Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

We took the 8.15am, one hour ferry crossing with Colonia Express from Buenos Aires to Colonia de Sacramento in Uruguay. We went straight to the bus terminal and purchased our tickets on to Montevideo. We only stayed for about 4 hours as we had to get to Montevideo but that was plenty of time to explore. You can store your luggage in the bus terminal (2 hours: UYU30, 4 hours: UYU50, 6 hours: UYU60. UYU50 is about $2.50). Colonia’s historic quarter or Barrio Histórico is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has quite a few sights to keep you entertained for a couple of hours. The city was founded by the Portuguese in 1680 and changed hands between the Portuguese and Spanish quite a few times (and the Brazilians once) so it has a lot of history! It’s very popular with Argentinians who pop over from Buenos Aires to get their hands on USD (which are given out at all ATMs in Uruguay) so they can save or get the blue dollar rate back in Argentina. I’ve heard that ATM queues can be ridiculous in Colonia (Argentinians bringing their friends ATM cards and the like) but we went at the bus terminal and had no wait. We actually got a good enough rate at the bus terminal for exchanging the Argentinian Pesos we had left too.

We wandered around the city for a few hours, taking in the colonial architecture, grabbing overpriced coffee and trying to dodge the hoards of tour groups. There is a beach here but it’s anything but pretty. You can walk all along the water and you’ve circled the historic quarter and pretty much taken in all the sights so that’s quite handy! One of the nicest things to check out is the lighthouse and ruins of the old Convent of San Francisco. The trees around it are beautiful and you can go up the top to take in the surrounding landscape. The drawbridge or Portón de Campo is also worth checking out. There are plenty of souvenir stores near here to help you while away some time. We stopped for ice-cream at Cali next to the drawbridge ano that’s definitely worth a stop. Calle Suspiros is one of the oldest streets here; it’s quite dilapidated but that’s really the beauty and charm of it. The Basilica del Santísimi Sacramento is a lovely whitewashed church with some ruins right alongside it. You can sit on a bench here in the shade and do some people-watching, lovely!

Nice welcome!

Nice welcome!

Awaiting a tumbleweed

Awaiting a tumbleweed…

Wouldn't mind this as my house...

Wouldn’t mind this as my house…

So pretty

So pretty

Yachting with the locals

Yachting with the locals

They enjoy their Coca Cola signs in Uruguay

They enjoy their Coca Cola signs in Uruguay

Lots of old cars in Colonia

Lots of old cars in Colonia

Looking towards the Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento

Looking towards the Basilica del Santísimo Sacramento

Planting in cars these days

Planting in cars these days

Pretty flowers

Pretty flowers

Wire sculpture

Wire sculpture

Getting ready for the lunchtime rush

Getting ready for the lunchtime rush

Lighthouse of he ruins of the Convent of San Francisco

Lighthouse of the ruins of the Convent of San Francisco

Portón de Campo

How cool!

How cool!

A nice reminder

A nice reminder

Gorgeousness on Calle Suspiro

Gorgeousness on Calle Suspiro

Uruguay baby!

Uruguay baby!

Next stop: Montevideo, Uruguay

Buenos Aires, Argentina

We flew from El Calafate to Buenos Aires’ domestic airport, Aeroparque Jorge Newbury. We stayed in an apartment in the Palermo Hollywood district (remise/taxi from the airport was $ARS160 and took about 15 minutes) which is filled with cafés and boutique stores. I’m glad we chose Palermo as there was plenty to do in our own neighbourhood and the subway brought us to the centre of town in no time. As Buenos Aires is so big I’m going to divide this post into more manageable bites, which I hope make more sense.

