Nestled in the frozen South of Argentina, this quick weekend trip into Patagonia both amazed and frightened me. Amazed, in the sense of its pure beauty and marvelous landscapes. Frightened, in the sense that it made me realize how much of an insignificant speck of dust that I am, standing beneath such powerful, towering, and beautiful creations.
From the picturesque hills, mountains, glaciers, rivers, and valleys that all run within close proximity to this little village, it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed by such beauty. Patagonia had always held a mysterious place in the “To-Go-Soon” section of my mind. And it still does. There is still so much ground to cover, and so many more awe-inspiring sights to see. One weekend trip is not nearly enough time to truly experience this massive region, but El Calafate is a wonderful start.
As I was spending several months in Buenos Aires, El Calafate was a great getaway from the noisy city life. I had been told by many locals that I must make a trip down to Patagonia, specifically to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. A little research into the place (about 5 minutes) was all that was needed for me to book the ticket and accommodations and make my way down for a quick trip. For a great package deal including accommodations and tours, I used Say Hue Que travel agency. If you’re looking for an easy-going, friendly, and well-priced agency, these guys will take care of everything. All you need is to know is the schedule. They will take care of the rest.
I stayed at “Calafate Hostel” for 3 nights, and arrived just before dusk. I was really impressed with the cleanliness of the entire building. The room sizes were very large. The staff was very accommodating and friendly. The bathrooms were of good size, and also very clean. But best yet, as it is on most trips, were the people (and soon to be new friends) that were staying at the same location. Immediately upon setting my bag down on my bed, I was welcomed and questioned of my whereabouts and plans for the weekend. My new temporary roommates and I exchanged quick introductions, and were soon on our way out the door to explore the downtown main street. As it was during the dead of winter, tourism season was long gone. With such smaller groups coming in, a lot of places were closed early, so our options were limited. However, we made the best of it! For the next few nights, we checked out a couple of pubs on the main street, Libertador, and usually settled on some steak and a couple glasses of Malbec. It’s very difficult to not find a good steak and decent glass of wine in this region. I would suggest taking a chance and perusing a couple of places on this street, as you won’t be disappointed with the food or drinks.
The main attraction here is the Perito Moreno glacier. You must see this. Of course you can go venture off into the surrounding areas (and I recommend you do), but the Perito Moreno glacier is the thing to see. I took two different tours – One, allowed me to get up close to the glacier, on a boat. About 40 other individuals and I were able to take a small excursion onto the chilly waters, and ride around to 3 of the nearby glaciers. It’s a wonderful trip that will get you up close to these massive sheets of ice. If you’re lucky, you may see a piece break off and plummet into the waters, creating a massive cracking sound and a roaring wave. This process is known as ‘calving’.
On the second tour, on the second day, I was able to take a bus to the surrounding areas, and make the way up to the front of the Perito Moreno Glacier. A simply spectacular site, I’ll let the video and photos do the talking.
A few tips for the journey;
Bring a sack lunch. There is a restaurant/cafeteria on top of the hill in which you will view the glacier, but it is ridiculously expensive. Your best to just bring a few sandwiches and supplement yourself with the cafeteria food if you are still hungry.
Pack layers. It is cold, but you don’t want to sweat a lot while walking! I found that wearing a layer of long underwear underneath my jeans worked perfectly. As well, an Under Armour shirt worked well underneath a sweatshirt and jacket, in which I could remove if I was getting warm.
Bring sunglasses. It can get very bright, especially when the sun shines. The snow glare can be very strong, and may cause irritation.
If you want to try it out (I’m not certain if it is frowned upon), yelling at the glacier at the top of your lungs will sometimes cause the entire glacier to shake. The sound is eerily encompassing, and sometimes, a giant piece of ice will come crashing down into the water.
Take a few breaths in utter silence. There are a couple of spots on the stairs which I found were void of any noise. Take notice of this. And if you are able to find them, just sit back, stare out at the majesty of the glacier, and take a few deep breaths of that untouched wilderness air. Enjoy those few moments of pure “awe” before you are whisked back to bus.