Patagonia in lovely April

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May 13th, 2018, 05:44 PM
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Patagonia in lovely April


Patagonia has long been on my wish list, but other things always came along to push it further out – until this year. My husband, Tom, and I (both 60-ish) left Baltimore on April 1, flying from BWI to Houston to Buenos Aires using frequent flyer miles on United. Adventure on!

We planned the trip ourselves after seeking advice here, reading numerous blogs, and checking out the itineraries of tour companies. I found the logistics planning a bit daunting, and the April timeframe worried me a little: I was afraid the weather would be poor – rainy and cold – the transportation options would be limited, and things would be closing down for the end of the season. My fears turned out to be unfounded – the trip couldn’t have gone better. The logistics worked out just fine, the weather for the most part was decent, and Patagonia was absolutely breath-taking.

Itinerary:

Day 1 – BWI to Houston to BA
Day 2 – Arrive Buenos Aires
Day 3 – Fly to Ushuaia
Day 4 – Ushuaia
Day 5 – Fly to El Calafate, bus to El Chalten
Day 6 – El Chalten
Day 7 – El Chalten
Day 8 – bus to El Calafate
Day 9 – El Calafate
Day 10 – Bus to Punta Arenas, rental car to Torres del Paine
Day 11 – Torres del Paine
Day 12 – Torres del Paine
Day 13 – morning at TDP, drive back to Punta Arenas, spend night
Day 14 – Bus to El Calafate, flight to Buenos Aires
Day 15 – Buenos Aires
Day 16 – Buenos Aires – late evening flight home

After a 10-hour overnight flight on April 1, we arrived in BA late morning, exchanged money at the Banco de la Nacion (we’d brought more cash than we usually do, mostly in 100- and 50-dollar bills), and took a cab to our hotel. The taxi stand inside the airport accepts dollars or pesos or credit cards (there’s a discount for cash). Our hotel, Apart Hotel Shoshana, was excellent – reasonably priced and in the convenient and interesting Palermo area with kind of a hippie vibe. The room was quite large with a kitchenette, and the staff members were really nice. Breakfast was good - fairly typical. Fortunately, we were given an early check-in, enabling us to take a quick nap and showers before heading out to explore. We strolled around a mall area, where we picked up lunch at a stand and enjoyed sitting in the sunshine and watching the people go by. We explored more of Palermo – took pictures of some of the street art and made our way to an outdoor market. Dinner that night was a traditional steak restaurant. We got there at 7:30 when they opened (it would take us some time to get used to the late-night dinners).

The next morning we flew from BA’s domestic airport (very convenient to the Palermo area) to Ushuaia at the southern tip of Argentina, the “end of the world,” as they say. It was about a 4 hour flight on Argentina Aerolineas. We’d booked a 1-bedroom apartment BnB accommodation with a panoramic view of the Beagle Channel just a few short blocks from the main center of town. It worked out perfectly.

Although it was gray and drizzly when we arrived, the clouds parted and the sun came out by the time we checked in to our apartment. We wanted to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park and decided spur of the moment to rent a car and drive to the park. It was about $75 dollars for a basic (manual-transmission) car, which we used for about 4 hours. I’m so glad we did it that was. Driving/parking was super easy after navigating our way out of town – fortunately our GPS worked while in Ushuaia proper, but it quickly disappeared as soon as we were on the outskirts of town.

The park is gorgeous and well worth a visit, especially in the sunshine. We got some gorgeous photos of the Beagle Channel and beautiful views of lakes and mountains.

We made our way back to town, dropped off the car, and walked down the street to the Pira Tour operator to pay for the next day’s Isla Martillo tour to see penguins! Pira tours enable visitors to walk on the island among the penguins. They usually stop the tours at the end of March because most of the penguins leave for the season. I’d been in email contact with the company, and they told me they run tours through the first week of April – IF there are enough penguins. A couple of days before, I learned the trip was a “go” for the day we’d be there, so after Tierra del Fuego, we stopped by the office to pay for our reserved spots. For dinner, we enjoyed king crab at La Cantina Fueguina de Freddy – delicious and lots of fun.

The next morning, we found a small coffee shop/bakery for breakfast – Ramos Generales – then strolled the town enjoying the shops and ambience before grabbing lunch at a café on the main street and heading down to the harbor to catch our tour with Pira. Although expensive, the trip to Isla Martillo was a highlight. We saw two kinds of penguins: dozens (vice several thousand during peak season) of Magellanic and also several dozen Gentoos.

We were taken by bus to Estancia Harberton, where we boarded a boat for the 15-minute ride out to the island. We had about an hour walking around the island seeing the penguins – first the smaller Magellanic ones, then the larger – and really funny – Gentoos, several of which popped up over a ridge about 100 yards from us and started running, as well as penguins run, downhill toward us. Evidently, they were concerned we might bother their nests. The time flew by and after a few hundred pictures, we took the boat back to the Estancia, where we had time for a hot drink before a short tour of a maritime museum. It was somewhat interesting – worth a quick stop. Then back to town, by which time it was dark (around 8:30). We found a bite to eat before heading to bed.

In the morning we'd be heading to El Chalten.






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May 14th, 2018, 03:45 PM
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El Chalten

After a short flight the next morning, we arrived at El Calafate about 10:30 and caught a taxi to the bus station. We’d made reservations for a mid-day bus with Chalten Travel to get to El Chalten. Unfortunately, the new bus station at El Calafate is about 6 miles from downtown, and there’s no food available in the terminal. We were able to get sandwiches, drinks, and chips at a small convenience store about a 5-minute walk across the way. We’d considered renting a car, but the bus turned out to be a great option. It was nice to relax and let someone else do the driving while we ate our sandwiches and chips and enjoyed the passing scenery.

Along the way, we spotted the first of many guanacos we’d see on the trip. The landscape was mostly flat and scrubby, with mountains off in the distance. After about 3 hours or so, we made a short stop at the small National Park Visitor Center for a park orientation and were dropped at the bus station a few minutes later at the entrance to the town.

Everything in El Chalten is within easy walking distance, so after getting directions at the information desk, we set off for our lodging - La Ribera, a small cabin we'd found on Booking.com. This place was a gem, and the owners were as nice as could be. They were waiting to greet us when we arrived at the dark green saltbox cabin, which was about a block off the main street. It seemed private and off-to-itself yet close to everything. The kitchen was well stocked and the view from the windows was fantastic. It felt like “glamping” and we loved it.

By the time we’d settled in and were ready to set out for an adventure, it was nearly 5. We thought we’d walk to the waterfall Chorillo del Salto, but after 45 minutes it became obvious we wouldn’t have time to get there and back to town before dark so we headed back. Despite the cloudy skies, wind, and cool temperatures, it was a great stroll. The run-off from the mountains creates a huge flat valley filled with rocks and multiple ribbons of water. It’s gorgeous. We reluctantly headed back to town for dinner and decided to try again the next day.



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May 14th, 2018, 04:00 PM
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Cabin pictures




I meant to include these in the previous post. Please let me know if you have any questions.
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May 15th, 2018, 08:40 AM
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Really enjoying your report - please continue!
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May 15th, 2018, 06:58 PM
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Great report. Nice way to celebrate six years.
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May 15th, 2018, 07:03 PM
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More of El Chalten

The next day we tried Chorillo del Salto again. The sky was mostly overcast, but no rain so off we went (and even if it HAD been raining, we were ready with our rain gear – lucky us, we never used it once!).

This time we made it all the way. We’d made a mistake the night before, staying on the road the whole time. We discovered in the morning that there’s a path at the end of town. If you head through what appears to be a parking lot toward the Laguna de los Tres (Fitz Roy) trail, it comes to a fork and you bear to the right for Chorillo del Salto. The trail paralleled the road much of the way, but it got you up higher and away
from the road, so you were actually on a trail rather than a gravel road. Much nicer. The route meandered across the road and back a few times. We really enjoyed the water flowing through the valley and climbing up a bit over the road for lovely views. Occasionally we'd cross a wooden bridge over a stream with a handrail on one side. The air was fresh, the temperature reasonably mild (in the 50s) - and somewhat windy, but not as much as we'd expected.

