I know that some of you have bee following the journey J and I took through Chile and Argentina this March. A couple of days ago I wrapped up our time in the lovely Torres Del Paine National Park. Chile was wonderful but it was time to move on and head east to Argentina, so, on a very rainy Monday morning, we loaded onto a bus for the 6-hour drive across the border to El Calafate.
Back in Puerto Natales we heard some people suggest skipping El Calafate entirely and head to El Chaltén instead where we could hike the majestic Fitz Roy. While I have no doubt that the hiking and scenery in El Chalten is incredible, our feet where done with hiking for a bit and we didn’t want to add another 4 hours to our journey.
Arriving in El Calafate that chilly afternoon, we crossed the main street and headed to our bed and breakfast, Hospedaje Lautaro. This was the BEST place we stayed our entire trip! It wasn’t fancy, but Belen and Dario, the couple who own the guesthouse along with their 3-year old girl Adina (dressed as Snow White… adorable), were some of the kindest, friendliest and warmest people we encountered on the trip. Belen helped us with all of our excursion bookings, knew every guest by name, left handwritten notes with candy on our bed and truly felt like a good friend after talking to her for only a few minutes. Dario knew less English but was equally as helpful and cooked AMAZING meals for dinner every night. It was such a joy staying there.
Walking the main street in town felt a bit like being in a mountain town like Breckenridge. Argentina has a lot of Swiss, Italian and Welsh immigrants and you could tell. Tea houses, trattorias and chocolate shops lined the streets along with North Face stores and adventure companies. Snow-capped mountains and a giant glacier awaited exploration just beyond the main street. Chocolates, pasta AND mountains? We automatically liked this town.
Tourists don’t travel to El Calafate to eat chocolate and pasta, though. They go there to see the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of three glaciers in Patagonia (and one of only a few in the world) that are actually growing. We headed out early Tuesday morning for the mini-trek on the glacier (my still aching feet couldn’t handle the full-day trek) which included a boat ride across the lake to get up close to this monster glacier, a 90-minute walk on the glacier with crampons to explore all the cracks, caves, streams and bright blue wonders of the ice, then, after boating back across the lake, 90 minutes to just sit and watch the glacier in all it’s glory.
This might not sound super exciting but let me tell you, this was one of the most spectacular places I’ve EVER been in the world! The glacier is around 150 feet tall and goes back for miles. The blue hues in the ice are so bright that you think they can’t possibly be real, and yet somehow they are.
And then you hear it — it sounds like a canon going off — a crack so loud that it makes you jump.
Looking towards the water you witness a piece of ice as big as a small house breaking off and crashing into the lake creating a huge splash and a giant wave. Everyone cheers and claps. AMAZING! Every time a piece of the glacier fell, it was like witnessing magic and you wanted to see just one more. And then one more after that.
The glacier trek was pretty awesome in itself. Strapping crampons to our book (metal spikes that dig into the ice to keep you from slipping and falling), we slowly made our way onto the ice. Our group was pretty slow moving, but taking in the beauty of the ice, I didn’t really mind. We had plenty of time to take pictures, drink from the glacier streams and explore. The tour ended with shots of whiskey on the rocks (shaved glacier ice, of course) and little Argentinean chocolate covered cookies called alfajores (yum).
Back in town we ate dinner at an amazing restaurant called La Zaina, an old barn-like building filled with antique furniture and collectables. Two young hipsters run the tiny kitchen, making everything from scratch including baked goods served on grandma’s old china while pouring libations. Rock concert videos are projected on the wall while you eat (unless it’s a weekend when they have live music or dancing). The food was delish! We started with empanadas which were buttery, flaky deliciousness filled with beef. I had a bowl of veggie soup for dinner while J tried the Milanesa, a thin breaded veal patty covered in tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Holy moly! We liked this place so much we return a night or two later for round two.
Stayed At: Hospedaje Lautaro One of our favorite places to stay on the trip! Kind hosts, simple rooms and a private bathroom. They will arrange any activity or transportation you need. Breakfast is basic but served whenever you want it, and dinner is additional but delicious.
Ate At: La Zaina. Warm, friendly, delicious. Try their empanadas and be sure to eat a slice of pie before you go.
Activity: Mini-trek on the glacier with Hielo & Aventura. They are the only company that does treks ON the glacier. A bit pricey but totally worth it.