When my family came to visit me, I wanted to go and visit Patagonia with them. I had heard so much about it that I was dying to go and see it for myself. But we only had about 10 days there and Patagonia is huge, so we had to make some choices. After some researching we decided to go and explore 2 sub regions, in the southern part of Patagonia:
- El Calafate and El Chalten, where is located the famous Perito Moreno glacier,
- Ushuaia, the “End of the World”, at the southernmost tip of South America.
We went there at the end of April, which is still Autumn time in the Southern Hemisphere. But the temperatures we experienced there were actually closer to Winter time! So I’d recommend not to go much after those dates except if you like cold temperatures.
In practice, we took a plane from Buenos Aires to El Calafate and then another plane to Ushuaia and then one last domestic flight to go back to Buenos Aires, from where my dad and brother had their flight back to France.
Let’s dive into my favorite parts of the trip! All the pictures are mine.
Around El Calafate
1. Perito Moreno Glacier
As one can read in Wikipedia, this glacier is unusual in that it is advancing, while most glaciers worldwide are retreating. The reason remains debated by glaciologists.The terminus of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 km (3.1 mi) wide, with an average height of 74 m (240 ft) above the surface of the water of Argentino Lake. It has a total ice depth of 170 metres (558 ft).
We spent the day around the glacier, first we did a boat trip to get close to the ice and then we went on a hike which gives you a great view of the whole thing. The clouds were hiding the top of the glacier as you can see in the following picture, but I was amazed by the beautiful ice. We could hear the birth of icebergs from times to times when big chunks of ice were falling in the water, absolutely magical.
2. Fitz Roy Hike
From El Calafate, we also spent one day in El Chalten, a small village where a lot of hikes depart from, the ultimate trekking destination in Patagonia due to the wide variety of trekking routes accessible to all fitness and experience levels. We chose an easy hike (8 km) to get a chance to see the Fitz Roy peak, located at the border of Argentina and Chile.
It was an easy and beautiful hike but we were unlucky because the clouds were surrounding the peak. It’s quite usual to have clouds around the Fitz Roy peak. Do not hesitate to go anyways since the whole hike is worth it and you might even be lucky and see the Fitz Roy when you go!
3. Fly Fishing
While we were in El Calafate, my dad wanted to go fishing and we passed by a shop called El Calafate Fishing, so we asked if we could go fishing for a day and they recommended us to try the Fly Fishing technique which is a famous sport here! We were curious to try, so we went fly fishing in Roca Lake, nearby.
So yes, we had to wear those crazy outfits to go in the (cold) water! I have to confess we weren’t lucky and did not catch any fish but I loved the process. Fly Fishing is an art and I really appreciated the sport and the challenge.
4. Tierra del Fuego
The name Tierra del Fuego was given by the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan while sailing for the Spanish Crown in 1520; he was the first European to visit these lands.
The archipelago consists of the main island, Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego, with an area of 48,100 km2 (18,572 sq mi), and a group of many islands, including Cape Horn and Diego Ramírez Islands. Tierra del Fuego is divided between Chile and Argentina.
Following the establishment of a prison in Ushuaia, in late 1909 and early 1910 the railway line called the End of the World train was established. The steam engine driven railway was built over a length of 25 km (16 mi) into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The line connected the prison camp with the forestry camp. The primary purpose of the railway was as a freight line to serve the prison of Ushuaia, and hence was known as the “Prison train,” and was used specifically to transport prisoners to the camps and transport the logged timber from forests.
Now the steam engine is still working but transports tourists only! It’s a fun way to visit the National Park and get to know more about its history.
5. Esmeralda Lake Hike
This one is one of my favorites. We were lucky enough to be there for the first snow! The lake was even starting to freeze at its edge. I loved the colors: the emerald from the water and the white snow were unforgettable. You can go on your own but I recommend to go with a guide because the path is not always clear and it can get tricky.
6. Boat trip to Les Eclaireurs
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse (the French name “Les Éclaireurs” means “the Scouts”) is a lighthouse standing in the Beagle Channel, a strait separating the main island of Tierra del Fuego from various other small islands.
We went on a boat trip in the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia port. It was a nice boat ride and we got to witness sea lions near the lighthouse, they are quite cute animals.
7. The Prison at the End of the World
In the City Center of Ushuaia, we went to visit a Museum called Museo Maritimo y del Presidio. This museum stands inside an old prison. Here’s an extract from this interesting news article which explains why a prison was built at the End of the World.
At the turn of the 20th century, Argentina and Chile were both pursuing southern expansion and several battles had already been fought over territorial claims. Control over Tierra del Fuego was considered especially important because the Magellan strait was an important strategic passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
For these reasons the government in Buenos Aires decided it was necessary to establish a population in this far-flung territory. When the construction of the national penitentiary began in 1902, there were already a dozen prisoners living in wood and tin huts. The convicts sentenced to the penitentiary in Ushuaia were dangerous repeat offenders and political prisoners sent down from jails in Buenos Aires province.
The prisoners themselves were forced to construct the penitentiary. When the building was finally completed in 1920 it included a central hall and five pavilions, each with 76 individual cells. The prison, however, was habitually overcrowded and often crammed over 600 prisoners into its 380 single cells.
Many were serving life sentences, and they were forced into tough manual labour. Projects included the construction of Ushuaia’s first electricity generator and grid, roads, bridges, printing press, telephone wires, sewage system and fire department. As compensation for their labour prisoners received a tiny salary and a primary school education. The prisoners were also compelled to venture out on the infamous “prisoner’s train” to retrieve lumber from the forest which today makes up Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Though a couple of escapes were attempted, each time the runaways returned to the prison begging for shelter and forgiveness.
In 1947, with Argentine territory in Tierra del Fuego firmly established and Ushuaia a functioning city, president Juan Domingo Perón closed the national penitentiary for humanitarian reasons.
Some areas of the building were not renovated and you can feel how sinister this prison must have been. Visiting this museum is a must to understand the history of the City and the region.
The Seafood in Patagonia is amazing, so I couldn’t end this list without a couple recommendations for what to eat…
8. Merluza Negra
The Patagonian toothfish is a species of cod icefish found in cold waters between depths of 45 and 3,850 m. My dad is big on fish but he had never heard of this one and he was amazed by it. This species is far from the fish we are used to eat in France. Its average weight is 7–10 kg (15–22 lb), with large adults occasionally exceeding 100 kilograms (220 lb).
If you like fish, this is a must since you are in the right region to try it, surrounded by the cold waters of Ushuaia. The best one we had was at the Cauquenes Hotel Restaurant, from where the picture below was taken!
9. Centolla (King Crab)
King Crab is another of the region’s seafood specialty and you can try it in different dishes, from an entree like the picture below or as a main course, such a treat!
This picture was taken at the Cauquenes Hotel Restaurante, during a cooking experience. That day, the Chef showed us how he made some of the dishes served at the restaurant.
Last but not least, I think you deserve a treat after all of these activities!
10. Los Cauquenes Spa
This spa is amazing, with beautiful views to a lake overlooking the Andes Mountains! Perfect after a day of hiking in the snow.