We leave El Calafate at 7:30 am for 3 hours drive to El Chaltén. If we learned one thing in Argentina, it is that the price of the buses isn’t always proportional to the distance traveled. The bus costs 500$AR/person, whereas to drive 5 times this distance (El Calafate – Ushuaia), you only pay 2 times the price
El Chaltén is a hiking paradise in Argentina, just like Torres del Paine in Chile. But unlike Torres del Paine, El Chaltén offers day trekking options, making its routes much more accessible to Sunday hikers
When we buy the ticket (at Taqsa, always, it’s our favorite bus company), we are given a map and a detailed description of the treks in El Chaltén, so we already know what we plan to do. As we are the first to book (4 days in advance), we are in the first row of the 2nd floor of the bus, with a very nice view on the mountains. The same view as what we see on the tourist flyers
The mate, the Argentinian “drug
Our Argentinean neighbors are also enchanted by the view. How do we know they are Argentinean? Because they have a mate in their hand. And yes, only Argentines are able to make long trips with this characteristic container for the mate. Some even travel with a thermos of hot water. It’s like traveling with a cup of coffee and a coffee filter in your hand. It’s not practical at all! Plus, this container doesn’t close
The mate is a kind of infusion, but instead of having a bag, the herbs are put in bulk directly into a container. We drink with a metal straw that serves as a filter. The mate is shared, it isn’t uncommon to see this same container passed from hand to hand, between colleagues, friends and family
Part 1: Travel Diaries
Paritie 2: Practical advice
Part 1: Travel Diaries
Day 1 :
Before dropping us off at the bus terminal, the driver makes a stop at the Glacier National Park office. Everyone must get off to listen to the safety instructions. We are divided into two groups: English-speaking and Hispanic
A guide explains us in English that we are lucky, yesterday it rained ropes, but that we will have good weather during 2 days, and then it will rain until the weekend. He shows us the different courses as well as the difficulty of each part of the courses. As we have already made our research before, the information that he gives us only confirms our choice of hikes
From the bus terminal, we walk to our hostel. The city is very small, we can go from one end to the other in 30 minutes on foot. After having deposited our things, I borrow the walking sticks to the owner of the inn and it is gone!
Laguna Capri : 7km round trip
The trek we choose is one of the two most popular treks here. This one gives an impressive view from Lake Capri on Mount Fitz Roy (the local star). We will do only the 1st part of the trek: it lasts 3H30 round trip, which represents 7km. Finally, it is for normal people
For me, who walks like a granny at the end of her life, that represents 4h30 round trip with walking sticks, and 30 minutes to drag like a lifeless soul to the hostel (it was so embarrassing that JB offered to carry me to the hostel)
Here it is, this mini trek for normal people has been scaring me for several days, I’ve been having nightmares about it for several nights. Finally, when we manage to climb the steps of the first km, everything else seems easier and automatic. The walking sticks help me a lot, at least to support the weight of my own arms
After the first km, one is rewarded during 1km by a splendid view on the river
We are eating an empanada when we hear a characteristic “knock knock”. It’s a woodpecker that hits the trees with its beak to bring out the insects and eat them. We will see 3 of them like that all along the course, they aren’t too afraid of us and settle down for the photos without worry
Everything is very well indicated in this park, every km there is a sign indicating the remaining distance. When you arrive at a fork, there is a sign with clear directions. We will decide to go to the mirador and then to the camp-site of the Laguna Capri
The watchtower (viewpoint) is really well chosen! We have a spectacular view on the Fitz Roy and incidentally a huge blue glacier on the right (which has nothing to envy to the Perito Moreno) – click on the picture to zoom in. We chat with a Nordic family traveling in campervan with 4 children. They flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, rented a campervan there and are currently on their way up the famous routa 40 to Chile to explore the lake region. The mother seems very comforted by her choice when she is given bus fares to come here. The little one (maybe 8 years old) walks much faster than me. In 20 years, I can see him climbing to the top of the Fitz Roy
We return on our way to take the road to Laguna Capri. There too, the view is so satisfying. In reality, the Fitz Roy is much closer than what we see on the photos. From the lake, we see less well the blue glacier
An icy wind makes us put on all our layers of clothes. We quickly finish the rest of our empanadas. We do not see the necessity to make the 2nd part of the trek which consists in getting closer to the Fitz Roy in an icy wind. We go down of a nonchalant step towards the city center. The fact of going down makes the return much more pleasant, and the walking sticks are good for my knees
These long hours of walking are unheard of for me, I walk in small steps towards the city. We stop at La Cerveceria, where there is a garden too cute to have a Mojito, low in alcohol as I like it. I’ll read later on Tripadvisor that it’s the only restaurant where there’s all the time in the world at any hour. It’s true! The whole city is deserted, our inn too, but there are already people at this restaurant
Steak house in Argentina
In the evening, we spot a parrilla (steak house) accepting credit cards (very important when every cash withdrawal in Argentina costs us 6.5%). The waitress serves us each at least 400g of meat (230$AR or 13€ each). Luckily we took only one mashed potato for two. There is neither salt nor pepper nor mustard on the table. We are too ashamed to ask for salt (by the way, we have never seen it in the parrillas – steak house), the herb sauce is fortunately good enough to do without it
Next to us, several couples have eyes bigger than their belly. By choosing the “mix of grilled meat for two” at 560$AR (34€ only), they find themselves with a mountain of meat and sausages, enough to feed 4 gourmets. That’s how it is in Argentina and Chile, the portions are always generous. The cheese is thicker than the pizza dough, even JB has a hard time finishing a medium size pizza here. In tourist cities like El Calafate or El Chaltén, prices are still very correct, around 230$AR (13€) the main course (+10% tips – pagina – standard). Only with this, we are “full” until the evening. In general, we go to the restaurant 1 times/day maximum and eat very light the rest of the day otherwise our stomach will not hold
Another important point: tap water, even if it is drinkable, isn’t served free of charge in restaurants. You always have to buy a bottle of water, within 40$AR. Sparkling water: agua con gas; or still water: agua sin gas
Day 2 :
I woke up at 5am because of a very unpleasant smell. After multiple attempts to go back to sleep, I am forced to leave the hostel room at 6 am and hang out alone without the living room because of that. At first, I thought it was coming from the kitchen, but afterwards, I think I can attribute it to an American woman with a cold who, on top of that, snored all night (you know, when you have a cold, your nose can give off a smell of #@”‘àç$^ù`)
Ahhh, the joys of forced roommate!
