El Calafate and Ushuaia – five days in Argentine Patagonia 

El Calafate is a town in Argentina known for one thing – Perito Moreno glacier. This is the world’s only glacier which is not shrinking, but rather at a state of equilibrium. At the far south of the country lies the city of Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth. In contrast to the rest of Patagonia, Ushuaia was covered in a thick layer of snow and slush. Because of this, during the winter months the town is alive with skiers and snowboarders from around the world.  
My first sight in Argentina was the Perito Moreno Glacier. I had to take a tour to the glacier from Puerto Natales, Chile, in order to see it at all, as I had to change my plans due to lack of buses. This involved a 7 AM bus, a very easy border crossing in the middle of nowhere, and a very long and convoluted route to El Calafate before continuing to the glacier.  

 

Chilean border office
  
Crossing into Argentina
 We got to the glacier at about 3 PM and had two hours to wander around the many boardwalks and viewpoints. Since I brought lunch with me, I went straight for the boardwalks instead of eating in the very overpriced cafeteria attached to the visitor centre, and it was perfect. Just as I made it to the first viewpoint, I heard a large crash and saw a huge chunk of ice calving off the glacier and fall into the lake below. It was impressive, especially since the snow was falling so hard I could barely see the glacier in the first place, but this part was crystal clear. The snow cleared up after about 40 minutes, showing much of the 14 kilometers of ice behind the front cliffs. In warmer and clearer weather, I think that 2 hours would not be enough to enjoy the entire area, but with cold and snow it was plenty.  

 

The barely visible glacier
  
Perito Moreno glacier once the snow let up
  
The boardwalks
  
The ice is extremely blue
 The bus left for El Calafate at about 5, and we made it back a little after 6. I was the only one who was staying in the city, so I got dropped off at the gas station and walked to my hostel. I stayed at America del Sur and it was incredible. They have heated floors. HEATED FLOORS. After freezing in Bolivia and then again in Patagonia, heated flooring was pretty much the greatest thing. The staff was great, breakfast was included, and it was so warm. When I got here, I also ran into my French friend from the previous two towns and the Brazilian guy from my hostel in Puerto Natales.  

 

Shops in El Calafate
 
I spent the last hour of daylight walking around the downtown area of El Calafate. It’s super touristy, but unlike Puerto Natales, it was actually open! There were lots of crazy overpriced tourist shops and restaurants, but the area was nice enough to make up for it. I went back to the hostel after dark and then went to dinner with my Brazilian friend at a nearby restaurant which was recommended by the hostel. I hadn’t eaten in a restaurant in a few weeks so I was ready so spend a bit more than normal. The place we went was the #1 in town and quite upscale, and the food was incredible. I had a huge portion of Patagonian lamb in a calafate sauce (it’s a local berry). By the time it was all said and done I spent 300 pesos ($20 at the blue dollar rate) but it was worth it!

 

Patagonian lamb dinner
 
The next afternoon, after dealing with the hassle of cancelled flights and talking with customer service in Spanish, I flew to Ushuaia. The flight was short, though it was almost prolonged due to a snowstorm at the airport when we were about to land. We ended up landing 20 minutes early somehow and I made it to my hostel by 4. I just walked around the centre for a bit and saw the city for the first day, which was quite nice. The “Fin Del Mundo” sign was only 2 blocks from the hostel, so it was very conveniently located for walking about. The park along the waterfront was really nice, though my photos kept getting bombed by ski teams from random countries (especially the Polish team) who were in the city for a competition.  

 

Lago Argentino from Above
  
Ticket vendors along the Ushuaia streets
  
It’s the End of the World!
 
The next day I decided to go winter hiking in Tierra del Fuego National Park. On the way to the bus station, I had my passport stamped with an “End of the World” stamp at the information centre near the port. The bus to the park was an outrageous 300 pesos ($20 at the blue rate) though it was only 15 km. However, the park was worth the cost. When I arrived, it was snowing quite hard but it quickly let up, with only random heavy downbursts of snow throughout the trek. I spent most of the walk with an older Argentine couple who both had studied some English and wanted to practice, so we had an interesting talk in basic English with Spanish to fill in the blanks. The hiking circuit took about 3 hours, at the end of which was an overpriced cafe for the cold and wet hikers who spent the day in the park. I caught the next bus and made it to the hostel by 4, where I spent the rest of the day keeping warm in the lounge area. I also met a group of Filipino travelers at the hostel and spent most of the night hanging out with them.  

 

Tierra del Fuego National Park
  
   
The following morning, I slept in way longer than anticipated, but when I finally made it to the lobby, my German friends I had run into so many times were checking into the hostel. Since they showed up, we ended up all trying to hike to the Glaciar Martial but had to turn around near the top due to the weather and the sun going down. The walk wasn’t bad though, just a bit slushy in the streets. We made it back by nightfall and I went to bed early, as I had an early flight to Buenos Aires the following morning.  

