Caroline and her family spent a ten day Christmas holiday in Argentina. They travelled from stylish Buenos Aires to one of the most remote parts of Patagonia, taking in lakes, mountains and glaciers on the way
- from Buenos Aires to the Patagonian steppes
- crystal clear lakes and snow-capped mountains
- glacier-walking, hiking and kayaking
- wildlife-spotting and chocolate shopping!
Who went: Caroline, Sam, Sarah 18, Oliver 17, Victor 15
Where did you go and how did you get there: Caroline: “Sarah went to Buenos Aires on a gap year placement so we decided to join her at Christmas time for a family trip in Argentina. We flew from London Heathrow on BA/Iberia (via Madrid on the outward leg); Latin Odyssey organized our trip.
When: December 2014
Itinerary We flew into Buenos Aires, stayed one day then caught a 2 hour direct flight to Bariloche. After four days here we flew down to Lago Argentina El Calafate where we spent two days visiting the glaciers. Then we flew back to Peninsula Valdes for two days before returning to Buenos Aires.
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Lakes and mountains – Bariloche
Caroline: Bariloche is rather like a big Switzerland, very green with wonderful views from the peaks. It’s popular for hiking, canoeing and white water rafting and it’s where the Brazilians come to ski. As it lies on the eastern side of the Andes Bariloche is protected from rain – on the Chilean side the climate is very wet and tropical. It also happens to be the Argentinian capital of chocolate!
We stayed in the Aldebaran Hotel and Spa, a sweet lodge-style hotel that overlooks Lake Nahuel Huapi. It’s the same location as a much grander hotel but at a fraction of the price. The owners couldn’t be more helpful and it has very good regional cooking and a small inside/outside pool that we all enjoyed. Bariloche is quite a big area and it helped that we were staying in a place where we could ask for information and advice.
The hotel is located outside the town so we knew we’d need a car to get around – we arranged one in advance which was delivered and picked up from the door. (Nb. During our stay the car was burgled. It was locked so we don’t know how they got in but it was a warning to us – we lost a backpack but luckily we hadn’t left anything valuable inside.)
We stayed four days in Bariloche but could have easily spent a week there. The temperature, around 15 – 20 degrees, was just right and we did a lot of walking and exploring. We were all tired at the end of each day! Sarah and I took a chair lift up the nearest mountain (Sam and the boys walked up) and the views were breathtaking.
We went out kayaking with a guide recommended by the hotel. We paddled to a small island where we stopped for tea – plus cakes made by our guide’s mother. The outing turned out to be more adventurous than we’d expected as a wind blew up from nowhere and the lake, which had been smooth as glass when we set off, turned into rough seas. This was definitely the best part of the whole trip for Oliver but I was glad we had the guide with us.
We spent a little time on the lake’s beaches and took a walk to the waterfalls. Our best day out was a boat trip to the Parque Nacional Arrayanes and Victoria Island. Our first stop was Los Arrayanes to see the ancient and rare trees there.
Then we hopped back on the boat and continued to Victoria Island. Here we were left on our own for half a day to wander and explore the trails. We found a good picnic place and were entertained by the birds which came to eat our biscuits.
We followed the tracks between incredibly tall trees: sequoias, firs and pines.
The water around the island is amazingly clear and beautiful – so we were able to spot Oliver’s iPod straightaway when he dropped it in the lake…
All in all, Bariloche was very relaxing. Lakes, mountains and beautiful weather: you can’t go wrong.
Glacier walking – El Calafate
From Bariloche we flew down to El Calafate on the shore of Lago Argentina. It looks very cute…
…but there isn’t a great deal to do in the town itself; it’s very touristy and everything seems a bit of a rip-off. We stayed in a biggish modern hotel outside town, it had a shuttle service but there were queues so I wouldn’t really recommend it. The highlight of El Calafate for our family was the hot chocolate and mezzelunas.
For us the whole point of staying at El Calafate was to visit the glaciers of Los Glaciares National Park.
We stayed for two days and took two tours. The first was a full-day boat trip across the lake to view the icebergs and the Upsala glacier. The sea was calm so no-one was seasick and there was lots to see so no-one got bored, in fact it was a lot of fun. Although there was shelter inside the boat we spent most of the time on deck, it was tremendously windy but that was the best place to see what was going on.
When you first begin to pass pieces of ice in the sea everyone photographs them frantically….
…then you see bigger pieces of ice and you don’t have to use the zoom on your camera anymore…
…then you see the really huge pieces of ice – and at that point you go back and delete all the photos you took at the beginning of the trip.
The ice is beautiful and unexpectedly very blue and you can see – and hear – huge blocks crashing down into the water from the face of the glacier. The boat men fished out pieces of ice for us to hold…
…and we got very wet. Nb. spare trousers would have been useful.
It’s extremely windy on the boat – you need a good warm jacket
and if you wear a hat you need to be able to tie it on.
On the way back to the hotel after the boat trip we passed the Museum of Ice, a white building in the middle of nowhere. We asked the bus driver to drop us there and then caught the shuttle back to the hotel later.
The museum is worth a visit. It explains everything about the formation of the glaciers – and has some tips about the weather too…
The next day we visited Perito Moreno – the most spectacular glacier in the region. It’s a bit more than an hour’s drive away from El Calafate. There’s a network of walkways from which you can view the glacier and boats to take you up alongside it. You can actually walk on it too – if you book in advance to take a guided trip. We’d done this already through our tour operator when we planned the holiday.
One of the little shuttle boats took us to the foot of the glacier. From the deck of the boat you feel very small as the glacier rises above you…
It is really something!
The glacier is moving imperceptibly and occasionally you hear a big bang as a piece of it collapses into the water. As the boat draws closer you can see the erosion – and it looks impossible to walk on.
We got off the boat and walked across rocks to a little camp at the foot of the glacier. Here the guides help you to put on crampons.
They also give you gloves if you don’t have any and instruct you to walk in single file – you aren’t attached to each other but its very important to stay in line as there are ‘holes’. And so we set off.
It is an amazing sight and feeling, like walking on a lunar landscape – and there certainly are holes…
Some are bright blue…
You feel literally as if you are on top of the world.
You can drink the water…
but of course it’s very icy – Oliver very quickly got fed up of this particular photo opportunity!
At the end of the walk we had a picnic and a drink. There were options of two walks : two hours for over 18s or half an hour for families. We had to take the shorter one but in fact it was enough for all of us as it’s very physical. It was an unforgettable place to spend Christmas Day – and the highlight of the trip for Sam.
Fresh trout from the lake is the thing to eat for supper after a walk on the glacier! After this we flew on to Peninsula Valdes for our next stop.”
Argentina Family Trip
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For Part 2: Peninsula Valdes, the favourite location of wildlife photographers and documentary crew plus highlights of Buenos Aires click here.
Photos by Caroline and family, all rights reserved. Photos may not be reproduced without prior written consent.