Microcentro

The centre or microcentro of BA has a few sights but we didn’t find there was too much to hold our interest for more than a few hours. The most suitable subte/metro stop from our apartment was Catedral just off the lovely Plaza de Mayo, which is overlooked by the equally lovely Casa Rosada or office of the president. We wandered around here a few times and the plaza is quite a nice spot to people watch. It’s an easy walk from here to the San Telmo area but I’ll tell you about that in a minute. Probably the most famous tourist street in the city is Calle Florida, which I think they should rename Calle Cambio as touts shout Cambio! Cambio! at you here from every direction (we actually did change $USD with Lumax Cambio, just to the left of the El Ateneo Bookshop on Calle Florida. Don’t worry, they’ll approach you). There’s a beautiful shopping centre (Can I describe a shopping centre as beautiful? Yes!) here called Galerías Pacifico which has the prettiest vaulted, frescoed ceiling – well worth admiring. There’s a pretty good selection of stores here too! On an awfully sad note we found a very lonely looking Harrods store around here – open it up again BA! A bookshop with a difference, El Ateneo Gran Splendid (Address: Avenida Santa 1860) is housed in an old theatre. There’s a lovely vibe in here, a bit of art dotted around, a café to chill out in and a whole load of tourists snapping shots. Don’t miss it though. It’s worth walking to see the Obelisco in Plaza de la Republica, a 67.5m tall concrete and white stone obelisk built back in 1936 in just 31 days! It stands at the cross-section of Avenida Corrientes and Avenida 9 de Julio, the widest avenue in the world. Cool! We wandered from here to the Retiro neighbourhood to check out Plaza San Martín, a lovely green space (which used to be a bullring) to chill out with the locals…and Sheraton guests.

Welcome to Buenos Aires!

Welcome to Buenos Aires!

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada

Plaza de Mayo with the Cathedral in the background

Plaza de Mayo with the Cathedral in the background (yep, the one that looks like the Stock Exchange)

Pretty door/building on Calle Florida

Pretty door/building on Calle Florida

Some of BA's architecture

Some of BA’s architecture

Galerías Pacifico

Galerías Pacifico

El Ateneo Gran Splendid

El Ateneo Gran Splendid

Harrods Buenos Aires

Harrods

So sad!

So sad 😢

Plaza San Martín

Plaza San Martín

Pimped up BA bus

Pimped up BA bus

Obelisco

Obelisco

San Telmo

Walking down Calle Defensa from Plaza de Mayo brings you to the antique store laden neighbourhood of San Telmo. Be sure to stop to have your photo taken with the beloved Argentinian comic book character, Mafalda (at the corner of Defensa and Chile streets). There are a few buildings which have been converted to little markets selling old records, crockery, glassware, posters and the like around here – you just have to look in every door! The San Telmo Mercado is worth exploring; here you can find antiques, art, fruit and veg and have your dinner in a café or an espresso in Coffee Town. Continuing down Defensa you’ll find leafy Plaza Dorrego, apparently awash with an awesome antiques market every Sunday but we unfortunately missed this. We visited on a Saturday and there were quite a few stalls around though.

The neighbourhood of Montserrat is just next to San Telmo (technically the Casa Rosada is in Montserrat) and it’s well worth ambling through its cobblestoned streets. Buenos Aires’ oldest café, Café Tortoni (Address: Avenida de Mayo 825) is here and still has tango shows every night (you have to book in advance but I believe you can do it on the day in the café).