Fortunately, the cleaning lady arrives around 7:30 am and starts to air the whole hostel. Thanks to her!
We have breakfast in a small casa de té (tea house), where submarino hot chocolate is served Argentinean style: a glass of hot milk and 3 squares of chocolate next to it. However, I still prefer Angelina style hot chocolate in Paris
We leave for another trek to Laguna Torre. Like the day before, we won’t reach the end of the trek, and we just stop in the middle at the Mirador Cerro Torre. The way is more difficult than yesterday, with an unsatisfactory view on Cerro Torre (the 3 peaks)
All this will take us 3h30 round trip (vs. 2h30 for normal people). I’m so tired that I’m moving very slowly, the trip seems to never end. The wind is starting to pick up, the sky is grey and more and more cloudy. That’s it, the rain will fall tonight, for sure!
We dine in a small bar where the decoration is made with wine bottle caps. The food is passable but I am very happy that I could only speak Spanish with the waiter. My hours spent with MosaLingua and Michel Thomas are starting to pay off. I even find myself translating for JB from time to time, as I’m pretty good at reading menus now. In spite of the pronunciation in “sh” of the letter “ll” in Argentina (which is pronounced “y” in Spain), one understands better here than in Chile
Back to the hostel where we sympathize with newcomers: all American and living somewhere in Latin America. They tell us that when Argentines buy their plane ticket, they enter their passport number and the price is halved. The prices we see on the sites are prices reserved for tourists:'(
Day 3 :
While waiting for our bus to Bariloche at 8:40 pm, we hang out like homeless people all day long outside, at the cafés and at the youth hostel where I have enough time to watch the DVDs that hang in the living room
It is also an opportunity to test the real Argentinean mate. For 60$AR you can get a matte service, with leaves to put in addition if necessary, sugar and as much hot water as you want. Help, it’s too bitter despite the tons of sugar that I put
Part 2: Practical Tips
- There are 2 ATMs contrary to what is marked in the guides. We were able to withdraw 2 times 1700 pesos at the Banco de la Nacion. The trick is to ask for 2000 pesos and then decrease by 100 pesos at a time until you manage to withdraw money. Most restaurants do not accept credit cards.
- Aylen-Aike Hostel: 250$AR/bed in dormitory of 8, payment in cash only. If I had to do it again, I would have chosen a hostel a little more north of the city, to be a little closer to the treks. And with breakfast preferably.
- Mojito at La Cerveceria : 95$AR
- Restaurant El Viajo Nando: a parilla (steak house) as we like it. 770$AR for two, tips, drinks and services included. Card payment accepted, 10% discount when paying in cash.
- In small cafés: 250$AR for two/meal
- If you are used to trekking, treks in El Chaltén are super easy. You have to be a minimum equipped (i.e. not go in flip-flops) and have at least 3 layers of clothing to fight against the wind and the rain that can fall suddenly.
- Plans aren’t available at the national park office, but at the tourist office. Personally, I find that the map given by Taqsa (my bus company) was more practical.
- Most people walk without sticks and they do very well. For beginners like me, I still recommend walking sticks, especially since I almost fell at one point and my sticks saved me. I would like to point out that I don’t have hiking boots but trail shoes, which are more practical when you’re on a world tour.
- In terms of clothing, I think that a technical garment + a windcheater is enough for the climb. However, when we arrive at the lake, the wind is icy, one more fleece wouldn’t be too much. We took a bottle of 1,5L with us thinking that it was too much, but we almost finished the bottle at 2. For the lunch, several restaurants propose lunch boxes, but we were satisfied with 6 empanadas for two (25$AR each, reduced rate when we buy take away).
- As everywhere in Patagonia, sunscreen and sunglasses are indispensable.