Whether you’re visiting Argentinian or Chilean Patagonia, this area is sure to be a highlight of your trip to South America. The scenery is mesmerising, with rolling hills, jagged peaks and best of all, gigantic glaciers. They are an outstandingly beautiful natural wonder and this is the most accessible place in the world to view such big ones. My tips are for Argentinan Patagonia as this is where I travelled to last Christmas (and after extensive research the side that looked like it would be the most rewarding), it was an incredible trip and I can’t wait to go back and visit the Chilean side!
It’s not a particularly cute town but it serves it’s purpose of being a good base to explore the surrounding glaciers, and for getting to El Chalten and other areas. Food and drinks are overpriced but tasty. We stayed at Rincon Hotel which was absolutely wonderful and very cheap, because it’s a 15 minute walk out of town. If you don’t mind the walk, you’ll get a gorgeous room with great service, a lovely lounge with a fireplace and delicious breakfast.
There are plenty of tour agencies in town that offer a huge variety of tours of the surrounding glaciers, mostly the same stuff for different prices as usual. You can do anything from boat cruises, ice treks and even kayaking. There’s loads of options to suit every budget, the cheapest being a short trek on the Perito Moreno Glacier ($100) and the more expensive being kayaking through ice caves ($400). You don’t need to book tours before your trip starts, unless you want to reserve a space on the Big Ice Trek (7 hours on the ice as opposed to 2) or kayaking, but this is weather dependent anyway so just because you book ahead it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go. High season (November – January) might see some tours selling out quicker, on Christmas eve we managed to get on a mini trekking tour the day before, but not big ice trekking.
The mini trekking was excellent and more than enough time on the ice. It included a boat ride, trekking on the ice and time on the incredible walkways to view the glacier which is an activity in itself and well worth doing even if you don’t do the ice trek. There is a public bus that goes here to view the glaciers from the walkways so you don’t have to book a tour necessarily. If you can get onto the ice for a short trek, I highly recommend it, it’s the only way to see the true blue of the glacial crevasses and it’s truly unique.
There are dozens of treks you can do here by yourself lasting from 1 hour to a few days (take good camping gear!) The tourist information point at the bus station will give you a clear map and advise you on the best treks based on your fitness level.
You can get a bus independently from El Calafate to El Chalten, it takes about 3 hours, you can usually book it the day before but they’re always full so don’t leave it until the last minute!
It’s a long way down to Ushuaia but it’s worth it if you want to feel like your at the edge of the world, in fact it’s the most southern town in the world so you literally are. This is the place to come if you want to visit Antarctica but it doesn’t come cheap, and to say it’s cold would be an understatement so make sure you’re prepared!
Boat tours to see penguins, orcas and sea lions are popular here, you can book tours from any one of the huts at the port. Shop around for the best deal and make sure you know what type of boat it is and what wildlife you’re going to see. Patagonian Adventures is around $56 USD for a 4 hour trip.
You can also visit Tierra del Fuego national park here which is full of beautiful scenery, though in my opinion it pales in comparison to that of the glaciers in El Calafate.