Approaching San Telmo

Approaching San Telmo

Relaxing with Mafalda

Relaxing with Mafalda

Awesome

Awesome

Beautiful colours en route to San Telmo market

Beautiful colours en route to San Telmo market

In an antiques market

In an antiques market

San Telmo market

San Telmo market

Antiques store in the market

Antiques store in the market

Cool fruit boxes in the market

Cool fruit boxes in the market

Plaza Dorrego on a Saturday

Plaza Dorrego on a Saturday

Old school store on Plaza Dorrego

Old school store on Plaza Dorrego

Palermo

We spent the majority of our time in BA around the Palermo area which is roughly broken down into numerous smaller  areas but we spent most of our time in Palermo Viejo or Old Palermo and Palermo Nuevo. Palermo Viejo is further divided into Palermo Hollywood and Palermo SoHo. Palermo Hollywood (where our AirBnB apartment was located) is called so because lots of TV and radio producers set up shop here back in the 1990s. Palermo Hollywood’s leafy lined  streets are brimming with cafés, bars and restaurants. Our favourite coffee spot here was LAB Tostadores de Café on Humboldt street and the best brunch award would have to go to the very pretty Oui Oui. There’s a brand new outlet shopping centre on Avenida Juan B. Justo (very close to the Palermo subte stop) called Distrito Arcos. It doesn’t have lots of very well known brands but Lacoste, Adidas and Levi’s are here and Vitamina (Olivia Palermo models for them) seems to be opening soon. You could easily spend a couple hours pottering about the stores here. The famous Argentinian ice-cream brand, Freddos is here, along with a pretty cool looking modular shaped building housing a Starbucks; Le Pain Quotidien makes an appearance too for foodies. Palermo SoHo’s epicentre is Plaza Serrano, most exciting at weekends when there’s an arts and crafts market but honestly I thought it was more of a blink and you’ll miss it spot! There are cafés, restaurants and boutiques around a playground with a few benches; it probably doesn’t deserve the plaza title but it’s a nice spot for a meander . The coffee spot you’ll need to look out for here is LATTEnTE (Address: Thames 1891). Palermo Neuvo holds the triangular shaped Carlos Thays Botanic Garden (Plaza Italia subte stop), just next to the zoo, is a lovely spot to wander around and take a break from the city heat. Although not the most peaceful spot in the world, there are lovely fountains, statues and a stunning greenhouse to potter around. Thays’ mansion still stands in the grounds and there’s some artwork and mini models to check out in here. It’s free to enter the gardens.

We really enjoyed the Jardín Japonés or Japanese Gardens (Scalabrini Ortiz subte but a good walk from here), built within the expansive Parque Tres de Febrero (entrance is $ARS50). It was built in 1967 so has had plenty of time to mature into the beauty that it is today. There’s a huge lake in the middle of the garden filled with gigantic carp and criss-crossed by a number of bridges. There’s obviously also plenty of Japanese greenery and some bonsai trees to admire. So cute! The Rosedal or Rose Garden is also situated in the Parque Tres de Febrero and is absolutely gorgeous (free entry). It has been around over 100 years and is kept perfectly. There’s a lake here you can rent pedal boats too.

Checking out the streets of Palermo Hollywood

Checking out the streets of Palermo Hollywood

Café in Palermo

Café in Palermo

Free gigs!

Free gigs!

Plaza Serrano

Plaza Serrano

Now there's a mosaic!

Now there’s a mosaic!

Can't pass up a Ché shot

Can’t pass up a Ché shot

Cute street in Palermo SoHo

Cute street in Palermo SoHo

Plaza Serrano's weekend market

Plaza Serrano’s weekend market

A sign in action

A sign in action

Feeling all Alice in Wonderland

Feeling all Alice in Wonderland

Madison Avenue!

Madison Avenue!

So cute

So cute

Bit different

Bit different…

Oh so pretty!

Oh so pretty!

So cool

So cool

In Plaza Italia

Here’s looking at you kid

Entrance to the Botanic Garden

Entrance to the Botanic Garden

In the Botanic Garden

In the Botanic Garden

Just relaxing

Just relaxing

One beautiful greenhouse

One beautiful greenhouse

Just catching a breeze

Just catching a breeze

Great chill out space

Great chill out space

Rosedal Garden

Rosedal Garden

European!!

European!!

Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden

Lovely setting

Lovely setting

Japanese wishing tree

Japanese wishing tree

Couldn't resist another

Couldn’t resist another

La Boca

We took a taxi to La Boca from outside the San Telmo mercado ($ARS40, ten minutes) as we’d heard that La Boca was quite dodgy. La Boca’s most famous street is called the Caminito, a street lined with colourful tin ramshackle houses – it’s basically a tourist trap but I’m glad we went to check it out. There’s a lot of stalls lining the streets and quite a few souvenir shops and restaurants too. We went to the Havanna café (they’re EVERYWHERE in Argentina) for a submarino – the tastiest hot chocolate where you get hot milk and a bar of chocolate so you can make it to your liking – delicious (I’m thinking lately I should just have had a photo blog on hot chocolate drinking sessions…) we caught the bus back to Palermo from here for just $ARS5.

Havanna (chocolate store) on the Caminito

Havanna (chocolate store) on the Caminito

Yep, that's the Pope

Yep, that’s the Pope

Just get a submarino!

Just get a submarino!

Caminito

Caminito

Excellent

Excellent

There's tango everywhere here

There’s tango everywhere here

Caminito Street

Caminito Street

So blue 😊

So blue 😊

Forever captured!

