Alright, first things first. Patagonia is a region in the south of Argentina and Chile covering 260,000 square miles so a proper visit to Patagonia deserves more than a weekend. But, in my last trip to Buenos Aires last November, I knew that if I didn’t jet down there for the weekend, it may be a long time before I have the opportunity again. So, I got some advice from my Argentine friends who highly recommended I fly into El Calafate and spend the weekend oohing and ahhing at the best of what Patagonia has to offer. If you’re short on time but interested in the same, here’s my recommendations for your Patagonian weekend:
Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (FTE) in the morning. Check into your hotel and grab lunch in town. After lunch visit the Laguna Nimez Reserve, a nature preserve that is home to over 80 different types of birds including the flamingo. Spend anywhere from 1-2 hours walking the path that circles two lagoons. Don’t forget to bring the telephoto lens so you can capture up-close shots of the flamingos. Afterwards, head back to the hotel to rest up and enjoy dinner in town.
Visit Los Glacieres National Park and get up close and personal with the Perito Moreno Glacier, the most famous attraction in Patagonia. Perito Moreno is so large, the entire city of Buenos Aires can fit on it! To get the most out of the day, sign up for a tour with Hielo y Aventura who will bring you to the walkways to check out Perito Moreno before taking you on a short cruise to hike on the glacier itself.
Hielo y Aventura has two major tours to the glacier: Mini Trekking and Big Ice. The main difference is how long you spend hiking on the glacier. I did the Big Ice tour, which includes approximately 5 hours of hiking, although this includes about an hour hike to get to the glacier and back (they don’t tell you about that part….hmm…). You bring your own lunch for a picnic on the glacier, they provide the crampons and the guide walks you around the glacier searching for interesting ice formations and photo ops. At the end of the hike, you relax on the boat ride back to shore while enjoying scotch on the rocks (and by “rocks”, I mean glacier ice). All in all, it was a fun day, although admittedly, I was sunburned and sore for the next few days after that so…. you may want to make sure you’re in shape before you sign up for the Big Hike. If you’d rather take it a bit easier, you can opt for the Mini Trekking tour instead which puts you on the glacier for about 1-2 hours instead.
Relax today and take a day long cruise to see all the glaciers in the area. I signed up for the VIP section of the Todos Glaciares cruise and recommend that wholeheartedly. As a VIP, you get to sit in the captain’s cabin, lounge on super plush leather recliners, enjoy first class views of all the glaciers, access a private balcony that is only for the VIP’s, and have an attendant who serves you free snacks and drinks throughout the day. If you’re not VIP, you’re packed like sardines in standard seats and bracing the frigid winds to get a photo of the glacier – no thanks (let’s be honest, is there even a choice here?)! The seven hour cruise went by quickly: I got the best views of all the glaciers (Upsala, Spegazzini, Onelli, Glaciar Seco were a few that come to mind) including another view of Perito Moreno, chatted with the captain and other VIPs, and even enjoyed a nice nap in between glaciers (I was tired after that hike the day before). To top it all off, we ended the cruise with more scotch on the rocks and champagne (now we’re talking!). The tour ends around 4:30-5:00PM and from there, you can make your way back to the airport.
If you have a few extra days, there are other activities that you can do including hiking in El Chalten, which is a village at the foot of the famous Mount Fitz Roy. You can also visit an estancia to get an idea of the ranch life. I wish I had at least another day to explore, but given that I only had a weekend in Patagonia, I felt like I saw and experienced the major attractions in three days.
If you’re planning on going:
- Bring warm clothes and dress in layers. The town of El Calafate was extremely windy when I was there, but the trek to get to the glacier was warm.
- Don’t forget the sunblock! I was an idiot to neglect the SPF during my glacier hike and I paid for it afterwards for about a week. Don’t be like me!
- Chunks of the glacier begin to crack and fall into the water starting in November. It is amazing to witness and hear this in real life so time your trip for the Argentine summer, if you can.
- If you’re interested in the VIP Glacier cruise, get the hotel to book it for you as it wasn’t freely advertised online. It probably cost an extra $50USD for the VIP treatment, which I think was well worth it for the extra comfort, unobstructed views, and warm Captain’s cabin.
- If need hotel recommendations, I stayed at Los Ponchos Apart Hotel Boutique and would definitely stay there again. The staff were so gracious in helping me arrange my transfers, ordering my picnic meals, and booking my tours for me. They even arranged for a taxi to pick me up after the cruise since I wanted to make sure I’d make my flight on time.