After saying good-bye to the grandparents, we began slowly working our way up through the Argentinian side of Patagonia. For a little over three weeks, we explored the mountain towns of El Calafate, El Chaltèn and Bariloche. During the day, we filled our lungs with fresh air while taking some amazing hikes. At night, we filled our bellies with some of the finest beef we’ve tasted on our trip so far. We all really enjoyed the Patagonian summer while experiencing all that we could in each of the the mountain towns.
El Calafate was the first mountain town we visited after Ushuaia. We spent our first few nights in a Bed & Breakfast within walking distance to the town’s main street. After our time in the “town center” we enjoyed another week in the area in a small cabin, perched on a hill overlooking Lake Argentina.
While in El Calafate, we visited the Petite Moreno Glacier where we watched and listened to the the massive glacier booming like thunder as it calved into the lake. We took a 4wd Tour up into the mountains where we learned about the local flora and fauna, went zip-lining, and rode horses on an estancia. We feasted on big steaks and lamb roasted on the cross, over the open fire. Argentina is a true meat lover’s paradise – big cuts of tender meat at prices that are hard to believe. Vegetables were rare, sometimes a restaurant offered grilled vegetables as a side, and many would offer a mixed green salad as a starter. For the most part though, the meals were centered around meat, potatoes, and wine. We of course tried the Calafate berries, both on our tour and in the Ice Cream shops in town. We’ll hope that the legend around them holds to be true. It is said that once you eat the Calafate berries, you are sure to return to El Calafate one day.
El Chaltén is a scenic two hour drive around lake Argentina from el Calafate. Unsure of what we would find in the more remote mountain town, we reserved a cabana for only four nights. Looking back, we wished we had stayed longer as El Chaltén was by far our families favorite mountain town stop in Argentina.
El Chaltén was created by the Argentinian government in 1985 to claim the land before Chile was able to. Accurately labeled a “hikers paradise”, El Chaltén revolves around the outdoors. In the mornings, the cafes are filled with hikers filling up before the day’s trek. Then, in the late afternoon/early evening, the restaurants and breweries fill with happy, tired, windswept faces. Once we arrived at our cabana, we didn’t move our truck again until we left town. Each day, we’d wake up, eat our breakfast, pack up our backpacks and head for a different trail. Over three days we hiked three separate trails, each of the trail heads in short walking distance from our front door. Then in the late afternoon, we’d return to town, stop at one of the tasty craft breweries on our way back to our place before freshening up for dinner.
Being a more remote location, one has to plan ahead – many restaurants only take cash, even the one gas station at the entrance to town is cash only, no credit cards. Getting cash from an ATM in general around Argentina was no easy task, several banks don’t take foreign cards, those that do are often out of cash or with long lines. In el Chaltén, there is one ATM at the bus station, unfortunately it didn’t take any of our US cards. With the next closest machine two hours away, it’s best to arrive with enough cash to last through the duration of your stay, and refill the gas tank before heading out.
Four nights was enough to get a good grasp of the town and provided us with an opportunity to take some amazing hikes. Looking back, we wish we had stayed for at least another night or two. If an opportunity arises for us to return one day, we surely will, and next time we’ll bring a little more cash with us.
Bariloche was the last of our stops in the Patagonian mountains. In researching the destination, we were excited to visit the mountain town with a European feel surrounded by lakes. With the snow accumulation in the nearby mountains, Bariloche is visited year round, and as a result is much busier than our previous stops. While we enjoyed our week in our apartment in the city, we all wished we could have traded one or two of our nights in Bariloche for a little more time in el Chaltén.
Bariloche is more of a city than a town. The main square of the city has a very European feel. The area is rich in history as well as conspiracy theories – it was a hiding place for some German war criminals after WWII, and rumors circulate that Hitler himself may have escaped and spent the remainder of his life living on one of the lake’s many islands.
While based in Bariloche, we took a fun family white water raft trip one afternoon. The stretch of river we floated was perfect for the girls- enough rapids to provide a little fun and excitement without too much risk. We also drove a section of the famous scenic drive- the route of seven lakes. The highlight of our stay was a tour we organized with a local in which he showed us several “treasures” in the area. Fito, our guide led us through his favorite view points in the area including a walk through a small arrayanes forest, up a trial where we enjoyed lunch with a view, and down through some old ruins. With the help of a GPS, the girls were able to help navigate us from one stop to the next, and Fito had planted a few surprise treasures for them to search for along the way. The tour ended at a small craft brewery that was started in the late 1800’s, one of the oldest operating breweries in the region.