Forever captured!

So pretty

So pretty

Practice your tango skills

Practice your tango skills

Having a right old natter

Having a right old natter

Get your souvenirs here!

Get your souvenirs here!

Well it wouldn't be La Boca without this...

Well it wouldn’t be La Boca without this…

Recoleta

We actually ended up in Recoleta twice during our stay in BA. On our first visit we checked out one of Buenos Aires’ most famous attractions; it’s odd to say attraction as it’s Recoleta Cemetery but there you go! Recoleta is quite a well to do neighbourhood and they haven’t shied away from spending money in this labyrinth of a cemetery. Honestly though there’s a definite beauty to this place, it’s full of  impeccably (for the most part) kept stone and marble tombs, some the size of a Manhattan studio! Evita is buried here (just follow the crowds of people. She’s in a tomb under her maiden name, Duarte), along with quite a few presidents and other notable Argentinian residents. It’s an eerie but fascinating place, well worth a visit. Just next door is the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a lovely white church with an ornate gold main alter and beautiful tiles along the floors and up the walls. You can visit a museum within the church too ($ARS15). I wouldn’t miss this church if you’re just next door in the cemetery. On the weekends there’s an arts and crafts market with over 100 stalls on Plaza Francia, just outside the church. It’s worth a walk around if you’re looking for souvenirs. Just bear in mind that BA is not an early city – some people only set up about 2pm! There’s a much talked about store/centre here too called Buenos Aires Design which is pretty much a group of furniture stores. Maybe it’s loved by many but I honestly thought it was a bit of a hyped up IKEA. We checked out the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes just around the corner from here (free entry) one afternoon. It was a quick visit to be honest, but they have a nice collection of art (including Henry Moore, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and Rodin) and a nice museum shop. Just next to the museum is the Plaza Naciones Unidas which is host to the Floris Genérica, a huge flower sculpture which is supposed to open and close with the sun although it’s currently undergoing some repairs.

What's on in Recoleta?

What’s on in Recoleta?

Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar

City of Tombs

City of Tombs

A very pretty tomb

A very pretty tomb

Rows and rows

Rows and rows

Some pretty old graves here too

Some pretty old graves here too

Yep, very, very old

Yep, very, very old

Ornate to say the least

Ornate to say the least

There's Evita

There’s Evita

Tango on everything at Recoleta market

Tango on everything at Recoleta market

Recoleta's a very pretty neighbourhood

Recoleta’s a very pretty neighbourhood

Awesome street sign

Awesome street sign

The prettiest of pinks

The prettiest of pinks

Floris Genérica

Floris Genérica

Getting to Uruguay: We organised our ferry crossing to Colonia in Uruguay with Colonia Express in the microcentro (Address: Avenida Córdoba 753). They were the cheapest provider (by far). Seacat Colonia are just across the road from here but they won’t let foreigners pay with Argentinian Pesos. Thank but no thanks 😊.

Next stop: Colonia, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Uruguay

El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

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.

El Calafate

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.

El Calafate!

El Calafate!

Cute accommodation on our first visit

Cute accommodation on our first visit

So far from everywhere we know!

So far from everywhere!

Cute little shopping area

Cute little shopping area

Old school store sign

Old school store sign

So lovely!

So lovely!

Park within the town on El Calafate's history

Park within the town on El Calafate’s history

Learning every day!

Learning every day!

Darwin and a Macaroni Penguin

Darwin and a Macaroni Penguin

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!

We're here!

We’re here! Just look at that baby in the background!

Right you are then!

Right you are then!

That's quite a glacier

That’s quite a glacier

It's gigantic

It’s gigantic

Gigantic I tell you!

Gigantic I tell you!

Up close

Up close

A change in weather after the ferry crossing to the forest

A change in weather after the ferry crossing to the forest

Crampons!

Crampons!

Ok, I didn't have to do any hard work

Ok, I didn’t have to do any hard work

They totally match my hiking boots!

They totally match my hiking boots!

And we're off!

And we’re off!

The water is perfect

The water is perfect

Little bit of climbing

Little bit of climbing

Just chilling❄️

Just chilling❄️

Ice-picking challenge...save the tourists

Ice-picking challenge…save the tourists

There's a substantial drop down there!

