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El Chalten & El Calafate

And here we go, another crossing! Back to Argentina. We headed for the popular areas of El Chalten and El Calafate, and the quickest way there was the desolate Ruta 40. From Chile Chico we crossed over to Los Antiguos and headed south. The landscape was barren, rolling hills, with massive clouds, tons of wind and herds of guanacos running around. The sky was so expansive that the blue near the horizon was a completely different shade from the blue up above us, creating a beautiful ombre effect through the clouds. We saw 5 cars pass us the whole day, and that number is probably an exaggeration in itself. About two hours into our trip we saw some very European looking backpackers trying to avoid the wind but still stick a thumb out for a ride. Noemie and Tomas, from France, are travelling around South America and had successfully hitchhiked around for a while now. That day they had only waited about an hour for a ride. We chatted about past and future travel plans as we drove with them tucked in the back of Pedro. That evening we couldn’t make it all the way to El Chalten and dropped them in a small town, which was the easiest place for them to find somewhere to sleep. We headed further on to Lago Cardiel where we found a flat spot on a little dirt road. The place was quiet and free and the stars were beautiful.

The next morning we got a very early start and drove off with the bed left out which we rarely do. That translates to me still lying in the sleeping bag in the back riding peacefully along while Eric tries not to lose his mind driving over the washboard roads in the early hours of the day. Midafternoon, as we turned the car west we caught our first glimpse of the Fitz Roy range. The views get better by the second as you drive towards the small town of El Chalten, which is the only thing nestled in the valley beneath the recognizable jagged peaks.

We showed up rather unprepared for some backpacking in terms of food, mapping, planning, motivation, etc. We were (literally) happy campers just wandering around the tiny tourist town. The first evening we went to the busy, La Cerveceria for some of their brews. We ended up chatting with an older man, Alex, from Buenos Aires. This was his 10+ trip to El Chalten as a bus driver and chaperone. At the end of every school year he brings a group of senior high school boys on a backpacking trip. He also has 11 kids of his own and admitted to having a favorite child without question. Alex was amazingly kind and invited us for an Argentinian meal when we made it to his side of the country. He said not to come on Sundays though because that’s spaghetti night at his mother in law’s home and he couldn’t guarantee how long he could keep all his kids away while we ate. He said he couldn’t rest that night until he saw Pedro and actually found us eating dinner somewhere else in town and requested that Eric give him a tour of our home. We think he might have been a little disappointed, but hey, it’s good that we hype Pedro up.

After seeing the mass influx of people walking with trekking poles on the sidewalks, hearing about the 32 high school seniors ready for tomorrow and seeing the tour busses roll on in, we decided to steer towards Cerro Torre rather than the famous Fitz Roy. It was more of a day hike, but we carried in what we needed to stay the evening, to not be rushed and hang out in our tiny tent. The trail was busy but it was perfect weather and we talked with other travelers as we went. We met a woman who knew a close friend of ours from Breckenridge, Colorado. She is a journalist and was travelling to Antarctica the following week. We also met a great couple from the States who were travelling around the world. That is an adventure on a whole different level, with more cultures and more countries but less flexibility in the physical travel with being limited only to public transport. Once we arrived at the towers we took photos and enjoyed the sunshine. It started to get very busy in the late afternoon with the stragglers making their way in and we left for a little while to set up our camp. We returned at sunset and the mass of people were gone. Eric, myself and some sort of coyote looking friend were the only three left. That night we sipped on our little whiskey flask and Eric made his newest camp pot concoction of ramen and instant ‘papas’. The cold got to us around 3 am when I double bagged myself into Eric’s sleeping bag.

We woke up in no huge rush, knowing our walk out would be easy and our drive only a few hours to the next town. We got back to our little room just in time to take a quick nap and a long shower. Everything got stuffed into Pedro and we said we would worry about it at the next destination. With empanadas in hand we turned towards El Calafate to experience the first glacier Eric and I had ever seen.

The town of El Calafate was larger and busier than we had expected. We found a central place in town that we could wander around from. It was a perfect time to continue mastering our empanada expertise and catch up on the blog. We had a full day of nothing, which was a great recharge. The next morning we were beyond excited to get to Los Glaciers National Park. Unfortunately, with a place so extraordinary there also comes a hefty entrance fee, but this was a time to suck it up and just enjoy. From the second that you could see the Perito Moreno Glacier it was stunning. The park has created quite a tourist center with well-kept grounds, $12 cocktails with “glacial ice” and boat rides to get up close and personal. We, of course, took advantage of the only free amenity. The park also created a beautiful walk way that winds along the shore opposite to the glacier, with large viewing platforms and seating. This was a place and experience that both Eric and I enjoyed immensely. The size alone is mind blowing, along with the spectrum of colors in the ice from brilliant white to jolly rancher blue and the depth of the ice field that you can barely make out as it winds up through the mountains. The sound of the ice cracking and moaning was something we had never heard and was beautifully eerie. The idea that this mass of ice shy of 20 miles long is still advancing is incredible. Pictures can’t do it much justice but we tried all the same.

The Perito Moreno Glacier was the type of beauty where as you are walking or driving away you keep turning your head again and again to catch just one last glimpse, to remember as much of it is you can. Next up is another border crossing back to Chile!

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