Close to Punta Arenas is the most famous National Park in southern Chile – Torres del Paine. I’ve seen pictures of rocky mountains and turquoise lakes, the landscape you imagine, when you think of Patagonia. But the closer I got to it, the more I read and heard about the tons of tourists, who come here every year during the peak season (December through February). Plus, it’s really complicated if you want to do a multi-day hike, because you need to reserve the campgrounds, which are managed by three different companies and they’re all booked out months in advance.
Therefore we decided to try our luck in El Chalten, Argentina’s hiking capital in Patagonia. It’s supposed to be less crowded, more relaxed and the campsites are free and without reservations. To get there, we had to cross the border back into Argentina, which was much easier than getting to Chile up in Bariloche. Our journey led us through El Calafate, another major tourist hub in the area. However, most people fly in and out, staying only a few days in the city.
El Calafate is well known for the massive glacier, which is located about 80 km west of the town. The “Perito Moreno” glacier is special, because it’s the only glacier, which hasn’t been receding in the last decades. It’s easily accessible, as it reaches down to about 200 m above sea level and gives an impressive sight with its width of more than 5 km.
The glacier is part of the South Patagonian Icefield and flows straight into a mountain side, cutting the lake at its base in two. The lakes are still connected through a large tunnel in the ice, which allows for the lakes to maintain their water level. And every time a big chunk of ice breaks off, it plunges into the water sending a wave of ripples across the calm surface.
There is a large system of boardwalks, which helps to spread the tourists, making it feel like a little less crowded than it actually is. It also gives the opportunity to get a good view of the glacier from different angles. However, half a day is more than enough to see everything, as we didn’t want to spend a fortune on a boat cruise or a glacier walk. Instead we used the afternoon to get to El Chalten, which is just a few hours northeast of El Calafate.
El Chalten proved to be a quiet town with only about 6000 inhabitants, but excellent hiking possibilities. The weather forecast was promising and we had soon spotted our desired multi-day hike – the “Huemul Circuit”. But we couldn’t start right on the next morning, because we had to rent some equipment, which was only available later that day. After organizing everything else, we went on some shorter hikes to the “Mirador de los Condores” and the “Mirador las Aguilas” for a first impression of the area.