You are ten years old. Standing at the edge of the diving board. Scared of jumping off. But enticed by the joy of that first splash of water, as you dive into the swimming pool.
Our thoughts were similar to the ten-year-old’s, as we decided whether or not to take the plunge. We had two options (like always, in life) – go north or go south. North would still give us a taste of the Andes. It would be “south-enough”, and make no mistake, cold enough as well.
South, on the other hand, meant going head on – at the peak of the southern hemisphere winter – into deep Patagonia. At kissing distance from the white continent of Antarctica. There would be no turning back from here. Enquiring how cold it would be was pointless. We had no previous parameters to compare it with. We were, to be honest, petrified of the winter.
We don’t know when we’ll be back here – sounded like a profound enough reason. We chose South. We would be visiting Patagonia in winter!
Our fear of the winter was validated on our first day in Santa Cruz. This is the state to which El Calafate, where we were headed, belongs. Our bus was stopped here for some paperwork. It was 2 PM, the time of the day we had so far associated with the warmest weather. The policemen outside, covered from head to toe, only their eyes visible through the thin slits between their huge mufflers and caps were puffing out clouds of mist with each word they spoke.
At the unearthly hour of 1.30 AM, when the bus reached El Calafate, we were dreading getting out. The stillness of the night seemed to elevate the cold. The wind sounded like the devil of a horror movie. It was alright being pulled by an explicable force, and getting to El Calafate to explore Patagonia in the winter. “Explore” was the key word here, and it meant stepping out. On that first night in El Calafate, we had no idea how we were going to do that!
A warm dorm, warm shower and a warm bed soothed our nerves. We decided to give El Calafate a shot in a new light of a new day.
El Calafate is your typical little “tourist village” in Patagonia
Yes, El Calafate is an entry point for deep Patagonia from the Argentina side. And Patagonia, in our mind was all things wild and natural. We had almost imagined a mountain side hostel surrounded by a forest.
To our surprise, El Calafate was anything but wild. The “main street” (yes, there was a main street which gave way to hotels, hostels and more hotels – no homes here!) was lined with warm and cosy looking stores. All made in wood. Selling the kind of stuff that serves no particular purpose. Something that is bought only when people are on a holiday high!
Our favourite part of the market were the restaurants. Emanating smells of asado, especially of the Patagonian lamb. The lamb is a special delicacy here. Steak to stew, it is served in every form and is just as delicious.
Apart from the food, there wasn’t much that held our interest in the El Calafate market. So when we saw a board saying bicycles on rent, we decided to check it out.
To cycle or not in El Calafate
We hadn’t cycled much (at all, actually!) since our college years. This would be our first time on geared bicycles. The weather forecast had said rains were likely. The guy at our hostel had translated this forecast to the local Patagonian lingo. “Be prepared for snow”, he had warned us.
For sure, the guy at the bicycle store who helped us choose the bikes had refused to charge us for the six-hour package. “You will not be able to stay outdoors that long, I don’t want to overcharge you”, he had confidently told us.
With this kind of encouragement, cycling around the lake Argentino sounded like a perfect plan! (Well, we had chosen to visit Patagonia in the winter. What was the point in shying away from some adventure, we reasoned!).
A fall and a crash into a parked car later, we had our bikes finalised. “See you in the evening”, we told the bike guy. “See you in a couple of hours” was the look with which he waved back.
El Calafate, lake Argentino and two ducks
The El Calafate municipality has built a paved road around the lake Argentino. This made our cycling experience a joy ride. The seven layers we were buried in, made us feel huge, but snug. The smooth ride had started to warm us up.
There were no shops or hotels around anymore. Just some fluorescent houses, adding a pop of colour to the greyness around. Near El Calafate, the lake started off as a lagoon. A flock of Andean flamingoes with their yellow beaks (a southern hemisphere characteristic) greeted us.
The houses receded as we moved away from El Calafate. Would there be people inside, we wondered. Would they have gathered around a fireplace, reading a book? Watching TV and sipping a hot drink warming them from the inside? Is this how people who lived in these hardly inhabited cold regions spent their time? Did they romanticise the remoteness of their lives, as we did, gliding across the lake that was a part of their daily lives?
Off the road we went, up a hillock. Turned out, this was the real local El Calafate. Away from the tourist market, we saw the real face of El Calafate here. Each house had huge mountain dogs guarding it. Some even chased us on our cycles! The “road” here was covered in sludge. We couldn’t make much of a higher ground and missed the golden light opportunity.
But we could now say, we had cycled to the far corner of the earth!
The lone warrior Perito Moreno: the real reason for coming to El Calafate
We had first heard of a glacier called Perito Moreno from our Couchsurfing guest. In the pictures that she showed us, the humongous Perito Moreno hadn’t looked like any of the glaciers we had seen earlier. The photo had stayed in minds since. “The only growing glacier in the world resides in Patagonia – the largest cover of snow in the world after Antarctica and Siberia” – our research on Perito Moreno had come up with these glorious findings.
You start when it is still dark. A bus takes you to the Los Glaciares National Park. You are now surrounded by the monstrous Andes mountain range. These Andes are now following you on both sides of the road; some of them are even Chilean! There is fresh snow on the sides of the roads.
Every once in a while, the Perito Moreno glacier gives proof of its growing nature. As it moves ahead and hits the barrier, parts of the glacier come tumbling down and hits the lake with a thud. The sound we heard was louder than the loudest fireworks we had heard so far. The ripples caused took a long time to pacify, making the lake around resemble the sea!
We felt enamoured and dwarfed by the Perito Moreno glacier. We had witnessed the most glorious representative of nature’s ultimate supremacy.
We now began to comprehend the overpowering pull that had compelled us to choose South. That had made us decide to visit Patagonia in winter. Yes, we had missed the treks and walks Patagonia is fondly known for. Someday in the future, we may even return in the Patagonian summer.
Until then, in our hearts, we will hold this visit to Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Patagonia as our privilege.
How do you get to “deep Patagonia”?
- El Calafate, 1400 km away is a 32-hour journey in the winter from Puerto Madryn.
- Other times of the year, it is accessible via Ruta 40, the national highway of Argentina which goes through the Andes mountains. However, in the winter months Ruta 40 is closed for traffic.
- You travel through the coastal highway via Commodore Rivadavia all the way south to Rio Gallegos.
- After a change of bus at Rio Gallegos, you cross over from the East to the West. Nestled in the middle of the Andes, is a tourist village of El Calafate.
Top tips for visiting El Calafate and deep Patagonia
- In the summer months, trekking on the Perito Moreno is possible. The trekking company arranges for crampons needed to walk on the ice there. Moderate fitness levels are necessary to participate in this trek.
- El Chalten is to the north of El Calafate. The companies which conduct tours to El Calafate also offer a combined tour to El Chalten.
- This is especially for Indian passport holders (or travelers who need a visa to visit Chile). If you plan to visit Ushuaia by road, you will need a visa for Chile. The state of Tiera del Fuego to which Ushuaia belongs is across a strait which is shared by Argentina and Chile. When going overland, the bus gets on a Chilean boat which goes through Chilean waters. Which means Chile asks for a visa from Indians to go to the Argentinian city of Ushuaia. Most people couldn’t believe we needed a visa to go from Argentina to Argentina. One of the guys at the bus company actually made five phone calls to his final call being to the border police! We heard him say “transito! transito!” several times, his body language indicating it was a ridiculous rule. But a rule it is and there isn’t much anyone can do.
- Winter is the off season for Patagonia. Many activities will be closed for the winter. There are still plenty of options for things to do if you visit Patagonia in winter.
- The weather in Patagonia in winter obviously severely cold. But with appropriate warm clothes, the cold is manageable.
68 thoughts on “How crazy is a visit to Patagonia in winter?”
Very exciting experience; thank you!
Did you do Fitz Roy trail during your trip?
I am planning on visiting El Calafate in July this year. You mentioned that there were many tours available in Puerto Madryn, but were there still tours, hiking, and activities to do in El Calafate during that time? Thanks!
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Hi Sandeepa, I was just wondering which month you went to Patagonia? Was it only El Calafate you went to? I’m planning on flying from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, then making my way back up towards the Chilean Lake District, but I’m unsure how possible that is in Winter. I will be there next May.
Hey Adam, we were in El Calafate in July. We travelled by road from Buenos Aires to Puerto Madryn-El Calafate-Bariloche. We didn’t have a visa for Chile (which you need on an Indian passport – even to go to Ushuaia by bus) so didn’t travel through the Chilean Patagonia. Sorry, no idea about that part 🙁 Ruta 40 was closed and we had to go via Rio Gallegos. Don’t know if this helps in any way.
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hello, I am a solo traveller and I will travel from Peru to Argentina. I don’t want to go to Buenos Aires but straight to El Calafate. Will I be able to organise things at this time of the year? Many thanks for your reply! Kate
PS: I will be there in September !!:)
Hello Kate, do you mean you want to go overland from Peru directly to El Calafate or take a flight? Going overland – and if you’re travelling long-term in South America, it’s possible – you cross over into Bolivia (via Copacabana) and then into Argentina through the Villazon-La Quiaca border crossing. Then travel straight down to Patagonia and El Calafate. However, if you mean taking a flight from Peru to el Calafate, I don’t think you can bypass Buenos Aires. From what we know all the flights do go via BsAs.
Hello, yea, I meant to go directly by flight, but it is not possible. Also, I wanted to ask if I will be able to find activities/accommodation in September as it is early spring. I think I won’t have problems, right?
Yeah, that’s just before the season starts getting busy, a good shoulder season time.
Very nice article. I went to see Perito Moreno last week. I wish I’d read the article before I went to see the glacier. It’s one of those few places I’ve seen where the place is actually better than the pictures. Also did a mini trek on the glacier which was an amazing experience. Overall, it was experience of a lifetime. Cant wait to visit Patagonia in the summers, possibly go for an Antarctica cruise.
The mini treks on the Perito Moreno glacier have opened up in August? That’s good to know.
Yes, the mini trek opens in August but the big ice trek open much later, probably November.
Hey! Love the article. Can you tell me what cold weather gear you guys had with you? Coats/Gloves/Jumpers/Thermals. Heading to Patagonia in August 2017 (winter!) and want to check what I need to bring to stay warm! Thanks xx
In El Calafate, particularly when we visited the Perito Moreno glacier, we had worn a layer of thermals, 2/3 layers of T-shirts, a sweater and a jacket. A rain cheater was the last layer. Sweaters were from Quechua. Jackets, we had bought from a Feria Americano (second-hand stores) from Buenos Aires. Woollen caps, woollen gloves and woollen socks. Thankfully, it wasn’t as windy there so this was sufficient fortification 🙂
Where all are you visiting in Patagonia? The trip for sure’ll be a glorious one! Happy travels!
This is by far the best information I have found and read on travel to Patagonia more particularly on el calafate in winter!!! Congratulations on your endeavours and may you grow from strength to strength.
Great post, accurately informative with striking pictures. Added this place to my bucket list, hope to visit soon. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Hey just seen your episode on Zee news ,you are really inspirational for young india who wants to do something different than others…
You have not covered Brasilia in Brazil andCape Horn and Free Port -southern most village in the world-/in Chile.
Hello Dr Sundaram, it is always better to leave something for the “next time”! Thank you for writing to us and Happy travels!
Which month exactly did you go? July/August? I am having a hard time finding information about visiting Perito Moreno Glacier in winter. Everyone says the shuttle bus don’t operate in winter from El Calafate -> Perito Moreno Glacier. But it seems that you took a bus and then the boat. Or was it a private tour? If yes, which one? Maybe you can help 🙂 🙂 Thanks, Mike
Hey Mike, those were the doubts we had before we headed to Patagonia. However, once we got there we realised that many tour options were available even in the winter. The whale watching tours and snorkelling with the sea lions are activities carried out even in the winter in Puerto Madryn. For the Perito Moreno glacier, we took the regular bus which takes passengers from El Calafate bus stand and back. The boat rides to the glacier were also operational. In fact, they even had a Perito Moreno+ El Chalten combined tour option, which we didn’t take. But met people who did and they had enjoyed themselves. Of course, the trek on the glacier and other extensive trekking options around Chalten might be limited than the ones you have in summer. But we were glad we visited Patagonia, even in the winter. And yes, we went in July. Happy travels!
Great write up and nice photos too 🙂
Its on my to do list!
Thanks, kris! Patagonia is just awesome!
What a beautiful place ! You have captured the sweeping landscapes very well ! 🙂
Hey Puru, thank you so much! Patagonia mesmerised us, glad it’s coming out in the photos!
Beautiful captures!. This is so beautiful and inspiring. I just loved this post. Thanks for sharing this.
beautiful it was…….. i am so inspired. i really want to be there someday.
Hello Deepali, glad to know your found our Patagonia travel story inspiring! Best wishes for making your travel dreams a reality!
