Lost World Adventures Travel Blog

Patagonia E-book: El Calafate and El Chaltén, Los Glaciares National Park

Fitzroy massif

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Los Glaciares National Park

Located in southern Patagonia, Los Glaciares is Argentina's largest national park, covers an area of over 2,800 square miles. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, the park is a land of vast steppes, towering granite spires and monumental glaciers.  

The Southern Patagonian Ice Field (Campo de Hielo Sur) feeds several of the park's primary glaciers:  Perito Moreno, Viedma, Upsala, Spegazinni, Onelli.  Visitors can get up-close to (and hike on)  glaciers on full-day cruises and short navigations.

The towns of El Calafate and El Chalten are the gateway towns for explorations and excursions inside the park. 

El Calafate

el-calafate--argentina-1

El Calafate, situated on the southern shore of Lago Argentino, is the jumping-off point for excursions in Los Glaciares National Park including the Perito Moreno Glacier trip. Due to the recent increase in popularity, the town become a busy hub with a growing selection of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops, supermarkets, bakeries, clothing stores.

 

El Chaltén

welcome-to-el-chalten-sign-1

El Chaltén is a small, but growing, village and popular base for outdoor adventures, located about 3 hours by road from El Calafate. Proclaimed the "National Trekking Capital of Argentina", there are enough hikes to keep you busy for days, if not weeks. Other activities include mountain biking, kayaking, glacier cruises and ice trekking. Due to the recent increase is tourism there is a good mix of accommodations: hotels, inns, hostels, dome glampsites and cabins. Local services include restaurants, wine bars, tour operators, adventure guides, clothing and equipment shops. Trailheads for many hikes, including the Cerro Torre and Laguna de Los Tres hikes, are conveniently located at the edge of town. 

 

Activities and Excursions

El Calafate - Perito Moreno Glacier Nautical Safari

The first views of Perito Moreno Glacier are breathtaking, glimpsed down a narrow arm of Lago Argentino with the imposing Andes as a backdrop.  Gigantic blocks of ice frequently break away and crash into the lake, sending spray hundreds of feet into the air. The startling contrast of color, sound, motion and size creates a continuously changing mosaic of indescribable beauty. Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, and its measurements are mind-boggling -- the main wall is over 200 feet tall and almost 3 miles wide. Declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, this area also includes wildlife such as Andean condors, buff-necked ibis, black-chested buzzard eagles, and ashy-headed geese.

The Nautical Safari takes place at the southern arm of Lago Rico. The boat will stop at a safe distance from the Glacier, continuing to navigate across the front wall, allowing a spectacular view of the high wall of ice. You will board at Bajo Las Sombras Bay, about 6 kilometers before the glacier balconies. It's a unique opportunity for photographers and nature lovers to enjoy all constant falling sheets of ice from its front wall. The navigation takes approximately 1 hour. After the navigation visitors are taken to the walkways with stupendous views across to the glacier. 

perito moreno glacier

 

Estancia Cristina Day Trip - Classic, Discovery and Trekking

Transfer from your El Calafate to the dock at Puerto Bandera. From there depart on the catamaran for the navigation to the Upsala and Cristina channels and Estancia Cristina. 

Classic - from the estancia your guide will lead the hike through the Estancia Valley, over mixed terrain covered by shrubs and grasses, gradually climbing to the first lookout point featuring sweeping views of the valley from Lake Argentino to Lake Pearson. Continue the ascent flanked by Nires forests to the Cascade of the Dogs.

Afterwards you will visit the Estancia’s Costumbrista Museum, formerly an old shearing shed, where visitors will learn about the history of the Masters Family pioneers, and their awe-inspiring experiences and on this remote corner of the earth some 100 years ago. There will also be a guided walk by the Caterina River, the well, the Chapel and the Estancia’s colonial main house.

Discovery - groups will be assigned a 4X4 vehicle and driver/guide. The route ascends along the Feruglio Cordon for around 6 miles to the end of the road. From there, start a 20-minute walk on eroded glacial terrain up to the Upsala Glacier Lookout Point, which features sweeping views of Lake Guillermo, the imposing Upsala Glacier’s eastern front and the South Patagonian Continental Ice Field.

