Perito Moreno Glacier

When we arrived in El Calafate, we checked into our hotel and set off on foot. Thankfully we had lots of cold weather gear from hiking the Andes in Peru.  Let’s just say there’s a reason that an outdoor tough weather clothing company chose to call the company Patagonia…

From El Calafate, there’s a lot to do along the Chilean/Argentine border.  From trips to hike Fitz Roy to glacier climbing Perito Moreno, if the weather is nice it’s a great place to spend a week or two.  Unfortunately the weather was cold and windy when we were there, and although it was starting to look like spring, the warming temperatures made many of the hiking trails impassible (mud!) and the glacier walking a bit unsafe.

Fortunately we had a great time walking along the cross walks in front of the glacier.  It’s hard to get a scope for how big the glacier is- I’m still probably 100 m away from it.  As we stood at the overlooks watching the ice, which was a fabulous bright blue color, we saw chunks fall into the lake… thankfully the boats stayed back!

IF YOU GO: It is easiest to fly into El Calafate- we took a very long bus from the coast.  El Calafate is a tourist town, so expect prices to be higher than the rest of Argentina. Check out our Backpackers Guide to Argentina for quick tips and advice on traveling through Argentina.

Country Guide: Argentina

IMGP2855Argentina is a huge country with a plethora of things to do. Buenos Aires itself offers everything you might expect from a large, European city and serves as a wonderful gateway to the rest of the country. Iguazu Falls and the surrounding rainforests in the north, desert canyons in the northwest, wine in the center and the glaciers of the south ensure that there is something for all tastes. The fact that the Andes run the entire length of the country just adds to the splendor.


Budget: Argentina represents an incredible compromise between modern comforts and 3rd world pricing. One traveler described it as a 1st world country with 3rd world prices and although I don’t think that’s quite the case, some wealthy travelers may feel that way. Other places in South America (everything but Brazil and Chile) are much cheaper than Argentina but lack its charm and comfort. Truthfully I think there is something here for every budget, from $9/night dorm beds to $900 luxury hotels. ATMs are plentiful and changing money should never be a problem. As always, local restaurants are always cheaper than ones geared up for tourism.

Transportation: If you are spending a long time in Argentina you might find that renting a car can be an economical decision. For the two of us we couldn’t make the arithmetic pan out for the month or so we spent there but for a larger group, renting, or more time, buying used, will probably work in your favor.

That being said the bus system here is superb with plenty of comfortable options. Regular coach buses don’t exist, the worst you’ll be likely to find is semi-cama service which is like a standard coach but with more leg room and comfortable leg/foot rests. Cama is similar but with larger seat, only three to a row and then there is the executive/deluxe service which is comparable flying first class on an international airline. All classes generally include food and there is a 50% chance of the Hollywood movie being shown in English rather than Spanish. When covering large distances traveling by night may be your only option…so relax and enjoy the experience.

Planning: The seasons should play into your plan. If you are visiting in the winter months (May-Aug) then Patagonia and the far south are probably out of the question. A loop of the country can be done quite simply but be sure to allot plenty of time.

Buenos Aires: There is a lot to do here if your interested. Weekend markets abound and all are very close to one of the two main ice cream parlors. Museums, tango, nice meals, and historical hot spots are literally all over the place. If you’re in for the tourist thing, be sure to check out Florida Street, otherwise just spend some time mozying around and see what you find. Note that if flying into Buenos Aires there are two airports, one for international flights and one for domestic flights.

IMGP4999Igauzu Falls: Truly magnificent. Especially magnificent when the water is high and you can’t see everything. If the water is low, you can walk out across the water, which itself is a cool experience. If you don’t feel like walking into Brazil for the opposite view, don’t worry, everyone we met agreed that Argentina had the better view. Getting there might be a good reason to use an airplane but if going by bus Resitencia and the Chaco National Park can make a nice stopping point if coming or going to Salta in the northwest or even Buenos Aires and Cordoba.

IMGP5268North West: This land is beautiful. Go for a hike in the canyonlands of Juijui, go for a bike tour of the wine-lands of Cafayate, eat empenadas in Salta, or hit the river for some whitewater. Whatever you choose Salta is likely going to be your starting point for exploration in the area. Bus transportation to some of these smaller destinations can be difficult so if your short on time consider booking a Salta based tour or renting a car locally for a few days. This makes an excellent region for multi-day cycling but be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and water.

Cordoba: The best example of a Spanish colonial town, full of charm and history, in all of Argentina. Also the home of Che Guevarra. We decided to skip as we’d had our fill of colonial architecture already but if you’re looking for more this is the best place to go.

IMGP3004Mendoza: This wine producing region is a must see for many people, but I beg to differ. You can have a lot of fun riding around on a bicycle here sampling the wine but you might be surprised to note that a taste will often cost you 3 times what you’d pay for the bottle in the store not to mention the wines along the bike route aren’t exactly known for their excellence. That being said, you can have a lot of fun doing this if you’re with the right group of people and have the right attitude. There is also some class II-III whitewater in the area, but be sure to inquire about the river levels as they were a bit low when we were there.

