Pristine waters ranging from sapphire and azure to milky white glimmer between ragged peaks and barren yellow fields. Raw, ragged and wind blown – Patagonia truly is the end of the world.
Nature lovers and city dwellers alike are awestruck absorbing the unadulterated landscape, hardly touched by human hands, carved from years of geological movement. Luckily, between your forays into the great unknown there are warm hotels and world-class cuisine waiting for you in Argentina’s Patagonia.
Ushuaia, El Calafate and El Chaltén are the three major stops worth making while traveling in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Choose to begin in either El Calafate or Ushuaia as travel between El Calafate and El Chalten is easily done by bus. Flights are the most convenient route between El Calafate and Ushuaia, otherwise you will have to backtrack to the town of Rio Gallegos and transfer to another bus to get to el Calafate.
With unpaved roads and high winds, driving is not recommended outside of town. If you choose to travel by land, take buses when traveling long distances. Don’t forget to bring plenty of warm clothes, and keep it casual. Prices reflect the booming tourist industry and are much higher than in Buenos Aires, likewise reservations are always necessary in high season.
Ushuaia, located on an island in the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego, is the southernmost city in the world. Once there, the options for activity are endless. In the summer you may sail through the Beagle Channel, go fishing or trek through the Tierra del Fuego National Park and visit the Martial Glacier. In the winter ski on Cerro Castor, take a sleigh ride pulled by huskies and enjoy the magic of a snowy wonderland.
While in town stroll along the main drag of Avenida Maipú, which runs along the bay and leads out to the Nautical Club, for a spectacular view of the harbor. On your way back into town follow Malvinas Argentinas to find the Casa Beban and a re-creation of the old town. As the entire island is a tax free zone this is a great place to stock up on souvenirs.
The Museo Maritimo de Ushuaia is a curiosity, not the least because it is housed in the “Jail at the End of the World.” The jail building with its 380 cells is interesting, as is the exhibit of models of ships that played a part in the area’s history. Yaganes and Gobernador Paz, May – October open 10am – 8pm, November – April open 9am – 8pm. Adults about $12, students about $8 (website)
Another fun option is to take a ride on Ferrocarril Austral Fueguino, or the “Train of the End of the World”. The train takes an hour forty minute tour from the End of the World station to the Tierra del Fuego National Park Station.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is 11 km from the city and is accessible via Route 3. Once in the park, there are many easy trails to follow in order to discover the Escondido and Fagnano lakes. Follow the trail to Lookout Point for magnificent views of the bay, and trek 400 meters into the park to see the intricate beaver damns in Los Castores stream. The park information center will provide detailed maps and information. Remember to pack a lunch, as there are no options to purchase food in the National Park.
With so many activities, look into tours that interest you on your first day in town and make reservations. Most hotels will provide all of this information and the town has numerous travel agencies. The National Park is easily experienced on your own, but tours are the only way to sail the Beagle strait. Sailing expeditions can range from a day to weeks. Depending on the length of your stay, find the best one that works for you. Victory Cruises offers longer expeditions over Darwin’s Route and into Antarctica. (website)
The best way to arrive in Ushuaia is by catching a flight in Buenos Aires to the town of Rio Gallegos and then either taking a bus and ferry (a ten hour ride) or catching a connecting flight into Ushuaia.
Rio Gallegos is a very small and rather uninteresting stop, so try to plan your connections accordingly. The only bus line going to Ushuaia is Tecni Austral, with buses departing at 10:00 am and 10:00 pm. Always call ahead (02966/442042) and double-check bus times, as schedules may change. The bus station in Rio Gallegos is a few miles out of town so if you do get caught there with time to kill walk behind the bus station and you will find a tiny hole-in-the-wall, family operated pizzeria serving up excellent Argentine style pizza and empanadas.
Where to Stay
With a picturesque forest setting, Cumbres del Martial (website) is a wonderful place to stay in order to easily make all of your objectives a reality ($210 for a standard double). Located 7 km from the town center and 26 km from Cerro Castor, the location puts you in close proximity to all the action. Voted best ski resort in Argentina 2007, Cumbres offers shuttles to the mountain and sets you up with tours of the Channel. With spa services offered, views of the Channel from your window and an excellent restaurant on the grounds, the only hard part is leaving.
Tierra de Leyendas is another great place to take in views of the Beagle Channel (website). Located only 4 km from town center in the residential area of Rio Pipo, you will be treated like family in this rustic log boutique hotel. Tours can be arranged through the hotel and the experienced staff knows exactly how to facilitate a flawless stay. Standard doubles are $120 – $180.
Eat & Drink
Dine on fresh seafood and succulent beef overlooking the Beagle Channel at Kaupe (Roca 470, 02901-422704, website). The king crab appetizer is a must. For $57 you can opt for the prix fixe menu, which includes wine. (Entrees from $10 – 17)
Chez Manu, Av. Fernando Luis Martial 2135, 02970-432253, website) offers a French twist to local fare. Take in some of the best views in town while sampling the day’s freshest catch. (Main dishes $10 – $18)
Bodegon Fueguino (859 San Martin, 02901-431972), located in an old home in the city center, is a cozy retreat serving up Patagonian lamb in unique ways and excellent vegetable sides. (Main dishes $11-$20)
El Calafate is the best place to stay for access to Los Glaciares National Park, which is home to the most active glacier in the world, Perito Moreno, and the glacier lake Argentina. The town itself consists of three main streets covered with travel agencies, rustic restaurants, quaint hotels, kitschy chocolate shops, bordered by Lake Argentina. With 2 or 3 days, you can easily cover the main attractions in and around El Calafate.
