Enjoying the Scenery of Patagonia

In the last few years, I made two trips to Argentina. The first one was right after my Antarctica experience which you can read about here. It was a pretty cool two-week cruise in March 2018 after which I went back to Ushuaia (the city on Argentina) and had a flight to El Calafate, a town in Patagonia, southern Argentina, where basically the story begins.

There will be two reports on my Argentinian experience: the one about the March-April trip 2018, and the other one is going to be about the trip I made in March-April of the last year.

Patagonian landscape

So I spent two weeks on this cruise and had a memorable time in Antarctica I have already told you about. Obviously, I didn’t do any work and didn’t receive any calls at that time. So by the end of the trip, I had already had a whole lot of work to do but I could still manage to see Argentina and travel around a bit. The plan was to have a flight from Ushuaia, the southernmost city of the world, to El Calafate, from where I made my way to see a little bit of Chile, its Torres del Paine, a world-famous national park. But I was back to El Calafate shortly after and had another flight to Bariloche, from where I travelled to Chile again. Let me tell you a little bit about these places.

Not the best weather unfortunately but you can guess how beautiful Torres del Paine can be

So I landed at the airport in El Calafate and took a taxi to my hostel. It was a nice cozy hostel with a private room. I spent some time exploring the surroundings and the city center. It was quite cold and snowy in El Calafate back then. Well, it is a common March weather for such a southern town.

The gateway to learning about the Argentine part of Patagonia is the town of El Calafate. It is located almost on the border with Chile. This is one of the main tourist centers of the province of Santa Cruz, annually hosting thousands of tourists from all over the world. A small town cannot boast about rich history and architecture, and its population is only a few thousand people, but tourists rush here for the sake of the privilege to contemplate the splendor of glaciers and the pristine beauty of Patagonia.

My first day there turned out to be an adventure. I happened to experience three car accidents in a couple of hours while driving around the town. Apparently, Argentinians can’t drive not getting into an accident. I’d already had my driving license for 5 years back then with no single case of a car accident and then I happened to have three in one day, which turned out to be funnier than anything else, thanks to the fact they were all not serious (someone driving into the back of my car and causing some minor damage to it or something like that).

Beside that I had a walk around the town, had some nice lamb for lunch and discovered the area and the lake they have there. To visit Patagonia and not to try the Patagonian spit-roasted lamb will be an unforgivable omission.

El Calafate owes its sonorous name to the local shrub with yellow flowers and dark berries, something similar to blueberry the locals use to make jam of. All the life in this tiny town, in fact, is concentrated around the main street Avenida Libertador, where tourists can find many equipment shops, a large selection of cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

But, obviously, the main symbol of the Argentinean Patagonia is Perito Moreno Glacier.

Stunning even after seeing Antarctica!

It’s one of the biggest in the world. It is not only a stunning phenomenon for the researches but also one of Argentina’s most famous tourist attractions. Perito Moreno is located in Los Glaciares National Park, in the Argentinean province of Santa Cruz and is included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The glacier was named after Francisco Moreno, who first explored this region in the 19th century.

Breathtaking Perito Moreno

What is interesting about it is that it is one of the few glaciers on our planet that not only does not melt due to global warming but is actually growing in size. The plateau has accumulated so much freshwater that it became the third-largest freshwater reservoir in the world. The glacier seems to have its own soul, feeding on meltwater from the Andes, it is constantly growing. This is the secret of Perito Moreno scientists cannot yet figure out, so the research is ongoing.

The area of Perito Moreno itself is 250 sq. km. The glacier is 5 km wide, and its average height is 60 m above the surface of the water. The glacier moves at a speed of 2 m / day, but since pieces of ice break off from it regularly, it neither advances nor moves back for more than 90 years. Sometimes it creeps ashore, blocking the lake, but then the ice melts and crumbles, and the strait is formed again. This happens irregularly, on average once every 4-5 years, mostly during the Patagonian summer.

Hiking on the glacier

The ice of the glacier has a blue colour due to its age. Young ice is always white due to small air bubbles, but when it has been compressed, the air comes out. Therefore, the red part of the light flux is absorbed along the way inside the ice, and only the blue part of the spectrum returns.

Amazing scenery of Perito Moreno

All this looks impressive and attracts many tourists to this place. This large-scale and stunning site can be seen from a specially equipped viewing platform. Some daredevils swim at a close distance to the glacier or go to the ice platform in special climbing equipment. But everybody has to keep in mind that huge pieces of ice block regularly break off and disappear with a roar in the abyss of the blue lake.

People walking on ice

The most common time to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina is from November to March, i.e. from the end of the Argentine spring to the beginning of autumn. At this time, it is already warm enough, and one can travel during the longest daylight hours.

A warming drink after a strenuous hike

So, as I said, it is also popular with tourists because you can walk on the ice, and that’s what I actually did the next day. I took the bus to Perito Moreno and wandered around the site, taking nice pictures of the lake and a huge glacier. If you’d like to walk on the glacier, you are then given ice shoes and you can hike up to the glacier and then on the glacier itself. It’s quite fun walking on ice and seeing the colours of the ice, and the ponds at the places where ice melted as well as the huge ice cave. I also had a nice drink there. So I basically spent one hour walking around the glacier and then went back to the viewpoint to see how big chunks of ice broke from the glacier, crashing into the water and resulting in big waves. So that whole day was dedicated to Perito Moreno glacier trip.

The ice cave below the glacier

On the next day, I headed further to Bariloche. It is the main tourist town of Patagonia, located north of El Calafate. We were there around the Easter holidays, the time of a famous chocolate festival. I wasn’t alone — my friend, Jannik, was coming to see me.

Dinner with Jannik

Bariloche is a nice town, we had two wonderful days to explore it. It is considered unofficial tourist “capital” of the Argentinean Northern Patagonia.

San Carlos de Bariloche, which is its full name, was founded in 1902 as an Argentine outpost on the lands of the hostile Mapuche and Teuelcho Indians and was originally inhabited by immigrants from Switzerland, Italy, and Germany — which is clearly visible in its appearance.
This place along with the surrounding towns does remind of Germany particularly due to the architecture, cooking, and bakery there. It a place to feel home for Germans. It looks like some Austrian or Swiss town at the lake and the mountains surrounding it. Bariloche airport is a little outside the town, obviously located on the flat piece of land, while Bariloche itself is located among the picturesque lakes and hills.

Bird’s-eye view of Bariloche

As I have mentioned, the first inhabitants of these places were the Mapuche Indians. It is believed that the modern city owes its name to them. Literally from the language of the Mapuche Indians “wuriloche” can be translated as “people beyond the mountain”, which fully describes the main feature of the city.

Bariloche makes an impression of an absolutely European mountain resort town, with life in full swing, full restaurants in the evenings (in some places even with the queues), there are crowds of walking people on the streets, and a whole lot of clubs and bars.

The reason for it is that Bariloche is the largest all-season resort in Argentina: there is a ski winter resort as well as lots of summer tourist attractions — that is, there is no low season as such. In fact, this is the most popular ski resort in Argentina, a significant part of tourists visiting it are fans of outdoor activities and sports.

Picturesque Bariloche

The adherents of eco-tourism will also like the city, for it is located in an incredibly beautiful area, surrounded by wonderful lakes and mountain peaks.

San Carlos de Bariloche is often called “South American Switzerland”, and not only because of the amazing scenery. The fact is that the city produces excellent chocolate, and pastry shops can be found there literally on every street. The most famous boutiques there are called Mamuschka and Benroth.

So we had two nice days in Bariloche, which we spent basically just strolling around, having some fun at night in the local bars, discos, and restaurants.

A refreshing swim

One day we went to the lake and had a swim there. It was quite fresh, I’d say around 10 degrees but after Antarctica and a famous plunge, I was quite hardened.

Swimming in Antarctica

We also had a walk along the lake, to the hill. There was a lift up and a toboggan down, like in Iraq. We also searched for signs of Germans. It’s actually the main town where German Nazis emigrated after WWII and the legend says Adolf Hitler didn’t die and spent most of his late life in Bariloche before he migrated to Paraguay. Legends apart, there’re really a whole lot of Nazis living in Bariloche. Some of their descendants might still live there, working as bakers and butchers.

The day later Jannik and I went to Chile. There’s a special way to go there. One can travel there by road, which we did the year after. But that year we went to Chile by bus and multiple boats over five lakes, which was just stunning particularly because of the great weather.

Llao Llao

We first went to the place called Llao Llao, a few kilometers outside of Bariloche, and from there we took the first boat along the lake, branching lots of different directions to the town at the other end of the lake, famous for some waterfall. And from there we had a short bus drive to the border. There is a small but very interesting Che Guevara museum on the border. Che Guevara had something to do on that border, don’t quite remember what exactly  I had a red T-shirt with a sign “Socialism kills” and Che Guevara scull on it. So I put it on real quick to take a photo next to the motorbike I found in the museum and posted it on Facebook.

At the Che Guevara Museum

Eventually, we went over the border (which Argentinians might not be too happy about) to Chile in the border town called Puerto Blest. Then we had a bus ride to the mountains where we had lunch, walked a bit and enjoyed the surroundings and then continued to the next lake and the other boat took us to its opposite side.

There is a river called Rio Negro, where we also had a boat ride and then got on another bus which brought us to the bigger lake again. Petrohue is the town where we took another boat that led us through the big mountains to Osorno. The ride was very scenic, with high mountains and a mirror lake. One can see Osorno Volcano, the biggest one in Chile, as well as Calbuco Volcano from the last lake. We went quite close to Osorno though, saw its big snowy cone, and had great views of it.

Osorno Volcano

The lake we were boating on was called Lago Todos los Santo. We could also see Cerro Tronador, one of the highest mountain ranges we had already passed. It was a beautiful day and we were very lucky with the weather due to which we managed to take amazing photos of the mountains and nature surroundings.

At some point, we arrived in Osorno and from there we took a bus further into Chile to a town called Puerto Varas close to Puerto Montt. We didn’t make a boat trip this time but went past the lakes by bus to Pueto Varas, where we just relaxed and stayed for a night, had dinner, walking around before continuing to Valdivia in Chile where I had my little apartment.

Mirror lakes of Chile

I hope you enjoyed the first part of my Argentina and Chile trip and will stay tuned to read the continuation of this story in the following posts.