I have sat down to write this post at least three times now, and I have given up each time.
We just finished a month long trip through Patagonia. It was the most jaw-dropping natural landscapes I have ever laid my eyes on and yet I have toiled to figure out what to say about it.
My husband, Tom, suggested that I write this post to an audience of hikers and to explain why they need to visit Patagonia. But against his good judgment, I decided, instead, to write this post to you.
You, who does not own a pair of hiking boots. You, whose idea of nature is your own backyard. And you, who feels more at home in cityscapes than landscapes.
To you, I am recommending that you add Patagonia to your bucket list.
Patagonia For The Faint Of Heart
Before I visited the region, I was intimidated by it. I thought that to enjoy its beauty I would need to dress head to toe in Gortex and North Face logos, buy expensive hiking boots, and hire a tour guide. After all, Patagonia has an outdoor-adventure clothing line named after it.
But I spent a month in Patagonia with nothing but some basic workout clothes, one wind/rain proof jacket, and a pair of New Balance street shoes. I found the region to be much more accessible, approachable, and affordable than I had originally anticipated.
So if you are a bit of a city slicker like Tom and I, keep reading. I have scouted out how to enjoy the region with subpar gear and a low budget, and I have survived to tell you about it.
The Secret Is El Chalten
Guanacos; check. Dramatic peaks; check. Rustic estancias; check. Icebergs; check. Glaciers and glacial lakes and rivers, triple check.
For a town small enough to fit in the frame of one picture, this small springboard village packs a big Patagonian punch.
We spent almost an entire month exploring Patagonia (on both the Argentinian and Chilean sides). We started in Bariloche, a Colorado-esque town with good hiking and artisanal beers, set on the coast of an expansive lake. We traversed the famous Route 40 by bus to El Chalten, and then we continued further south to El Calafate and Ushuaia (southern most city in the world) before returning north to Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, and Torres Del Paine National Park of Chile.
From our launching point in Mendoza, Argentina, we traveled over 2,560 miles by bus around Patagonia.
Click here to see full map.
Other than the penguins in Punta Arenas, I didn’t see anything elsewhere in Patagonia that I couldn’t see in El Chalten.
El Chalten is a small, quaint town built just 25 years ago to cater to hoards of backpackers flocking to the area to climb or hike around the famous Mount Fitz Roy, which towers above the town creating a singular focal point and dramatic backdrop.
It’s both grandiose and consumable at the same time. You can wrap your head around it and fit it into a single camera frame from a nearby lookout point. With recognizable Fitz Roy looming above, it is always easy to know where to point your camera and in what direction to map your route.
Although there are many extreme options for the hardcore trekker, climber, and camper including scaling the steep sides of Mount Fitz Roy herself, the average Joe can appreciate the area too, padding the nature experience with conveniences like a nutritious meal, hot shower, and a warm bed at an affordable cost.
As a relatively novice hiker with subpar gear, I enjoyed the comfort of hiking all day without packs or camping gear and then returning to our hostel at night (for only about $10 per day per person). And except for ice climbing, my sneakers proved sufficient; boots can be rented when necessary.
By Contrast, Torres Del Paine
Torres Del Paine in Chile also offered dramatic landscapes and mountain terrain to explore. We hiked and camped for three days on the “W” circuit. It was breathtaking, but unless you have the money to book the comfy refuges and hotels in the park, you will need to spend at least 3-5 days camping. And on top of it you must pay a $32 USD park entrance fee. It was free to enter the park in El Chalten.
So if you’re on a budget, and if getting your daily calcium from dehydrated milk, sleeping on the ground, and going days without a shower is not your idea of fun, I recommend that you skip the famous Torres Del Paine and soak in the essence of Patagonia from the affordable comforts of El Chalten.
But if you don’t mind camping and getting a little dirty, then by all means, add Torres Del Paine to the itinerary as well. You won’t be disappointed by the abundance of natural eye candy.
El Chalten And Mount Fitz Roy In 4 Days
We saw glacial lakes, icebergs, waters with the uniquely blue-green glacial hue, baby owls, waterfalls, and time-warped rock walls; we drank straight from the crystal clear streams; and we climbed on a glacier all in just four days in and around El Chalten.
Below is our itinerary and a few pictures to wet your adventurer appetite.
Day 1: ½ day hike to a nearby Waterfall (approximately 2 hours hiking round trip) and ½ day hike to two different nearby lookout points for sunset (approximately 2-3 hours hiking round trip).
Day 2: Full day hike to Lago Torre and back to El Chalten (about 5-6 hours)
Day 3: Full day hike to Lago Del Tres (shuttle ride to somewhere near El Pilar and 6-8 hours hiking to the lakes and then back to town).
Day 4: Ice-climbing on Viedma Glacier
Now, Enjoy Patagonia From Wherever You Are...
Now I know that some of you can’t or won’t visit Patagonia for a number of reasons. But I hate the thought of you missing out on this corner of our amazing green earth. So sit back, grab a cup of coffee or more appropriately, a gourd of mate (did you read my last post?), read below, and gaze upon some breathtaking photos of the region (thanks in large part to my good friend and wonderful photographer, Tony Pricor).
Generally, taste Patagonia from wherever you happen to be right now:
My favorite days in El Chalten hit a crescendo when we arrived to the glacial sources of the beautiful rivers and lakes of the region. I would unpack my lunch, pull out my Kindle, and while sitting on a warm rock with a glacier slowly dripping into the lake before me, I would read Psalm 104 (excerpts below):
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty...
5 He established the earth upon its foundations, So that it will not totter forever and ever.
6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains.
7 At Your rebuke they fled, At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
8 The mountains rose; the valleys sank down To the place which You established for them.
10 He sends forth springs in the valleys; They flow between the mountains;
11 They give drink to every beast of the field; The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; They lift up their voices among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.
14 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the labor of man, So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
15 And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.
19 He made the moon for the seasons; The sun knows the place of its setting.
24 O Lord, how many are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all; The earth is full of Your possessions...
27 They all wait for You To give them their food in due season.
28 You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
29 You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust.
30 You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground.
31 Let the glory of the Lord endure forever; Let the Lord be glad in His works;
32 He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
34 Let my meditation be pleasing to Him; As for me, I shall be glad in the Lord.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth And let the wicked be no more. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!