There’s a substantial drop down there!

Told ya!

Told ya!

Paying his way...

Paying his way…

Aw

Aw

Here's what the surface of a glacier looks like

Here’s what the surface of a glacier looks like

A little more

A little more

John enjoying his Famous Grouse with some glacial ice

John enjoying his Famous Grouse with some glacial ice

Next stop: Buenos Aires baby!!

El Chaltén, Argentina

🍀🍀🍀

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

🍀🍀🍀

Although we travelled to El Calafate prior to El Chaltén we returned to El Calafate so I’ll tell you about El Chaltén first!

We travelled with CalTur for the 3 hour journey from El Calafate to El Chaltén ($550ARS return to El Calafate). The bus stops about 2 minutes from town in the Park Ranger Office so you can listen to a quick safety briefing (in Spanish and English). We stayed at Condor de Los Andes for 2 nights ($ARS230 per person per night) – in a dorm room for just the second time in our whole trip. The first night was fine; we met a lovely couple from Buenos Aires but the second night we had 2 Brazilian guys and one of them must be the snoring champion of the world. Such fun! Also there was an absolute scramble from the bus station to look for accommodation so I’d definitely advise booking here before just showing up.

Anyway, as our time was short in El Chaltén we decided on a day hike from the town up to a viewpoint at Laguna Torre to see a glacier. We did the 9km (each way) trek in about 6 hours. It’s quite hilly here and there even though they say it’s relatively flat so just be prepared for that. There are a few viewpoints or miradors on the journey with views of Cerro Torre and the valleys around El Chaltén before you reach the base of Laguna Torre with the glacier reaching right to the mouth of the lake. It’s pretty beautiful and if the weather had been kind to us then we would have had stunning views of Mount Fitzroy in the background. We walked along the ridge high above the lake to a mirador called Mellinsk (about half an hour to the top from the lake) to get a view up along the glacier; it’s definitely worth the extra half an hour climbing as you get much better views of the glacier than just down by the lake.

El Chaltén is the tiniest of towns – if you’re not in to hiking then there really wouldn’t be much to do. There are quite a few restaurants, most of which don’t open until 7pm, and La Cerveceria, an expensive see joint where you get popcorn along with your drinks. Wifi was terrible in El Chaltén, although we had some spotty reception in a nice little café, Lo de Haydee, which also had very tasty apple crumble.

That’s kind of all there is to say…I probably wouldn’t be in a rush back.

El Chaltén 'town'

El Chaltén ‘town’

Probably the tiniest church on the planet

Probably the tiniest church on the planet

Local shop

Local shop

Freakiest sky ever

Freakiest sky ever

John starting the trek

John starting the trek

Rainbow greeting

Rainbow greeting

Hahaha!!

Hahaha!!

A well trodden path for sure

A well trodden path for sure

Pretty close to another glacier

Pretty close to another glacier

Getting a little further up

Getting a little further up

To see this!

To see this!

Nice spot to relax

Nice spot to relax

The weather turned beautiful on the way back

The weather turned beautiful on the way back

Next stop: El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier

Puerto Natales and Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile

Warning: This is an exceptionally long post. You may wish to pop on the kettle.

Puerto Natales

Just over 2 hours from Punta Arenas, passed a desolate, windswept landscape at first and then snowy mountains jutting out in the distance, you’ll find yourself in a new province, Ultima Esperanza. We travelled with Bus-Sur ($6,000CP) who dropped us off at Rodoviario bus terminal, about a 15 minute walk from the town centre. We stayed at Erratic Rock ($30,000 for double room) which was the most perfect place – homely, warm and welcoming; and a great breakfast. There’s not too much to do in Puerto Natales proper, it’s really just a spot to organise yourself for a trip to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Erratic Rock is right next door to Base Camp, a pub which organises a free information session every day at 3pm where you can learn about Torres del Paine (treks to do, gear to bring, you can also rent gear or take free stuff from recently returned trekkers from the pub). We found a lovely café down by the water, The Coffeemaker, which has an open fireplace, good tea and banana cake, and a great view. We had fantastic pizza at Mesita Grande – king crab on a pizza? Yes please!

Puerto Natales' Cathedral

Puerto Natales’ Cathedral

The loveliest postbox in the land

The loveliest postbox in the land

Wish I could knit. I shall have to learn!

LOVE this store! Wish I could knit. I shall have to learn!

The Navimag ferry bringing the town all it's supplies

The Navimag ferry bringing the town all its supplies

Local sculpture

Local sculpture

Kinda looks like a potato

Kinda looks like a potato

There are some mountains back there...somewhere

There are some mountains back there…somewhere

John trying to break his hand

John trying to break his hand

Me trying to break my body

Me trying to break my body

Bit of water in your boat there mate

Bit of water in your boat there mate

Torres del Paine

We booked tickets at our lovely, homely hostel, Erratic Rock, for the 7.50am bus ($15,000CP open return with ‘Via Paine’) heading from Puerto Natales’ Rodivario bus station to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (TDP). I’d recommend getting tickets for the 7.30am bus to the park as the 7.50am was full when we got there so we had to wait another 15 minutes for them to put on another bus – which is fine but if you want to camp for free then you need to sign up at the park’s entrance point and everything was booked up by the time we arrived. Actually, if you can then you should try to book your bus tickets with ‘Buses Gómez’ – they seemed a lot more professional than Via Paine. The journey from Puerto Natales to TDP took a little over 2 hours including a 15 minute café stop along the way (delicious homemade cakes).

The entrance point to the park is called ‘Portería Laguna Amarga’ and once you’re here you’ll have to fill out a form (they have pens) and you’ll need to go to a desk to pay your park entrance fee ($18,000CP). You’ll then need to bring this form to the next desk to get stamped in and they’ll provide you with a map to the park. If you want to camp for free at Camp de Torres you’ll need to queue up again and register. You’re then obliged to watch a 3 minute safety video before hopping on a waiting shuttle bus ($2,800CP) to take you to one of the trek starting points. We decided to start our trek at Hotel Las Torres.

Most people who visit Torres del Paine do a trek called the ‘W’ which brings you round some of the highlights of the park and usually takes around 5 days. There’s another trek called the ‘Circuit’ which brings you all around the back of the park, and includes the W and can be done in around 9 days. There’s another, longer trek called the ‘Q’ which takes around 10 days. We decided to do a bit of an ‘O’ shape – the back of the circuit and most of the W, excluding a little bit in the middle, in 6 days.

Views from the bus en-route to the park

Views from the bus en-route to the park

On arrival at the campsite of Hotel Las Torres ($8,500CP per person. Yes, that’s $34 to fricking camp!!) we organised the tent and then started a one day trek to the Base de Las Torres, probably TDP’s most infamous site – three towering granite mountains overlooking a beautiful turquoise lagoon.

This is a mostly uphill slog that took us about 8 hours return. It was definitely difficult (it’s very rocky so I’d definitely recommend hiking boots) but once you get there you forget all about it. We took a little toe-dip into the glacial water – the perfect recovery for aching feet!

Our first nights camp

Our first nights camp

And we're off!

And we’re off!

A wowsers moment

A wowsers moment

Fecked already

Fecked already

So far so beautiful

So far so beautiful

Just horsing around

Just horsing around

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Up up up

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Thought we were already in here…but yay!

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Finally here and I’m zonked

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Ok it’s pretty damn gorgeous

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Taking it all in

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Wow

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John taking a moment

Day 2 was a 4 hour walk in the park! We took a few breaks and met a lovely German chap who we ran in to everywhere for the next few days. We passed lots of fields of something along the lines of wheat (??) and many, many horses. Campamento Serón ($8,500 per person) was possibly the windiest place on the earth to try to get a tent up. We’re becoming pros now though 😊 You can actually get meals here AND they use Kerrygold butter so they could only be great, right?

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Let the orange marks show you the way…when you actually spot them

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Freaky little spot

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John with the weight of our world on his shoulders

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Walking with horses

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12km complete!

