Insider South America Series, Chapter 6: Hiking Hacks in Patagonia
With the South Western part of Argentina being home to over 300 glaciers, it's safe to say we won't get through them all. But you will need some time, and energy to get around to all of the amazing experiences the heart of Patagonia has to offer.
In our previous blog we based ourselves in El Calafate and made day trips as well as renting a car to hike to Fitz Roy, however in this edition of our Patagonia blogs we will look more into the treks and activities further afield from El Calafate and El Chalten. If the opportunity came again, we would do things a little bit differently. Read on to see what we did, how we did it and what we would change for the next time.
About 3 hours from El Calafate is El Chalten. Home of free entry treks and some of the most amazing sights Patagonia has to offer. With self-guided tours ranging from beginner to expert, it is easy to see how you could spend weeks here exploring every path winding and twisting through the mountains.
The best way to describe the mountain peaks came from our favourite Italian “A team” friends Sez and Sushi as “it’s like a painting, you know”.
We ventured out on a day trip to El Chalten which we organised through our hostel for $1600 ARG pesos. As amazing as it was, we recommend hiring some camping equipment (can be done in many outdoor recreation stores in Calafate and Chalten) and spend a full week in the camping grounds located throughout the hiking paths.
If you're not a camper - there are hostels in the town for all your glamping needs. This way you can explore the entire area without leaving the secret valleys unexplored and really get the full experience. You can thank us later!
With our time limit, we went straight for the most popular hike - to Mount Fitz Roy. Located north-west of El Chalten. With its sharp mountain edges cutting into the sky, whilst being hugged by the surrounding clouds, it’s impossible to miss, and impossible, not to be struck by its magnificence. A 26 km round trip and a duration of approximately 8 hours (mostly uphill) it’s easy to see why it’s the most popular amongst visitors. Once you reach the incredible viewpoint overlooking Laguna de Los Tres. Without giving too much away. Make sure you have your camera ready, it is a treat!
Another popular day trek located at the south-west of El Chalten next to the river is to Cerro Torre and the mountains surrounding it. With the trail well marked, it’s an easy trek taking 6 hours with a distance of 24 Km. The final destination being a beautiful lagoon with two options to get closer to the glacier for an up close and personal experience.
Also available are 2-3 day guided tours, so there is no shortage of things to in and around El Calafate.
Torres Del Paine
Surely you have heard of Torres Del Paine? Right? One of the most famous national parks and hiking destinations on the planet! Located in Chile about a 5-hour drive from El Calafate. Once again, we did a day trip. With the “A team" up and ready at 4am, we hired a car and drove all the way, magnificent job by our driver. Once we crossed border control and found a park, we immediately went in search for the Cordillera Paine trek.
We had many stops on the way to the summit purely just to admire where we were and to take as many photos as we possibly could. With 360 degree views every step of the way, we were more breathless from the views than we were from the altitude and hike...that is until one of us had a nose bleed from the altitude - don’t worry though, she was completely fine and even had a celebration beer that night. Kudos right?!
Again, rather than come for the day trip, we strongly suggest to look into the most popular, and famous treks - the W, O, and Q trek and different varieties of them, which of course we will explain. However to do so, you should look at spending time in Puerto Natales first and travelling from there to save time and to rent your camping gear.
The Treks of Torres del Paine
The classic W trek is a 5-day hike with campsites available at the end of the day's hike. With the opportunity to see Glacier Gray, Valle Francès and of course Torres Del Paine it is well worth the effort. The reserve W trek is much the same but instead of catching a ferry to Paine Grande you will spend your first night camping at Torres Del Paine. So take your pick as each is magnificent!
The O trek is bit harder being an 8-day hike, you will see all the parks highlights and some!. With getting away from the popular W trek the campsites will be more simpler and will require your own gear such as a tent, sleeping bag ect.
Top tip: some toilet facilities can just be a hole in the ground so you will truly be in the true wilderness and camping at its most natural!
Lastly the Q trek the longest of them all being a 9-day hike. Where you will walk alongside Lago Pehoé before joining up to the O trek. Honestly, there is so much more for us to write about but we are simply out of time. I guess you will have to book yourself a ticket and see it with your own eyes?
Honorable Mention - An once in a lifetime experience, for a price!
So you may have travelled the world and stepped foot on even 6 out of 7 continents... But what about that 7th one? That's right, the big, freezing cold and amazing continent of Antarctica!
Once you arrive in the deep South of Patagonia, it is possible to organise cruises from Puerto Natales, El Calafate and the most Southern town in Argentina, Ushuaia. Now the cheapest ticket we heard of was for $4000USD.
The prices can reach up to $20,000 USD for the more luxurious and pampered cruises. As mentioned, a once in a lifetime opportunity, for a price, also something we are saving up for now!
Remember, If you can… Why not?