Friday, 7 March 2014

Argentina: El Calafate and El Chalten

When planning my trip, I wanted to balance Buenos Aires with some good old fashioned nature. The mysterious sounding 'Patagonia' refers to the entire southern section of Argentina and Chile. Of this vast land, I settled on going to El Chalten with a quick trip to El Calafate, swayed by the sublime landscape of the Parque Nacional los Glaciares and the Fitz Roy mountain range.

The flight itself was three hours long and beautiful. I am not the sort to endlessly take photographs from the plane window, but I couldn’t help but take a few since as we flew, we saw the most incredible landscape unfold beneath us - vast moon-like craters, azure lakes and wandering serpentine rivers.

El Calafate airport is no less spectacular – you land on a runway parallel to Lago Argentino – the largest lake in Argentina and wait for your bags with the sun setting behind glass walls.

After all this, the town of El Calafate seems rather ugly but functional, serving as the base for visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier. 

This glacier is 30km wide and seems pretty incongruous, sitting there in the sun, amidst forested mountains. It is best reached by boat or on a tour where you can actually walk on it. I am pretty antisocial when it comes to crowds of tourists but I do think it is worth seeing since it is quite astounding to watch, and hear, bits of it collapse and tumble into the lake beneath it.

The walkways

Soon after this, we moved on to El Chalten, an idyllic little village nestled in a valley leading up to many beautiful walks. It is admittedly set up for tourists (Argentinian and foreign) but in a natural, sprawling, and unassuming way. Our B&B, Nothofagus was absolutely lovely - really, really helpful and with good, clean double ensuites. 

El Chalten

The bulk of the village is made up of chalet style hostels and restaurants and the food we had was surprisingly scrumptious.

Our three highlights were:

The best lamb empanadas of our entire trip and a monumental mixed grill at Parilla Como Vaca…

This was literally twice the size of my head
Patagonian lamb cooked for hours over a naked fire and lamb steak cooked in its own juices at El Muro…

... and delicious homemade chocolate, brownies, apple pie, cheese fondue and local beer at La Chocolateria.

All of these were welcome treats after the long days walking and riding through spectacularly beautiful landscape.