Day 3 was 6 hours from Campamento Serón to Refugio y Campamento Dickson. This was a little bit difficult at the start of the day (damn climbing. John’s now a convert and no longer seems to enjoy climbing. Thank Jesus!) but once we got up a hill overlooking Lago Paine we were treated to a stunning view of the lake along with all the wind in Patagonia. Not joking – I could hardly walk with the wind pushing against me! Onwards and upwards and we landed at Coirón, a ranger station where you have to register and then on through a lot of windy forest and pass some beautiful rivers until you get a view of the a beautiful glacier and you just pray that the lodge you’re looking down on with horses in the grounds is your campsite…and it is!! Joyful! A quick descent landed us into the lakeside Campamento Dickson ($4,300CP per person). There were cold showers here and a little mini-market (they had Twix!) too. As this place is beside a lake it’s teeming with mosquitoes – aggressive little feckers too so definitely bring repellent.

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Big day today

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So pretty

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Actually managed to get ahead of John for 5 whole minutes

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Just another day 😊

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I think this is where the hobbits live

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Wowsers

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Delighted to see this sign for a little rest stop

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Pretty clearly defined path round these parts

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More snow!

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This place is just amazing

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There’s our little orange home

Day 4

This was a relatively easy 4 hour hike from Refugio y Campamento Dickson to Campamento Los Perros (camping was $4,300 per person at Los Perros). It was mainly a walk though hilly forest with a couple of viewpoints until you reach a small but still very impressive glacier, Glacier Los Perros. It’s just 10 minutes from the glacier to the camp so we set up shop and wandered back to the lake by the glacier to chill (quite literally) by some gigantic icebergs.

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Bye!

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Little more climbing today

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Proof I’m up here 😊

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Totally cool; that’s not fast moving water…

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Well hello!

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Absolutely massive up close – I mean size of a bus

Day 5

We started at Campamento Los Perros and had a 2 hour uphill slog to Paso John Gardner, 1,200m in the air. Have to say neither of us were enjoying this John Gardner chap. Once you get to the top you forget all the blister and muscle pain though – you’re overlooking the 28km long Grey’s Glacier – probably one of the most spectacular vistas either of us have ever seen. It’s a very steep descent from here for another 2 hours to Campamento Paso. We made lunch at Campamento Paso and continued on for the 4 hour trek alongside the glacier to Refugio y Campamento Grey. This walk was mostly through forest and we spotted a working woodpecker which was awesome. There were some seriously fun suspension bridge crossings thrown in on this leg of the journey too. High up and windy = great combination! Although it was the longest of our days it was probably the most enjoyable – I don’t think I can do the scenery justice with words and pictures.

Grey’s camp had great facilities; piping hot showers (from 7pm to 10pm), a mini-market and indoor cooking facilities – a real treat! We met a lovely American couple here on their honeymoon so had a great evening chatting over pasta. Camping here was $4,300CP per person.

Day 6 started with an early morning wake up call and 3.5 hour trek in the rain. We’ve had the most amazing weather for the whole trip so a little rain didn’t dampen our spirits at all. A river crossing over jagged rocks wasn’t ideal though…

We caught the 12.30pm ferry from Refugio Paine Grande ($15,000CP) across the most beautiful turquoise Lago Pehoé (30 minutes) and took a waiting bus back to Puerto Natales for some time indoors. Such an amazing experience.

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Oh such pretty colours

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We made it!!

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So Grey’s Glacier is pretty damn beautiful

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John on the descent

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Bravo nature 👏

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Beautiful little things

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We’re pretty high up

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Me and my companion, Sticky II

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Kinda vast

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Yes, it finally ends

There's a stairs we gotta get up over there!

There’s a stairs we gotta get up over there!

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Homeward bound now

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Sad to be leaving but woah that’s a turquoise lake!