 

Shopping streets
  
Stranded ship in the port
  
Mountainous landscape surrounding the city
  
So close to Antarctica!
 

Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales – five days exploring Chilean Patagonia 

Punta Arenas is the gateway city to Chilean Patagonia.  The city is the southernmost in Chile, and is the capital of the Magellanes district.  It has the only airport in the region, making it the first stop for anyone flying into Chilean Patagonia. Puerto Natales is a much smaller town located just north of Punta Arenas, and is the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park and the rest of the trekking opportunities in Chilean Patagonia.

I arrived in Punta Arenas  after a three hour flight from Puerto Montt.  Getting to my hostel, Hostal 53 Sur, was easy with the cheap transfer bus at the airport.  The staff was really friendly and the hostel was wonderfully warm – much unlike the cold and windy weather outside.  Since it was late, I cooked dinner and went to bed early, as I planned to see the city the following morning before heading to Puerto Natales.
I was pleasantly surprised by a pancake breakfast in the morning, apparently included in the hostel fee for the night.  I also met up with a French girl who was also staying in the hostel and we ended up touring the city together.  After we bought our bus tickets to Puerto Natales, we first headed toward the viewpoint of the city.  We ended up missing the main viewpoint, but found a different one that was still really nice.  From here we walked toward the cemetery, stopping in a cathedral along the way (where we accidentally let some stray dogs inside).
Downtown Punta Arenas
Punta Arenas is known for its interesting cemetery, which has a wide variety of families located inside.  Interestingly, the main gate is closed permanently at the request of the woman who financed the cemetery – she wanted to be the last one to enter it when she died, so there is a side entrance now.  Since the city was heavily populated with people from all over Europe, the names on the gravestones are extremely varied.

Colorful gravestones in the cemetery
After the cemetery we went toward the seashore to walk along the coastal sidewalk.  The wind was really intense there and was almost strong enough to hold you up if you fell into it.  We walked along the water toward the city centre, where we went to escape the crazy wind and to see the last part of the city.  The centre is a really nice area, with many statues and memorials scattered throughout its many plazas.  The centerpiece of the Plaza de Armas is a large statue of Ferdinand Magellan, who the region was named after.  I walked back to the hostel from here to make lunch, splitting from my friend who went to buy some food, and ended up finding the actual mirador along the way.  The view was really nice as it was aligned with the streets, giving a better view of the buildings and the ocean.  In the late afternoon, I caught the bus to Puerto Natales, located 3 hours to the north.

Monument along the seashore

Monument of Magellan in the Plaza de Armas

Punta Arenas from the mirador
I made it to Puerto Natales fairly late in the evening and walked to my hostel, The Singing Lamb.  The place was pretty empty the entire time I was there, which was kinda weird but the hostel was really nice so it was fine.  The next day I set out to explore the town.  There really isn’t much to it, other than the main plaza and the seaside walk.  Most of the stores and hostels were closed for the off season, making it seem very dead during my entire visit.  The waterfront, however, was absolutely stunning and worth spending a day there just to see.  The wind was really strong (as in all of Patagonia) so the waves were quite large.  The water is overshadowed by large snow-capped mountains and the ever changing sky.  I spent hours along the water listening to music and relaxing, at least until I froze from the wind.  Later in the afternoon, I managed to run into the German guys who were on my Salar de Uyuni tour in Bolivia a few weeks earlier – they were staying in the same hostel as the French girl from Punta Arenas, which was crazy. I ended up spending the evening having dinner at their hostel and chatting until fairly late.

Ship docked in the waters off Puerto Natales

Broken ship on shore outside of town

The old dock in Puerto Natales

Gorgeous sunset along the ocean
Early the next morning I took a day tour to Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most famous places in Patagonia. Unfortunately, just before my hostel pickup came, I had a catastrophic incident with my camera which left it unusable (in case you didn’t already know: DSLR + water = bad time for everyone).   It wasn’t a very great weather day to visit TdP, so while the tour was incredible and the landscape gorgeous, I was only able to see the famous towers for about 5 minutes of the whole day we were there.  The waterfalls and glacial ice were really great though, and the place we stopped to eat lunch had a  spectacular view of a lake and the mountains.  On the way out of the park we went to Mylodon Cave, which is a giant cave where they found remnants of the Mylodon (a giant sloth like creature that lived in Patagonia until about 10,000 years ago), as well as evidence of prehistoric human occupation in the region.  The stop wasn’t too long but it was quite interesting nonetheless.  As soon as we arrived back in Puerto Natales, I made supper and then had an intense conversation about archaeology, anthropology, and everything else with a girl from Germany – which is exactly one of the reasons I love traveling so much.

Waterfall on Rio Paine

Torres del Paine

Suspension bridge on the trail to Lago Grey

Ice from Glacier Grey in Lago Grey

Mylodon cave

Mylodon statue in the cave
The following day I had planned on leaving to Argentina, but due to bus scheduling problems (i.e. there are no Sunday buses), I ended up doing nothing but rest and catching up on things like blog posts for the entire day.  I had to book a tour to Perito Moreno glacier from Puerto Natales rather than taking the normal bus due to this problem, leaving me with an extra day and nothing to do (especially since literally everything else was closed since it was Sunday).  It all worked out though, and the next morning I was on the bus to El Calafate, Argentina!

Puerto Varas and the Lakes District – tranquil German villages and snow capped volcanoes 

Puerto Varas is a charming little town on Lake Llanquique in the Lakes Region of Chile.  This area is the beginning of Patagonia, and it’s a perfect place to begin a trip through the region.
I arrived in Puerto Varas after an overnight bus from Santiago.  The weather was miserable when I arrived, and the walk to the hostel from the bus station was a very wet ordeal – which was made longer by the marathon taking place on the road I needed to use to get to the hostel. I made it eventually, cold and wet, and the Margouya Patagonia hostel was a welcome relief with its warm sitting area and log cabin atmosphere.  After warming up a bit and waiting for the rain to subside, I took a walk around the thoroughly drenched town and along the lakeshore.  The town was quaint, with a blend of authentic and touristy shops and restaurants.  I didn’t get too much of a chance to walk around though as the rain came back with a fierce vengeance after about an hour so I made my way back to the hostel.

Large metal statue along the waterfront

Puerto Varas

The church in Puerto Varas

Colorful houses on a rainy day
The following morning was a completely different story.  The sun was shining and the sky was clear and blue.  After breakfast I walked toward the bus stop to visit Vincente Rosales Perez National Park in nearby Petrohue. When I got the to bus stop, I ran into two Brazilian guys who were also at my hostel so we all went to the park together.  When we arrived after the hour-long bus ride, we grabbed a quick lunch by Lake Todos Los Santos and went to the trail.  The first few kilometers of trail was mostly forest walking, but after that it suddenly opened up to stunning views of Osorno Volcano, which is located at the edge of the park.  Continuing further up the trail and toward the volcano, there was a magnificent viewpoint of Lake Todos Los Santos and the mountains surrounding it.  We headed back down the trail and toward another mirador, with equally impressive views, before taking the trail down a dried alluvial river bed toward the lake.  While the views from the first two miradors were impressive, the scene at the lake was outstanding. The blue water was crystal clear and waveless, causing the mountainous landscape surrounding it to reflect off the surface.  It was very hard to leave the beauty of that place.  However, we were running dangerously close to the time of the last bus back to Puerto Varas, and still had 4 kilometers to get back.  We had so little time we had to run most of the final 2 kilometers in order to make it back by the time (we were told) the last bus left.  We made it just in time, just to find out the bus didn’t arrive for another half an hour.  It was nice to have time to crash after the run through the sandy trails, but it would’ve been nicer to avoid the entire run altogether.  In any case, we got on the bus and made it back to Puerto Varas for a stunning sunset from the lakeshore.

Lago Todos Los Santos

Volcan Osorno from Vincente Perez Rosales National Park

Lago Todos Los Santos in Vincente Perez Rosales NP

A man fishing at sunset in Puerto Varas
The next day, I decided to visit the neighboring town of Frutillar.  Frutillar is a little German inspired village located a short distance north of Puerto Varas, still along the lakeshore. The local bus cost $1 each way, so it was a nice place to take a cheap trip.  The village is famous for its decidedly German architecture, as well as Teatro del Lago, a stunning theatre situated over Lago Llanquique.  I spent some time wandering the streets and around the theatre; however, the town was mostly closed down as it was the off season so I didn’t find it especially interesting to visit.  After about an hour and a half I headed back to Puerto Varas, where I had lunch before heading south to Puerto Montt.

Theatre on the Lake in Frutillar

Dock and Volcan Osorno in Frutillar
Puerto Montt was also a $1 bus ride away, this time to the south and the Pacific Coast.  The local bus arrived right to the bus terminal, which was very conveniently located along the shore in the downtown area.  The city is much larger and industrial than Puerto Varas, and had a much more touristy atmosphere.  There were tons of shopping malls and tourist shops in the downtown core, especially around the main plaza.  There wasn’t anything especially appealing about the city, so I didn’t stay too long here either.  I made my way back to Puerto Varas for dinner and ended up having a great conversation at my hostel with people from the UK, Germany, Austria, Peru, and Brazil until after 3 AM!

Since I was flying out in the afternoon, I didn’t have time to do anything else on my last day in Puerto Varas.  I took the bus to Puerto Montt around noon and from there the bus to the airport for my flight to Punta Arenas – my first stop in Patagonia!

Puerto Montt coastline

          Puerto Montt