El Calafate & El Chalten – Our Experience
December 3, 2016
After our five days in the mountains we had one full day of rest in Puerto Natales before heading off to our next destination of El Calafate – home to the world famous Perito Moreno glacier. El Calafate wasn’t originally on our list on concrete “must go to” places however nearly everyone we talked to in Puerto Natales had either been already and raved about it, or was heading there next. There were daily buses leaving directly there and it is north (the direction we are travelling anyways) so naturally it made sense for us to check it out as well.
On the bus we ran into an American couple we met on our trek, they had the same plan as us to check out the glacier and then keep moving North. When we arrived to the bus terminal in El Calafate we all started asking all of the different bus companies how much their buses were to the famous Perito Moreno glacier. The buses all seemed way too expensive for what they were offering so Daniel started haggling with a taxi driver. Sure enough, we got him down to a much better price (saving almost $20 aud each!) An Italian guy from the bus also joined in and the five us took up the taxis offer (1900 clp) to go right away. He took us to our hostel to drop our bags first and we were off!
At first I was a bit hesitant about going to the glacier so late in the afternoon (4pm), most people get up and go first thing in the morning and make a day of it. The taxi driver assured us we would have enough time as the park is open until 10pm and it doesn’t get dark until then either. In the end this ended up being the best time ever to go! It was a beautiful day with no wind or clouds and there were practically no people there! On our ride out to the glacier we must have passed a dozen massive tour buses headed back into town so we definitely missed the rush.
I didn’t have high expectations for the glacier, thinking it would be the same as the glacier we saw on the Torres del Paine trek. I was wrong. It was so much bigger and the lookout took us right up close. It was so peaceful that the five of us just sat and watched the glacier for ages, big ice chunks (one about the size of a house) fall off the glacier and crash into the icy water below. It was surprisingly very amusing.
We had already booked and paid for two nights at our hostel in El Calafate so that meant we had one full day to relax and just check out the town. I would say El Calafate is South Americas version of Banff. It is small, with one main street with tons of tourist souvenir shops, chocolate and ice cream shops, and the surrounded by mountains. Super touristy but also has a very fun and relaxed vibe to the place.
We bused next to another town only a couple hours north called El Chalten. El Chalten is known for beautiful hiking trails that are free and start right from the town. We were given a tip from an English girl at our last hostel as to the location of the cheapest hostel that isn’t advertised anywhere online (100arl a night each.) It was way on the opposite side of town to the bus station but still only about a 20min walk and right at the base of the most popular hiking trail.
The next two days we did the most popular day hikes, the Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torro. These hikes were about 20km round trip each and seemed like a breeze after what we had done in the Torres del Paine. It was nice not to have to carry so much stuff and be able to sleep in a bed each night. Both hikes led to really pretty mountain lookouts with lakes at the base.
Next we embark on figuring out how to get to a town called Puerto Rio Tranquillo in Chile. Daniel has his heart set on the marble caves and ice climbing, but to get there seems like it could be a bit of a challenge (border crossing, lake and river crossings, several different buses and select routes.) Wish us luck!