Hiking in El Chaltén

From Calafate, we took a 3 hour bus to El Chaltén. Chaltén is a relatively new town – only 20 years old or so – and the sole purpose of the town is a base for hikers. The population is only around 1,500 and there is pretty much one main street with a lot of restaurants, grocery stores, bakeries and lodging on it.


Instead of renting gear and going backpacking, we decided to just stay in town and do day hikes. All the trails start at the edges of the town, so it’s really easy to just do day trips. The first day we hiked out to Laguna Torre. It was cloudy when we started out, but just as we got into view of the laguna, the clouds cleared and we had a beautiful view of the laguna, glacier and granite towers behind.

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The second day was our longest hike. We did the Tres Lagunas Trail to Mt. Fitz Roy (the iconic El Chaltén mountain). Again, the day started out a bit cloudy with Fitz Roy completely covered. The hike there was pretty easy, except for the last hour that was straight up a rocky hill.

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We got to the top and had high hopes that some of the clouds had disappeared, but no luck. The 2 Lagunas that we visited were both nice, especially Laguna Sucia (“sucia” means dirty which is the opposite of what the turquoise lagoon was).

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We hung around for an hour or so at the top waiting for the clouds to clear but finally gave up and headed back down. And of course when we got down the big rocky hill, the clouds had moved on!


On our way back to town, we did a detour to check out one of the glaciers in the park.


On our last day of hiking, we decided to take it easy. We grabbed our Kindles and some lunch and headed up to a lookout over the town with Mt. Fitz Roy in the background and just hung out for the afternoon. It was beautiful!

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El Calafate

After hiking the “W” in Torres del Paine, our next stop in Southern Patagonia was El Calafate. The primary draw of El Calafate is the Perito Moreno glacier. The glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field (which is the 2nd largest contiguous extrapolar ice field in the world), and is in Los Glaciares National Park.
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We took a day trip to the glacier from Calafate, which was roughly a 1.5 hour bus ride away. We spent much of the day just watching the glacier. Watching ice may not sound like the most riveting thing to do, but it became a bit of a hobby for Erin and I while in Patagonia.

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You can occasionally catch the glacier calving, which is when chunks of ice fall from the end of the glacier.

The park featured miles of raised walkways with viewpoints, so that you could view the massive glacier from varying angles.
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We also celebrated Thanksgiving whilst in Calafate, and did so with some delicious Patagonian Lamb.

Torres del Paine

The day after we got back from Antarctica, we headed towards Puerto Natales, Chile to get ready for our next adventure – hiking the W trail in Torres del Paine National Park.  It took us a full day of busing to get to Puerto Natales and then we spent a day renting gear and buying food before setting off.

The W in Torres del Paine is supposed to be one of the most beautiful hikes in the world and it is definitely the best that we’ve done to date. It is about 75 kilometers and most people hike it in 4 to 5 days and you can start on either side – we decided to do it in 4 days and go west to east.  The first day we spent the morning getting to the park and then took a catamaran to the bottom of the western arm. We set up camp and dropped our gear before hiking up to Grey Glacier, at the top of the arm. The hike started out super windy – 60 KM per hour – but luckily it died down as the afternoon went on.

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Day two we got up and hiked 2 hours to the camp that we would spend the night. We set up our tent and dropped our gear and then headed up the middle section of the W into the Valle Frances (French Valley). This was our favorite day – the views were great and we spent a while just sitting and watching little avalanches happen on the mountain across the valley.

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Day three was a long one – and the first day that we had to carry our packs all day. We hiked from the middle of the W all the way to the eastern tip. The weather was perfect though and the landscape was diverse.

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The last day we got up at 4:30am to hike up to the Torres (towers) to see them at sunrise. Then we packed up camp and hiked back down the east arm of the W to catch the bus back to Puerto Natales.


The hike was amazing except for one minor issue – my boots fell apart! The right one developed a hole in the sole on day 2 and the bottom of the left completely cracked open on day 3!



Ushuaia – the End of the World

We finally arrived in Ushuaia from Puerto Madryn after 4 buses, 1 ferry, 2 border crossings and 36 long hours. Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world and is on the island at the very tip of South America – Tierra del Fuego. Although we probably would have gone there anyway, the main reason for our visit was because our cruise to Antarctica left from Ushuaia.

We got into town a few days before our cruise to check out the area. The first day we hiked up into the mountains above the city to check out a glacier and the view from above the city.

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The next day we did a 4 x 4 off road jeep tour. The tour started off pretty tame with some visits to some beautiful lakes. Then we did the “off road” part to get to a little cabin in the woods.

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At the cabin, the drivers cooked us a typical Argentine asado with a lot of wine and meat and gave us choripan (sausage sandwiches) while we waited for the steak. Luckily we took a regular road back to town – I was in a serious meat coma!

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Behind the city are the last of the Andes Mountains and in front, the Beagle Canal. Besides being a tourist destination, Ushuaia is a busy port city with a lot of barges and cruise ships going in and out all the time. It was a nice little city to spend a few days in but I think we spent a lot of that time talking about and getting ready for our cruise to Antarctica!

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Puerto Madryn and the Valdes Peninsula

After Bariloche, we went to Puerto Madryn, which is the main stopping point for any activities on the Valdes Peninsula.

One of the big things to do on the Valdes Peninsula is to take a day trip driving around the peninsula to check out some of the local wildlife and then going out on a boat to see the Southern Right whales.

Erin had already visited the area when she studied abroad in Argentina in 2007, so she hung back at the hostel while I went on the tour of the peninsula.

I saw a variety of wildlife on the tour, from Magellanic Penguins to Elephant Seals to Rheas to Armadillos to Whales and a few other animals.

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The main attraction was certainly the Southern Right whales. They got their name from early whalers who considered them the ‘right’ whale to hunt, probably due to their docile nature. Another interesting thing about these whales is all of the marks you see. This is from the seagulls who hang around in the water waiting for the whale to come up for air to then start eating away at it. Apparently this is causing an increase in the mortality rate of the Southern Right whale, and the whales are slowly modifying their behavior when coming up for air. Cursed gulls (shakes fist in the air)!

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The day tour of the Valdes Peninsula was our primary reason for visiting Puerto Madryn, so we didn’t do much else save for walking along the coast.

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