Calafate and Chalten – Patagonia at its best!
Arrived home on Christmas day, after an UNBELIEVABLE trip to Patag0nia! Hiking country at its best .. mountains, glaciers, one-horse towns (even without the horses) and of course, excellent Argentinian wines for $5 a bottle! All the right ingredients for a great vacation! Don’t even think about bringing your work with you here – internet connection is on and off, and Chalten, home to about 1000 year-round residents, doesn’t have a cell phone network yet. Bring plenty of US$ and don’t rely on using your debit card to get money out of the ATMs .. they frequently run out of money after a weekend (especially a long weekend).
From Calafate, Perito Moreno is the star attraction. Buses run twice a day (usually 8am and 1pm) from the main bus station, but we rented a car which worked out better. The drive is only 1.5 hours, and you get to spend unlimited time at the glacier. On a hot day, you can hear the ice cracking, and witness huge chunks of ice crashing into the turquoise water below, the noise ricocheting off the surrounding 300 metre ice walls.
Chalten is a 3 hour bus ride from Calafate, and the national trekking capital. The small ‘town’ is nestled in a valley, surrounded by huge mountains and glaciers, and seems to be right in the middle of a wind tunnel. The winds blow for most of the summer months (although we were lucky to get a few days of light breezes only) and can blow unsuspecting hikers off the mountain. Classic hikes are the Laguna Torre, Laguna de los Tres (with a view of the famous Fitzroy, one of the most technically challenging mountains in the world) and my favourite, Pliegue Tumbado with 360 views of the mountain range. All of these can be done as day hikes .. but save the best weather for Pliegue as the views on a clear day are spectacular! Warm clothes and waterproofs are essential .. the mountains make their own weather and it can change rapidly.
There’s a lot of really good restaurants and bars in Chalten – try La Tapera for dinner, and La Chocolateria for hot chocolate after a day in the mountains! Empanadas are good pretty much anywhere, as is the wine .. and there are some great ice cream shops. Embrace the local culture and drink mate when offered (very cool custom!).
US dollars are accepted pretty much everywhere (although exchange rates may vary) – but cash is king and way easier to use than credit cards. Frequent buses run between Calafate (which has an airport) and Chalten, and the bus from Chalten will drop you off at the airport if you ask. People are great – very friendly and you can usually find someone who speaks English.
Chalten and Calafate are both cool places to visit, especially if you like the outdoors. Add them to your bucket list today!