Tag Archives: City

El Calafate, Argentina – Impressions

Just one border crossing and a five hour bus ride north from Puerto Natales is El Calafate, nestled on the edge of Lago Argentino. Named after the yellow-flowered, blueberry plant found everywhere in Argentina, El Calafate is the major access point to all ends of the vast Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.

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El Calafate was a pleasant place to spend a couple of days. I stayed at I Keu Ken hostel slightly up the hill with excellent views of the lake. Having the new La Anonima, Argentina’s biggest supermarket chain, only two blocks away was a bonus. I was also lucky enough to arrive the night of an asado, an Argentinian BBQ, something they have every Friday night. They served the best blood sausage I’ve ever tasted and the meat just kept coming.  There was so much, in fact, I just couldn’t eat it all. It was a great dinner and cheap at 90 Argentinian Pesos (AU$18), which included beer and wine. I Keu Ken also had the best internet in Patagonia, allowing me to post the backlog of my blogs and photos.

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While the streets around the hostel aren’t sealed, the lower portion of the city has a certain beauty. In a bare countryside with yellow, over sheep-farmed fields, the garden town was filled with trees and flowers. The main street had the usual adventure stores and tour operators seen so commonly throughout Patagonia.

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My trip to El Calafate was merely a two-day stop off on the way to El Chaltén, a township at the northern end of the national park. After 12 days in Antarctica, and 9 days of hiking around Torres del Paine, I enjoyed a restful couple of days.

Things to do near town are:

  • Walk across the 30km long Perito Moreno Glacier
  • Sail through icebergs on Lago Argentino
  • See the rock paintings in the Walicho Caves
  • Explore the petrified forest of Bosque Petrificado La Leona

A lovely place to spend a few days and with an airport, it’s a centre point of travel through lower Patagonia.

The Lone Trail Wanderer.

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Puerto Natales, Chile – Impressions

Three hours by bus north of Punta Arenas is the port city of Puerto Natales. Puerto Natales was originally a beef producing fishing port, but over the years has embraced tourism based on its proximity to Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, the most popular and most expensive national park in Chile.

Because of the number of people coming to walk the ‘W’ trek – the most popular hike in the national park – the city has expanded rapidly. While it still has a small town feel, the plentiful hostels, tour operators, adventure stores and restaurants makes it feel bigger.

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There are multiple main streets crisscrossing the city, a restaurant square, a tourist triangle and a brand new supermarket. Along most of the north and eastern horizons are the fantastic mountains of the Andes, including Torres del Paine Massif, while along the north and west of the city is the harbour.

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Puerto Natales is all about Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Every hostel and many convenience stores – not to mention the adventure stores – hire out equipment, arrange tours and organise bus trips to the national park. And every day at 3PM at a bar called Base Camp there is an hour-long free lecture about the hike.

The hostel where I stayed, Backpackers Kaweskar, was set up specially for the hike and can provide everything you could need, even discounted transport fees. While its owner, Omar, is crazy (in a good way), is very knowledgable about the hike and definitely loves his football. While I was there he spent two solid days playing FIFA 2012 on the X-box with one of his friends. It was the low season and he did pause when needed by someone, but it made the place feel down to earth. Definitely a recommended place to stay.

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Puerto Natales is also the southern port of the Navimag ferry. The ferry wends its way through the Patagonian fiords for five days to Puerto Montt in the lakes district at the northern end of Patagonia.

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Puerto Natales is in a class of its own and should be on everyone’s visit list if they wish to hike anywhere in Patagonia.

From Puerto Natales:

The Lone Trail Wanderer

Punta Arenas, Chile – Impressions.

Punta Arenas (loosely translated as Sands Point) is the largest city in Southern Patagonia and is described as a spiralling metropolis, although it didn’t actually seem that large when approaching it. My bus ride from Ushuaia took 12 hours including a stop at Rio Grande for Argentinian customs. We stopped again at the Chilean customs before crossing the Magallenes Strait from Isla Grande to the South American mainland by ferry.

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Collage of Punta Arenas care of Wikipedia

My primary reason for coming to Punta Arenas was as a stop off on the way to Puerto Natales, as there was not direct bus route. While I was only there for two days and only got to see a small amount of the city, it felt like a typical western city except everyone spoke in spanish. Thankfully english speakers are more common in Chile than in Argentina.

My hostel – Hospedaje Costanera – was near the city centre and once I’d settled in, I walked the eight blocks back into the centre. The city wasn’t a mad rush like Buenos Aires and was easy to get around.

The collectivo system in Punta Arenas – and Chile in general – is something different. While there are traditional taxis and the occasional bus, collectivos are level between. Occasionally they are mini-vans, but usually just normal cars that travel a set route, back and forth. All you do is stand on its route, wave it down and if there’s room they’ll stop. Then, jump in with whoever is already in the car, pay 450 Chilean pesos (about 90 AU cents) and off you go. When close to where you want to go, yell and they’ll stop. It’s knowing where the routes go is the difficult thing.

The city is also in the tax-free zone of Patagonia and has a vast tax-free shopping centre – Zona Franca. I went to check it out and it was the size of a large mall. It contained many electronics stores, all with cheaper prices that Ushuaia, but still more expensive than Australia. It was interesting to walk around but I didn’t buy anything, although I was tempted by some SLR cameras.

Punta Arenas has some touristy things to do as well, access to penguin colonies and glaciers, but having only just returned from Antarctica this week I’d seen plenty, so I saved my money.  Some of these sights are:

  • Cape Froward, the southernmost tip of mainland South America
  • Isla Magdalena and it’s penguin colonies
  • Alberto de Agostini National Park, a land of mountains, lakes and glaciers
  • Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, another penguin colony

On the morning of my departure I simply went to the bus station, booked a bus and within a couple of hours was on my way to north Puerto Natales.

The Lone Trail Wanderer