Patagonia, Argentina: Fitz Roy, Perito Moreno Glacier, and an Unexpected Gaucho Festival

Hiking around the majestic Fitz Roy and visiting the breath-taking Perito Moreno Glacier are some of the highlights for many when visiting Patagonia. 

Yes, they are touristy and yes, you will have to share them with lots of other people, but those places are famous for a good reason and are absolutely worth sharing with a crowd of other tourists.

There are already tons of information online on how to visit both places, so I will not reiterate that. Instead, in this blog I will share with you some of the highlights of our time there and some lesser-known tips that will help you make your trip special.

Ruta 40 

To get to El Chalten, the small town where the trailhead to Fitz Roy begins, and to El Calafate, the city closest to Perito Moreno Glacier, we drove hundreds of kilometers on the famous Ruta 40. It leads through desert landscapes and tiny towns where time seems to stand still. 

The Malditos 73, an unpaved stretch on the Ruta 40, infamous for it's strong winds.

A lot of Guanacos can be seen along the road. 

A tiny gas station in a tiny town along Ruta 40. Mitsi is thirsty so we got to fill her up whenever we get a chance. 

Not much seems to happen in these tiny towns, but when we got to the small town Tres Lagos, we were in for a big surprise. We arrived there just in time for the yearly Jinteada, a gaucho festival, where people from the surrounding Estancias come together to compete and celebrate. The word "surrounding", in this part of the world does have a very different meaning than what I am used to. We spoke to some guys who drove over 500km just to be at this event. 

It was fascinating to spend some time at the festival, watching he locals show off their traditional clothes, compete on their horses, and celebrate their traditions. 

Two MCs were commenting on the competition. All of it was done singing in rhymes accompanied by a guitar. 

The gauchos had to try and stay in the saddle for up to 15 seconds.

Once the time was up two others helped them down safely.

El Chalten - Hiking to the foot of Fitz Roy

El Chalten, a small mountain town, is the entry point to the northern sector of Los Glaciares National Park. A lot of different trailheads around the national park start directly from the town, one of them being the famous hike to Laguna de los Tres, to see the stunning Fitz Roy and its neighboring mountain peaks. 

The drive towards El Chalten is an experience in itself. After hundreds of kilometers through flat desert landscapes, the mighty peaks appear in the distance.

TIP A great alternative to staying in El Chalten, is to drive towards Lago del Desierto. It’s a beautiful and much quieter area than the town and there are several wild camping spots along the road.

The end of the road: Lago del Desierto.

With the foggy weather the lake looked like a setting from a fairytale. 

This small waterfall can be seen right from the road. 

The trailhead for this famous hike is in El Chalten. 

It's around 10 km long (one way) and passes by many beautiful viewpoints. 

This viewpoint can be reached after around 4km and is a great alternative for people who don't enjoy hiking but still want to see Fitz Roy relatively close up. 

The last kilometer is pretty tough as the path becomes very narrow and winds up a steep mountain slope. This is also were it got pretty crowded. In this picture you can see the last stretch of the 700meters in altitude which needed to be overcome before...

... we finally made it! Two lagunas with the majestic Fitz Roy peak in the background. 

This is the view from the main viewpoint. Take a break there, enjoy it and then make sure to walk down to the lake and climb up the small hill on the left. 

TIP      That's where you'll see this. I was blown away!

This is what you'll see walking back down. 10 more kilometers to go...

The view over El Chalten from Mirador las Aguilas which can be reached after a short walk from town. 

TIP A great place to treat yourself to some drinks and cold cuts after the long hike is the small but relaxed wine bar La Vineria. It’s the perfect spot to try a lot of different Argentinian wines as they sell many by the glass. I loved that there were also a lot of locals at the bar, especially late in the evening. 

Source: Restaurant Guru

El Calafate - Explore the Perito Moreno Glaciar

El Calafate is the get away town for the gigantic Perito Moreno Glaciar. It takes around 3 hours to get there from El Chalten. Make sure to stop at some of the miradores (viewpoints) along the road and marble at the different incredible shades of blue you can see in the lakes.  
Our van Mitsi needed some special "SPA", aka mechanic treatment for a few days so we switched over to this much faster rental car. 

Several unreal-looking blue colored lakes can be seen form the road connecting El Chalten and El Calafate.  

This is it, the gigantic Perito Moreno Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It covers around 250 sq km and is about 74 meters high. What a fascinating and gorgeous place!

The glacier's beauty can be observed from many different perspectives via extensive walkways and viewing balconies. Don't miss the El Bosque trail. It has around 200 steps which means a lot less people walk it and this gives you some time away from the crowds. 

In complete awe, we stood on the balconies watching Perito Moreno for hours. It's active and constantly moving which can be heard by the loud moans and cracking noises of the ice. We were lucky and managed to spot several huge blocks of ice break off the edge and crash into Lake Argentino. What a spectacle! 

We stayed at the glacier for around 5 hours and had different periods of rain, sunshine, fog, and even hail - so be prepared for whatever might come your way. Also bring some snacks and water with you. We had a nice little picknick in the sun. 

TIP  Make sure to take the walkway connecting the parking area and the entrance to the glacier at least one way, preferably to get there. It's a lot shorter than stated on the park's map, slowly reveals the glacier and allows you to see it from yet another perspective. This short walk is also a lot less crowded than the main areas as most people take the free shuttle bus instead. 

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