Argentinian Patagonia is largely defined as the land south of the Rio Negro. Its natural characteristics include dramatic mountains, teal blue lakes, mesmerising glaciers and uniquely specific flora and fauna. Los Glaciares National Park ensures protection of the southern ice field with star attractions Lake Argentino, the towering Mount Fitz Roy massif and Perito Merino glacier to be included on every Patagonian itinerary.
At 30 kilometres wide and up to 254 square kilometres, Perito Merino covers a greater area than the entire city of Buenos Aires. Set against the backdrop of the Andes mountain range, it is one of only a few glaciers in the world that is advancing, rather than retreating, meaning it is continuously pushing forward masses of ice, causing the accumulation, rupture and detachment of these gigantic sheets.
The best way to explore the glacier is by crampon hiking. Slowly made our way to higher ground, pausing to admire the awe-inspiring scenery, or to crouch down deep into an electric blue ice cave to fill my water bottle from the pure glacial water it held.
Aside from the sound of our spikes digging into the hard ice as we climbed, and the occasional exclamation of wonder from within the group, the only sound was a low rumble in the distance as massive chunks of ice fell off the side of the larger-than-life glacier we stood on, creating a roar as they tumbled into the lake below.
Staying on a remote and beautiful estancia near Lago Argentino will mean meeting the families who’ve been settled here for generations, and drinking mate tea with them and some of Argentina’s most skilled horsemen, the gaucho – whose traditions have inspired poetry and novels throughout the centuries.
Alternately, El Calafate just 40km from National Park Los Glaciares, is an attractive and vibey city and at the epicentre of almost every activity on offer in the region. With a population of more than 4000 inhabitants, it sees an influx of outdoor enthusiasts double its numbers each year.
The South Atlantic teems with marine life. Southern right whales can be seen calving here in season, with pods of orcas, elephant seals, sea lions and fur seals to be seen all year. Nature rarely fails to impress, but in this spectacular part of the world, it really outdoes itself.
Happy memories of a day spent crampon hiking on the Perito Merino glacier.
Rock Art at Cueva de las Manos
Las Cueva de las Manos or the Cave of Hands about 165km south of Perito Moreno is accessible only by long dirt roads. This is where in 1972 in overhanging caves archaeologists found 10,000-year-old artwork. There are three distinct styles noted, believed to be created by different peoples at different time periods, the highlight being the hundreds of stencilled handprints and galloping guanacos.
Everything that Patagonia is can be gleaned from the gaucho. At once raw but majestic, serene until not, beautiful yet callused, dignified while disenfranchised, timeless but threatened. ― Knowmad Adventures
Some gaucho cowboy activities on the beautiful estancia we stayed at.
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.