El Calafate - Argentina
Welcome to our new adventure, the 'Argentina Chapter'. Over three weeks, we have pre-booked our travels with Exploration Journeys for the highlights of Argentina. We have five destinations, and all transfers, flights, accommodations and excursions have been taken care of by the lovely Fred at Exploration Journeys. We only need to show up and enjoy; let's hope we don't get too used to this.
During our second week in Argentina, we explore El Calafate, a town near the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in the Argentine province of Santa Cruz. It's mainly known as the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, home to the massive Perito Moreno Glacier (below), whose ever-shifting icy landscape is popular for hiking and sightseeing.
Day 1 - El Calafate, Argentina
You will need to bear with me as we describe our day. Today was honestly one of the best excursions we have experienced, and we are no strangers to excursions, especially after the last three months. The whole experience was exceptional and flawless with Solo Patagonia.
This morning was an early start; we were ready by 7.30 am to be whisked away by our private driver to a nearby port Puerto Bandera to board an all-day boat cruise on Lago Argentino, the largest lake in Argentina, up to 200 meters deep and to navigate the largest Patagonian glaciers.
About 40 minutes drive from our hotel in El Calafate, we enjoyed the dramatic change of landscapes, surrounded by the Patagonian landscape, as we went alongside the great Lago Argentino.
We arrived at the port and jumped in the queue, as our driver kindly queued up inside to ensure we had been checked in. It's great to see tourism back strong; there were about 200 people ready to visit the glaciers today.
We approached the end, and as we were seated in the Captain's Club, we were escorted to the VIP cabin to see we were amongst 14 other passengers and the Captain, along with a very spacious cabin with excellent views and a dedicated crew. Wayne and I were impressed and even more excited about the day ahead.
It was time to depart; we navigated the lake taking in the awe-inspiring views of Patagonia, and were mesmerised by the volume. Everywhere you looked, it was so big!
We soon approached the scattered icebergs and flows as we inched closer to the glacier; we were incredibly spoilt with a morning cappuccino and local delights as we soaked up the majestic scenery.
The boat remained stationary for half an hour to enjoy the panoramic views of the massive icebergs from the Upsala glacier, the largest in South America (60kms long and 70m high).
The crew even fished out some 600-year-old ice from the glaciers. The bar opened at 11 am, never too early to enjoy a johnny walker black scotch or wine with glacier ice, accompanied by cheese.
The next stop was the Spegazzini Glacier, the tallest in South America, up to 125m high. We disembarked for lunch in Glaciers Bay, treated to a VIP service in a captivating panorama restaurant. Our backdrop was the Spegazzini glacier. We opted for the local cuisine and tried for the first time Guanaco meat, part of the llama family; it was tender and delicious.
After a slow lunch enjoying the atmosphere, we were back on the boat for an up close and personal cruise by the gigantic glacier. It was a perfect opportunity to capture the day. Surreal experience being at the glacier's edge; we have seen many glaciers from Alaska, Greenland and Antarctica over the past few months. Argentina is up there with the best of them, second to Antarctica.
The afternoon was spent cruising back slowly, navigating the channels of Lago Argentino to the port. We even had the opportunity to take pics from the Captain's throne, the team were excellent, and customer service was five stars.
Our lovely driver was waiting to transport us back to our cosy hotel for an evening of rest and to prepare for our next day's excursion and an early wake-up call to visit another glacier, including a glacier trek.
Day 2 - Moreno Glacier, El Calafate, Argentina
Our Argentina chapter starts with so many incredible moments that are hard to describe!
This morning was like no other; we were picked up by our lovely Luis and a local guide, Cesar, bright and early at 7.15 am.
We were back in the same direction, but a little further south to the National park for a half-day ice trek on the only glacier growing, Moreno.
Once we arrived in the park, the glacier soon presented itself; it was very intruding, and the size was something else.
Our tour started with a short boat trip across to the face of the glacier, where we all experienced the resounding roar of the calves and saw first-hand the ice tumble down to the water; it was the most surreal experience.
We were soon docked and greeted by our ice trekking guides, which popped us into groups; we were in the English group. We all had a few minutes to pop our bags away and prepare for the trek. Fortunately, they spotted that my shoes were not the safest (my hiking boots have a wedge heel), and they geared me up with some flat hiking boots, impressive!
