El Calafate and El Chaltern

As Phil was on a schedule and we wanted to avoid wasting his trip with too many travel days, we took a flight from Ushuaia to El Calafate, a small lakeside town surrounded by mountains and a hiking destination. On arrival, we took a taxi to our hostel only to be told there had been a booking error so we would have to move to their sister hotel overlooking the lake (at no extra cost and seemingly a pretty good upgrade!). The hotel had amazing views over the mountains and milky aqua coloured lake and most importantly real towels!

  

  

After leaving our bags we headed into town to get some dinner, explore the area and to book a glacier tour for the following day. The town had a few quaint little German style wooden market areas, but was largely filled with outdoor hiking and tour shops. After getting some dinner, we took a walk along the lakeside to watch the sunset before heading back to the hotel for a relaxing bath and early night…or so we thought..on returning to the hotel they had lost our room key (which you had to hand in every time you left as they only had one copy). After checking CCTV to confirm we had actually given them the key, we waited for about an hour while they painfully slowly started searching around reception. Eventually it turns out they had given our room key to another guest erroneously – how this person spent over an hour trying to get into their room with the wrong key I’ll never know, but finally we got into our room a nod with nothing missing…phew!

The following morning the alarm went off at 6am…having not been to work for three months this came as somewhat of a shock to me, especially as it was still dark. After stocking up on a huge breakfast we were picked up by a minivan and transported to the national park for our Perito Moreno glacier adventure! Our first stop was a panoramic viewing point of the glacier and various trails that could be walked to get different vantage points. Having never seen a glacier it was absolutely breathtaking and every twenty minutes or so huge crashes could be heard as ice broke off an plummeted into the water.

Our next stop was a boat ride across the water where we got an even closer view of the glacier and docked next to it on the land for the star of our hike. We followed a woodland trail for about an hour to the edge of the glacier before we were suited and booted with harnesses and crampons ready for our ice hike. The experience was brilliant and we had the weather to match. We trekked across huge undulating mounds of ice, watched gushing water channels, poked our heads down small caves and took in the breath taking views. This glacier is static so is neither shrinking nor growing, making it apparantly fairly unusual. After two hours we had a short pack lunch break before taking the long ice and land hike back to the boat. What a day! Feeling exhausted we had wine and dinner at the hotel bore getting an early night ready for another early start the following day and to catch our eight am bus to the town of El Chaltern.

  

              

El Chaltern is a quaint town surrounded by mountains and most famously the mountain known as FitzRoy. We had planned to do a small walk that day after our travelling, but instead were told that it was going to be the best weather that day and that if we wante to get the best vines of Fitz Roy we would need to do that trek straight away. After racing across town with our backpacks and putting them in our rather fancy hotel, we packed some lunch and water and started off at 1pm on our 20km mountain trek. Mainly concerned about getting up and down before dark, we powered up to the top of the mountain viewing point in 2.5 hours instead of the 3.5 hours trying to enjoy the blur of scenery as we sped up! The hike took us around the edge of a mountain with spectacular mountain scenery, through woodland areas, up to high altitude lakes, across marshland, until we reached the final view point of the Fitz Roy mountain – brilliant hike and a great reward at the end of it. After stopping for a late lunch, we headed back down the mountain taking a slightly alternative loop route – we were exhausted! After having hot baths (ah luxury) we stumbled next door for hot drinks and waffles before heading straight to bed for an early night.

  

  

The following morning, we decided to tackle a different 20km mountain hike to view the Cerro Torre mountain range – thankfully only about the first 2km of this was uphill and the remainder was a lovely flat walk through woodland areas until reaching the Lake which created an amazing reflection of the mountain range behind it. We were definitely feeling achy after the day before but as we turned back on ourselves it started to spit with rain, so that helped to spur us on and power walk back home!

  

On our final day we had to catch a bus back to El Calafate in the afternoon so we went on a small walk to a waterfall and wondered through town eating empanadas and churros…we deserved a carbohydrate overload! Although El Chaltern was absolutely lovely, I was definitely ready to leave and give my legs a days rest from all the walking.

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