by Mirko Seminario
This was my first time visiting the southern part of Patagonia. After previously travelling to the Northern areas of the region I knew I was in for a treat, as the south is well known for spectacular glaciers.
Flying into El Calafate from Buenos Aires I had my first glimpse at the massive Viedma glacier located in El Chalten.
On arrival we had a van waiting to take us to Alto Calafate hotel, a nice four star secluded property located on top of a hill 10 minutes from town. Alto Calafate hotel is relatively new. All rooms had a light and airy feel and all modern amenities whilst keeping a homestead feel; I was lucky enough to stay in a room on the top floor which had a vaulted ceiling of exposed beams and a spectacular view across Lake Argentino. Breakfast was served as a buffet catering for all dietary requirements although the ‘fresh’ juices seemed to come for a bottle.
I had a brief dip in the large pool which is one of two located at the hotel. Located indoors and heated it was the perfect way to relax my cold limbs after a day in minus 4 degrees.
On April 17th we woke up early in order to get ready for our first excursion: Upsala & Spegazzini glaciers. We were transferred to Puerto Banderas, 50 Km away from El Calafate, then we boarded the Catamaran that took us to the glaciers. The Catamaran had two levels at different price, second level is more expensive due the number of seats also because of the view (less crowded than first level).
The tour guides were very knowledgeable and fluent in English. They shared some facts with us, the one I found very interesting was about icebergs. Only 15% of an iceberg is exposed above the water’s surface, the remaining below the surface.
Upsala is the third largest glacier in South America after, Pio XI and Viedma, due security regulations we could only see it from the distance (1km away) even though it was a bit far away, I really enjoyed the view and took pictures of icebergs calved from the big glacier.
Then we continued to Spegazzini glacier this time the tour guide advised that we could get close to the iceberg, so I rushed to get a good spot for pictures on the Catamaran. I admired the glacier walls, which ranged from 80 to 135 meters height. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the glacier and colourful landscape.
After finishing the visit to the glaciers we went back to Puerto Banderas to continue our full day excursion. Next stop was the glaciarium interpretation centre, one of the few glacier museums in the world. The exhibition included a 3D documentary, interactive screens and photographs. A very interesting place to visit if you would like to learn a bit more about glaciers.
We all were looking forward to have a drink in the Glacio Bar after a long day. I had a local whiskey in a glass made of ice. In fact the whole bar was made of ice (seats, glasses, walls, etc.) it was a very ‘cool’ experience. There was a time limit of 30minutes in the Glacio Bar and we had to wear mandatory warm ponchos and gloves.
The next day April 18th we had another full day excursion to visit the famous Perito Moreno glacier located 80 Km away from town. We enjoyed two different views from the glacier, the first one was the nautical 1 hour safari to get closer to the south face of the glacier. We experienced an ice calving which was fantastic. The sound of the ice cracking was extremely loud and the ice hitting the water would create large waves. I took many pictures and videos.
After a nice lunch we had a chance to walk the balconies which offered a different view of the glacier. I took more pictures of the glacier from this vantage point as the sun had come out from behind the clouds and created different colours through the landscape.
That night we experienced a typical Patagonian meal of charcoal lamb, fries and salad. I ate so much as it was my favourite meal from my stay in Argentina.
Our last day in El Calafate was April 19th. We had an off road excursion to Balcones de Calafate. The three-hour off-road trip takes you along a scenic mountain trail, following a route of great geological interest e.g. The Mexican Hats.
Sadly it was time to go back to Buenos Aires and there were still many things I would have loved to do in El Calafate like the Mini Trek or the Big Ice.
I enjoyed my time in El Calafate and definitely want to travel back one day soon to show my wife this amazing place and also because I feel as though I only saw the “tip of the iceberg”.