The city of El Calafate is located in Argentina and it is famous for it’s glacier Perito Moreno. Getting there however wasn’t an easy task as it is winter right now and no direct buses were operational from Puerto Natales. Instead we had to cross the border city of Rio Turbio followed by a crossroad in Esperanza where we changed buses so we finally ended up in El Calafate. We kind of underestimated this journey as we got stuck in Rio Turbio, which is 1 hour away from Puerto Natales by bus.
The day of departure started quite bad as our bus was leaving at 9 AM and Timon forgot to set his alarm and I woke up but fell back a sleep at 8. Lucky for us, the woman of the reception woke us up at 8:35 saying: ‘chicos chicos, ustedes bus salen a las 9 no?!’ We both woke up, realizing how late it really was. We quickly got out of bed, stressing and timon quickly packing his bag. I ran downstairs to ask for a taxi and started to prepare some breads so we at least had some breakfast. Lucky for us the city is very small so we arrived 5 min before departure time. Only to find out that our bus was delayed because of dangerous road conditions with snow and ice. This resulted in a wait for over 1.5 hour to find out the our bus wasn’t leaving until 12:30 PM. We were told our connecting bus to El Calafate would leave at 11 AM and 2 PM so we could still make the last connection, so we thought. We also could not book any tickets in advanced as we were in Chile and we could not book tickets from Argentina.
We finally arrived in Rio Turbio at 2 PM to find a closed office till 3:30 PM. There was no bus terminal, just an office and thats it. To give you an idea of the city, Rio Turbio is a small city at the border of Argentinia and Chile and nearby is a big mine and an electric power plant, making Rio Turbio a mining and industrial city.
Because it was winter only 1 bus office was operational but was closed until 3:30 PM. We also met a french guy (Jeff) in Puerto Natales who was just like us, on his way to El Calafate and teamed up with us on this journey. At the bus office a passenger outside told us the next bus for El Calafate would leave at 19:30 PM so that ment we had about 5 hours of free time before we could move on. There goes our day I though. We started to make a plan, either wait in Rio Turbio untill the bus leaves or try to go hitch hiking. We decided to try hitch hiking as Jeff mentioned the bus prices in Argentina are expensive and besides, we had the time and if it didn’t work we could always go back and take the bus instead.
Our first step was to get out of town and start hiking for El Calafate. There was 1 big route just out of Rio Turbio that would end up in El Calafate. It seemed pretty easy untill we got out of town and saw the sign ‘274 KM’ away. After trying and waiting for almost 2 hours in the cold we decided to give up and return to Rio Turbio and get a bus to El Calafate instead. While we waited for a ride to El Calafate, little to no cars passed us and the few cars that did pass by didn’t even bother to stop. Luck was not at our side today.
After returning to Rio Turbio we went to the bus office to find out all the ticked were sold out for the day with the earliest option the next day at 11:30 AM. We had no other choice to
buy these tickets and to stay for the night in Rio Turbio. But first we wanted to drink a warm cup of hot chocolate as we waited in the cold for about 2 hours. This also gave us the option to search for a place on the internet. Here we quickly discover that there were no hostels or hotels located in the city, at least nothing on the internet. I decided to ask for local advice. There were only 3 hotels and all of them were full, mostly miners or workers that stayed in these hotels. So now we had no option to leave or sleep in the city and we did not want to spend the night outside in this cold weather. We decided to go back to the bus office and ask if it was possible to stand in the bus, we didn’t care anymore but they would not let us as it’s against their rules. They suggested us to go to the tourist information, who obviously couldn’t help us. The 3rd time we came back we got lucky, there was a woman in the office who had a cousin that owns a small but unofficial guesthouse where tourists stay (mostly only in summer). She called her cousin and they just came back to a trip from Chile, finally we where lucky as they had space to offer us a place to sleep! From here the day became better again. The cousin was married to a danish guy who had met her on a fishing trip in the Patagonia and now they are married and living together in Argentinia. Their dream is to open a hostel in the future and to expand their current business. The place we stayed was in their home but had an extra room for us. They offered us red wine and because we were cooking a dutch ‘hutspot’ they decided to let us try some fresh lams meat which was absolutely delicious. We ended the night with talking about Argentinia, the city and the nature with a large colony of Condors close by. I was glad to find a place to stay and I couldn’t have asked for a more better place to stay. It made my day!
The next day we enjoyed a great breakfast and we were finally able to leave the city of Rio Turbio, finally! However we arrived at 5 pm in El Calafate which ment another day wasted of traveling. After arriving in El Calafate we didn’t hesitated to buy a ticket back to Punta Arenas so we would not miss out flight back to Santiago.
The following day we headed out to the biggest glacier in South America, the Perito Moreno glacier. We didn’t book any tour as they don’t do complete tours that includes hiking on the glacier and drinking whiskey with a little bit of fresh glacier water (our hosts in Rio Turbio told us about this tour and recommend it). Tobad that these tours start from August. Instead we paid for a bus ticket and headed out on our own.
Unfortunately we weren’t very lucky with the weather in the morning. Most of the glacier was covered in fog making only the front
visible and the rest, including the mountains was covered in fog. However the view in the morning was still spectacular and the occasional snowfall made it quite magical. In the afternoon the fog started to clear up, making the glacier with the surrounding mountains around it visible.
The national park build a staircase on the side of the mountain to be able to see the glacier from different viewpoints. There is also another option to view the glacier from a ‘closer’ view, by boat. Which is actually the same price as the entry ticket (AR260, or 26 euro) and because of safety reasons the cannot get really close. It make senses because the glacier is melting and a lot of ice can break off.
We didn’t think this extra option was worth it as you get just a little bit closer in comparison to the staircase not to mention being on a boat full of people for an hour.
We did end up at the docks of the boat tour as we walked the hole path down the mountain. This was at the foot of the mountain/hill whatever you want to call it and buses would pick people up from below and top to transfer people. We asked the drivers of the buses to take us back up the mountain however nobody wanted to take us as they where private tours. Side note, the bus was almost empty with a lot of free seats and they were going up the mountain anyway to pick up people. Even the regular buses didn’t want to take us as we didn’t had a boat ticket, we had to walk up ourselves. One of the bus drivers even said he wasn’t going up and after walking back up we spotted the same guy driving down. We didn’t understand the problem of taking 3 guys with you on a bus as the bus was empty and he was going up. Anyways Timon was a little annoyed, and so were we but Timon decided to show his middle finger to the bus driver that ‘lied’ to us and that guy went crazy. He drove his bus backwards on a very steep mountain road and started to curse to us in Spanish, crazy latino’s haha. I feel that guys in latin america have a very short temper, although I don’t want to generalize we experienced other stuff as wel, what do you think? Any experiences with this?
It was an impressive day with sounds of cracking ice and amazing views that I always wanted to experience in my life. Seeing big pieces of ice fall into the water was quite impressive sight to see and a very unique experience. Seeing the colors of the glacier, so blue, pictures below don’t do enough justice in my opinion. I highly recommend to visit this spectacular place if you decide to visit the Patagonia in South America.