We arrived at the waterfall late morning and were wowed by the gorgeous autumn leaves - reds and golds - framing the falls. Although we’d seen very few people on the way, there were maybe about 15 at the waterfall. After several pictures (including one we asked an elderly man to take of us – expecting him to include the waterfall behind us but which showed us and very little of the waterfall!), we headed back to town, stopping for lunch at one of the first restaurants back in El Chalten – La Nana. After delicious sandwiches and our first taste of alfajores (delicate and yummy cookies filled with dulce con leche), we headed back to our cabin to relax.

We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around town, crossing the bridge next to our cabin to explore the other side of the river (nothing to see, really) and just soak up the atmosphere. We also found a place right on the main street to do laundry – we filled a plastic grocery bag, dropped it off early afternoon, and were able to pick it up that evening. I can’t remember the price, but we thought it was inexpensive. I’m thinking maybe it was about $8 for quite a few items.

Dinner that night was at a pub-like place on the main street – I think it was Cervecería Artesanal El Chaltén. Nice, cozy atmosphere and pretty good (although I don't remember the details of what we had).


Looking forward to Laguna Capri the next morning…
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May 15th, 2018, 07:08 PM
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xcountry - You're right! We've been together six years. (I don't recognize your screen name - do you remember our story?)
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May 15th, 2018, 07:24 PM
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I’m colduphere’s identical twin. Your story is unforgettable.
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May 16th, 2018, 03:04 AM
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Aww. COLD always warms my heart (and makes me laugh). We're as happy as ever. He maintains to this day that he really was just being nice at the time by sending the book (you'll recall he was still embroiled in his divorce). But it wasn't too long a time (although it seemed so then) before he definitely was interested (and still is).
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May 16th, 2018, 02:01 PM
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El Chalten - Laguna Capri

After a good night’s sleep in our cozy cabin, we awoke to a chilly but beautifully clear day. The wind had subsided and it appeared the sun would grace us with her presence.

One of the nice things about April is that the days are long enough to have daylight into the early evening, but the sun doesn’t rise so early that you feel like you can’t sleep in a little bit.

We headed to the end of town, retracing our steps for the third time. This morning, however, we got on the Laguna de los Tres trail to head for Laguna Capri. But not until after a stop at La Nana to pick up sandwiches and cookies for later.

Because of a back injury a few years ago, I didn’t think I could make the full hike to Mt. Fitzroy with it’s really difficult last kilometer, so we thought Laguna Capri - about 6 miles round trip would be a good compromise.

The first hour hour was actually a bit tougher than we’d expected- a fairly steep climb out of the valley. We took our time, rested as needed, and plodded along. It was a perfect day. Within 30 minutes, the combination of the climb and the warming sun caused us to shed our jackets.

We stopped frequently for pictures, water breaks and just to admire the gorgeous scenery. There were other hikers, but it wasn’t crowded, which is another advantage to shoulder season.

As we came near to our destination, we turned a corner and suddenly got our first fairly close-up look at Mt. Fitzroy. We both gasped. In the sunshine with snow on the peak it was magnificent.

Soon the trail forked left for Laguna Capri and straight for Fitzroy. We hesitated but only briefly. The pull of that mountain was strong, but we were happy to be able to make it as far as we did!

In another 15 minutes we came to a little pit toilet (yay - reasonably clean) and the lake was just beyond. Wow, wow, wow. The trees were at their fall peak, the lake was blue, the sky bluer, and the mountains on full display with only a few wisps of clouds. Oh my. We were so fortunate.

After finding a decent place to sit, we enjoyed our lunch, then explored along the shore.

We got out our fill and headed back to town - jubilant at the day we’d had. When we got back down, we stopped at la Waffleria to reward ourselves with a waffle topped with three scoops of ice cream. Yum!

We then headed back to the cabin for a short rest before walking down to the bus station to arrange tickets back to El Calafate for noon the next day.

Dinner that night was at la Tapera, where we had excellent steak dinners. Actually, we ordered one steak dinner and one salad and still had more than we could eat. Portions were large everywhere we went. And sharing seems to be common.

