For the past couple of weeks we have been traveling around the Patagonia region in Argentina. Patagonia is a huge region in southern Argentina and Chile full of spectacular mountains, unique wildlife, quaint woodsy towns, and a thriving microbrew industry. The region is also an outdoor sports paradise, replete with skiing, hiking, fishing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, bird watching, camping, and all kinds of other activities I have likely forgotten. When we started this trip neither of us could have claimed “outdoorsy” as a character trait. Mostly, we still can’t, but we have discovered that we love hiking – particularly day hikes. Patagonia has been a truly revelatory experience for us in that regard. Most days we wake up, make a couple of sandwiches, toss those and some fruit and water into a day pack and head for some hill or trail or another. Being in Patagonia makes this incredibly easy because there are trails radiating from every town and most of them are free (music to the budget travelers’ ears). Our day hiking has been a perfect way for us to get some much-needed exercise in a setting that is just a bit more appealing than a gym. As an added benefit, it has been a great way to convince ourselves that we have earned the ice cream we eat after just about every hike!
We thought we would take the opportunity to summarize the noteworthy hikes we have done in Argentina since we are leaving Argentinian Patagonia on Friday and heading to Chilean Patagonia…where we will undoubtedly do more of these! Woo hoo! Maybe this will help someone looking for some day hiking in these towns and it’s an easy way to share some of the great photos we got during the hikes. We also want to talk about the various towns we have visited so far in Argentinian Patagonia, but that will have to be in a different post.
EL BOLSON HIKE
Distance: 20-22 km (12-13.5 mi)
Cost: AR$16 ($2)
Sights: Rio Azul (pretty river), Cabeza del Indio (we can never see these things, but supposedly a rock face looking like an Indian), Cascada Escondita (waterfall)
Rating*: Worthwhile, especially Rio Azul mirador
Post-Hike Ice Cream: Anna-lemon pie & passion fruit; Mike-lemon & strawberry lemonade. We went to Jauja and so should anyone going to El Bolson or Bariloche. Delicious!
* We’re completely unqualified to rate these things in any serious way, so we’ll just give our best 5-words-or-less snapshot.
If you want to do one day hike in El Bolson, this should be it. It is only a little steep in a couple spots and the rest of the hike is mainly flat and scenic. Even just hiking the 5km to the Rio Azul Mirador would be a good use of a couple hours, as the view of the mountains in the distance is excellent (see photos below). There is another mirador (lookout point) closer to town, but it wasn’t all that great. We walked past the Cabeza del Indio campground on our way to the waterfall so we didn’t have to pay the campground entrance fee, but we saw a lot of local families carrying their equipment for their afternoon grilling and were quite jealous. Although the trail is marked, it is still easy to get a little lost. All of the trails eventually dump you out on some well-marked road or trail or other, so it isn’t a big deal, but we got lost a couple of times. There were a couple of small stores along the trail, but they seemed quite overpriced. We just brought our own water and food and it worked out nicely when we happened on a nice picnic spot right near the entrance to the waterfall/botanical garden grounds. The waterfall itself was…fine. There are botanical gardens also included in the ARS$16 fee everyone has to pay to see the waterfall, but we don’t care about botanical gardens so we didn’t see it.
Rio Azul Mirador:
The only Cabeza del Indio we saw on this hike:
Mike trying not to step in the water (not pictured: Anna stepping in the water):
BARILOCHE – CERRO CAMPANARIO HIKE
Distance: short, but all straight up (or down)
Cost: AR$28 ($4) round trip bus fare Bariloche-KM 17 for two people
Sights: the views of the area at the top are one gigantic sight and one of the most astonishing views we have ever seen. On the way up and down all you see are trees and dust.
Rating: Do not miss this view!
Post-Hike Ice Cream: Anna-Italian cream & mint chocolate chip; Mike-lemon & strawberry lemonade. Jauja again.
We did this hike in the afternoon after slowly rising after a very late night partying with the Brazilians and Argentinians in our hostel. There are two options to get to the top of Cerro Campanario: chairlift (AR$45 each way) or hike (free). Obviously, we took the free option. There is little to say about the hike aside from noting that it is very steep for basically the entirety of the hike and that you will be covered in dust when it’s all over. And it’s completely worth it! We would have walked 10 times this far for the view. If you are visiting Bariloche and don’t go to this viewpoint you should be ashamed of yourself.
One tip: when the bus drops you off at KM 17.8 (it’s 17.something, we think 8, but you’ll see a lot of other people getting off the bus) you will see the large sign pictured below. The hike trail starts behind that sign, and is impossible to miss once you look there.
BARILOCHE – REFUGIO FREY HIKE
Distance: 22km (13.5 mi)
Cost: AR$40 ($5) round trip bus Bariloche-Catedral for two people
Sights: Peaceful forest, mountain lakes, rock climbers
Rating: “Meh” payoff, scenic hike though
Post-Hike Ice Cream: Anna-Italian cream, mint chocolate chip, white chocolate strawberry; Mike-lemon, strawberry lemonade
The hike itself was more scenic than we expected, with some of the best parts in a stretch of forest that made for some great hiking. The last 45 minutes up to the Refugio and the the first 45 minutes down was pretty tough, but the rest of the hike was fairly easy. Many people hike up to the Refugio to stay for the night and take advantage of other hikes starting from Frey or to do some rock climbing, but it is very doable as a day hike, too. Once we got to the top we got a great view of a mountain lake and rock climbers scaling the surrounding mountains. Maybe we were spoiled by the views from Campanario, which we had just done the day before, but we were hoping for a little more. I think we have gotten spoiled….
