Spending time indoors in the beginning of last winter, staring out the window and waiting for my yearly dose of indoors entrapment to come to an end, though winter was just starting, the idea of a trip was forming in the back of my mind. I wanted to do the exact opposite of what I was doing: I had a strong urge to be active, to spend time in nature, to hike, to breathe fresh air and to see some wildlife.
With the whole world available to us, we started planning. We switched from one plan to another and couldn’t decide. Our next travel destination loomed ahead of us like a ghost, seeming sometimes more tangible and sometimes frustratingly impossible to grab hold of. I would spin an old globe and land at random spots, examining them for inspiration. All I knew was that I wanted Nature, Fresh Air and Activities.
Finally, we agreed that Argentina would be perfect for this trip. Who could deny the exoticism of visiting the “Land of Fire” (Tierra del Fuego), Patagonia and the Pampas? Adding tropical Iguazú and the Bariloche lake district to our itinerary, we almost squeezed the whole world into our little journey, at least most of the climates. We felt like explorers and liked to imagine ourselves setting off into adventure, more than just a trip.
I have already published posts about Buenos Aires, Tierra del Fuego, the Beagle Channel, and the Perito Moreno Glacier, which were the first places we visited. While these destinations were attractive and we certainly enjoyed spending lots of time outdoors, we didn’t get to be quite as active as we had thought.
Hiking in Ushuaia, for example, would have required renting a car or buying a trip to get to a hikable spot. In the rush of planning our trip, we had (rather naively) imagined simply walking out our hotel door towards some nearby national parks but obviously the distances were much larger in reality, as were the prices for services. Since we were on a budget, traveling for almost 2 months and stretching our inflated pesos, we decided to save money for activities at El Calafate, our destination after Ushuaia and Buenos Aires.
Biking in El Calafate
El Calafate is like a little pit stop for backpackers and outdoor enthusiasts. Plenty of restaurants and services catering for travelers. We managed to find a great deal at a beautiful little hotel with a swimming pool, a library with old books and a pool table, and home-made bread for breakfast. Black-faced ibis birds strolled around the green garden. A perfect place to relax after an active day. Now, we just needed to find that activity!
We opted for bike rental. The old-looking mountain bikes turned out to be slightly tired of their jobs but the price was good. We had asked the rental guy for ideas of where to go or maybe a map, but the answer was vague and we ended up pedalling off none the wiser. We headed towards the lake, Lago Argentino. We had been there the day before, flamingo-spotting, and decided to go the other way this time. We rode on the empty street following the lake’s shore. The lake was a gorgeous, vivid, bright turquoise color, my favorite color.
By chance, we noticed some faint dirt trails starting where the paved road ended. We carried our bikes down a slope and hopped back on. Finally, we were doing what I had visualized months earlier in the grey gloom of a snowless start of winter. We were out here, in Patagonia, riding bikes!
The landscape was surreal. From moonlike to spaghetti western scenery to reminiscent of Crete. We rode our bikes up and down dirt hills like little kids and picniced on bananas and orange juice. Clouds seemed to form smoke signals and our speed was impeded by the need to photograph everything. Four hours later, two tired but happy, very dirt-covered cyclists returned their mountain bikes to the rental shop and planned for a relaxing swim at the hotel.
Hiking in El Chaltén: Admiring Fitz Roy With 1,000 Flies
One day, we took the bus from El Calafate to El Chaltén. El Chaltén was definitely worth the trip and if we hadn’t had prebooked flights onwards, we might’ve stayed for a few nights. It was smaller than El Calafate but better situated for hiking. Here, you really could have walked to a national park directly from your hotel, as I had imagined us doing everywhere.
The great attraction was, of course, the famous Cerro Fitz Roy. There are many hiking options for various levels of expertise, including beginners. Since we aren’t mountaineers or experienced enough hikers/campers to do any extreme trips in this type of unfamiliar landscape, we did the easy day hike to Laguna Capri. While I say easy, I have to admit the hike up was like doing a little cardio workout on the step machine, but still very enjoyable. The views were amazing and we weren’t the only ones on those trails. Families with little kids carrying pink Barbie backpacks raced past us (unfazed by the ascent) and all the nice lookouts had picnics going on.
Arriving at our day hike destination, Laguna Capri was a slight disappointment due to the unexpected insect company there. It was a cute little spot in the middle of the forest with a lake, a view of the mountains, and camping facilities nearby. But on approaching the laguna, out of nowhere, swarms of tenacious little flies appeared. They were everywhere: in our eyes, ears, noses, mouths, hair, clothes, backpacks, water bottles, etc. Most of our photos feature the picturesque peak of Fitz Roy… in the background of two dozen flies posing mid-air for photos. Oh well.
Besides photogenic flies, the skies were inhabited by turkey vultures and other huge, eagle-like birds (which I unfortunately cannot name). Guanacos (wild llamas) could be seen grazing along roadsides, nicely camouflaging into the background. So yes, we got our dose of wildlife, too.
Where to hike or bike next, any suggestions? If you’ve been here too, I’d love to hear what your impressions were! (Were the flies still there?!)