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El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina for Backpacking and Photography

I saw photos of Patagonia years ago and kept watching documentaries and wanting more and more to go there and experience it for myself. I started researching and put together my game plan for backpacking in the park for 4 days.

I left out of LAX and flew to Buenos Ares where I would stay for long enough to walk around a bit, grab a meal, nap and shower.

Some of the architecture is awesome and the statues are massive. I wandered around for a few hours and got dinner. I needed some real sleep so I did not stay out too late.

At about 3AM I dragged myself out of bed for my next flight to El Calafate where I would spend another day exploring and getting a bus ticket. The flight was easy enough and getting a taxi was super quick. Interestingly I did not have one taxi driver that spoke english. Most everyone else did to some extent, or between their broken english and my broken spanish we figured things out.

El Calafate is a really neat place and I stayed in an awesome all wood hotel called Hainen. The staff there was super nice and I liked the place a lot. Very easy to go from it to town and back. A ten minute walk had you to a grocery store where you could buy water and snacks.
I decided to try and find the bus station so I would not be scrambling the following morning. It was easy to find once I figured out the layout of the town a bit.

Coming from the direction of airport you walk past the Casino that’s on your left and almost immediately after passing the end of the Casino is what looks like an alleyway with an arch over the entrance. It is lined with small brightly colored stalls that are trinket shops. Go through that alleyway to the back, climb a few sets of stairs and it drops you right at the back of the bus station.

You can go in and get your ticket ahead of time – I recommend that you buy it the day before from Chalten Travel. They have it set up very well and were super nice to work with. Each bus company has a window in the station and a spot where the buses pull in. Once they arrive its a mad scramble to load your gear – for no reason. Your seats are assigned.

I got it all set up the day before and it saved me a bunch of time. It was a zoo the day of in the station. The bus was decently packed with a few open seats here and there but it was much easier to let everyone sit in line and try and get tickets as I sat in the sun and made friends with one of the many dogs around.

Their buses are very nice and the seats recline far enough back to sleep during the 3 hour ride – if you can sleep. The landscape your riding through is amazing so I did not sleep much.

There is a magnificent blue water lake you’re driving next for for a large portion of the trip. Amazing colors and huge tracts of windswept grassland with Alpacas, sheep and farms.

I took the first bus in the morning so once I arrived in El Chalten I could just take off and not worry about finding a hostel for the night

I filled 5 liters of camelbak bladders with bottled water and headed to the back of the town. I wanted to run a loop that would bring me through three camp sites and drop me back at the town in time to get the bus.

I was a little nervous but I had enough food for 4 days and a tent and a cold weather sleeping bag so I knew I had what I needed. I was just not sure what to really expect on the trail.

After hiking a while there is a lookout that has a fantastic view. Its hard to describe the vastness of everything. No photo can do it justice. The air is so clear that you can see forever and it makes you feel tiny.

Combined with the fact that the first few kilometers of my hike I did not not see one other person made it feel like another world.

The trail is super well marked and hard to get turned around on. At every KM there is a sign telling you how far you are from the next major view. There are also signs along the trail with maps – although they are all in Spanish. I know enough to figure everything out and know where I needed to go.

As I was hiking I started getting glimpses of Fitz Roy through the trees. It just made me speed up a bit trying to get to the camp so I could dump my heavy pack and walk around and take some photos.

Then you get to a point where you get a full view of what you’re hiking to. It almost looks fake. The clear skies and the stark mountain range make for a dramatic view. Shortly after I made it to Laguna Capri and the general area where I would be camping. I knew I had plenty of time to set up my camp later so I started shooting pictures. The wind had kicked up and the lake was very choppy.

You can drink out of all the lakes and streams in the park so I filled my bladders back up with the very cold water. It was amazing after sweating my way up the trail.

At the Camp ground for the night. I met a few other hikers that ended up doing the same loop I did so we hung out for the remainder of the trip. Super nice guys and one of them had been backpacking South America for about 3 months.

The campground was on the small side because not a ton of people camp there as the other sites are better – but it’s still a very neat place.

Of course if you have followed my blog or instagram at all you know by now I love shooting night photos. Using long exposure and a midrange ISO I always try and get something new. I like setting everything up and then just letting it run. One problem this time… The sun set at 11:00PM. That meant I would have to wait until about 11:30 at a minimum to get true night shots. I was exhausted so I cut the night shooting short.
I slept hard that night but woke up after sunrise and had to pee. I stepped out of my tent and looked out to the lake and saw that it was absolutely still. It was a total mirror so I jumped back into the tent and got my camera out and set. I spent about 15 minutes and snagged a few shots. It’s worth noting at the end of the 15 minutes the wind started again and erased the whole scene. But it was breathtaking.

After refilling all my water and packing up camp I started of to Campamento Poincenot. The hike had a little bit of everything.