We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast, and the second we got there, a dog named Brana jumped on us. She was a chocolate lab and the cutest, sweetest thing you ever saw. She’d retrieve the things we threw for her, but she wouldn’t give them back. Instead, she’d just chew them up. El Calafate had an epic playground – monkey bars, swings and poles, even a rock climbing wall. We went to the playground many times while there. I even was able to get on top of the monkey bars. Angela helped me, but it was still my first time ever. We met many kids at the park. One day there was a group of camp kids who even spoke English. We played tag & and Marco Polo.
One day we went on a safari drive looking for a Puma. We didn’t find one but we found a really good lamb stew dinner. Another day, we went on a horseback ride. It was cool, but I didn’t see much. it was so windy, I pulled my hood up over my head. On Monday, we went to a National Park and kept seeing a Glacier calving. It was cool, but not as cool as Antarctica. When the ice broke, it was loud like a cannon! Muy grande. When the ice hit the water, it would make a huge splash. On the way back to our car, we saw a fox in the parking lot.
On our last day in El Calafate, we went… Zip Lining! It was so much fun. We got harnessed in and zip, we were off. Tokyo went first and then Daddy and I. The more you weigh the faster you go, and we went fast. It was amazing! Second line, same order, a little higher and the same amount of fun. Third line, sadly, mommy and Angela got to go before us, but the ride was just as fun. The last line, daddy and I were zooming and came into the landing backwards. My legs hit some tree branches but it was still fun. We then ate pie- it was a super fun, amazing day.
At dinner that night, we at ate a Patagonian grill restaurant. We were eating dinner and all of a sudden, a guitar was playing. the next second people were dancing all over the place. It was amazing – an awesome day for us.
We drove about two and a half hours to El Chaltén. the stops we made we could lean against the wind and it would hold us up. When we got to town, we went for lunch. I ate a potato soup and mommy got a lamb stew. We saw a lady I thought may be a journalist because she was writing the entire time she was waiting for the food and she knew how to order. After lunch we found a playground and met some boys. One was trying to push everyone around, when we ignored him, he said, “I’m going home.” No one paid any attention to him, so he came back and played nicely. He really just needed attention.
The next day, we went for a short hike. On our way, we bought some amazing caprese empanadas. When we reached the top, we ate dulce de leche brownies that were amazing. We then hiked a little more to the very top and the wind almost killed us. It was so strong, I almost got blown over the side of the mountain!
On Saturday, we went on a longer hike – three hours in each direction. I found a hideout at a view point.and made magic soil dust. Again we had amazing desserts. On our way down, I kept falling until my knee started to bleed. Mommy then tightened my shoes and it helped a lot. After the hike, we stopped for drinks and got this traditional cheese thing. It was like it was fried, and it was really good.
On our last day in El Chaltèn, we took one more hike. We walked to the falls and saw many really pretty flowers.
On the way to Bariloche, Angela and i got our own airport table. We had a terrible lunch next to the airplane gate. When we got there, we loaded our things into the truck and headed to our apartment. Walking in town, I found an ice cafe so we went in. It aws no fun. The pictures were cool at that was it. The capes we wore were very itchy, I don’t recommend it. We went down to the lake and took pictures by the big Bariloche sign. I was on the E, Angela was on the A. We then went and felt the water. It was freezing, but it was fun. That night we went to dinner at an amazing brew pub. Angela and I got a chicken pop pie to share.
Our favorite restaurant in town was across the street from our apartment. We lined up in the street, waiting for doors to open. Once we were at our table, the chef took our food order and the bartender took the drink order. Then we watched the chef cook the food through the glass. It was pretty cool- they were zipping. They were just going so fast – chop fat, cook, they were good, and so was dinner. On Saturday, we went to the lake and collected very beautiful rocks. They were all so pretty. There was so much wind that the lake had waves and it was freezing!
The next day, we went White Water Rafting! first we got geared up. Then we tested the water and splash, we were off. Angela paddled, I paddled, it was really fun. I got to ride on the front and get splashed. On our way back the guy said there would be a lot of traditional dishes to eat. Turns out three was only bread and jelly. Still though, it was an amazing day.
On our last day in Bariloche, we went on a really fun tour. We went on a short hike and a long hike. On the long hike, we stopped for lunch and found a treasure that was a game. our guide buried it and helped us find it. We had fun playing with it while ating an amazing lunch.
El Calafate had the best park. It was awesome! there were swings, monkey bars, slides, poles, ladders, and big raised areas that you got onto to climb and slide down slides and poles from. Yes- you are right, we had a ton of fun. I even learned how to do flips from the monkey bars.
