Horse back riding and trekking near El Calafate, in the Argentinian Patagonia
For the third year of my bachelor’s degree, I had the opportunity to go on exchange to Buenos Aires, Argentina. During the year I spent there, I did some of the best trips of my life so far. One of them was a 10 days road trip to Patagonia covering both Argentina and Chile. I have so much to share about it that in this article I will only write about my two days in El Calafate with my Swedish boyfriend, Jacob.
We landed at El Calafate’s tiny airport around midday, left our bags at the quite nice Hotel Kalken and went for a stroll in the city center. Despite the fact that the town was almost completely empty (by midday all the travellers are out and about discovering the beauty of the surrounding national parks). El Calafate is a very cute little town, mainly consisting of wooden houses, with a friendly atmosphere where you could feel the holidays spirit, only 10 days away from Christmas.
After a quick hamburger on the terrace of a little wooden cafe we left for our first excursion : a 2 hours horse-ride in the hills.
A small bus came to pick us up at the hotel and drove us, roughly 20 km from El Calafate, towards Cerro Frias, which is an ecological adventure park that offers a vast array of different activities within the stunning landscape.
As I am prone to vertigo and slightly frightened by horse-back riding I asked if I could have the smallest horse of the estancia. I spotted a tiny white and brown horse and asked if he could be my ride. Unfortunately, that horse belonged to our guide and instead I was offered a tall black one (suitably named Tornado). I was scared and I struggled the first minutes of the ride as Tornado, only wanted to stop to eat (maybe not such a bad partner match after all) but then the beauty of the surroundings took over. The Mountains, the turquoise lakes, the yellowness of the vast grasslands… It could not have been more perfect. I started to feel like a true gaucho in the middle of the pampas and it seemed like time and place had remained in the 19th century.
After this wonderful day we booked a table at Kau Kaleshen, a very picturesque little family restaurant and we were so glad we did. The dishes were beautifully decorated with flowers, everything homemade and delicious. My lamb was perfectly cooked and Jacob’s salmon so tasteful. The atmosphere was very welcoming and charming, and the staff very friendly. We loved everything about that place and it is now one of our favourite restaurant in both Argentina and in the world!
After a good night rest, we had a quite eventful breakfast, with about 50 retirees, which was not that peaceful and quiet as one would think. So apparently Hotel Kalken is the place to stay when you go on an elderly group tour in El Calafate. (Note to myself to remember that when I am 80.)
As soon as we finished our buffet breakfast a bus full of excited tourists picked us up. We were full of emotions during the hour bus ride to get to Los Glaciares National Park. Very excited, a bit stressed about what we had planned and so full of wonder from looking out the windows.
The first glance we got of the glacier was a couple of seconds only while our bus took a right turn on a narrow mountain road, which was enough to render us both completely amazed. We made one last stop to see the glacier from a distance with a stunning view of the Lago Argentino and then headed further into the park.
Immediately when the bus stopped we ran towards the wooden stairs and started going down to be met by the most magnificent view of Perito Moreno. It was absolutely breathtaking. Once in a while, maybe every 15 minutes or so, a piece of the glacier falls into the lake, creating dozens of icebergs floating around. The show is magnificent, the noise of the ice breaking resonates in between the mountains which is always delayed by a couple of seconds compared to the actual breakage you see.
Words do not suffice to describe that magnificent show. We felt so small taking in the view and once more felt so amazed by the profound beauty and wonder of our planet.
We then boarded on a ferry to cross the Lago Argentino and arrive on the glacier side. The boat ride took 20 minutes and the view from there was equally breathtaking, we could see the glacier from its front wall and got close enough to almost touch some of the smaller icebergs. They seemed quite small from the shore but up close they were the size of a truck floating around in the freezing water.
Once on the glacier side Jacob and I realised that we did not bring food, a mistake not committed by our more organised co-visitors, and of course once on the glacier, the lack of 7/11’s was apparent. So we would not eat for the entire day. Thankfully, one of the guides gave us an apple each so we would not hike on almost empty stomachs. But on a rare occasion such as this one, the landscape and the day was so amazing that stomach growling was easily forgotten.
We started the trekking by walking through a small forest and a rocky beach for about 20 minutes before reaching a tiny wooden shed where all the gear and crampons (those weird spiky shoes) were stored.
When we all finally got our climbing-irons on we started the hike : an hour and half trek on the glacier.
The trekking was amazing and so much fun, as we could not walk regularly with the crampons but rather in a more penguins-esque manner and it is really one of the “musts” things to do for those going to Patagonia. Looking in front of us, ice and only ice for kilometre after kilometre, since the Perito Moreno is 250 km2 and 30 kilometres long and one of the world few glaciers that is still growing!
Walking on the ice, avoiding the crevasses and the small blue lagoons was fantastic. We were aware that tourists go up on the glacier almost every day in summer but you still feel like you are the first human to step foot on it and it is wonderful. We felt like explorers discovering Antarctica (although it is a few thousands kilometres away…but the closest we ever got to the South Pole) and stepping foot on an unknown land. It was magical. Once again, I lack the words to explain how amazing that moment was, truly one of the best experience of my life so far.
I also feel proud of myself for accomplishing this challenge. Being strongly affected by vertigo, I never thought, a couple of years before that trip, that I would climb a glacier. Lets be honest, it was closer to walking than climbing and the trek is even advertised to the ageing clientele of Hotel Kalken so it is not as difficult as I make it sound. But for me it was a personal challenge and it made me feel stronger, braver and ready to take on more adventures and to continue fighting my fears.
Finally, as a reward for our efforts on the glacier, when we reached the highest point of our small trekking, after walking for about an hour on the ice, we got a little surprise : a glass of whisky, on the rocks of course.
For more information :
(prices are from December 2015 so it might have changed since)
-Hotel Kalken : http://hotelkalken.com/index.php
We paid approximately 80€ for a standard double room for two people with breakfast included, it was already really expensive for what it is and now the prices have gone up even more.
-Cerro Frias : http://www.cerrofrias.com, they offer horse back riding, 4×4 drives, trekkings and zip line. We paid approximately 50€ for the horse back riding including the transfer back and forth from the hotel and an 1h30 of riding. You can also pay a bit more and have lunch or dinner at their very charming little cottage.
-Restaurant Kau Kaleshen :
Reservation is preferably as it is getting more popular. It is also a hotel, fact that we wish we had known before as it is probably very nice.
-Trekking on the glacier with Hielo y Aventura : http://www.hieloyaventura.com/HIELO2015/minitrekking-eng.html
We did the Mini Trekking, which includes the 20 minutes boat ride and 1h30 trekking on the glacier. We paid approximately 130€ for that excursion but it is so worth it. They also have a longer trekking for the entire day, that I wish to do next time we go to Patagonia. Also, do not forget to bring food!
PS: For the entrance at Los Glaciares National Park, do not forget your student ID if you have one, it is way cheaper.