Arrange a trip to the glacier through one of the many travel agencies for about $35 US. The standard tours pick you up from your hotel early in the morning, transport you to the glacier (about an hour drive) and bring you home in the afternoon. Some offer a boat ride which brings you about 100 feet from the glacier, providing a closer experience of the ice breaking off and crashing into the water below. Generally, the tours also involve some very light hiking around the park allowing multiple views of the 250 square km ice formation. Most hotels offer recommended tours at their information desk. Some people prefer to rent a car for the day, which allows you to control the way you spend your time. If you do, go early to beat the crowds and watch the sunrise over the glacier.
To really experience the Patagonian gaucho (cowboy) spirit, visit an estancia, or gaucho ranch. For $395 a night you can stay on Estancia Cristina, or for only $120 you can spend the day on the estancia horseback riding, which includes lunch and a guided tour of the grounds overlooking the Upsala glacier. Many different guided tours are offered on the ranch; take a look at their website. The tour guides all speak impeccable English.
Where to Stay
Estancia Cristina (website) is a gaucho ranch with rooms from $395 a night.
For an upscale retreat, Hotel Posada Los Alamos (Gobernador Moyano and Ezequiel Bustillo, 02902-491144, website) offers any service you could possibly need (golf anyone?) in an ambiance that is more country club than hiker’s refuge (standard double $140 – $200). The service is highly professional and the setting formal in contrast with the rustic environs.
Kau Kaleshen (Gobernador Gregores 1256, 02902-491188, website) is simple but inviting and located right in town. Rooms surround a garden and breakfast is served in the tea house, with full tea offered in the afternoon. Rooms are $70 for a standard double, breakfast included.
Eat & Drink
After spending your days exploring the natural wonders, at night you will find excellent options to fulfill the hunger you have worked up. In town, stroll around the boardwalk of Lago Argentina and be sure to sample the local Calafate berry ice cream and other treats made from the town’s namesake fruit.
La Posta, located in the Hotel Posada Los Alamos (Gobernador Moyano and Ezequiel Bustillo, 02902-491144), is the best place to sample the local specialty Patgonian lamb as well as delicious smoked trout. ($8 – $15 entrées) Reservations are a must as this is one of the best restaurants in town and its reputation is no secret.
La Tablita (Coronel Rosales 28, 02902-491-065) is great for typical Argentine parilla, which means steak galore accompanied by good wine. For about $7 – $10 per person, you will leave completely satisfied.
La Lechuza (Av. del Libertador and 1° de Mayo, 02902-491-610) will satisfy your pizza cravings with its wood-fired pies and empanadas. It’s perfect for a quick bite.
Casimiro Bigua (Av. del Libertador 963, 02902-492-590) is the spot for your night out. This wine bar sports sleek modern decor and a young hip wait staff, making it the most stylish restaurant in town.
For the truly adventurous El Chalten is a four hour bus ride north of El Calafate. Most bus lines run regular routes from the terminal in El Calafate. When you arrive in El Chalten prepare to be disoriented as the town is still very much in progress, and the winds whip through everything in sight. Only 371 residents claim El Chalten as home, and backpackers easily outnumber them in high season. As El Chalten is a tiny town only really catering to adventure tourism, don’t expect much in the way of nightlife. But there are decent places to eat, and in true Argentine fashion, plenty of good wine. Food tends to be more expensive due to the remote location. Be sure to bring plenty of cash as there is no ATM in town.
The craggy profiles of the Fitz Roy and Torre Mountains tower over El Chalten beckoning hikers. Shifting weather patterns create a blanket of fog around the moutain tops, which draw people in, hoping to catch a clear view of the intimidating peaks. A number of trails through which to explore the mountains and Lago de los Tres (a glacier lake formed between the peaks) begin in the center of town. Some people go just for the day, but you can spend as many as 3 days exploring the trails and hidden glacier lakes, depending on your level of ambition. The information center on the way into town will provide you with trail guides and safety information; all buses stop here on the way in.
Lago Viedma is located 1 km north of El Chalten and many tours offer a boat ride on the lake and light hiking on the ice formation. Equipment is available for rent through the tour companies. This can be one of the best ways to experience the natural wonders of the region firsthand. Most tours include a break for whisky, which is served in actual pieces of the glacier ice.
Where to Stay
After spending the day hiking the trails, the classic mountain lodge El Puma (Lionel Terray 212, 02962-493-095, website) will offer you a welcoming place to relax. Located in town at the base of the Fitz Roy and Torre Mountains, it offers easy access to the trails, as well as the town’s restaurants and pubs. Expect to pay around $160 for a standard double.
Located at the base of the Fitz Roy trail, El Relincho (Av. San Martin, 02962-493-007), offers an authentic experience. Campers can rent a space for pitching a tent, but you can also rent one of the Cabanas (sleep 4) for $250. Though basic, these quaint log cabins include private bathrooms, kitchens and access to barbecue pits to practice your own asado. Located on a horse ranch whose owner leads horseback riding tours through the trails, you can’t get closer to the land.
Eat & Drink
Terray (Lionel Terray 512, 02962-439-095), named after the first hiker to reach the peak of Fitz Roy and located in El Puma, is a great place to enjoy local Patagonian lamb and brook trout while easing your aches and pains with their excellent wine list.
After a long day of activity, enjoying a good beer is a necessity. Venture out to Bodegon el Chalten (Av. San Martin 564, 02962-493-109), for great microbrews and pub fare.
La Tapera Resto and Bar (Av. San Martin 249, 02962-493-138), is a cute place with good tapas and friendly service, offering a variation on Argentine staples.