Trekkingfollowing the Discover tour, the trekking group will continue with a 8.5-mile hike over Fossil Canyon, an area with a great concentration of unique marine fossils, geological treasures left uncovered after the retreat of oceans long ago. This trek is a gradual downhill walk down to Estancia Valley and to the boarding pier for the return to Puerto Banderas.

Estancia Cristina provides round-trip transportation El Calafate hotels - Punta Banderas - Estancia.

 

Glacier Sur Aventura

On this excursion you reach remote areas of Los Glaciares National Park close to the Chilean border not accessible on other tours. Navigate by zodiac from Estancia Nibepo Aike through Brazo Sur to its southernmost point where you will disembark and begin the first of two hikes - an easy climb through forest to a panoramic vantage point of Lake Frias. Continue by boat across the lake and begin the second hike - a 7-kilometer trail along river beds and glacial valleys with views of Grande, Cubo and Dickson or Frias Glaciers.

Glacier Sur Pioneros
This excursion introduces visitors to the history of Estancia Nibepo Aike and the early pioneers of the area. This is an excellent opportunity to understand what it was like to live in these remote places at that time. After a delicious grilled lamb lunch at the ranch, depart on a boat navigation that goes through the Brazo Rico to the south of the Lago Argentino with amazing views along the way. Disembark on Monedas Beach (which can only be reached by boat) from where you begin a hike through the woods. This area remains exactly as was left by the pioneers, so baguales (wild horses) can be found due to the uninterrupted breeding after the area was declared a national park. The trail enters a Lenga forest with the first views of the Perito Moreno Glacier through the trees. The path then descends to a beach where you will have time to take in this privileged landscape that can only be enjoyed by a few. Back on board, the boat navigates in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier. After the boat ride you will be taken to the walkways with excellent views from different angles of the Perito Moreno wall.

 

La Leona Petrified Woods

Through this guided valley exploration features magnificent petrified tree trunks and large dinosaur fossils hidden for millennia, now uncovered by wind and water erosion, at the bottom of a beautiful valley. You'll explore an endless system of gorges and ravines with petrified wood that "sprouts" from the soil. Tree trunks in varying diameters, heaps of fossilized broken bones, and occasionally whole vertebrae and leg bones of large reptiles, which are still under the process of identification. Due to its location in a steppe zone, the weather in Bosque La Leona is warm and dry along the valley.

 

Glacier Ice Trekking

Perito Moreno Glacier 

The glacier mini-trek follows the Nautical Safari. Guides will provide crampons and instructions for the 2-hour hike on the glacier. While trekking over the glacier you will discover ice formations such as deep cracks, drains, and small lagoons The ice surface where you will walk is irregular, but firm and safe.

At the end of the trek you will return to the lake through the exuberant Magellan forest and return by boat to the dock at Bajo Las Sombras Bay. You will have time at the walkways in front of the Perito Moreno glacier, where you will have some truly amazing views.

glacier trek

Perito Moreno "Big Ice" Trek

An extended 3-hour trek on the Perito Moreno Glacier that gets you deeper on the glacier. 

Viedma Glacier

From the Bahía Tunnel Port on Lake Viedma, you will start the navigation across the lake to the Viedma Glacier. You will trek along the glacier and walk through the rocks, getting wonderful unique glacier views and visiting the ice caves.  Total navigation time around 1 1/2 hours, total time on ice around 2 1/2 hours. The Viedma Glacier is usually less-crowded than Perito Moreno. 

Cagliero Glacier 

The trek begins from the Los Huemules Visitor Center. Hike for approximately two hours through a lenga forest on a well-maintained trail, reaching Laguna Diablo (770 mts. above sea level). You will see Puesto Cagliero from here.

The second part of the trek takes place outside Reserva Los Huemules, on a private property at Campo Gorra Blanca. The route skirts the northern margin of Laguna Diablo across irregular terrain to the beginning of a "Via Ferrata" (rock climbing routes that have secured with steel wires and artificial steps - climbers can move self-secured with specially-designed harnesses and belts). Guides will provide participants with the necessary equipment and give a briefing on how to use the equipment and make their way safely through the via ferrata. As you climb, the route becomes easier and more scenic. The overwhelming views of the Laguna Diablo and its namesake valley get more stunning, step by step. It’s a 1 km course, time will depend on the group pace. 

After an hour-and-a-half you reach the Mirador del Glaciar (Glacier Viewpoint). Facing north you can appreciate the unexplored Glacier Cagliero Sur, that for years has remained frozen due to its orientation and the accumulation of snow coming from Neumayer, Cagliero and Loma del Diablo mountains. Facing south you will see the vertical walls of Cerro Treinta Aniversario and surrounding needles, Diente del Diablo being the most prominent.

From the viewpoint, a short walk takes us to the front of the Glacier - Vivac Cagliero - where the guides provide and fix the crampons for each participant. The average stay on the glacier varies from 1 to 2 hours, depending on climate conditions and the overall physical level of the group. If the weather is good, lunch will be on the Glacier.  

El Chaltén Hiking/Trekking

Fitz Roy Hike and Laguna de los Tres

Fitzroy with lake-1

The hike to Laguna de los Tres at the foot of Monte Fitz Roy is, without a doubt, the premier trek in the El Chaltén area. After an initial 1000-foot climb out of town the trail eases up and remains relatively flat until you reach the base of the moraine below the lake. Along the way the trail passes through ñirre and lenga forests with occasional glimpses of the massif ahead.  Laguna Capri, where Mt Fitz Roy reflects its image in its crystal clear waters, is a perfect lunch stop. After crossing the Rio Blanco it is an approximate 1300-foot ascent to the lagoon. Three glaciers drain into this greenish lagoon with majestic Mt. Fitz Roy towering above, breathtaking views of Lake Viedma and the endless Patagonia steppe behind. You can continue down to the natural balcony above Laguna Sucia at the base of the Saint Exupéry and Poincenot spires. Distance - 15 miles, round-trip. Elevation gain/loss - 2,300 feet. Allow 8-9 hours, round-trip from El Chalten.

Laguna Torre

The hike to Laguna Torre is a classic. The trail follows the Rio Fitzroy Valley through native lenga forest, past the Margarita waterfall to the Cerro Torre viewpoint, a perfect spot for a break (the Mirador del Torre hike ends here).  The trail continues through more lenga forest, passing through the De Agostini basecamp (it is possible to camp here) less than a mile from the goal:  Laguna Torre, at the foot of Cerro Torre, surrounded by the Egger and Standhard spires, the Adela range as a backdrop. You can continue another 1.5 miles to the Maestri viewpoint (Mirador Maestri) for another spectacular view overlooking the lagoon. Distance - 11 miles, round-trip (not including the extension to Mirador Maestri).  Allow 6-8 hours, round-trip from El Chalten.  

 

How to get there

There are daily non-stop flights to El Calafate from Buenos Aires and Ushuaia.

El Chalten is about 3 hours by car or bus from El Calafate. We can arrange private transfers or bus tickets.

From Chile: 

Torres del Paine National Park - it is about 150 miles from the entrance of Torres del Paine but can take 4 hours or more, depending on border formalities and where inside the park your lodge is located. Most all-inclusive Torres del Paine lodges provide transfers. 

Puerto Natales - several bus companies operate daily service from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. It can take 5 hours or more, depending on border formalities and the usual stop along the way.  Private car transfers are quicker, and more expensive.

Where to stay

El Calafate hotels:

Xelena Hotel & Suites

Xelena Hotel & Suites is located in El Calafate on the banks of  Lago Argentino. Hotel facilities include Spa, a boutique, restaurant. 

Esplendor El Calafate

Located on a hill, overlooking Argentino Lake, El Calafate town and the Andes Range.  The hotel has 57 rooms, some with lake views. There is also a restaurant and bar serving authentic local cuisine and a wide selection of Argentinean wines.

Posada los Alamos

Located two blocks from the main street in downtown El Calafate. The hotel has 144 rooms and 4 suites, restaurant, bar, indoor swimming pool, health club/spa, 24-hour room service, laundry service. 

Hotel Los Canelos

Hotel Los Canelos is located in El Calafate, overlooking the valley and Lake Argentino. The rooms at Los Canelos have large windows providing amazing views of the valley. Hotel facilities include restaurant and a sun terrace.