I just loved this post guys! Absolutely wonderful and inspiring…I need to go here as well 🙂 🙂 🙂
Hey Sid, always a delight hearing from you! We are certain we will be reading stories of your Patagonia travels someday! It is a special place…(It took me a long time to finish this comment because just reading the word “Patagonia” makes me start thinking of our time there :))
Great pictures and I had not heard about this location before I read your blog . Keep up the good work
You are brave! Great captures… rewards of such a wonderful trip.
CANNOT take my eyes off the pictures! Absolutely stunning! Its difficult for me to decide what I love more about your blog, the pictures or the destinations you choose! 🙂 Lovely!
Patagonia did that to us, it had felt unreal when we first saw the pictures. After traveling through Patagonia, it still feels unreal! Thank you for your comment, Divsi!
Awesome pictures and great account, happy you chose south 🙂 I had felt the same when in November I went to Norway 🙂
Thank you, Shweta! We too are glad that we chose to go South into deep Patagonia. Norway in November! Whoa!! After having visited Patagonia in winter, can try to imagine what Norway must be in November!
Namaskar Mitranno, Your life is really amazing! I just gone through your site and its amazing journey…Enjoy life..! I just want to say [( YOU ARE THE REAL INSPIRATION FOR ALL PEOPLE LIKE ME, HAD DREAM TO TRAVEL WHOLE WORLD)] (but busy in ”duniyadari”)…………..(Now I can say, will see you some day at any best place on earth) – Shrikant Vitthal Shingate, A/P Mardhe, SATARA. – Thanks.
Hello Shrikant, thank you so much for your kind words. We hope you are able to create more travel opportunities for yourself in the future.
And i am so glad you chose South… these breathtaking pictures are totally worth it…… the stuff we only see on foreign TV channels …. keep traveling..
We too were glad that we chose South, Patagonia esp in the winter is the stuff dreams are made of! We are glad we didn’t miss out on the chance to see this beauty of our planet!
Your pictures speak a thousand words. And to complement that, there is a beautiful write-up. Great stuff
Thank you so much, Priyanshu! Patagonia is a wonder we were blessed to witness.
Beautifuuly written. I felt as if I had been transported to Patagonia!!
Thank you so much, Priya for saying that!
looks wonderful 🙂
Oh, it IS! 🙂
This is an amazing post – I could feel myself being there. The shots are fabulous and the pristine stark beauty is beyond words.
Thank you so much, Shubhodeep! Patagonia, especially the Perito Moreno glacier had this exact same effect on us! We were left speechless and in awe!
You guys are amazing. Love reading your blog
Thank you so much, Reshma!
Beautiful post. I actually felt the chill and cold of the place.
Patagonia even looks cold, doesn’t it?
Breathtaking views and amazing photographs! Thanks for a wonderful virtual tour. 🙂
The pleasure is ours, Moon! Thank you for your comment!
Wow, Wow, Wow! That glacier!!
I’m literally tongue-tied just seeing the pictures. I can imagine how you guys felt being there. I’m sure this was a trip like no other. Thank you for braving the cold and bringing back these breathtakingly beautiful pictures. Thank you so, so, much.
We still can not believe we have seen something as majestic as the Perito Moreno glacier with our own eyes. It still feels unreal! And you are right, it was a remarkably special trip.
Nice to read, Amazing photos.
Thank you, Rupam!
Beautiful post! Your posts invariably stand out because of the additional element od adventure….
Thank you! Patagonia is an air of adventure around it!
Beautiful captures! Is it part of torres del paine?
Torres del Paine is on the Chilean side of Patagonia. El Calafate and the Perito Moreno glacier is on the Argentinian side of Patagonia.
can you please tell me how much it costs for this trip tentative i plan to visit this place
Hello Saikiran, are you asking about the cost to visit Patagonia from within Argentina? Are you planning to visit/ already in Argentina or South America? Or asking about the cost of visiting from India?
thank you for your reply i wana know how much does itcost of visiting from India to patagoina, really mesmerized with pics u have posted such a beautiful place i wana vist this place in december
I have a lung condition (bronchiectasis). Any idea if a trip to el calafate in winter as you have is going to aggravate the condition? Have you heard anything about the cold negatively affecting asthmatics for example?
I would also like to know the availability of halal foods in el calafate although halal friendly would do.