While in El Calafate, we went on a Safari drive, In South America, in the desert… we tried to find animals and we succeeded. We were in the truck with our guide/driver and some newlyweds from Mexico. Our first stop was to take pictures and taste Calafate berries. The second stop was by a river so we could run around. Our last stop before dinner was to see the hundreds of llamas. Considering I had never seen one before, 100 was a lot a llamas! For dinner we had lamb stew in a homemade bread bowl and chocolate mouse. On another day, we went horseback riding. It was about an hour drive to the ranch, but it was worth it. A lady from Germany led us on our horses. After riding over regular grass, we rode through these purple plants. It was so windy, it looked like we were walking through a purple rough ocean. When we saw a cloud of dust blowing our way, we turned around, but the dust storm still hit us. (Now just so you know, I am barely alive writing this) All I know is there was a ton of sand, but I was just able to see through my long eyelashes. Enough to make out where the German lady was so I could follow her. when we finally got out of it, we decided to dismount and eat dinner. Dinner was amazing- roasted lamb on the cross and fruit salad with whipped cream for dessert.
Zip-lining was awesome, amazing, perfect, great, spectacular, and any other word to describe the best! We put on our harnesses and rode to the top of the mountain. At the first platform, sadly, mommy and I went last. The first line was about 300 meters. We flew over cows and freaked them out. The second line was also 300 meters, and we almost ran into trees at the end. The third line was almost 500 meters. In the end, we got stuck and the man had to throw us a rope to pull us in. The last line was 700 meters and it was fast. I loved zip-lining and can’t wait to do it again.
On the drive to El Chaltèn, the wind was so strong, we could lean into it and it would catch us. Our feet were barely touching the ground. If daddy let go of the steering wheel, the wind would push our truck to the side. We did many hikes during our three day stay. The first one was a short one, about an hour in each direction, up and down a nice little hill. We saw some pretty plants, and rocks. On the way up mommy got bitten by a big horse fly and then she killed it. Once at the top, we had a beautiful view of the little town, the mountains and some hills. Since we had eaten our empanadas on the way up, we were allowed to eat our desserts while we looked at the views. The dessert was a chocolate brownie with dolce de leche drops on top – it was amazing! On the way down, Emily and I sang Nick Nack Patty Wack, give a dog a bone.
On our second day, we did a long hike, almost three hours in each direction. We filled my backpack with my jacket, empanadas and two bottles of agua and set off on our hike. First, we went through fields, forests, and a couple of view points. One had big rocks to stand on and a nice view of the river. We ate our lunch at the second view. At the third, we made a pit stop, found hideouts, enjoyed the wondrous views and played a game before turning around and heading back to town. I really liked El Chaltèn.
On our first day in Bariloche, we put shorts on for the first time since leaving Uruguay, and went exploring. We stopped in the ice cave and then went down to the lake where we found the huge sign, BARILOCHE and took some pictures. We felt the lake and decided that we’d try to swim in it sometime, even though it was cool. On Thursday, our second day in Bariloche, we found a Pizza restaurant that had the first good pizza we’ve eaten in Argentina. After lunch we found water shoes and Ice Cream. On Friday, after our school work, we put on our water shoes and went down to the lake. The wind was blowing hard, and there were big waves. Emily and I made the best of it and found many beautiful rocks. .
On Saturday, we went White Water Rafting for the first time ever! We took a hour drive in a van, and got all dressed up: Bathing suit, wet suit, jacket like thing, life vest. We got the paddles (Emily and I had to share one and Emily got the first turn) We got into the boat and started paddling. The first rapid came pretty soon and Emily and I switched so I could paddle. Then we got to swim in the river a bit. On the next rapid, the guide let people float in the river if they wanted to practice the brace position. The guide was embarrassed to pull one of the girls back into the boat, so he asked mommy to do it. It was really funny to watch. I love white water rafting.
A couple days later we went on a drive that seemed like 12 hours when it was really just one. We drove to the other side of the lake and had lunch in a small town. After lunch, we got ice cream. My Lemon was good, Emily’s dulce de leche tasted like coffee, so she threw it out and got Oreo instead. We made two quick stops at viewpoints and then went back to the apartment. It was nice I guess, but not my favorite since I felt carsick for much of the ride. The next day, daddy felt sick, he thinks something in his lunch made him feel bad.
On our last day in Bariloche, we took a full day tour. Our guide picked us up at 9:30 AM and took us to a chairlift ride. At the top, we had a view of many of the surrounding lakes. Next, we took a short 30 minute hike. During the hike we found a forest and one fo the trees was warm and the one beside it cool to the touch. We then took a. longer hike and Emily and I took turns leading the way with a GPS, in search of treasure. We found the first treasure at lunch. We then kept following the GPS down to the side of the lake to a building that was knocked down. The rumor was that it used to be a house where Adolf Hitler hid.To end the tour, we stopped at a brewery, had a snack and learned how beer is made. It was a great day of touring.
Many of our cruise partners sail along the coast of Argentina, around the southern tip and up through the Chilean Fjords.
While a cruise is a great way to see several areas and decide which you’d like to return to, land based tours will offer opportunities to get even deeper into the country.