We travelled with Turismo Zaahj from Puerto Natales to El Calafate in Argentina ($15,000CP). An hour in to the journey we stopped to get our exit stamps from Chile – this took exactly 8 minutes for everybody in the bus – yay!! Ten minutes later we arrived at Argentinian border control and all the bus was stamped in to the country in about 10 minutes and there were no bag checks. Best border crossing EVER.
We stayed in Las Cabañitas in a two story little cabana on our first night in El Calafate – it was adorable and had the most beautiful lavender bushes outside. Now I say two story but you could only fit the bed in upstairs, and even that was a tight squeeze – cozy I would say! We stayed at Hostería Austral on our second visit, nice but no kitchen facilities and the owners were quite greedy – turning radiators half on, telling people there was nowhere to exchange US dollars except with them and then offering a terrible rate, and also telling customers the cost of a trip to the airport is $ARS250 when it’s $ARS200. Little things I know but definitely enough to put me off recommending them.
El Calafate is a very pretty town, lavender bushes abound, cafés are filled with freshly wowed hikers and glacier-goers and souvenir shops are overstocked with local berry liquors, jams and chocolates. There’s really no comparison between here and El Chaltén.
We stopped in a few times at Borges y Alvarez, a bar with a library feel which overlooks the main street, Los Libertadores. They have very tasty hot chocolates here along with rustic style potatoes which are delicious (they’re not mentioned on the menu so you have to ask). Abuela Goye’s chocolate shop is just up around the corner from here and is worth a stop off; randomly we picked up Wally’s Patagonia Tea from here – so many flavours! There’s a café chain called Don Luis here (we saw at least four), not amazing but the have ok sandwiches and bakery goodies to take away. The best craft/souvenir store we found was Arte Indio; it honestly has some of the best, albeit pricey, souvenir shopping I’ve seen in a while. There’s a park within the town called Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares which is worth a visit; there’s not much there but it’s worth a quick visit – there’s a few statues of Darwin and a map of the National Park (which hosts the Perito Moreno Glacier).
El Calafate isn’t the easiest place to get the blue dollar rate. The only option we found was Cambio Casimira Bigurá (current exchange rate is $ARS11.50 for $1 USD). Here you don’t have to purchase anything to get the blue dollar rate, everywhere else you can pay in US dollars or Euro but you won’t get as good a rate (others were offering $ARS11 for $1 USD).
We flew from El Calafate to Buenos Aires and paid $ARS200 for a remise/taxi which we pre-organised at one of the many stands around the town.
The Big Ice – Perito Moreno Glacier
We booked an ice trek called ‘The Big Ice’ with Hielo & Aventura for a day walking along the Perito Moreno Glacier – a glacier that’s neither advancing nor retreating at the moment. The whole glacier is 250km² and is Patagonia’s most famous (and beautiful) glacier. FYI Upsala is the largest glacier in the area – at 60km long. Unbelievable!
We set out at 7am and travelled to the Perito Moreno Glacier lookout point, about an hour and a half away from El Calafate. We had an hour to look around here, there are a lot of steps so you’ll warm up in no time! Back on the bus and five minutes later we were at the ferry stop for the 15 minute crossing to the forest next to the glacier. Here we met our ice trek guides, Lewis and Emmanuel. We had to walk for about 45 minutes along the forest floor before arriving at the base of the glacier. Here we put on our crampons and headed on to the ice for 3 hours. I was expecting it to be quite jagged and that we’d have to climb a lot but it was more like little hills with lots of crevices. There were plenty of crystal clear pools of water for us to fill up our water bottles – the water is just beautiful. Lewis and Emmanuel trekked before us, clearing a safe path and chatting away. We stopped to have our packed lunch before turning around and trying to find the same path back. The day absolutely flew and it was so much fun! On the return journey we sampled some wild calafate berries in the forest, quite like a blueberry except a little more bitter. We were picked up by the ferry and they gave everybody some Famous Grouse whiskey (or Farmhouse Goose as John told me he got!!) with glacial ice, along with a little keepsake – a ‘Big Ice’ key ring and mini Calafate berry liquor. Nice touch!
Next stop: Buenos Aires baby!!