Eolo Lodge

Set on a vast 10,000 acres of property about 30 minutes by car from El Calafate, the Eolo Lodge is a peaceful oasis in the midst of an expanse of mountains. Eolo's comfortable facilities evoke the atmosphere of an estancia. Spectacular views are all around, with Lago Argentino to the north, La Anita Valley to the east, and the Torres del Paine and the Brazo Rico to the south. The lodge offers 17 suites, a main living room overlooking La Anita Valley, bar and restaurant overlooking Lago Argentino. Guests can also enjoy the indoor swimming pool and sauna.

El Chalten/Lago del Desierto

Hosteria El Puma

Is rock climbing in store for your Patagonia trip? This family-run inn is owned by Alberto del Castillo, one of the region's most notable climbers. Alberto can help guests arrange excursions, and provides advice and trail maps. Guides may also be hired for longer day hikes. If you wish, box lunches can be provided during the day.

This adventurous area not only offers a variety of outdoor activity, but you may also spot some Patagonian wildlife: it is common to see both the Andean Condor and the Austral parakeet in this region.

Hosteria El Pilar

Located 9 miles from El Chaltén on the Rio Blanco. This cozy and quaint lodging is a family-run business that offers 10 rooms with personalized service and beautiful views. The Hosteria el Pilar serves as a great base camp for those who wish to hike in the area. Using Hosteria El Pilar as your base, you can explore the myriad of hiking trails that weave throughout the Fitzroy massif. The hotel's bar, dining room, and library are all available to make you feel at home. Breakfast is served daily and boxed lunches and dinners can be arranged by request.

Los Cerros Boutique Hotel & Spa

Located on the outskirts of town at the confluence of the Río de las Vueltas and Río Fitz Roy.  Facilities include restaurant and bar, fireplace, spa with hydro-massage. 

Aguas Arriba Lodge 

The Aguas Arriba, situated on Lago del Desierto, is only accessible by boat or 3-mile hike. At this secluded and charming lodge, you can enjoy majestic views of the lake, the north face of Mt. Fitz Roy, Mt. Torre and the Vespignani Glacier. The lodge is part of the Estancia Rio de las Vueltas, a property with 700 hectares of mountain and 900 meters of shore line covered with hundred-year-old trees. Aguas Arriba's five spacious rooms are outfitted with lenga hardwood floors and fine handmade furniture.

Estancias

Nibepo Aike

Nibepo Aike retains the essence of traditional Patagonian estancias. It is located within Los Glaciares National Park on the banks of the Southern Arm of Lago Argentino, 34 miles from El Calafate, covering an area of more than 12,000 hectares, stretching to the border with Chile.

The main buildings of the estancia are a relic of the typically Patagonian pioneer architecture. While the estancia was formerly devoted to sheep production, its current main output is breeding its prestigious herd of Hereford cattle. It is common to see the men riding past herding the cattle and sheep while disappearing over the horizon. Behind the house is the farm and orchard, which provides most of the freshly prepared food at the estancia. Horseback riding, hiking and trekking, and learning more about rural life are just some of the activities available here.

Estancia Cristina

Guests are housed in one of five lodges, each of which has four bedrooms and a common living room. Each guestroom is approximately 100 square feet and has a private bathroom, central heating and amenities. The large bow windows open onto breathtaking views that help guests disconnect from the outside world. In line with this off-the-grid experience, guestrooms do not have phones, TV or wifi.

Estancia Helsingfors

Located on the shore of Lake Viedma, surrounded by lush woods. There are 9 rooms all with a private bathroom. Guests share their experiences around a large fireplace in the living area or enjoying a drink at the bar. A refined cellar with selected Argentine wines accompanies the sophisticated regional cuisine. 

Activities arranged at the lodge include trekking or horseback riding to Blue Lagoon, horseback riding to the Mirador del Condor, trekking to Laguna del Morro, trekking or horseback riding to Estancia Los Hermanos.

Read more about travel to Argentina on our Travel Planning Pages.

Contact a Lost World Adventures consultant to begin planning your trip to southern Patagonia.

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