Next stop: El Calafate, Argentina

Punta Arenas and Isla Magdalena, Chile

Punta Arenas

We flew in to Punta Arenas from Puerto Montt with Sky Airlines (quick 2 hour journey with amazing views of the snow covered peaks of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine – try to sit in a window seat on the left hand side of the plane). We took a little mini bus for the 20km trip into the centre of Punta Arenas ($3,000CP per person) and quickly found some lodgings at Barefoot Backpackers on a quiet street…saying that I think all streets are quiet in Punta Arenas, it’s the definition of a tumbleweed town apart from the main street. There’s a pretty good Unimarc supermarket (Address: Salvador Allende 349) for picking up supplies and lots of outdoorsy stores – The North Face currently have 30% off!! We had a relaxed cuppa at Amaranta just next to the Bussur bus terminal. They have good wifi and if it’s empty it’s because of their ludicrous prices – $5 for a cup of tea. Would you be well? We also had some lemon pie at Café Tostado (Address: Hernando de Magallenes 922) and some ok coffee and lovely tea from the cutest looking place in town, Patiperro (Address: intersection of Lautaro Navarro and Pdte. Julio A. Roca) to take on a little wander to the waterside down by the casino. We ended up staying in Punta Arenas for 3 nights but unfortunately that’s only because I caught a little bug so was bedridden for one of those days. Aw.

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Bus-Sur’s fancy schmancy terminal

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Good ol’ Ferdinand Magellan

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Church by the Bus-Sur offices

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Penguin merchandise

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Give me more penguin stuff!

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Museo Braun Menéndez

Patiperro coffee shop

Patiperro coffee shop

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Warming up

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Punta Arenas’ fitting graffiti

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Princess Cruises docked in Punta Arenas

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Bird-watching

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Just in case you need keys cut

Isla Magdalena – PENGUIN TIME!!

We booked a tour to Isla Magdalena to see an island full of penguins with Comapa Travel for $30,000CP per person. Demand is exceeding supply at the moment so we had to book 2 days before. On Saturday we rocked up to the Terminal Tres Puentes ($2,700CP taxi ride from Punta Arenas’ centre) at 2.30pm. Our boat/ferry, Melinka, finally left at 4pm for the hour and a half journey to the island. It’s a pretty boring ferry trip so bring a book and some food/be prepared to nap. Luckily I have some magazines on my trusty Zinio app.

All I can say is woah! Approaching the island you see thousands of black and white Magellanic Penguins (and plenty birds too) and plenty of penguins swimming alongside the ferry to get to dry land. It’s so awesome! We spent an hour on the island just click clicking away. You have to stay on the designated path but the penguins aren’t obliged to do so (!) so they cross in front of you all the time. We saw a few furry baby penguins next to their burrows. There’s a lighthouse up the top of the island with a couple of posters on penguins the birds of the area. It’s honestly the windiest place I’ve ever been – we’re talking 2 tops, 2 fleeces, a windbreaker jacket, 2 pairs of socks, hiking boots and a woolly hat – and I was still cold! My one mistake was the yoga pants though, those babies ain’t made for seafaring.

Just a word of warning – once you start closing in on the ferry terminal back in Punta Arenas you’ll want to make your way outside (we saw penguins swimming alongside us and John saw a whale) as once the ramp goes down it’s like an episode of The Amazing Race; every man for himself to try to get a taxi! There were only 5 taxis and a few minibuses for the entire ferry so you’ll definitely want to get off ASAP so you’re not waiting around in the icy weather.

Definitely worth a day trip from Punta Arenas 😊

Our ferry to Isla Magdalena

Our ferry to Isla Magdalena

Oops

Oops

I see them, I see them!!

I see them, I see them!!

We're here!

We’re here!

They're everywhere!!

They’re everywhere!!

Popping up everywhere 🐧

Popping up 🐧

Doesn't the guy on the left look like Cruella Deville wearing a coat?!

Doesn’t the guy on the left look like Cruella Deville wearing a coat and heels?!

This guy actually walks like The Penguin in Batman

This guy actually walks like The Penguin in Batman

Hello, is it me you're looking for?

Hello, is it me you’re looking for?

Do I smell?

Do I smell?

Buds for life

Buds for life

Abbey Road? The Beatles?

Abbey Road? The Beatles?

Hellooo! Anybody home?

Hellooo! Anybody home?

Aw, fluffy babies 🐧🐧

Aw, fluffy babies 🐧🐧

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Hurry up!

Watch my back?

Watch my back?

Penguins crossing

Penguins crossing

All by myself!

All by myself!

I'm home lads

I’m home lads

Well, it is breeding season

P-p-p-pick up a penguin. Well, it is breeding season

Ok last pic

Ok last pic

Next stop: Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile