El Calafate (days 10-13)
2.761 km from Buenos Aires
Travel agencies: Huellas del Sur
You can reach the city by flying to the city airport, by bus or car (follow the Ruta 40)
When you arrive in the city you can’t avoid to say a big WOW: you’ll be in front of one of the biggest lakes of South America (Argentino Lake)… and it’s really impressive! I mean, I grew up in a town 70% surrounded by the sea. And now I live in Switzerland where you cann0t really miss lakes, but i had never seen such a big lake, so colourful and quiet.
El Calafate is a pretty town with the usual main road with nice little houses and lots of bar, restaurants and tourist shops.
This is one of the most impressive wonder of nature that you could see in your life (but not the only one in Argentina)
There is no real need to book an excursion for this experience: you can simply choose to reach the Peninsula Magallanes and the port Ventisquero Moreno on your own (turist bus or car) if you want.
On your way to the place you’ll border Bahía Redonda on the Argentino lake (take a look at the the Solitaria Island, you can’t miss it…it’s just in front of you, all alone!). Once you crossed the Mitre river, you will enter the Glaciers National Park.
The famous Curva de los Suspiros, along the road, shows you the first panoramic view of the Perito Moreno Glacier. The first time you cross the curve you can hear the sigh of the people viewing the glacier…that’s why the name
Then, you reach the viewpoint where you can have the chance to sigh a little bit more.
Once you reach the parking (toilets, food and lots of other people) you can start the footbridges (about 2 hours walking to complete it, but you can always turn back or take a shorter path) where you will have the opportunity to almost touch the glacier!
This is really spectacular and breathless and sometimes if you’re lucky you will also get to witness the famous ice detachment phenomena, hear the hollow sounds of ice falling and thus becoming smaller floating glaciers.
This is not really necessary if you’ll also do “all the glaciers” excursion. It consists of a one hour boat trip in front of the South wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier from the wharf Bajo de las Sombras. The trip goes through Rico Lake and borders the southern wall, which is otherwise impossible to see.
Unfortunately we didn’t catch this opportunity…next time!
This lacustrine excursion starts at Punta Bandera harbor, 50 km from El Calafate.
The Boat trip will go 70 km along the north branch of Argentino Lake, after going through Boca del Diablo, the narrowest part of the Lake. Throughout the tour you will be able to observe incredible sceneries and a variety of shapes and colours in the enormous blocks of ice detaching from the majestic Upsala Glacier, the biggest one in the National Park. After you pass the front wall of this glacier, the boat continues to Puerto Las Vacas in the Onelli Bay.
The return trip through the channel of the Spegazzini Glacier gives you another impressive memory, leaving you in the middle of a mountain of ice with the presence of the Heim, Seco and Spegazzini glaciers, with walls at record heights among the visited glaciers, reaching in some sectors 125 meters.
Ice, ice baby.. and more ice. That will be the main theme of these days and despite it could sound a bit boring, the natural scenery you’re going to find it’s something you will never be able to imagine without being here!
Departing from el Calafate after approx 100 km on the Ruta40 you’ll arrive at La Leona estancia, driving along the Argentino Lake, the Santa Cruz River and the beautiful valley of the La Leona River behind, with Andean mountains on your left.
You can have a stop at the La Leona Hotel before to reach the forest. Our guide opened a gate with the keys so i don’t think you can go there without an organized excursion as the forest is part of a private property.
Once entered you’ll have to start walking to explore the area on a not very signed path. If you’re expecting trees, shade and fresh, you’ll remain highly disappointed! The arid and windy steppe is the surrealistic landscape you’re going to find. The fact is that glaciation processes left singular stamps that cause surprises in the depths of Patagonia. An enormous natural depression on the land, very similar to the lunar geography. This geological formation is the result of the wind and water erosion. Between them, the trees that make part of this significant deposit, together with other fossils, lie entrapped. Going along into narrow paths, you’ll get inside a labyrinthine search for petrified logs. Protected by the slopes of the mountain, the weather conditions are extremely dry, which enabled the better conservation of countless pieces on the surface. Some of them have significant magnitude, over one meter diameter. You can also find rests of vertebras and bones of apparent prehistoric animals that have not been studied yet, lay all around, motionless for centuries.
Millions of years ago, Patagonia was an environment where warm and humid weather reigned, with abundant vegetation, with giant tree forests. At the end of the mid-jurassic period, an intense volcanic activity took place at the same time the Andean mountain range was formed. This buried these forests under a thick layer of ashes. During thousands of years, the mineral components carried out the petrification process, gradually replacing the organic matter which, in spite of everything, kept its external aspect. Unlike the petrified forests, these trees in La Leona were dragged both by rivers and glaciers, to the place where they are at present. It is estimated that since the petrification till this day, 150 years have passed.
We stopped for lunch (provided with the excursion) in a place where there was nothing around! Then another little walk and back to the town.
I wasn’t really sure about this excursion when booked it, but in the end it turned into one of the best and unexpected experience in El Calafate…as there’s not only glaciers in Santa Cruz!