Cynthia Blair Kane goes off the beaten track to explore some of Argentina’s most inspirational trails.
We all know that what makes us put on our hiking boots and tie up our laces isn’t the act of putting one foot in front of the other, rather the experience of being surrounded by the phenomena that is the natural world. So imagine walking pristine dirt paths, then rounding a rugged ridge to come across glistening lakes and vast expanses of untouched wilderness. And what if I told you that some of these paths are located only minutes from one of the most celebrated wine regions in the world. Or, if I mentioned they have only been accessible for less than 30 years as a result of a border dispute with the neighboring country of Chile.
Taking things to extremes, some of these new routes are even ice-bound, located at the world’s southernmost city where ships depart for Antarctica. Not quite your average hikes, right? What else would you expect in Argentina, a country of superlatives. Here’s a selection of my favorites: Tupungato, El Calafate, El Chalten, and Ushuaia, wild places where you can find solitude and natural splendor on some of the world’s most inspirational trails.
Travel an hour and forty-five minutes southwest of Mendoza and enter the picturesque Uco Valley. The growing numbers of vineyards and wineries have guidebooks relegating this gem of an area to day-trip status, and believe it or not, for hikers this label is good. Why? Because most people come out for the day to sample wine or for a six-course meal, but don’t stick around long enough to do much of anything else, which means the trails aren’t crowded and the scenery untouched.
The Parque Provincial Tupungato was founded in 1985 to preserve not only the extinct volcano of El Cerro Tupungato (6.810m /22,342ft), but also the surrounding rivers, glaciers, valleys, and peaks. On offer here are a slew of treks and multi-day excursions, plus it’s possible to do some horseback riding. Although the park is a great option, I’d recommend something a bit different for those who want to explore less visited areas of the Andes. Down route 89 and off of route 94 is full access to the celebrated mountain range. Here there aren’t many if any tourists, so this is more local hiking, which has a ‘create your own feel’ to it. My boyfriend and I went for a three-hour hike where we saw beautiful views of Cerro Punta Negra (5.553m / 18,218 ft) and Cerro San Pedro (2.655m / 8,710 ft) and were the only ones on the trails.
Where to stay: Tupungato Divino
Hiking in El Calafate is mostly done on the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is inside Parque Nacional los Glaciares. What makes this glacier special is that it’s so easy to access (185m /606ft above sea level and only 80km/49miles away from El Calafate). Although you can visit the glacier on your own, if you’d like to traverse it, it’s best to come out with a guide. Hostels affiliated with Hostel International have recommended tours that include a mini trek or big ice. The mini trek is two hours of walking and the big ice is a total of seven hours.
We opted for the mini trek and were picked up in the morning and brought to the glacier balconies. We spent an hour walking the maze of boardwalks and viewing the glacier in all its glory. After lunch we shuttled to a boat where we crossed Lago Argentino, passing by the face of the glacier. On the other side we met our guide and got our crampons. On the walk we saw ice formations, navigated crevasses and small blue pools all while learning about glaciology. The mini trek was easy, not strenuous at all. Before we finished we were rewarded with Alfajores, which are Argentinean cookies with chocolate and Dulce de leche, and a nice pour of Jameson on glacial ice. Can’t say it gets better than that!
Where to stay: Hosteria Hainen
Founded in 1985, El Chalten is located at the foot of the towering Fitz Roy Mountain (3.405m / 11,171 ft) and is part of the Parque Nacional los Glaciares. This small village is a hiker’s paradise, offering shorter walks from 2-7km/ 1-4miles and more strenuous hikes from 14-37km / 8-22miles. Declared the trekking capital of Argentina, the trails here are well maintained and super easy to navigate. An amazing perk, especially on the longer treks, is that all the water within the park is portable. The most popular hikes are to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy and to Laguna Torre. The wind here is serious and it’s important to have the right equipment as you go up into the mountains. There are many places to rent jackets and pants. One that stood out was Patagonia Hikes. Note that the weather can be unpredictable so I’d recommend staying in town at least two to three days.
Where to stay: Nothofagus Bed & Breakfast
What better way to experience the flora and fauna of the southernmost point before hitting Antarctica then with some day hikes? A half an hour ride from Ushuaia is the Tierra del Fuego National Park. Created in 1960, the park is 63 hectares of protected lakes, rivers, peat bogs, forests, and deep valleys. There are a handful of routes to choose from, but for stunning views of the Beagle Channel, Lapataia Bay and neighboring Chile I’d recommend the Costera Trail. It is an 8km/5 mile hike that is low intermediate. The terrain travels in and out of evergreen beech and winters bark forests. The most easily spotted animals along the way are the Fuegan Red Fox, small rodents like rabbits and beavers or musk rats, Southern Sea-otters and listen for the Magellanic woodpecker. There is a post office located at the beginning of this hike that is known as the post office at the end of the world, so be sure to bring postcards!
Where to stay: Galeazzi-Basily B&B
Cynthia Blair Kane loves to hike around the world and write about her experiences. She is the co-author of Take a Hike: The Best 50 Routes in the Community of Madrid (Ediciones la Librería, May 2011) and is currently planning her next adventure. More information about Cynthia at cynthiablairkane.com. Photos by Bryan Segraves.