Tag Archives: Patagonia

El Chaltén, Argentina – Impressions

El Chaltén is a small town at the northern end of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentina. It’s a town bred purely from the tourism generated by the National Park and Mt Fitz Roy.

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El Chaltén was quaint and had plenty of hostels, although many were aimed more towards the hotel end of the market than to backpackers. There were plentiful tour operators and adventure stores selling the big named adventure gear for both hiking, ice climbing and glacier expeditions. There was also a small cafe/bakery scene in the town which was great, as the hostels don’t provide breakfast.

I stayed at the Hostal Pioneros del Valle. This large and fairly cheap hostel had plenty of rooms, most set up with 6 beds. But as it was low season when I stayed I had the room to myself. Splendid!

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High season is December to the end of March and outside of these times more than half of El Chaltén’s businesses close down. The several restaurants in town are reasonably priced restaurants, including the local micro-brewery, which is good considering the town doesn’t have good facilities for buying your own food. While there are supermarcados, they aren’t very ‘super’.

The National Park had great day walks and several longer hikes – some very intense indeed. Being short on time, I only did a 3-day hikes. It doesn’t have an official name but I called it the Mt Fitz Roy Triangle. The other great advantage of the Parque Nacional is it’s cost. It’s free. Something different in a land of expensive national park entrance fees.

Here are some of the other walks:

  • Cascada Margarita
  • De las Vuetas River Canyon
  • Piedras Blancas Glacier
  • Punta Norte – Hito Limítrofe

Next, I head back through El Calafate to Puerto Natales in Chile to catch the Navimag Ferry

The Lone Trail Wanderer

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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

Ushuaia, Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina

Ushuaia is the city at ‘fin del mundo’ – the end of the world. It’s the southernmost city in the world located on Tierra Del Fuego, an island at the southern end of Patagonia shared by Argentina and Chile. Apart from the other islands of southern Patagonia, the only place further south than here is the great White Continent.

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The taxi drive from the hostel in Buenos Aires was a rather exciting and scary experience. I shared with a Japanese lady and the pair of us huddled in the back seat as we hurtled headlong along the motorway to the airport. While the lanes were well-marked, the driver didn’t seem to notice them. He shot along at 130km, weaving madly even though the road wasn’t busy. We both felt safer once we arrived at the airport.

The 3 hour and 45 minute flight became an adventure of its own when fog in Ushuaia forced the plane to land at Rio Gallegos, some distance to the north, to sit it out. Thankfully it didn’t take long. The approach to Ushuaia was along the Beagle Channel which separates Isla del Tierra Del Fuego from Isla Navarino to the south. As we descended into the airport the sights were mind-blowing with snow-capped, rocky mountain peaks on either side.

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Ushuaia was larger than I expected. I’d pictured a quaint little port township nestled on the edge of the mountains, but it’s actually quite large. Stepping out of the airport the sights were amazing, the city nestled under the mountains on the edge of the channel with the mountains spreading from horizon to horizon.

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While I’d been warned not to expect much from the weather, it was fairly clear when I arrived and over the next couple of days, became cloudy and overcast. The mountains usually begun the day covered in cloud, only to clear as the day progressed.

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The Ushuaia Freestyle Hostel was a fairly nice place although like most cram as many people into a small amount of space. There were several common rooms including a large TV room and games room on the top level. Mostly the staff were friendly, although one or two had an ‘I don’t really care’ attitude unless you were spanish or an attractive woman. The wireless internet was pretty poor forcing everyone to wait for the two provided computers or go into town.  While one of the better hostels in town, it closed down shortly after I was there, becoming part of hotel next door.

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Downtown Ushuaia was a lot larger than I expected, the main road being quite long and for the most part has shops along both sides. The city is a little touristy, which isn’t a bad thing, and it actually has a full supermarket, something I wasn’t able to find in central Buenos Aires. There are all sorts of shops here and many more shopkeepers speak english than in Buenos Aires, but I was still unable to find a mini SIM card at one of the many mobile phone stores. Not that I needed to call anyone, it would have been useful to have a steady means to get access to the internet.

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Overall, Ushuaia was beautiful and even at the end of summer, it wasn’t that cold.  I did get some strange looks walking around in the middle of the day in flip-flops and a t-shirt. Evenings got cooler, but not freezing.  It was just chilly enough to be refreshing (for me anyway) but most people were decked out in their warm clothing. I still carried a jacket, just in case, but got hot quickly climbing up the hill to the hostel or when I entered an air-conditioned shop. Winter there would be seriously icy.

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I went to Ushuaia with no strict travel plans and just figured it out as I went. I did book one of the Antarctic cruises, for 12 days and it cost me more than I had planned, but when was I going to have the opportunity again? It did mean I had 10 days to kill in Ushuaia.

Here are some of the adventures I had in region:

Other things to do in the region I didn’t get time for:

  • Tierra del Fuego National Park for short walks and Lago Roca
  • Dublin Bar, the southernmost Irish pub in the world
  • Skiing at Cerro Castor (in winter)
  • The Maritime Museum of Ushuaia
  • The 4-5 day Dientes Circuit hike

Next, I headed off on my Antarctic Voyage.  On my return from the great white continent, I caught a bus north to Punta Arenas, Chile.

So many adventures to be had. But thus is life.

The Lone Trail Wanderer