Then it was off to bed for the next phase of our adventure- El Calafate.

Last edited by althom1122; May 16th, 2018 at 02:33 PM. Reason: Typos
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May 16th, 2018, 02:08 PM
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Photos of Laguna Capri

Tried uploading a few photos but am having trouble. May have to wait till later.


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May 16th, 2018, 03:09 PM
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A few more pics



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May 16th, 2018, 03:38 PM
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The picture second from the bottom has such vivid colours. It almost looks like a painting.

Well actually, they all do.
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May 16th, 2018, 04:10 PM
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Just following along now, and looking forward to me. The mountains look gorgeous with the foliage. And I sure miss those gentoos.
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May 17th, 2018, 02:38 AM
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sf7307 and tripplanner - glad to have you along! I just discovered your Antarctica report, tripplanner- and let me add another wow.
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May 17th, 2018, 04:32 AM
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Thank you. Antarctica is absolutely incredible. We're still high from it and cannot stop thinking and talking about the place.
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May 17th, 2018, 06:07 AM
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Gorgeous..love the fall foliage in Patagonia.
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May 17th, 2018, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by althom1122 View Post
sf7307 and tripplanner - glad to have you along! I just discovered your Antarctica report, tripplanner- and let me add another wow.
We're headed to Patagonia next January so I'm really enjoying this.
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May 18th, 2018, 12:32 AM
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El Calafate and the Perito Moreno glacier

For our last morning in El Chalten, we had planned to hike up to Los Cóndores and Las Águilas. It appeared the weather would cooperate, but we ended up sleeping in and taking it easy. We went to a late breakfast, packed up our stuff and walked around town for a last look.

After checking out with our delightful hosts (they were so cute), we headed to the bus station for the return trip to El Calafate. At the El Calafate bus station, we booked tickets to Perito Moreno the next day.

We’d debated whether to do the mini-trekking on the glacier but because we’d already done glacier trekking in Iceland, we decided to skip it this time.

We took a taxi to our hotel - Hotel Kosten Aike, about a block off the Main Street. We were quite happy here. Not fancy, but a solid hotel, clean and well-located. (You’ve probably noticed we tend to look for bargains.)

We had dinner that night at a pub that was actually part of a hostel right across the street. Good - and huge- burgers. Good selection of beers.

In the lobby of the hotel was a box filled with yarn and knitted squares. Guests were invited to make a square to contribute to a blanket, which were then donated to needy children. We thought that was a great idea. A couple of women were sitting in the lounge area chatting and knitting their squares.

We walked up the main street after dinner to check out the shops. This was far more touristy than anywhere we’d been yet. Lots and lots of stores. Hiking gear. Souvenir shops. Restaurants. Ushuaia was somewhat like that. El Chalten was more of a backpacker town.

In the morning we again headed to the El Calafate station to catch our bus to Perito Moreno glacier. We were in a fairly small bus (CalTur), and the trip took about 90 minutes. No need to book far in advance- at least not in April.

It was overcast and windy the day we were there. Probably the worst weather we had the entire trip. Still, we considered it a must-see if you’re in the area.

Although we’d trekked the glacier in Iceland , this was completely different. Seeing it up close, straight on to its face was mind-boggling. It’s huge. Really huge. Sadly, we couldn’t see the mountains we knew were in the background because they were shrouded in clouds. As we walked up and down the boardwalks - grated metal, actually - we’d hear an occasional loud crack, indicating a calving was imminent. We were fortunate to see a couple of decent-sized chunks fall into the water with a large splash. The cracks on the face of the glacier are the deepest blue - such a beautiful color.

We decided to skip the boat that gets you a bit closer and content ourselves with walking the various levels of walkways.

Despite the weather with its occasional drizzle, we had an enjoyable time.

The bus picked us up mid-afternoon for the drive back to town. That evening we had our favorite meal of the trip - T-bone steak at Mi Rancho. Delicious, tender beef, perfectly cooked, and paired with an excellent Malbec. Enough said.

Tomorrow - Torres del Paine.
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May 18th, 2018, 12:39 AM
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Pictures form El Calafate







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