calafate. The trip was long, so we gave him a little patience. We returned to the hotel to rest and shower as it had been one day the sea of intense. We found a person who inspired great confidence and talking to her immediately was as if we knew her for life. For dinner we had to wait half an hour to have a table.
We ask for the regional dish par excellence, the roasted lamb, which they brought with salad and potatoes. The meat was delicious, although there were some very good pieces and others not so many (with more fat or bone). We ended up so full that we could not finish all the meat. The dinner was expensive although you have to take into account the quality of the food.
Day 11 - El Chalten
That morning we had to reassemble the backpack to make a new trip. We had to leave El Calafate to go to El Chalten, known as the Mecca of trekking, although days later we would return to El Calafate to do the mini trekking by Perito Moreno. We walk to the bus station to take the bus from Caltur to El Chalten. There were so many people that they had to put three buses to take us all. Yes, the profile of the people was similar, here and there were mountain boots, windscreens, trekking sticks. And there is only one reason to go to El Chalten. It is to walk.
The trip lasted three hours and before leaving us in the town, the bus made a stop at the office of the National Park of the North Glaciers. There a guard gave us a brief talk with advice and warnings for hikers, especially for those who camped on the mountain, as well as distributing simple but useful maps (more than enough for trekking).
For those of us who stayed for the night in El Chalten, he advised us to make the Laguna Torre excursion that day, just as we had thought, since at that time we would not have time to make other longer and more popular ones (especially the one in Laguna de los Tres, which we would do the next day).
From the El Chalten bus station we only had to walk five minutes to our accommodation for those days. It was a real mystery what we were going to find in him, since we had not reserved it ourselves. At first we had booked the nearby Hotel, but days ago we had to change our planing and those of the hotel told us that they had no place (as they say there) for the new dates, but they relocated us to Los Nires, of which they are also owners. On the outside, the building was quite filthy and left, but inside the thing changed a lot spacious and comfortable interiors, full of wood.
We were awarded a triple room with a bathroom, so it was huge. It was not a luxury, but it perfectly fulfilled its function (providing a place to sleep). The room came for 60 USD with breakfast, a good value for money as it is an expensive place to sleep. The bad thing was the little wifi signal, you could only pick up something in the hall.
Then we changed clothes and put on our hiking boots to get going. The Laguna Torre excursion has a slight difference in altitude (about 200 m) and it takes 6 hours in total. As it was 12 noon, this trip was ideal for us. One of the good things about El Chalten is that almost all the excursions leave the same town, you do not have to take any transport to get close to the point of departure. Just leaving our hostel we were already starting the tour.
The path formally started at Las Loicas street in El Chalten, a sign clearly indicated it. The first section was devastating, had to overcome a gap of 100 m in little space, almost without having time to warm up the muscles. The stony slope through which we climbed was dominated by steppe vegetation, especially the neneo, a large thorny shrub that colored the landscape yellow because of the color of its flowers.
When we reached the top of that hill we had a good perspective of El Chalten, a modern town, founded to take possession in the name of Argentina of that area that was also disputed by Chile. Then we reach a high plateau where they began to grow the first Nires, the typical tree of the Patagonian forests.
The trail ran through the upper part of a canyon dug by the Fitz Roy River, so for a long time, we did not have to overcome slopes. We reached a lookout over a waterfall on the other side of the canyon, but it did not seem like much to us.
We had to climb a hill to get to the Mirador Torre, a place from where there are fantastic views of the valley of the Fitz Roy River and the mountains that surround Laguna Torre. We realized that the sky was so cloudy that we could not see Cerro Torre, one of the attractions of that excursion. Although at that point we did not care either, we were enjoying the walk and the landscapes that gave us those mountains.
We went down to the wide valley of the Fitz Roy River, where the path adopted a very gentle slope. The landscape changed drastically, immediately we were engulfed by a huge forest of lengas. For a long time we walked between the great forest, the mighty river and some vertiginous mountains, we could not ask for more to that landscape! At the moment, El Chalten seemed to us to be true to its reputation as a hiking paradise.
We already had little to complete the excursion, only to overcome the 50 meters of unevenness of the materials left by the old ice tongue that formed the valley. And finally we arrived, we had before us the fantastic Laguna Torre! It is a large lake of glacial origin, whose waters are born from the Grande glacier, which we could guess at the other end. The lagoon was surrounded by spectacular mountains, but it was so cloudy that we could not see the most unique, Cerro Torre, a great granitic pinnacle.
