After leaving the Carretera Austral in Chile, one our favorite roads driven thus far, we crossed the border into Argentina with the goal of heading to the trekking capital of Argentina at the base of Monte Fitz Roy, the beautiful town of El Chaltén. We were super excited to go to this little mountain town, and were immediately greeted with the manic weather and intense winds Patagonia is famous for, but little did we know some of the other challenges we’d be facing in these parts…
Argentina has gone through a lot of change as of recent. Until December Argentina had both an official currency exchange rate and a blue market rate that meant anyone traveling to Argentina had to bring in all their dollars to exchange. However, the newly elected Argentinean President decided to “float” their currency to the dollar, effectively eliminating the blue rate. This means that tourists can now use ATMs and credit cards without losing half the value of their money, but unfortunately ATMs are mostly empty. To add to the frustration we found Argentina very expensive. They’ve also had recent protests in the oil industry, causing gas shortages and long lines when gas is available (we were fortunate to get gas eventually, but met other travelers who had to camp out for days at a gas station waiting for gas).
El Chalten and Monte Fitz Roy
But amidst these travel challenges, El Chaltén remains a charming mountain village with access to great hiking and rock climbing around the famous Monte Fitz Roy, highest peak in the Los Glaciares National Park. Originally we had planned to spend 2-weeks here hiking and taking a few rock climbing courses. Unfortunately, there were just too many logistical challenges to make that happen (money challenges, lack of wifi or cell service in the town to coordinate with the rock climbing guides, and unfavorable weather). But the time we did manage to spend here hiking and camping in Los Glaciares National Park was spectacular.
The trail up to Fitz Roy was so accessible from town and we decided to hike up to the base of Fitz Roy and camp there over night, then try to see the towers at sunrise the next morning (a fierce 45 minute uphill hike in the dark). We had a great hike in with beautiful weather, set up camp, and met some awesome fellow like-minded campers to chat with, and even did another little hike before dinner to see a glacier. The perfect day.
Then came waking up at 5am to hit the steep 1 hour trail up to the Laguna de los Tres at the base of Fitz Roy. It was still dark and even though we heard some intense wind through the night, we could see the stars and the early pre-dawn was calm. This was going to be awesome! But as we hiked closer and closer to the base of Cerro Fitz Roy, it started to rain…then it started to snow! It was so socked in with fog and snow when we got to the top, all we could do was huddle together for warmth until we caught a glimpse of the sunrise. There would be no close up of Cerro Fitz Roy, but it was still an epic journey that we still laugh about…”remember that time we woke up at sunrise to hike a steep mountain only to see nothing and freeze in the snow?”. Lesson learned – take advantage of good weather when you have it!
We decided to hike out that day rather than try to see another sight in the fog and rain/snow and waited another day or two for the weather to break. When it did, we headed straight for Laguna Torre and had such an awesome day hike. This really is a spectacular park, and whats more crazy is that its all free. The park is free, camping is free, and we would discover later that not having to arrange reservations for camping is a luxury in these parts (next blog post on Torres del Paine will be a little different!).
Perito Moreno Glacier
We really wanted to stay in El Chalten, but with no more Argentinean pesos and no rock climbing in our future, we headed for what we heard would be a very touristy and expensive stop – the Perito Moreno Glacier outside of the city of El Calafate.
Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Argentina, is located is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field – the second largest ice field in the world, and is actually one of the few ice fields in the world that is still growing. As if these facts aren’t impressive enough, seeing it was on a whole other level. I’ve been impressed by glaciers, but WOW this thing was huge and you can get so close… and to top it off it was actually calving right in front of us! There was a piece the size of a large truck that came crashing down into the water, leaving the huge ring of ice that you see in our photos. And if you do a quick youtube search you can see the massive explosions of ice that have made headlines down here in recent news.
Venturing into Southern Patagonia can be such a crazy experience between the intense wind and manic weather changes. Combine that with the infrastructure challenges and it can be daunting. But these diamonds in the rough – Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno Glacier – offered us some incredible hiking experiences and views of the most impressive and memorable glacier to-date. And for this, we are grateful. Next blog post we head to the most famously visited park in Patagonia – Torres del Paine in Chile!
More pics of our time in Argentina’s Southern Patagonia: