My boyfriend and I set out for El Calafate, Argentina, at the end of February over Carnaval weekend. I’m not sure there’s a more atypical Carnaval than a trip to Patagonia. The samba and debauchery would have to wait for the FIFA World Cup 2014, and I was okay with that. Overpacked yet underprepared for what we were about to see, we set out for southern skies. Arriving in the lobby of El Esplendor, we were thrown into a beautiful rustic chic setting. After further exploration, however, it was very apparent that the fine linens and elaborate decor of the lobby was simply a facade, not venturing past the one room. Cuarto 306 didn’t have A/C – an oversight most likely only on floor 3, I thought. Wishful thinking. If one room is void of aire condicionado, all rooms are void of aire condicionado. We had two nights of uncomfortable sleep ahead of us that a few fans from the fake nice lobby and pure exhaustion from trekking could help with.
The next morning we boarded a bus with our 50 closest Argentine amigos and ventured towards Perito Moreno – one of only three glaciers that is actually growing. Today I was going to hike a glacier in Patagonia. Beat that, Bear Grylls. My brand new hiking shoes and I were going to sip sweet whiskey atop a glacier and live to brag (and Instagram) about it. That’s just the thing though – if you have to buy hiking shoes for a hiking trip, you probably aren’t a huge hiker. Should’ve broken the damn things in before hiking for four days straight, but hindsight is 20/20 and I brought along a brand new box of Band-Aids to accompany my brand new boots. Thank you, mind.
After a two hour drive through some windy terrain, we had arrived. My fleece-lined ski pants and three jackets may have been a little overkill as it was 65 degrees that day. Global warming is real. After shedding some layers, Wade and I broke from the group with cameras around our necks like geeked-out tourists and shot every angle one could possibly shoot of this massive block of ice. Who knew glaciers were blue?! Not I. Picture hundreds of people gathered round a large tiered deck just staring at this stationary ice mass. It was that captivating, though…and all I could think about in that moment was Titanic. How the hell did the captains not spot the damn iceberg? HOW?! Massive twentieth century fail. And I digress. After about an hour of only being able to view it and failing at coming up with witty Instagram captions (Ice, Ice Baby) we boarded a boat that took us closer. We strapped on some crampons (chuckle) and it was finally time.
I’ll never forget my first step onto that glacier – I was like a new baby giraffe in those crampons, limbs and curse words flailing about, but just as our single file line of tourists grew, so did my confidence. Ten minutes in and I was ready to run a marathon in those crampons. Strap spikes on my shoes and call me The Bladerunner. Too soon? Nah. The next hour and a half was filled with oohhs and aahhs as we drank from natural streams in the ice and stepped over plunging crevasses. It was around this point when I asked our guide if anybody had ever fallen in. He looked around nervously as if he was already regretting his future confession that one guy had fallen in on the company’s watch. This particular trekker was unusually large for someone on this strenuous excursion, though, and his large body mass wedged between the two ice walls and he ended up being saved by the very thing that could’ve killed him. I suppose the delicacies of red meat and redder wine had this guy seeing another day.
Just as I was realizing that I had seen all the ice I could see for one day, our next turn manifested a whiskey station. Alfajores and whiskey in glacier ice put a smile on my face and a pep in my step. Okay okay, I could handle some more ice today if whiskey was a component. After some shots it was time to take my beloved crampons off. I had become attached over the course of the afternoon. Maybe this meant more trekking was in my future, maybe it meant that I just felt like a badass with spikes on my shoes. Either way, the two hour bus ride back to El Esplendor was spent looking at these pictures, and wondering how I was going to survive another night of stagnant, humid heat in a room void of A/C.
| Day & Night |
El Calafate is almost always the starting point for glacier trekking and climbing on Perito Moreno, Fitz Roy and El Chaltén. That being said, don’t spend a ton of time inside the city of El Calafate.
Daytime events near El Calafate:
- Perito Moreno Mini-Trek or Big Ice Trek
Nighttime events in El Calafate:
- Dinner out on the town – eat the lamb
- Ice cream and Patagonian chocolates for dessert
| Cost Breakdown |
El Calafate / Perito Moreno (based on 2 people):
- Airport Transfer to Hotel El Esplendor: $50
- 2 night stay at Hotel El Esplendor: $180 USD
- Meals while in El Calafate: $145 USD
- Mini Trekking with Hielo y Aventura (transportation included): $200 USD/per person
- Entrance fee into the park: $25 USD/per person
- Chocolate Factory Takeaways: $40 USD
- TOTAL: $765 USD / ~393/person
- El Calafate/Patagonia is known for their chocolates and lamb. Indulge in both when visiting!
| Seasons |
The best time to experience this magical setting is from October to April, which is spring (~64 degrees) and summer (~68 degrees) in the southern hemisphere. Perito Moreno National Park is closed during winter.
Intense winds are common inside the park, creating gusts of up to 70mph at times. In only minutes, the winds can darken the sky or even disperse the storm clouds.
| In Hindsight |
Patagonia has a cool breeze in the summer which is why the vast majority of hotels don’t have A/C. I require the air to feel somewhat like the inside of a refrigerator when I sleep, which is why it came as a major let down when Hotel El Esplendor didn’t have A/C. Two nights of sleeping with your head next to a wind tunnel (or borrowed fan) isn’t what you’re looking for after a full day of trekking.
1. Book a hotel room with A/C in El Calafate.
It’s hard to predict just how warm or cool you’ll be once actually on the glacier. The day we hiked, it was a cool 65 degrees. I was told to dress in layers, which is exactly what I did… sort of. Long story short, fleece lined ski pants were a bad choice.
2. Wear lighter bottom layers on Perito Moreno.
Trekking for many days straight does a body good, but it hurts. A lot. The day after trekking Perito Moreno, we went straight into a hike in Torres del Paine directly after arriving, and then another 3 full days after that. So athletic, I know. No matter the age group, a break is welcomed.
3. Take a break after hiking for a couple of days. Your body will thank you, instead of barely being able to move.