We sat for a while to eat our supermarket food while watching the lagoon and its mountains. After a little recreation and rest, we begin the ascent to the Maestri viewpoint. It is a path that goes up slope up to a viewpoint located in front of the Grande glacier. Since it took an hour to walk and overcome more than 150 m of altitude, we decided to make only one piece, the one necessary to have a little sight.
The legs were beginning to weigh us! When we reached a small hill we decided to stop and settle for the views we had, which were not bad at all. From the Laguna Torre, the Grande glacier had seemed to us little thing, but from there we could see its spectacular ice tongue.
After we started the return to El Chalten, we did not want to be late. Although at that time of year it did not get dark until quite late and the days could be used enough. In the end we did the tour in 7 hours, a good time considering the stops to take photos and the food. Despite not seeing the Cerro Torre, the trip we liked a lot because of the variety of its landscapes and its little difficulty.
The destination wanted that when we arrived in El Chalten the first trade we saw was an ice cream parlor. With the dust and thirsty facts that we were not thinking, we deserved a prize. The ice cream was delicious.
Then we went to buy something cheap for dinner, on that trip we were spending too much on restaurants. And eating or dining cheap for us meant empanadas. We found a place where they sold them and we bought tuna, caprese, meat and spinach. In a super close we also buy drinks and a yogurt for dessert. So we organized dinner in the room, and we were able to get into bed right away. We were bursting with the excursion, but for the next day we expected a longer walk to what would become for us the most beautiful mountain in the world, the Fitz Roy.
Day 12 - Fitz Roy
We got up early as we expected one of the most famous excursions of El Chalten, but also the most physically demanding. It was the trek to the Los Glaciares National Park. It is an 8-hour walk with a positive slope of more than 900 m. The main attraction of the trip was to see the unique peak of Fitz Roy, although as the previous day we had had such a cloudy weather that we did not know if we would see it.
Therefore, the first thing we did when we awoke was to look out the window. And we had two good surprises. One, that the sky was almost clear, and two, that from the window we could already see the Fitz Roy in the distance. There was no doubt that this was going to be a perfect day for an excursion.
To begin the route just had to leave the village to the north, where a clear sign indicates the point of beginning. It was noted that it is the most famous trekking in El Chalten, then the trail was filled with hikers. The road rose gently up a slope, so the first effort was not very hard. Halfway down we reached the viewpoint of the Las Vueltas river, where there was a nice view of the wide valley that formed the river of the same name, at the bottom of which is El Chalten.
We continue ascending progressively up the mountain, with an arid landscape dominated by thorny neneo bushes. While we were following the road we saw how the majestic Fitz Roy stood on the horizon. There were still many hours to get to Laguna de los Tres, but at least we started to see it. Although the rise was gradual, we were running out slowly.
Fortunately, we soon reached a kind of high plateau covered in nires, with strange shapes molded by the wind. Shortly after we reached an intersection. One branch led to the Laguna Capri, and the other, which we took, to the Monte Fitz Roy. And the view we found was unforgettable emerging from the forest of nires, there stood the formidable Fitz Roy, with its curious shape that seemed to be sculpted in the granite.
We were impressed, we did not expect to see the mountain so soon and so well. Undoubtedly, seeing things like that makes it worth traveling thousands of kilometers. A tip for those who want to see the Fitz Roy and do not want to do the 8 hours of the complete tour. A very good option is to get to this viewpoint, as it only takes an hour and a half.
As of that moment, the Fitz Roy was our excursion partner, we never lost sight of him. That made us keep such a good memory of the trip. Although looking so much at the mountain made us sometimes stumble over some stone. The road continued to run near a stream on a flat and somewhat boring terrain. Finally we arrived at the Poincenot camp, the main campsite in the area, which was quite full of tents. Take the opportunity to rest a little and eat nuts to regain strength.
Then came the most difficult part of the excursion, a true legbreaker climbof 400 m of unevenness and great inclination. In fact, at the beginning of the climb there is a sign that warns that only the people who are in good physical shape make the ascent. It was not our case, but from the beginning we already knew that we had to go calmly.
There was a first section that did not seem so hard, even being tired, the worst was the terrain, very stony, and you had to be careful where you got your foot. But then came a much worse section, the most exhausting climb we have ever made in life. The path was zigzagging all the time between the rocks on the slope. Precisely the rocks that were on the road were the worst. We have never tired so much, although we could enjoy the beautiful views of the altiplano where we had come from.
When it seemed that we reached the top, we saw that there was one more hill to climb, luckily the path was not so rocky. Luckily it was a small obstacle, immediately we reached the base of the Laguna de los Tres, and the view we found left us breathless above the lagoon there was the immense Piedras Blancas glacier, and above it, the majestic Fitz Roy.
There we had it, so close that it seemed we could touch it. To his left are the needles of Poincenot and Saint-Exupery, other popular peaks in mountaineering and equally rugged. The alpine landscape that surrounded the Fitz Roy did nothing but increase its wild beauty.
In total we had taken 4 hours and a half to climb, something more than expected. We had a good time taking pictures and contemplating that wonderful set. Moving around was difficult, since the entire eastern part of the lake is covered by a large rocky cliff, with no path or flat surface to walk on. On the southern edge of the lake we find a viewpoint towards the Sucia lagoon, a lake that was almost hidden at the bottom of the mountains. We returned to Laguna de los Tres for a little lunch on its shores, we could not think of a better scenario to enjoy a meal based on energy bars and fruit.
When we finished eating, a big storm arose and began to cloud quickly. The radiant sky we had had in the morning became threatening in a matter of a few minutes. We decided to start lowering, a good decision since it started to drizzle a little later. The descent was very heavy, obviously not as tired as the climb, but it caused a tremendous pain in the legs.
Halfway down the slope we saw that a person from the park is preventing people from climbing the mountain, we thought it was due to bad weather. What a disappointment the people who had been walking for hours and who needed so little to reach the Laguna de los Tres should go.
Later we learned that it was because of the death of a girl who was ascending to the lagoon; Due to the great effort he had a heart attack, and although they tried to revive her, the guards could not do anything for his life. Although we really did not see anything, we found it a real misfortune.
In the Poincenot camp, we went back to rest a bit, since being inside a forest was sheltered from the wind that continued to blow. We still had three hours of walking, and although the weather was not good, at least it did not get much worse. At the intersection we took the path that went to Laguna Capri, to vary a bit of landscape. The lagoon itself did not seem like a big deal, although if it was sunny it might have been different.
For the rest of the way we were like the walking dead. In total it took us 9 hours to complete the tour. It was very exhausting, but the incredible views of Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres made up for the effort. Without a doubt, it was the excursion that we liked most of all that we did in Patagonia (including the Chilean Torres del Paine). And as unusual as it may seem, if they asked us to choose between the famous Perito Moreno and the Fitz Roy, it would be difficult for us to decide.
We do not know how we got to El Chalten, we think that at that point the legs were already working alone. Before going through the hotel we decided to have something hot, we deserved it! There was not much offer at reasonable prices. We ordered a garlic chicken and pumpkin gnocchi with four cheese sauce. The chicken was good, but the gnocchi failing sauce, too insipid. Along with a beer and an apple juice.
Day 13 - Fitz Roy
That morning it was very difficult for us to get up, we had our bodies ground after the excursions to Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres. Seen in the state that we were, we decided to take that day more relax and make the excursion to the viewpoints of the Condors and the Eagles, one of the shortest that can be done around El Chalten.
In addition, the weather changed radically compared to the previous day, it was very cold and windy, and it was completely cloudy. We realized the luck we had the day before in the Fitz Roy, with the day so the trekking would have been a disappointment.
The trails start from the office of the Glacier National Park north, which we entered to see a small but interesting exhibition on those mountains, with information on flora, fauna and gea, the history of mountaineering, etc. Between some things and others we started walking at 11:30. The path climbed gently up a rocky slope covered by neneos, a thorny thicket of yellow flowers.
In less than an hour, we reached the viewpoint of Los Condores, from where there were interesting views of El Chalten and the valley that forms the Vueltas River. It was a pity that on that cloudy day the mountains could not be seen, on clear days you can see the Fitz Roy from there.
We continued the road to the other viewpoint, which was a little further south. The path continued to climb gently along a path with some forests of nires whipped by the wind. Half an hour later we arrived at the lookout of Las Aguilas, which had a view of Lake Viedma. We thought we would see the Viedma glacier in the distance, the largest in Argentina and the second in the southern hemisphere, but it was further west, covered by mountains. The view did not kill, and it gave us the feeling that in good weather they would not be great either.
We returned to El Chalten after two hours in the viewpoints. We were walking around its streets for a while, but the cold and the wind had stripped the little life that was there. We tried to enter a couple of places to eat something but there was almost no free place, it was when we realized that all the people were in the bars and restaurants of the town.
At the end we found a table in Porter, a bar-pizzeria where we ordered a zucchini and parmesan pizza along with the drinks. It was not bad at all and we were quite full despite being one pizza.
Then we went to a bakery to buy empanadas for dinner at night, since we would arrive late to El Calafate. We also used to buy some food packed in a supermarket for the following days. In El Chalten, it was essential to go shopping in the supermarkets before the afternoon, when the hikers arrive who flee their shelves. When the time came, we went back to the hostel to pick up the backpacks and went to the bus station, where our bus from Caltur to El Calafate was leaving.
We arrived in El Calafate without problems after 3 hours of tedious travel. We walked to the accommodation for that night which we found hard to find, since it was in a secluded and unpaved street. On the outside it promised a lot, it was a nice wooden house very well looked after. But upon seeing our room everything changed. It was very seedy, small and completely lacking in furniture (well, there was a chair).
As it was a hostel, there were many people coming and going, and at night there was a lot of noise. We could console if the site was cheap, but neither was it. It is a lodging that we would advise against totally, luckily we were only there one night.
Day 14 - Perito Moreno
That day we woke up before our time because of the great noise that was in the hostel. It's what you want to save on accommodation, you end up in hostels where people think they do not sleep. Breakfast was really spartan, based on bread, butter and jam, and coffee and powdered milk. We were soon picked up by the minitrekking minibus by Perito Moreno. We had booked it days ago, since at that time there was a lot of demand.
The tour plan is to go by bus to Puerto Bajo las Sombras, take a boat to cross Lake Argentino, then a short walk to the base of the glacier and finally put on the crampons and do the minitrekking on the ice.
The tour includes a bit of time on the observation bridges of Perito Moreno, which can be played before or after the minitrekking. We had already been on the catwalks a few days ago, since in the tour they only leave you a couple of hours and we wanted to see them with tranquility (we had read that sometimes they only leave you one hour). The tour is one of the most expensive in the area, but we were very excited to do so we had no other to pay.
The journey by bus was heavy, it took two hours to reach the Perito Moreno visitor center. We did not arrive in the best of days, an intense rain fell on the area and it was very cloudy. They gave us more than two hours to be on the catwalks. That day so leaden made the ice had a very blue tones, a totally different to that we found days ago. Although we had already seen it, the glacier did not stop impressing us with its immense ice tongue. We stayed for a while on the first balcony, which had a covered part that allowed us to protect ourselves a bit from the rain.
Then we went down to the second balcony where we had the glacier more in front. What impressed us most was the blue color of the ice, very different from the days ago. We were more than an hour by the catwalks, the rain that fell with force and the cold made that we went to shelter the cafeteria of the visitors center, where we had a hot chocolate at the price of gold. We took the opportunity to eat some of our food, we did not know when we would have the time to do it again.
At the agreed time, the bus picked us up and took us to Puerto Bajo las Sombras. There we took a small boat to cross a narrow arm of Lake Argentino, just in front of the imposing Perito Moreno glacier. We got off the boat in a small port and were taken to some small cabins where there were services and things could be left that were not needed.
Then the monitors led us through some wooden platforms to the base of the glacier, where they divided us into groups. We had the Perito Moreno a few meters away, and although the ice wall was not as high as in its central part (the one that overlooks the observation walkways), its presence imposed. Best of all, the rain that had accompanied us all morning ceased.
The monitors began to fit the crampons around the world to walk on the ice, which were quite simple. For us it was inevitable to compare that experience with the one we had in Iceland, on a tour through a language of the Vatnajokull glacier from which we keep a great memory. On that occasion, the crampons looked better, and they also gave us a helmet, ice ax and harness, although it was also a longer walk.
Our group was the first to walk on the ice, we were very excited. We were dictated by very strict rules, we had to move in a straight line and without stopping. And they also gave us some guidelines for walking safely through the glacier. Immediately we were impressed by the immensity of Perito Moreno's ice, it seemed that its extension never ended, and that we were at one extreme. The best thing of all was to be able to touch and see up close the ice of the glacier, something completely different to see it in the distance.
From time to time we stopped in flat areas and the monitors explained things about the glacier, or showed us fissures in the ice. We were able to drink some water in one of the small rivulets that crossed the surface of the glacier, more pure impossible. There were some sections a bit difficult with some inclination, but the monitors were attentive to help people, that tour was intended for all audiences (unlike the one we did in Iceland, which was a bit more demanding).
In case the glacier show was not enough, we were lucky that the sun came out. The ice acquired different shades, shining as if we were walking through the sun itself. The circuit was finished in a very original way, in the middle of the glacier they had prepared a table with glasses and several bottles of whiskey to prepare a whiskey with ice from Perito Moreno. We gave for that great experience!
In the end we were a little less than two hours on the ice. The minitrekking we liked a lot, the landscapes that are seen on the same glacier are completely different to what can be seen from other places. And to see so closely the ice is an unforgettable experience. The negative is that on the walk you are traveling the same way that the previous groups have walked, so the ice is so crushed by so many crampons that sometimes it seemed that you walked on gravel. Apart from that little detail, the minitrekking was one of the most intense memories we took from this trip.
It was mid-afternoon when they returned us to the hostel in El Calafate. Days ago we had made a change in the planning and we had not been able to find two nights in a row in a cheap accommodation in El Calafate. So we had to pick up the backpacks and cross the town to go to the accommodation that night. We chose it mainly for its location, it is very close to the bus station and the next morning we had to take one very soon.
The room was acceptable, somewhat shabby but spacious, and had a washbasin with shower quite correct. The worst thing is that in the whole room there was only one plug, and it was located two meters above the ground, we had to juggle the short cables of the chargers. The price was too expensive, considering that breakfast was not included. But we had already learned that in Argentina for that amount we could only aspire to a seedy or justito place.
With the moral through the clouds after the fantastic trekking by the Perito Moreno decided to give us a good tribute to dinner. We ordered a meat grill for two, along with a red wine from Mendoza. It was very varied, with lamb, chorizo, chicken, blood sausage. We liked it very much, since the pieces of lamb that were there were mostly very juicy ribs. What a feast!
Day 15 - La Boca
Who was going to tell us? It was our last day of travel! It had been three weeks exploring Patagonia and almost without realizing the trip was coming to an end. Maybe that's why it took us a little more time to get up that day. The breakfast was very spartan, only milk, coffee and croissants (which ended in a flash). Our plan was to explore the neighborhoods of the south and center of Buenos Aires, since the first day of the trip we had already seen some of the north (specifically, La Recoleta and Palermo).
We began our visit by the neighborhood located further south, La Boca. But first, we went to buy a rechargeable transport card in a booth, which can be used both on the buses and on the subway. As that day we were going to take many transports, we decided to buy that card. To go to La Boca, the hotel told us that it was best to take the bus, which had a stop nearby.
In addition, he left us right in front of El Caminito, the most known place in La Boca. It is a street where the typical houses of the working class called conventillos, painted with striking colors, have been preserved. It must be one of the most touristic places in Buenos Aires, although at that time of the morning it looked a bit sleepy.
We loved their low houses made of wood and veneer and their strident colors, there is not an equal place in the whole city. In many balconies there were caricatured figures of Argentine personalities, and two stood out above them, the legendary Diego Armando Maradona and Pope Francisco, of whom the Argentines are very proud. It must be said that not all the neighborhood of La Boca is like El Caminito, there are only conventillos on this street.
After leaving El Caminito, we went to take a look at La Bombonera, the mythical state of Boca Juniors football. You could visit a club museum, but we were not so interested. Near the entrance there was a kind of "walk of fame", with the footprint of the team's most legendary players. And around the stadium the shops sold all kinds of products for the "xeneizes" (nickname of their followers), and even the houses were painted in the club's blue and yellow colors.
After an hour in La Boca we went to Brown Avenue to get a new bus that went to the north, to get closer to the next neighborhood, San Telmo. It is one of the most charming areas of the city, with beautiful colonial buildings and cobbled streets. And his best example was the Plaza Dorrego, which is the heart of the neighborhood. We approached to see its market, where it was sold from food to antiques, and it seemed that it had known better times. Another area that we liked a lot was the Defensa street, where we happened to find a monument to Mafalda, because its creator Quino lived in that area.
Continuing down Defensa Street we enter the neighborhood of Microcentro, whose name already says it all. This is where all the most important buildings in the country are concentrated, a true political and financial center. Before arriving in that area, we visited a church, that of Our Lady of the Rosary.
It reflects one of the most important events in Argentine history of the defense of the British invasion in the early nineteenth century by local militias, abandoned to their fate by the Spanish crown. This fact breathed so much encouragement in the Argentines that two years later the country declared independence. All this area was witness to violent combats, and on the facade of this church you can see the reproductions of projectile holes, since the British had to take refuge in it.
A little later we found the true center of the city, the Plaza de Mayo. It is a large and pleasant place to walk, surrounded by beautiful colonial buildings. One of the most beautiful is the Cabildo, and hosts an interesting exhibition that explains the independence of Argentina. Next to it is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which we did not find very spectacular, except for the tomb of General San Martin, the venerated liberator of the country.
Then we walked a bit through the same square, and although he always has one or another protest placard, we did not find any trace of the popular mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. At the other end of the square is the Casa Rosada, the official residence of the president of the republic.
We continue our walk north on Florida Street, a pleasant pedestrian street full of shops and life. In it there are a lot of street money changers, since there is currently a great restriction when buying foreign currency for Argentines. Everywhere we had read that they were not reliable, so we decided to change our surplus pesos later (although they already warned us that it could be difficult due to this restriction).
Then we arrive at the Republic Square and July 9 Avenue, one of the widest in the world. Although it had many landscaped areas, it gave us the feeling of having reached a highway. In this avenue is the Teatro Colon, an institution in the city that has nothing to envy to the great European theaters. We wanted to visit it inside, but it could only be seen on guided tours and for the next we had to wait a long time. By the way, the entrance to the theater is worth 180 pesos, while in the Lonely Planet it is worth 20. The prices of the guides are quickly out of date in this country.
We went back to take a bus and went to the Congreso neighborhood, where our accommodation was to end the visit to the city. We toured the Congressional Plaza with the great Palace of the Argentine National Congress in the background, inspired from the US White House. The square had many gardens and Baroque memorials, with what looked like we were in any Central European country.
For lunch we chose the restaurant located at an angle of the same square. We ordered Lamb Loin Mini-Steak (which to be mini, had a respectable size) and agnolotti of ricotta and walnuts (it's a ravioli-like paste, but with square edges). It was quite good and the price seemed great including drinks and a dessert. During the coffee, we talked for a while with our guide about the places we had visited and commented on the political situation in the country.
We return to our hotel to pick up our backpacks and start the trip to the airport. It was still early, but along the way we wanted to change our Argentine pesos, since we were afraid of not being able to do it at the airport (as it happened when we arrived at the beginning of the trip). Our plan was to go to a Florida street exchange office, although its change was worse than that of the street moneychangers.
The previous day we had located a few online, so (we thought) it would be easy. We took the subway to the Florida station. But everything was more difficult than we expected as all were closed or no longer existed. We had decided to change Argentine pesos to US dollars, to have some cash on our scale in New York. The change offered was terrible.
Once again at the metro station, we resumed our trip to Retiro, where the buses are the best system to go by public transport to the Ezeiza airport. They leave every half hour.
We arrived at Ezeiza airport with little time, and we checked the backpacks without problems. Our American Airlines flight departed promptly at 9:45 PM, and we were soon served dinner. We got a surprisingly good pasta dish. The rest of the time in the flight we spent sleeping, or trying to sleep because of the constant turbulence that there was. But the trip does not end here. We expected a long stop in New York that we took advantage of to walk around the city a bit. But we'll tell you that in the next post!
We would leave Argentina for a while and explore some of the Chilean Patagonia for three days. El Calafate is a few hours by bus from the Torres del Paine National Park, a spot on Chilean soil with incredible landscapes that we wanted to see