Tip: Bring water on the bus from Bariloche because in Catedral it is absurdly expensive.
Fun Anecdote: When we offered to take a reciprocal photo of a couple who had just taken one of us the woman responded, “No thanks, I don’t think his wife would like that too much.” Awkward!
Mike lounging and watching rock climbers at Refugio Frey:
EL CHALTEN – LAGUNA DE LOS TRES HIKE
El Chalten is a tiny town inside of Glaciers National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares), and all of these hikes started by walking from our hostel room to the Main Street and then breaking off onto a trail. It was gloriously easy.
Distance: 22 km (13 mi)
Sights: Fitz Roy mountain, many other slightly less dramatic yet still impressive snow-capped mountains, beautiful glacier-fed lakes and rivers, our first-ever glacier sighting, rivers with potable and delicious glacier water
Rating: On a clear day GO!
Post-Hike Ice Cream: Anna-mint chocolate chip & banana split; Mike-lemon & orange
Commonly known around El Chalten as the Fitz Roy hike, this has been our favorite hike so far from start to finish. Only during the subsequent days of relatively crummy weather did we realize how lucky we were to do this hike on such a clear day. The hike itself has several beautiful parts, not even counting the various miradors you can stop at along the way to admire Fitz Roy (or on those later days, lots of clouds), several rivers, snow-covered mountains in the distance, and more. Early in the hike, probably 1-2 hours in, you come to the Fitz Roy mirador, which is a must if visiting El Chalten for only a day. After that, it’s basically flat or up until you hit the very final portion of the hike, which is a pretty steep climb over some bigger rocks. This last hour-plus is pretty difficult and would be even more so there is a lot of wind that day (again, we got lucky and had very little wind). That said, there were hundreds of people doing this part of the hike while we were ranging from fit to not and everyone definitely enjoyed the views at the top. You don’t have to bring much water on this hike because you can refill your bottle in any of huge rivers on these hike which have cold, refreshing glacier water! We had a lot of fun drinking the glacier water right out of the river. How often can you do that?
Mirador Fitz Roy – the giant one in the middle is Fitz:
Views from Lago de los Tres:
We were not impressed by the “Look Out This Is Dangerous” sign:
The glacier that provided the water:
Dayton bottle filled with glacier water+ toasting Fitz Roy in the background = great day:
EL CHALTEN – LAGUNA TORRE HIKE
Distance: 22 km (13.5 mi)
Sights: Wind, some dead trees, a pretty forest, wind, a windy lake, Anna getting blown off of her feet by wind, people looking miserable, scenic lunch spot, wind
Rating: If windy, not much fun
Post-Hike Ice Cream: Beer. We were too cold and wind blown for ice cream, which says a lot if you know how much we like ice cream.
Holy hell was this hike windy. We have only ever seen wind like this one other time at the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland and it was as impressively annoying then as it was during this hike. We don’t have many photos because we were afraid about what the blowing dust would do to our camera, but the hike out to the Laguna was very pretty. Once we got within about 20 minutes of the Laguna, however, the wind stopped effing around. People were falling left and right, including Anna once, when gusts of wind hit them. Just over a crest in front of the Laguna the wind was so strong that it was picking up rocks – not pebbles or dust – that were smacking people in the legs. There was another hike you could do from here to see a glacier up close, but we just wanted to get the hell out of there at that point so we didn’t do it. Aside from the wind, the hike was pretty easy and definitely worth the trip, but be forewarned about the wind. Yowza!
Wind-blown lake. There should be a mountain in the background, but at least we got the glacier with Anna’s iPhone:
Afterward, we toasted our survival:
EL CHALTEN – HYBRID HIKE
Due to the generally windy, cold and crummy weather, we didn’t do a third proper hike in El Chalten. Instead, we opted for a hybrid hike. Well, to be accurate, Anna opted for a hybrid hike and I (Mike) opted for half of a hike and retreated home to write this post. We’ll skip the box score this time.
When doing the Fitz Roy hike there is an option to break off for the Mirador Fitz Roy or head to Laguna Capri. Having done the Fitz Roy hike already, we wanted to check out the Laguna. And it was definitely worth the effort, especially for more of that delicious glacier water. Rather than continue to retrace our steps, we decided to head back to town to pick up the trail for Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. When we got to town, though, I bailed, so Anna headed out solo.
The hike seemed like it would have all of the right components of a great hike: moderately challenging, potentially spectacular views, and it was the least populated of the hikes we did in El Chalten. I (Anna) was bummed that the weather was crummy so many of what could have been great views were obscured by clouds. Still, for only having done 3/5 of the hike, I really enjoyed it and would recommend it probably even before the Laguna Torre hike on a clear day.