From over grown paths to log bridges over wetlands – but one thing was always the same. The views were incredible.I set up camp again and then took off to hike around with one of the other guys who I had been hiking with. We crossed over a awesome bridge trying to get to Glacer Piedras Blancas but a danger sign turned us back…
This camp ground was much more crowded but still super laid back. There were no idiots yelling or playing loud music all night. Sunset was also amazing glowing off the ridge line.

The next morning I packed up again and started off to the next and last camp site located at Laguna Torre it was called Campamento De Agostini. The hike there was actually the toughest hike of the trip. My legs were a little sore and it was some steeper downhills and uphills. There were even more awesome views on the way though, even more lakes and rivers.The hike also took you through another wooded area that was actually very green. And super quiet and relaxing to hike through

The camp site is right next to a river and it’s tinged the same blue as so much of the water in Patagonia. I don’t know what mineral makes it that color but my guess is travertine. It was a really relaxing spot, with the water running quickly nearby.

The entrance to the camp has a nice warning about Pumas – Mountain Lions to the Americans reading.

After setting up camp for the last time on the trip and refilling water I headed over to Laguna Torre with the group I had been hiking with. It was amazing, small icebergs and a glacier in the background. The clouds had moved in a little and gave me an opportunity for a picture that to me looks like something from another world. The colors and shadows that were playing around the water and ridge line gave some awesome photos. Its the darker one with a lake and ice

If you choose to you can hike around the lake and get a better view of the glacier, I went about 3/4 the way around and decided to turn back. I had a great view and you could not actually go down onto it so I did not want to continue. Plus by that point I was starving.

Waking up after the last night camping was bittersweet. I was ready for a real meal but I could have done a few more days. There was alot more I could have explored but that’s not saying I did not have an incredible time. I left at sunrise and made it back to the city where I would get my bus.

I had some time to kill so I grabbed some food from a deli the cheese was super thick and had a great flavor – I am not sure what meat it was kinda tasted like goat – and a beer so I could sit and wait for the bus. After eating freeze dried backpacking food that was an amazing meal and beer.

The dogs all around are very friendly and will come up to you to get petted, I think they are smart enough to learn if they act nice and playful they can snag a meal from the tourists. I noticed some people tossing them a piece of bread or part of their snack. Either way they are all really chill dogs.

Originally I had planned to spend the night in El Chalton, but after discovering it really had nothing to offer other than hostels and backpacking supplies I decided to roll the dice and head back to El Calafate since it was more of a touristy area with more to do and see.

After arriving back at El Calafate I walked over to my original hotel and they luckily had an extra room for the night so I didn’t have to go searching Hostels for an open bed.

The front desk guy got me checked in and then in a joking way said in strained English “Maybe you take shower”… Way ahead of you buddy – that’s my first plan of action for the afternoon.

After the shower and a lying down for a bit I went out straight to a restaurant I had seen on my brief time before I headed to El Chalten, the restaurant had bottles of wine stacked everywhere and goats on spits over an open flame in the front window. Perfect after eating dehydrated backpacking meals for 4 days – got to class it up a bit.

I had an fantastic meal in a super nice restaurant called “MAKO fuegos y vinos”.

My meal consisted of goat pate as a small starter. Followed by a shrimp and octopus appetizer. The main course was a giant board of different cuts of goat and grilled veggies and a bottle of a great Argentinian Cab. Finished it off with a very good desert.

From there is was a flight back to Buenos Ares where I would be spending about 48 hours.

The airport was nice but pro tip – get in line early. The tour groups will take forever to get though as most of them are big, disorganized and everyone is trying to argue everything.

After landing in BA and getting my bags I took a taxi to my hotel. It seemed nice enough but I was not a huge fan of this area of Buenos Ares in general.

I walked around a bit but the area I was in seemed more busy and alot less friendly than the first area I stayed in. The beggars were very aggressive, to the point of coming up to my table and reaching for food when I was eating dinner.

The flight home was long, I must say though having wine and whiskey poured for you the whole flight is a perk. Managed to sleep a bit and since the middle seat was open had some more room to spread out.

Customs was not very well done. Why even hand out the forms on the plane if I have to do everything digitally on a kiosk? People kept trying to cut in line and jump to the front. I called one guy out loudly – he got super wide eyed. Almost like he did it all the time and I was the first to say anything.

In the end it took a few days to process what I had just experienced. The mountains and the lakes and the sheer staggering size and vastness. The absolute beauty of the windswept landscape and blue water lakes, glaciers and trails through forests that almost did not seem real some times.

The smaller cities and the experiences, sights and food. It was an amazing time and I am glad I got to knock Patagonia off my bucket list. Someday I wouldn’t mind going back. I can imagine it would be spectacular cloaked in snow….

Insider Tip

Pro tip – get in line at the airport early. The tour groups will take forever to get though as most of them are big, disorganized and everyone is trying to argue everything.

Where I stayed / started

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