This is the third part in our Patagonia trip with children and grandchildren. The Argentinian chronicles! Read about how we got our car and camping gear to Patagonia from Santiago and hiking trails in Torres del Paine with three generations.
After our five days in Torres del Paine and a night in Puerto Natales, we wanted to make our way north to do some camping and hiking in Parque Patagonia and also go to Lago General Carrera to show our children and my in-laws the Marble Caves. To do this we would need to cross to the Argentinian side of Patagonia. I really love this side of Patagonia and we were fortunate enough to have visited (pre-children) 15 years ago when we hiked to Mt Fitzroy and saw the Perito Moreno glacier via El Calafate and El Chalten, Argentina. We were really looking forward to heading up the Argentinian Ruta 40 and taking in the big sky country once again.
We left Puerto Natales at 9 a.m. and arrived in El Calafate just in time for lunch. This town is the best of the best. It has great cafes, restaurants, chocolate shops, ice cream parlours and a pretty good grocery store. We stopped at the Cerveza Patagonia and had a huge lunch, bought groceries and gassed up. Two hours later we continued on to El Chalten, arriving at 7 p.m. at night. The sunset in early January was 10:30 p.m. so we still had time to set up the tents and eat supper.
We camped at El Relincho and it has a huge building with a kitchen and dining room and hot showers and toilets off to the side. They have kettles, fridges, stoves and sinks so we didn’t need to use our camping kitchen gear here, which was nice. Their rustic cabins, which sleep five, were $150 USD and fully booked for all of January. It was one of the biggest and nicest campsites in town. Camping was $450 ARG pesos per adult, children half price and an additional $200 ARG pesos per car.
The town has one little corner shop beside the campground with an absolutely lovely lady. When I told her I broke my knitting needle, she offered me hers! They had a little bit of everything. There is also a bigger grocery store (Supermercado El Chalten) across the street and bakeries in town as well. But the best selection is really in El Calafate. We were really struck with how much El Chalten has grown in the last 15 years. When we were there last it really was a few roads and one cerveceria (brew pub) and although it’s still small, it has really exploded with hotels, restaurants — even a waffle house! When we camped up at Fitzroy we were one of six tents allowed and now the cap is 60 so there is a lot more hustle!
Day 2 — Sendero Laguna Torre. We had overcast weather and a few spits of rain but we headed out to the Sendero Laguna Torre hike, also may be referred to as Cascada Margarita hike. The access is just off the main road, behind the lodge like hotel and up the hill. You will see signs on the main road.
We walked up a 100 metre ascent up a winding path to the ridge, then through a nice forest with views of the river in the gorge below. We got as far as Mirador Margarita with the children. I marked it in red on the map below. My husband and his dad and the two younger children turned back to go into town. (this is about 1.5 km return). My mother-in-law and my 10-year-old and I continued on up to the Mirador of the Torres (2.5 km with a lot of up and down). Unfortunately, it was clouded in when we got up there but it was a really nice hike through trees and along the gorge. You would have a stunning view on a clear day.
We walked back into town and it was unbelievably windy. We had so much dust in our eyes and hair. We had a late lunch/early supper at La Cerveceria El Chalten in town.
Day 3 — Laguna Azul y Verde. The last full day we had great clear views of Mt Fitzroy and the mountain range. It was beautiful. We drove down the main road, highway 23, through town and towards the park office. The road quickly turned to gravel washboard but with nice views as you follow a river on your right and the mountain range is on your left. We passed a nice campsite called Bonanza along the river. It was really shady and had a nice rustic treehouse-like playground. But as it was so shaded I think it could be a very cold campsite. We also passed some nice hosterias as well. It would be really beautiful to camp or stay out this end of town if you didn’t need access to town for supplies. We drove for about 40 min until we came to Reserve Los Huemules.
It is a private reserve with a trails, a museum and housing project. We signed in at 12:30 and hiked to about 6 p.m. The guide on duty said it was a 4.5 km hike but we are all convinced we did much more than that. It was up and down, but our children (and grandparents) managed it. It was about 100 m overall ascent. We went to Laguna Azul y Verde and had really beautiful views. In the woods we passed a few people who said they had seen the huemel (small deer) but we didn’t see any. Although when we were looking for them it was the quietest the children were the whole trip! We did see male and female woodpeckers which was fun. They are so huge in Patagonia!
The hike was 500 ARG pesos per adult, our children under 10 were free. You do have to walk through a new housing development (which is weird) but it is on a dirt/stone road and there are only two houses so far.
We ended the night with a delicious supper at the Oveja Negra with great steak and live music. Dessert at the Wafleria with dulce de leche and the calafate berry ice cream. If you haven’t tried either they are the tastes of Chile and Argentina. Dulce de leche or manjar is a caramel type spread and the calafate berry is in Patagonia and tastes a lot like the blueberry. They say if you eat the calafate berry you will return to Patagonia.
Day 3 — the Ruta 40! We packed up and were leaving by noon. We got gas at the YPF gas station which takes cash only but both ARG and USD cash. Tres Lagos down the road also has a gas station but we didn’t see many other places to stop. We hit gravel road about an hour and a half after we started heading north on Ruta 40. We arrived at Estancia Santa Thelma at about 4 p.m.
I basically picked this estancia because it was half way up Ruta 40 towards Chile Chico from El Chalten and it also wasn’t too far off the highway. It was one of the first times I had picked a place to stay via google maps, but we weren’t disappointed! It’s owned by a French couple who have lived in Patagonia for years. Marc-Antoine and his wife have the estancia with accommodation, meals, walks and horse riding on their sheep ranch. Lunch and supper is a communal affair in their barn at a long table with candelabras, benches covered in sheep and guanaco skins and platters of delicious home-cooked food and wood-fired barbecued meat. We really enjoyed resting here for a few days where we read books, went for short walks, enjoyed horse-back riding on the pampas and played with the puppies! My family of five had a family bedroom (which slept four but we put a child on the floor on our camping gear) and my in-laws took the glamping tent.
After spending day 4 at the Estancia we left on Day 5 and headed north to Chile Chico. We left at 10 a.m. on the paved Ruta 40, although there were many pot holes! We did manage to see an armadillo crossing the road, guanacos and their babies and a lot of nandus (also called greater rhea they are large ostrich-like birds) so that was fun to see.
We hit Perito Moreno (the town, which is nowhere near the glacier) around 1:45 p.m. and gassed up. Everything except a few restaurants and the gas station was closed for a siesta until 4 p.m. We arrived at the Chilean border at 2:45 p.m. and crossed into Chile being careful not to have any meat, cheese, fruit, vegetables or nuts in our cars. By 4:30 p.m. we had cleared customs and immigration on both sides and had bought groceries in Chile Chico. There is a 24-hour Copec gas station in Chile Chico if you need gas. Chile Chico is also where you can take the ferry to cross Lago General Carrera (or Lago Buenos Aires as it’s called on the Argentinian side) but research the ferry carefully as it doesn’t run every day.
We entered what is now an entrance to Parque Patagonia, but was known as the Reserva Jeinimeni, by 5 p.m. The grader had just been through so the road was pretty good, but it was gravel, steep and I would be sure to enter when you have enough daylight to look out for the ditches and steep curves. We arrived at the campsite at 6 p.m., but if the grader hadn’t just been by I think it could well take an hour and a half.
We loved spending time in Argentina, buying chimichurri sauce for meat, enjoying the Argentinian way of grilling beef and just the wide open spaces. It is often warmer and dryer on the Argentinian side and sometimes (depending on what the peso is doing) quite a bit cheaper.
The rest of our holidays continued with camping in Reserva Jeinimeni and Parque Patagonia, followed by a few days in Puerto Tranquilo at the marble caves.