The heart of Argentinian Patagonia is the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, home to some of the finest walks in the world, and as the name suggests many glaciers. I had variable weather but saw some spectacular sights exploring the place, and learnt a few things.
Perito Moreno Glacier
I’ve already seen (and walked on when it was possible a few years ago) the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers in New Zealand, but they pale in comparison with this monster. I started out with a boat trip to the glacier face which was impressive if extremely cold and wind-swept, but the best views were to had from the 6km of substantial walkways covering the peninsula into which the glacier clashes, before rupturing to reopen the channel.
Felt like Te Anau’s poor cousin (that’s a small lakeside tourist town in New Zealand for those who haven’t visited), with beautiful scenery but terrible town planning. Has patches of decent infrastructure, particularly streetlights and playgrounds, if patchy pavements, but everything is so spread out, and little is made of the setting. Still it’s pretty cool to have wild flamingos fifteen minutes walk away from the centre of town.
Felt like a much truer cousin of Te Anau, living up to its reputation as Argentina’s walking capital. Much smaller than El Calefate and nicely situated at the head of the valley, providing easy access to many walks out to glacier fed lakes. Well equipped with bakeries and some great places to eat, in which almost everyone is clothed in waterproof clothing of various shades. Within 15-25km long return day walks are seven substantial lakes, four glaciers, and views of Mt Fitz Roy and Mt Cerri Torre, plus a beautiful river valley.
Unfortunately in two and a half day over Christmas didn’t get to see a huge amount of it due to persistent rain that obscured most of the scenery. Had perfect weather thankfully for a shorter walk out to Chorrillo del Salto waterfall and up the hillside for great views along the valley on the first day. The next day did a lot of the connecting trails, in falling snow which was an experience, but didn’t get to see much of the glaciers. Final day the rain had fully set in so headed back to El Calefate early. Unfortunately the rain followed us there and never stopped, but did turn to snow the next day, a white Boxing Day. Not expected during summer in the Southern Hemisphere!
Patagonia and South Island, New Zealand are same same but different. The mountains, lakes and forests are more or less interchangeable, though Patagonia’s mountains are pointier and forests far less dense than New Zealand bush. Patagonia is larger scale, has more colourful wildlife (mainly birds including flamingos!), is a lot colder but has less sand flies / mosquitos as a result, while New Zealand has more choice of things to do in a smaller area, a greater variety of places to eat, and is obviously easier to navigate if English rather than Spanish is your main language.
Eating out is meat, pasta or pizza. Argentina is one of the few countries I’ve been to that hasn’t embraced Asian or Indian cuisine. The food is generally good, and largely proportioned, but a little lacking in variety.
The infrastructure is great. Clearly a lot of money has been spent on ensuring that tourists have a good experience while exploring Patagonia, from sealed roads to extensive and well maintained walkways.
The weather is extremely variable. It can require switching from a shirt to four layers of merino and a windproof jacket in the space of a few minutes, and back again, thanks to the combination of strong winds and strong sun.
There are plenty of wild / owned but free roaming dogs around. Thought there were a lot in El Calefate, until I reached El Chalten. Getting chased down the street by one wasn’t the best end to one of the walks, though on par with my way being blocked following the river in El Calefate by horses.