Below follows our trip report for El Calafate:
The Aerolineas Argentinas flight from BA departed and arrived on time despite reports of strikes a couple of days earlier, nor did we experience any trouble with our hand luggage despite both bags being nearly 3 times over the meagre 5kg domestic flight weight limit and one bag. being slightly over-sized (still fitted easily overhead). We'll have to see if our luck continues over the rest of the trip...
Booked a return transfer from El Calafate airport to our hotel by bus for AR$120 pp which worked out 33% cheaper for 2 people than the one-way taxi transfer of AR$180 but we had a short (20 minute) wait for the bus. Took us right to the hotel though (second stop en route).
Our hotel, Design Suites Calafate, was clearly new, very spacious and modern but still with local feel due to well-decorated interior. Jacuzzi in the his & hers bathroom was a bonus! Had a few teething problems associated with a new hotel and logistics not yet entirely up to scratch: shortages of hot meals and crockery at breakfast (but resolved promptly), the smell of a blocked drain in the corridor towards our room (thankfully pretty contained!) and an over-heated room (underfloor heating) despite the thermostat set to minimum temperature. Overall, still an 8/10 despite these. Swimming pool, sauna and gym with stunning view over the lake. Free hourly shuttle to town in the evenings with 22:15 last return departure but a taxi back cost only around AR$40 (ask your restaurant to call one for you, as it's nowhere near as easy as in BA to track down an available taxi).
Very quaint town with a distinct alpine feel to it. Read Wikitravel for tips on restaurants - all pretty accurate.
We did the Hielo & Adventure (details on Wikitravel) Big Ice Adventure for AR$1,200 pp, including AR$170 pp for bus transfers, but excluding park entry at AR$130 pp and lunch (pack one, everyone does!) which covered great viewing of north face of Glaciar Perito Mareno along the park's walkways for an hour (lucky enough to witness one medium sized glacier wall collapse, and cracking ice like distant gunshots can be heard frequently), a 30 minute sailing past he south face (not close-up as we'd hoped, but close enough), an hour long, quick-paced trek overland to the glacier edge, and a tough (complete with crampons and harness as a precaution) trek across the glacier for around 4 hours in groups of no more than 10 persons (split across Spanish, French and English) with a guide and a sweeper (who didn't like me much as I kept wandering off their trail and straddled crevasses for some spectacular pictures). Cold & windy but beautiful! Back on land along the same way, return to port by boat and bus trip back to hotel. Long day, tiring, but definitely a bucket-list adventure and thoroughly enjoyed it. Young crowd and definitely only for fit and healthy individuals. They have an age limit of 50 which I found insulting (on my dad's behalf, in his absence, as he did Kilimanjaro with us at the age of 59 and would still be able to do Big Ice today aged 69) as I'm only 8 years off!
Did a 5 hour sail (excluding 1 hour bus transfer each way) along the various glaciers for AR$780 pp including an AR$80 pp bus transfer. Older crowd & relaxing alternative to the Big Ice Adventure if you are pressed for time. I paid an extra AR$300 to get me into the Captain's Club with wide, comfy seats by the window (our bus arrived late so the standard seats by the window were all taken) and drinks (coffee, wine, beer), croissants and ham & cheese sandwiches included. My wife decided to sit today out as she is not a sailing person (too cold and the slight swell on the lake may not be for everyone, but I didn't come across any sea-sick passengers) and she instead chose a relaxing day to enjoy the comfort, views and luxuries of the hotel! Witnessed three fair-sized glacier wall crashes - quite impressive when it happens...starts with a crackling gunshot-like sound (gives you enough time to point the camera!) followed by a "boom" with plenty of water displaced as the ice hits the water, and then the swell. Drop-off back at the hotel.
Went for dinner at La Tablita, on the edge of town, and definitely more of a local crowd feel than a tourist crowd feel. Wikitravel points out mixed reviews, but we were quite happy overall. They were fully booked but made an effort to accommodate us (apparently, as later on they didn't seem to be too busy, although there were tables set out for large groups who booked for 10pm we were told).
Afterwards went to the Library Bar (what a great concept...certainly has potential!) - very quaint and loved it there. Fresh pina colada for my wife and Cuba Libre for me. Look out for it amongst a walkway through a series of very quaint gift shops.
Then on to "La Tolderia" which apparently is "THE" bar to visit - enjoyed that too but didn't stay too long as it's been a pretty long day already. You can find it near the location near where hotel shuttle buses drop you off.
Loved El Calafate and would definitely recommend as part of a trip to Argentina!
Trip report on Bariloche to follow...
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Below follows our trip report for El Calafate: