Looking out the plane window at the descending orange sun with the fading Fitz-Roy Mountains looming in the background, I realized that I did not want to leave Patagonia. I was not ready to say goodbye to the spectacular mountain ranges, the wild llamas, and the vast empty space between the small cultural towns. I had 11 days to travel 1,700 miles, visit 7 towns, and see all the amazing forced formed mountains, lakes, and glaciers. It was an amazing trip that will be at the top of my memory forever.
I am writing this post today to tell people about my experience traveling to the far south end of South America, the Patagonia Region, as well as writing everything down so I can cherish these memories forever. The first thing I need to say is: when you finish reading this post, buy your tickets and go, you will not regret it.
Why did I choose to visit this section of the world when there are copious amounts of other places to see? Couple reasons.
1) Have you looked at photos?? This area is so beautiful it does not compare to describe, a place you need to view with your own eyes.
2) I am living in Buenos Aires so I was already in the general vicinity of the South.
3) My amazing boyfriend decided to visit me in Argentina, and I could not let him only see big smelly Buenos Aires.
4) It actually was pretty affordable. We are two 23/24 year olds who managed to pay for the trip on our own, not even being super stingy.
5) Looking from a geologist point of view, this place tells an impetuous, stunning story.
Here is a brief summery of the trip, then I will go into more detail.
For our trip I decided that we should start north and work our way south. I noticed that most people do it opposite, either way works, but I am very happy with the way we did it. We flew into the first town and out of the last and rented a car for everything in between. A list of the towns in order:
San Martin De Los Andes
Now I will go into detail of every town and the in-betweens. I will also mention prices, but keep in mind that we were here for the month of June, which is low season, so prices were slightly cheaper than that of high season and at each hostel I booked a private room with a bathroom. Hostels are cheaper when you share rooms with other people.
San Martin De Los Andes is beautiful. It is a small town nestled in the mountains with a beautiful lake at one end and a ski resort about 30 minutes away. The main street is orderly with a mountain architecture style. We flew into the small airport around noon and our Avis rental guy met us with the car ready to go. We drove the short 15 minutes into town and found our awesome hostel right away. We stayed at Cabañas Dúplex del Chapelco, which was $30 for the night and well worth it. It was a small apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, and two bedrooms, right against the lake. We sadly only spent the half-day and night there, so we did have time to do much exploring. My suggestion, stay two days. Looking back, this was one of my favorite towns that we visited. We did stop by this cool shop that sold tons of local Argentinian beers, as well as the local beers on tap, coffee and food. I wish I remember the name, I would have included a link, but sadly I do not, so there are some photos above instead.
From San Martin we drove to Bariloche along the 7 lakes route. This is why we decided to rent a car, to be able to drive this scenic route. During our 3-4 hour drive it lightly snowed, and there were low laying clouds allowing for a surreal otherworldly type atmosphere with the heavily forested mountains and clear blue lakes. I felt like I was in a mystery movie.
Bariloche was larger than I expected. It is a hilly town that is backed up against lake Nahuel Huapi. There is a ski resort about 20 minutes away and plenty of things to do to stay entertained. We stayed at Hostel Las Moiras ($33 a night), which was nice but I suggest looking for better options. The hostel had a friendly staff and was clean, but the room was small, the toilet was in the shower, and they said you got a view of the lake which is not true. There really is nothing horrible to complain about, especially for the price. We spent 2 days there. The first day after our drive we just milled around town exploring. We had lunch at a parilla recommended by the hostel- Las Brasas that was excellent. After that we walked along the lake and checked out the fossil museum. It was okay, but I wouldn’t recommend taking time out of your day to check it out. We went to dinner at this great place Manush that I recommend, where they have huge picada plates (an assortment of appetizers) that you split with the table. We had that and their beer on tap.
The next day was Adams birthday so we drove the circuito chico route (which was recommended by my friend who grew up there) the first half of the morning and at 1 we were picked up by the kayaking company Cuadrante Sur.This was one highlight of the trip. We ended up being the only people who signed up for the day so our guide picked us up in his car and drove us to the input spot, gave us each individual kayaks including dry jackets, a skirt, and dry bags. The lake was crystal clear, and there was no wind so it was glass with a perfect reflection. We casually made our way to one spot on the side of the lake and took time to rest, where he brought along tea, coffee, mate and croissants. Our guide spoke perfect English and had some interesting stories about the town and his life. After about 3 hours on the lake he drove us back to the hostel. He got some great shots of us on the lake that he has posted on his Facebook. That night we ate at Familia Weiss, a very expensive restaurant but Adam swears he had one of the best steaks of his life there. I also mentioned to the server that it was his birthday so they played the birthday song and brought a free dessert. Adam was bright red, but I was happy, always love free dessert.
Then next day we woke up and drove to El Bolson, only to find out that someone tried to break into our car the night before and broke the trunk lock. Idiot couldn’t even break into a car correctly, and we didn’t have anything in the car for him to steal anyways. So that was a bust, having to pay for that in the end. The drive to El Bolson was 2 hours through more beautiful mountains. I was told that Bolson is a hippie town so I really wanted to check it out. When we got there I did not get that feeling. It was more of a poor hick town. Not to be mean, just my personal opinion. We stayed at Pehuenia hostel y cabañas hostel, ($34 a night) which I have mixed feelings about. They were three cute little log/stone homes next to each other, with multiple beds, a bathroom, and a kitchen sink/table. We were the only people staying there so we got the room to ourselves, and the host was very nice. What I did not like was the bed grossed us out with a clearly dirty duvet cover and the heater did not work so it was freezing. In fact the whole town was freezing, being constantly covered by the looming mountains on both sides.
I had a list of possible activities to do in the town and everything we tried did not work as we planned. First we walked into “town” and checked out the market, which had the normal craft and food venders, got a horribly dry empanada and a horribly sour beer. After that we decided to try and find the river trail but ended up getting completely lost on these dirt roads until we finally decided to park outside someone’s house and walk along the river. There was this super sketch creaky wood bridge to get across which was actually quite thrilling. The river was an amazing blue and we didn’t mind relaxing, skimming rocks and meandering along the side. Then after we wanted to see if we could find the rock museum so we started driving on another dirt road on the other side of town, but eventually had to turn around because it was in bad condition and we felt bad for out tiny car. After that we just gave up and decided to make dinner at the hostel. In conclusion, we did not really like El Bolson, and I’d suggest just skipping it.
The next day we drove 2 hours to Esquel, another small town that I think you can avoid. It was like a ghost town, with no people on the streets. We got to our hostel Casa del Pueblo ($40 a night) where they did not even know we were coming (even though I had reserved in advance) and we had to wait about an hour and a half for the room to be ready. The hostel had a ton of people who all knew each other and I had a feeling they all lived near and were one giant family. They were all very nice but low class yelling and asking us strange questions. I sound mean when I say this, and I really am not trying to be, we were just taken back by the sudden interest when the whole trip we were quite secluded.
Once our room was ready we put our stuff down and drove to Los Alerces National Park. The park had no signs so you pretty much drive around and see what you can find. There was a large lake in the middle that we sat at for a while and had a small picnic. Once we were done exploring the lake we went into town, finally found a restaurant that was open and decided to kill as much time there as we possible could, by drinking and eating very slowly. Now our bed in the hostel was horrible. So gross that it made my skin crawl, and it was taco’d haphazardly. Luckily we were there just for the night. The next morning we woke up at 5 to start our 13-hour drive to El Chalten.
Yup that is right, 13 hours straight in the car. So being this far south in the world you will notice that the sun does not come up until about 10 and it goes down by about 5 or 6, and does not even rise, just stays at about 11 o’clock for the whole day. A very strange feeling. Surprisingly the drive wasn’t too bad. There were pretty parts and lots of flat desert stretches with wild llamas and emus everywhere. What was strange was the highway just turns into a dirt road at patches, once for over 70 km. We kept wondering if we were on the right road, decided to stick with it, and thankfully we were on the right path.
By the time it was coming to sunset we had made it to El Chalten, which was the goal because we wanted to take photos of the amazing Fitz Roy Mountains in that light. I seriously got about a thousand photos of those peaks. Once finding our way to the hostel Hospedaje Mi Rincon, ($43 a night) which was not hard since the town is tiny, we checked in, got empanadas for dinner, and passed out. The hostel was one of the best on the trip. Nice sized room with a very clean and comfortable bed, and a large bathroom. In the morning breakfast was ready for us right outside our door, brought fresh that morning. The hostel was more like a bed and breakfast. The owner spoke great English as well and helped a lot with the planning of our hike to Fitz Roy. He provided us with a map, directions, suggestions, and ski poles. We did the Tres Lagos trail which took all day, was tough and extremely steep at the end, but so worth it! Along the hike you pass two glaciers, go through a wooded forest, then a flat ice land, then the steep, and I mean steep, bouldering/hiking to a view of the towers and the glacier. A-maz-ing. When we made it to the top we took photos, cracked a beer, and felt accomplished. We also packed a lunch that we ate further down and were accompanied by a friend (the bird in the photo above). By the end of the day we were pooped. That night we went out to the only restaurant open and then passed out.
So yes I recommend visiting El Chalten, and if you are a hiker, do the 5-10 day backpacking circuits. Also hint, there is not a gas station in the town, it is right before the entrance in a small blue trailer.
After El Chalten we made the 6 hour drive to Puerto Natales. Along the way we lost route 40 again because there are no legible signs, but we managed to make it on an actual paved road. To get to Puerto Natales you have to leave Argentina and stop at their border control to get a piece of paper stamped and then enter Chile at their border control where they stamp more papers, ask if you have any food, and check your luggage. It was all very easy, but make sure you have the correct paper from your car rental company, if not the will not let you in. Check out this website for more info (We did not have to pay a fee). It is funny because you are on a dirt road in Argentina, and right at the gate, Chile has the roads paved, already nicer. Anyways it was about another hour to Puerto Natales from the border.
We got there in the afternoon so we just wandered around and got dinner at some random place. We stayed two nights at YaganHouse ($40 a night) which was very cute and clean. The next day was my birthday and I wanted to go check out Torres Del Paine. When we woke up we did not realize that there was an hour time difference so we woke up at 7 instead of 8, which ended up being fantastic because we got to see the most spectacular sun rise, and on top of that I got photos of the famous Muelle Historico pier with that sky reflection on the lake. A great start to my birthday. We drove the hour and a half up to the national park, paid the entrance fee, and decided to only do a short hike to one of the towers since we were so exhausted from our hike in El Chalten. It was a calm flat hike with startlingly stunning blue lakes, glaciers, and more abrupt peaks! These towers are two toned, with perfect sedimentary layers of light and dark. We hung out there all day and drove another way back to town. Hint- have a full tank of gas because you can drive for miles in the park and the only gas station is in Puerto Natales. That night we tried to go to dinner at Santolla but sadly it was closed, so we went to this great pizza place Mesita Grande where they gave me a free birthday dessert. I recommend going to both places, if they are open. Puerto Natales was an all right town, which really I only recommend you go to if you are going to the national park.
The next day we drove 4 hours to our last destination, El Calafate a larger town with more things to do. We arrived to our hotel which was amazing, El Mirador. Somehow they gave us the 2nd floor suite! It was huge. Two bathrooms, 3 showers, one large bed and another living room with couches, tables, and a flat screen TV. There was a sliding glass doors to the patio that looked over the lake. I only paid $70 bucks for that room. I couldn’t believe it. We didn’t want to leave, but we also wanted to check out the town. So we walked to down town where they had a lot of cute shops and restaurants. There is a casino that we checked out, each of us somehow ended up with more money than we spent, which usually never happens. And it was a slots. Ha! Later we went to the Ice Bar which, be warned, is dangerous. It is a place you pay $180 pesos to drink as much as you can in 25 minutes, in a room that is made completely of ice. They provide gloves, ponchos, and studs for your shoes to not freeze and slip around. The bartender can make about anything and I must say was quite cute. Let’s say we should have done the bar after we had dinner instead of before. The next day we drove to see the Perito Merino glacier, which looks like the photos, so not that amazing for such a long drive, then we waited around until we could drop off the car, and got a taxi to the airport.
So now we have come full circle and I have explained why I did not want to leave my trip to Patagonia. It was such an amazing experience that will be in my memories forever. I hope my rambling will help you decide to go, and what to see and what to not. I will say, looking back and knowing what I know I suggest flying into San Martin and staying there, Villa La Angostura, and Bariloche, renting a car for those three places. Then flying out of Bariloche to El Calafate and staying there and El Chalten, and if you want Puerto Natales, renting another car for these towns. This means you avoid that 15 hour drive in-between, and unwanted car drop off fees. All in all I only spent about $1200 on this trip, which in my book isn’t bad. I have also included the notes that I took before the trip, because there is more stuff in there that I did not have time to check out. I hope you go, and please comment with any recommendations, experiences, and such.
- San Martin De Los Andes
- To Do:
- Cascada Chachin – Hua Hum
- Easy hour hike, leads to waterfall with deck. Coffee shop along the way.
- Ruta Provincial 48, San Martin de los Andes, Neuquén, Argentina
- Crux Cerveceria: Av. San Martin, 1291, San Martin de los Andes, Argentina
- Staying the night at: Cabañas Dúplex del Chapelco
- lmirante Brown y Costanera, San Martín de los Andes, Argentina
- To Do:
- Half Day Kayaking- pick us up at hostel at 1: cuadrantesur.com $600 pp
- Visit Llao Llao hotel- Looks like a castle, super expensive.
- Ezequiel Bustillo Km 25, 8401 San Carlos de Bariloche, Río Negro
- Circuito Chico (Small circuit) Delfi recommends
- Good representation of the town.
- Definitely do circuito chico, go up to cerro catedral and go to the top of the mtn on the cable car to refugio lynch, the view is incredible!
- Cerro caterdral: from Bariloche, along Av. Bustillo to kilometer No. 8 (Catedral intersection). Then, turn left into the paved road till you reach the ski resort access, with its free parking space for 960 vehicles. There is also a regular bus service every 30 minutes. You can also go up by taxi or on a tourist excursion transfer vehicle.
- Hot springs- 3 dif ones
- Where to Stay: 2 nights
- Hostel Las Moiras
- Reconquista 72 – Bariloche (a pasos del Centro Cívico)
- (54) 2944 427883
- El Bolson
- To do:
- Museo de Piedras Patagonicas: Rocks
- Have a feeling it is all in Spanish. Indoors and outdoors- $50p
- El Bosque Tallado: small hike to carvings out of trees from old fire.
- Museo de Piedras Patagonicas: Rocks
- Cascada Chachin – Hua Hum
|o To get to the Carved Forest, you must take the mountain path that, leaving from Route 258, leads to the Piltriquitrón Mount platform. There are signs indicating the detour. It is 13 km along the winding rubble road to a large parking lot where the vehicle is parked. After approximately one-hour walk, depending on the rhythm of the march, you get to the Carved Forest. $40 I think
o From El Bosque Tallado you have beautiful views of the Cerro Piltriquitron (2,260 meters), the Tres Picos in the distance and if you feel like a more challenging walk you can make the total 25km walk from El Bolson to the Refugio Piltriquitron or even a further 2 hour walk to the summit of the mountain. The refugio is a great stop on the way and offer lunch and locally brewed beer on the way.
- Cascada Mallin Ahogado: waterfall. Mixed reviews. Cool for like 15 min. Small fee? Can drive and is short walk.
- On National Route No. 258 north, three kilometers from the center of El Bolson, there is an asphalt detour leading to Mallín Ahogado circuit. Can be considered a global circuit that provides access to several attractions. If you take the first left turn accesses the Escondida waterfalls, Catarata del Mallín and Perito Moreno hill.
- Cerro Amigo: Super short walk 30min, to see view of whole town.
- Rio Azul: short walk along the river.
- Up the winding road to the Mirador with splendid views to Rio Azul and the lush valley. In the distance we could see lake peulo and the towering snow capped mountains around. Make sure to get as far as the Refugio Cajon del Azul for a beer and a bite to eat. Water clear like cascades. In the trees so dress warm.
- Patagonia Canopy Tour: $600. Long course.
- Good info on town: http://www.footprinttravelguides.com/latin-america/argentina/lake-district/bariloche-to-el-bolsan/el-bolsan/
- To Stay: Pehuenia hostel y cabañas
- Azcuenaga 140, El Bolson, Argentina
- 1 hour from Los Alerces Nat. Park
- To reach this area, we crossed the transition territory between the Patagonian steppe and the Andean forest. The first stretch must be completed by following paved National Route 259 and then Provincial Route 71, made of gravel and dwelled by sheldgeese and black-faced ibis. At the 70th kilometer marker, history and fable become entwined in the logs of the house where people swear the mythical Butch Cassidy used for his adventures in Argentina. The Andean-Patagonian forest begins to occupy everything around and the mountains become multiplied until the park is accessed.
- Los Alerces National Park –whose name in Spanish stands for Patagonian cypress- was created in 1937 to preserve this ancient highly praised tree species which takes so long to grow. Furthermore, it includes a sequence of lakes of matchless beauty.
- On the left shore of Lake Futalaufquen, certainly the most outstanding of all the water bodies in the park, we found the village bearing the same name, the main services center in the area.
- The most outstanding buildings made of stone and wood are the Park Intendancy and the Interpretation Center, where we were provided detailed information about the various trails in the area, as well as about tours to visit Alto Dedal Hill, Los Pumas, Cinco Saltos, Tío Mindo Cascade, cave paintings, native flora and the like, typical in the area.
- There are choices for all tastes. At the southern end of the eastern arm (one of the three arms of the lake, all of which are surrounded by multicolored forests), 4 kilometers away from the village, there stands port Limonao, the main local port, where visitors may embark on a lake tour as the spectacular architecture of Futalaufquen inn lies behind them.
- To Stay:
- Casa del Pueblo San Martin 661, Esquel, Argentina,
- 1 hour from Los Alerces Nat. Park
- El Chaltan
- Hiking-all treks : http://elchalten.com/eng/actividades/caminatas.php
- Fitzroy (also known as Cerro Fitzroy, Cerro Chaltel, Chaltén, and Monte Fitz Roy, 3,375 meters / 11,073 feet) is the highest spire in a compact range of granite (granodiorite) peaks in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
- To Stay
- Hospedaje Mi Rincon, Cabo Garcia 115, El Chalten, Argentina
- Puerto Natales
- Puerto Natales which is 75km (46miles) from the southern entrance of the national park. If you want to visit Torres del Paine then you’ll need to drive the 1h 30min Ruta del Fin del Mundo (route of the end of the world) into the park.
- Torres Del Paine
- Muelle Historico – Have to do. Great photos of lake with the old dock. Pedro Montt 1020, Puerto Natales, Natales,
- Por Que no te Callas (Why dont you shut up) -Magallanes 247,
- Baguales- Local brewery – Bories 430
- Santolla- yummy looking fancy restaurant. Magallanes St 73B, Puerto Natales 6160000, Chile
- Creperia Cafe & Te- breakfast or tea time- Manuel Bulnes 358, Puerto Natales 6160000, Chile
- To stay: YaganHouse, Puerto Natales
- O’Higgins 584 | Puerto Natales | Patagonia, Chile
- El Calafate
- Perito merino glacier- go early in morning before tour buses arrive.
- Where to stay:
- Mirador Hotel : Avenida del Libertador Gral. San Martín 2047, El Calafate