EL CALAFATE, ARGENTINA: HOW TO MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TRIP TO PATAGONIA
January 1, 1970
One of my biggest dreams in life was getting to know the Argentinean Patagonia. I didn’t even know the names of the cities, I just knew I had to be there. Glaciers, blue lakes, calm and wide landscapes. Completely different from my home state in Brazil, a place that triggered my imagination since I was a kid. However, when I came out of my dream and started searching about travelling there, It almost became a nightmare: a place packed of tourists from all over the world and extremely, utterly expensive.
At these moments, you just have to believe in one of the most powerful truths about travelling: it’s always different when you get there. Especially because I trust on my way of getting to know places. Instead of only reading travel guides and blogs, I answer all my questions by interacting with the locals. It always drives me to genuine experiences and also to cheaper travels. As I knew there must be a way of gazing at Perito Moreno Glaciar for the first time, I bought a plane ticket from Buenos Aires and went to El Calafate with my girlfriend.
When we just got there, we met Nacho. He was working at a coffee shop in the center of the town and I started asking him how could we make the most of our trip, without spending lots of money.
First of all, he told me to forget the dozens of travel agencies selling every kind of tours in the main street. They charge you expensive fares with transportation and other services you don’t really need, which you can avoid by sharing a car rental.
SHARING A CAR RENTAL
The most important thing I learned with Nacho was that Patagonia is so beautiful, that you just have to look at it, to be there. You don’t need to walk on top glaciers to have the most striking experiences of your life. The locals are used to get in the car, drive to Los Glaciares National Park with the most amazing views, and have a great time in between happy talks and sandwiches. Cheap and beautiful.
Considering that we didn’t have a car, he advised us to share the car rental, even if it was just the two of us and we didn’t know anyone else despite of him. So, we asked ourselves nervously: “But, who??”. Then he told us there’s always some traveler in El Calafate willing to share a car rental and you just have to look for them – if they don’t find you first. Indeed, it only took us less than a few minutes until a french couple ask us to share it with them, and go straight to the national park to meet the great and mesmerizing Perito Moreno, the biggest star of tourism in Argentina. It couldn’t get any better.
We rent a simple car, became good friends and paid 35% less. Getting there, after driving 80 km in a sunny patagonic road, we spent five hours – no kidding – just looking to that blue iced giant. Paying less to get there – you can’t avoid paying the entry for the park, though – and going by ourselves, I’m pretty sure we enjoyed better our first dreamy experience in the Argentinean Patagonia.
LAKE ROCA: FREE TREKKING AND PERITO MORENO SIGHTSEEING
When you free yourself from El Calafate’s travel agencies and find someone to share a car with, you realize that enjoying Patagonia is like having a picnic. It’s all about driving in a beautiful road, spending time in the sun, surrounded by the most incredible landscapes.
The day after, we were lucky to be invited by Nacho to go to Lago Roca in his own car. We also met three Brazilian girls that rent a car and joined us, for another happy time in the far south of the world. Our local friend told us that people who live in El Calafate love to go to Lake Roca – which is also inside Los Glaciares National Park, but you don’t need to pay any fee to spend the day. It was the longest 50 km of our lives, as we made several stops along the way to delight ourselves with unforgettable views and, of course, take lots of pictures.
When we got to Lake Roca, the first thing we did was to go for a hike in Cerro Cristal, right in front of the lake. After two hours of trekking, we arrived almost on the top of the hill – to reach the summit, it takes three hours – and was rewarded with an amazing and alternative view to Perito Moreno Glaciar and the whole valley. In the way, you can taste a famous native fruit called Calafate, which names the town.
Going back down to Lake Roca, It was really hot and I had a brilliant idea: to swim in the Lake Roca, right in front of a massive glacier. While Nacho and the girls were laughing at me, all dry and warm, I dived in that freezing waters just to have another story to tell my grandsons, so that they can laugh at me too. But also admire my adventure spirit and wanderlust. After some snacks and a good wine, we drove back to El Calafate.
HAVE A NICE WALK TO ARGENTINO LAKE
According to our local friend’s philosophy, you don’t need much to enjoy your staying in El Calafate. So, we followed another tip from Nacho and went for a walk to Argentino Lake, just 20 minutes walking from the center of the town. The sun was up, we grabbed some sandwiches, our cameras and went for another day in Patagonia. Before getting to the lake, we stopped at the El Calafate Historical Interpretation Center, to a deeper understanding of the region and it’s past.
After the elucidatory stop, we walked calmly to a particular point of the lake, where we could sit and enjoy the view, to find our own patagonic peace of mind. Another incredible place, where the locals go to spend the afternoon and watch the sunset that never comes – the sun goes down at 11h pm. The lake is quiet and blue, and you can see iced mountains everywhere, just imagining the eternal Perito Moreno and the other glaciers around it. Days I’d always dreamed about, turning into reality right before my eyes. I started loving Argentina even more.
WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at Hostel Punta Norte. The building is pretty new, the place is clean and the price is very accessible.
WHERE TO RENT A CAR: We rent it at On Rent a Car – Av. del Libertador, 1831, El Calafate.