Our next stop was a two hour flight northwest to El Calafate, which is also the name of a of berry local to the region.
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This city is has a population of about 20,000 people and would you believe it- pink flamingos! Here is poor quality picture proof, because let's face it I'm not a professional wildlife photographer.
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We rented a car last minute, which allowed us to 1) Experience Argentine driving for ourselves and 2) Explore the city while staying warm. We found El Calafate to be much more comfortable and picturesque than Ushuaia.
The big thing to do here is see the Perito Moreno Glacier. During the summer, there are treks you can do on the actual glacier with a tour group. Being low season, our options were to visit the national park or take a boat to see it up close.
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We left the apartment before sunrise - 8:45 AM - and drove west towards the glacier. Sunrise was around 9 AM and did not disappoint. Neither one of us was prepared for the majestic beauty and brilliant colors that washed over the grasslands and the surreal emerald water of Lago Argentina.
Wild horses stopped to study us briefly.
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An hour drive through these grasslands brought us to the gate of the Glacier National Park, where we purchased tickets for $700 Argentine Pesos apiece (like $15.50 USD). It took another thirty minutes by car to arrive at the glacier.
We had read about people spending 3-4 hours just looking at the glacier and were slightly confused how that could be. I mean, I love being in nature but even for me that seemed extreme. What we didn't know was that the park has an extensive network of raised paths that allow one to see the glacier and lake from many different angles. The different paths are rated in difficulty and range from 1h30m to 45m. And yes, it did take us the better part of 4 hours to look at a glacier 😂.
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It's so quiet except for the semi-frequent cracking you can hear as the glacier melts bit by bit. It sounds like someone is constructing a building within the glacier. Every once and a while a piece breaks off and falls up to 70 meters into the lake, creating an extraordinary BOOM.
According to a sign at the park, the glacier, “is in a quasi steady state with no major changes in its size during the last and present centuries.” So phew, no need to worry that the pieces breaking off were the sounds of global warming.
The next day, we drove three hours through a whole lot of nothing to a small mountain town called El Chaltén. It was founded as a tourist town in 1985 by Argentina to help bolster claim to the area from Chile. Another fun fact- the founders of the clothing brand Patagonia got their logo inspiration from the mountains here!
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I would highly recommend spending at least four days here. There are many day hikes and weather can be difficult. When we were planning this leg of the trip, we thought it was too late in the season to go and that we would have needed to take a bus to get there. As it turns out, there's not so much to do in El Calafate outside of the glacier, so we had an extra day and a car (and great weather), so we opted for a day trip here. It was totally doable, but we were limited to two basic hikes.
We got lucky because last year the town closed up around Easter, and only this year did they extend through the month of May.
We both left here ready to come back September 2021 😬
We recorded two videos here, which will be posted later. In an effort to not be redundant, I'll just post a few pictures:
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DWNTGB (Do We Need To Go Back) Rating
El Calafate was beautiful, as was El Chalten. I really want to take advantage of the hikes in the area and take in more of the spectacular views. This is the epitome of Patagonia, can't wait to go back.
Slow-paced, easy going, quiet, clean air, broad skies, and open country… I definitely hope to be back, if anything just for that crazy sunrise.