Our Second Patagonian Destination, Los Glaciares National Park of Argentina
A few weeks back we talked about the planning for our upcoming trip to Patagonia, and especially the challenging logistic of Torres Del Paine National Park. Today, we’ll check in with our other by by no means less interesting Bucket List destination, Fitz Roy…aka Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, or Glacier National Park of Argentina.
First, let’s talk about the enormity of simply getting there…Prior to leaving for Colorado, we finally completed the last of the booking for the entire Patagonia trip. What can be done in advance has been done, and the rest we’ll just have to wing best we can.
The logistics of this trip are astonishing. Here is just the transportation part of it…
Day 1 –
- FLY RDU to Miami
- FLY Miami to Santiago
- FLY Santiago to Punta Arenas
Day 2 —
- BUS from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales
Day 3 —
- Off day in Puerto Natales following 48 exhausting hours of travel
Day 4 —
- BUS from Puerto Natales to Park Entrance Station
- Then a short shuttle BUS to the hike start
- …THEN 4 hours of hiking.
Hiking next few days…fast forward to…
Day 8 —
- After hiking, take a ferry back to bus stop…
- Then, BUS back to Puerto Natales
Day 9 —
- On the road again…Bus to El Calafate
Day 10 —
- Bus from El Calafate to El Chaltén
…And we’ll just end it there, there’s another round of buses and planes when we come home. Suffice it to say, it’s a long way to go just to get there, and then once you get there, everything is very far from everything else. Patagonia can be likened to Alaska in size, remoteness and hostility of its climate.
That’s just transportation, it does not include the actual in park hiking details – which for Torres Del Paine can be quite a lot. Campsites and meals, admission to the park and passage on the elusive Lago Pehoe Catamaran – that’s another laundry list. However, it’s pretty much all done now.
We figured bookings for our other destination (we’ll just call it Fitz Roy for simplicity) would be simple in comparison. Most enter the park is directly from the little town of El Chaltén (as opposed to a very long shuttle ride required to reach Torres del Paine from the entry town of Puerto Natales.) You can hike straight from your hotel room. The highlights of the park can be day hiked, no need for overnight stays in backcountry campsites — but these don’t require or accept reservations anyway. The park does not even charge admission, and it gets a fraction of the visitation of nearby Torres Del Paine.
We also figured that hiking a bit early in the season would likewise make things easier. We honestly did not foresee any difficulties with El Chaltén and Fitz Roy. All along, our worries were with Torres.
Well, good thing we didn’t wait till the last moment. When at last the Torres bookings were done, we checked into El Chaltén to find to our surprise that a good many rooms were in fact already booked – and the remaining ones were starting to get hard to find. We hurried to make our bookings, quite glad we hadn’t waited any longer.
Things have apparently changed in El Chaltén. Recently Rick McCharles of Besthike.com visited and described the little town as ‘booming.’ Well, he sure wasn’t wrong. A fraction of Torres del Paine’s traffic it may see, but that faction is still sizable and growing. It’s quite apparent that people are in fact turning to it as a viable alternative to the much harder to assemble itineraries of the Torres treks. In other words…this place has made its way onto the tourist map.
At any rate, our bookings appear to be secure, which includes a night in the transit town of El Calafate (these Patagonian towns all seem to have sound alike names, enhancing the bewilderment of outsiders.) As stated, it is entirely possible to accomplish all the hiking of Los Glaciers straight out of El Chaltén and that is the plan. We will do three hiking days out of this town, checking off the mandatory Lake of the Threes and Tower Lake viewpoints on the first two…for the third day we are considering a more lightly trafficked option, perhaps the Loma del Pliengue Tumbado (“Lying Fold Knoll.”)
Hikers headed for Patagonia are always advised to book early, but this creates a frustrating dilemma. Much of the trip – particularly the Torres piece – cannot be booked except through official websites which do not even make bookings available until well into the American Summer seasons. That puts the rest of your itinerary squarely at the mercy of forces the traveler can’t control. Ideally you should book your Torres hike first, since it’s the hardest to get, and build the rest of the hike around it. But that is not always an option.
So the question becomes: do you wait until everything is available and risk things booking up, or do you book the things that ARE available and hope for the best? We’re not sure we have the answer to this question. I suppose you could always just show up and hope for the best and no doubt, many people still do.
At any rate, it’s going to be a challenge. By all accounts the weather in Fitz Roy is even worse than Torres Del Paine.
BestHike.com, by the way, just named the Laguna de los Tress (Lake of the Threes) the fourth best day hike in the world. It is a long and challenging hike. Can we survive it?
Cover photo of the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonian Argentina Courtesy NASA