We started for the next stage towards the great glacier (another resounding roar from the calving) and were fitted with our safety hats and ice spikes! Now it was getting real; we were at the foot of the glacier, ready to embark on a 1.5-hour trek on the glacier!
After a quick 101 on how to walk on the ice with the spikes and tackle the ice's ups and downs, we all lined up neatly for the trek.
It was quite the experience we had yet to be part of, so there were many wow moments, and we made our way deep and higher into the glacier.
We would often stop to take in the natural surroundings and capture the moments for our picture books! Surprisingly it was quite the easy trek, especially for two novices like Wayne and myself; we usually avoid any form of strenuous exercise unless it involves wine or cocktails… so we patted ourselves on the back for participating in such an activity.
As we reached the summit peak of the trek, low and beheld, they surprised us with a scotch on the rocks with over 500-year-old glacier ice and a little pick me up to congratulate us; such a lovely moment!
We descended to the bottom of the glacier, and, another surprise, we had the unique opportunity to experience an ice cave; it doesn't happen often, but one has formed over the past few weeks and has a life span of four weeks, so one week to go. It was breathtaking, the colours and being beneath the massive glacier, what a moment!!
This was a perfect ending; we removed our ice spikes and trekked back through the forest on the sidelines to the refuge to enjoy a little lunch; we had to bring this with us. Fortunately, the hotel prepared us with a packed lunch for the day.
Next up for the afternoon was a visit to the balconies with panoramic views of the other side of the glacier that we trekked on, so we stopped for a quick caffeine fix and spent some time strolling the balconies to take in the magnificent glacier and listening intently for the calvings as they roared.
What a day Argentina is continuing to surprise us with the gifts it has and is sharing with the world. To have access to such glaciers is astounding.
Safely home around 4 pm by the ever-efficient and safe Luis to enjoy a celebratory drink and bask in our incredible photos of the day! Thank you El Calafate!
Day 3 - El Calafate, Argentina
Today was a day for Wayne and Sal, so we took advantage of our free time and jumped online for the morning to catch up on work; this left us the afternoon to explore the town of El Calafate.
The sun was shining, and as the afternoon welcomed us, we set out on foot from our cosy hotel to walk into town; it was only about 20 minutes and being surrounded by the magnificent landscapes of Patagonia, you need to make the most of it.
It was the perfect time for a lazy lunch; after our Patagonian lamb experience in Ushuaia, we were keen on replicating, especially as the home of the first restaurant Casimiro Biguá is here in El Calafate, so we settled on a lovely table out the front and a local chardonnay to soak up the afternoon rays. Once the lamb arrived, we had made the right decision; it was succulent and delicious, even better than Ushuaia.
After our bellies were content, we strolled the streets to take in the local vibe; it is a busy tourist spot, so many visitors were finishing their adventures for the day and looking for a bite to eat. We spotted a Gin bar on the way, so we thought a nightcap was in order and perched ourselves on a street table to watch the town come to life. We started chatting away with a lovely mother and daughter from Brazil and realised our next two destinations in Argentina we will be visiting, so we exchanged numbers to meet up for more drinks along the way (it was surprising how many times we randomly met up).
A gorgeous stroll home to the lovely quaint family-owned hotel Roble Sur as the sun was disappearing, with a magical backdrop as we navigated the dirt roads home, providing a sense of home, as growing up on a farm, we are no strangers to the dusty road walks!
Day 4 - El Calafate to Buenos Aires, Argentina
Today was check-out day, so another leisurely morning while waiting for our flight to Buenos Aires. We were picked up by our trusty driver Luis and shipped off to the airport. The airports in Argentina all appear to have queues for miles, so we quickly checked to see if we could upgrade, and we were in luck; for a fee, we could fly business, which checked us through quickly and was a nice treat for the 3-hour flight to BA.
Impressed with the flight, we were given a snack to make the time go faster, and before we knew it, we had landed in BA.
We were picked up by our local guide and soon were checking in to the Hilton by the river; usually, they are nothing special, but this Hilton had a charm and a beautiful welcoming from the staff; they were all very excited to meet two world travellers, so we had lots of conversations.
The rooms were spacious, and after checking in, we enjoyed a Pisco Sour and early to bed; our weekend ahead was busy with the highlights and exploring of Buenos Aires (BA). We look forward to sharing our next destination in Argentina with you soon.