San Juan: This is the jumping off point for tours to see Ischigualasto which features several interesting rock formations. This might be a must see if you’re a student of geology but if you aren’t you may find that the effort and money spent getting to the park may make the trip not worth it. You will be able to book tours from both San Juan and the park’s gateway towns but San Juan will charge you more in the end.

IMGP3134The Lake District: Bariloche is your main option here, filled with chocolate and coffee shops be prepared to enjoy this little taste of European dessert alongside the more traditional alfajore. The town is great place to practice kite-surfing or windsurfing on the lake, go for a day or multi-day hike, hit the trails with a nice mountain bike, or just take in the scenery. This is a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast and in the winter it is even a ski town. Prices here can run a bit high but deals can be had if you shop around a bit. San Martin is probably your other option and is generally considered to be an upmarket, and less crowded alternative.


Patagonia: There is a reason a clothing company calls themselves Patagonia…this is a foreboding, windswept, uninviting place. The trip south from Bariloche to the southern end of the continent is a long one and there are two ways to do it: go back toward the coast and down along the main road (boring) or with a tour along Ruta 40 through the Andes. If you take the Ruta 40 option you will cross into Chile in a few places and you will see beautiful scenery but don’t be fooled, most of your time will be spent in the car. These trips do not begin until mid-November and usually run until around March.

IMGP3134El Calafate: The reason to go here is to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier and possibly El Chaten as well. El Calafate is a tourist town and only is open in the summertime. Once in town it is simple to arrange for a tour to the glacier but if you are with a group of 4 or more people you can save a few dollars on entrance by taking a taxi or a car rental into the park before the gate is open. The glacier itself is rather impressive and if this is your only sighting of one you will probably enjoy the boat ride to get closer as well. Adventure treks on the glacier are available as well but can be costly. Be advised that one trekker said it felt as though they were just walking on snow. You can also fly between Calafate and Bariloche with several airlines for about double the price of two days spent in the bus going via the coast and Rio Gallegos. It is very simple affair to hop on a bus here in Calafate for the ride to the Chillean Tierra del Fuego

Ushuaia: If you’re looking to go to Ushuaia its likely for one of two reasons: bragging rights or a cruise to Antarctica. Either way you won’t find much there besides a place to have your passport stamped with the words fin del mundo but save your money on Penguin viewing for Punta Tombo near Peninsula Valdez.

IMGP6384Peninsula Valdez: This is the oceanographer’s dream. Guaranteed sightings of the Southern Right Whale, beautiful scenery filled with elephant seals and sea lions, and the chance to see an Orca Whale swim up on the beach as part of a wave and snatch one up for the kill. Take a day to head down to Punta Tombo for more penguins walking around you than you would have ever thought possible.

Foodie Friday: Perrito Caliente

Sure, yesterday was thanksgiving and we made  it back to the States in time to celebrate but featuring turkey just doesn’t seem right to us, given that it is virtually impossible to find anywhere south of the border.  Instead, in honor of Turkey Day, we figured we’d offer our readers a taste of another USA treat.  One we know and love that just hasn’t been the same south of the border: the hot dog.

There is an expression sometimes uttered in Washington, that the two things you never want to see made: sausages and  laws.  I don’t disagree.  So we’ll skip the creation process of these encased little snacks and instead focus on the different varieties we’ve tasted.

Guatemala– the rather tasteless cheveres scared us a bit and we generally shied away.  Only available after dark on the street they always smelled a bit foul and the fixins were never particularly appetizing.

Colombia– we had our first taste of the South American version of the hot dog, where it was actually called a perrito caliente (little hot dog).  It was smothered in smashed up plantain or potato chips, doused with an army of sauces and covered with onions.  The chips were really what separated it from the NYC variety, that and that in Colombia the one we had was microwaved instead of flame cooked or boiled in water. 

Brazil– I don’t remember what they called it, but we ate it at a stand in Cuiaba. It was on a toasted bun with cheese, ham, hot dog, lettuce, ketchup, mayo, crunchie fries and tomato.  It was by far the greasiest piece of meat we’ve eaten in our entire lives.  We felt sick afterwards.

Bolivia– Instead of just a hot dog, Bolivia is a fan of salchipapas (also common in Peru), cut up hot dog on french fries.  The hot dog isn’t the highlight, but with all that grease on one plate, it can’t taste bad.  Plus, they always had ketchup.  Yum.

Argentina- had in my opinion, the most fun with the hot dog called a Super PanchoIn these the dog was usually about a foot long, if not longer, and didn’t come close to fitting inside the bun.  The number of sauces piled on top (ketchup, mustard, mayo, golf sauce) is rather unsettling and these are almost never sold in street side stands and instead are sold in small Super Pancho shops.  The best part is that like Colombia and Brazil, crunchy potato sticks are put all over the top.

Chile- very similar to Argentina except that the sauces we tried were all… unsettling.  Also called a pancho, and the one we tried in Santiago, well we did have video, but trust us you wouldn’t want to see it.

In truth though, nothing comes close to a good Sabrett or Hebrew National dog from a NYC vendor, covered in ketchup (a rarity anywhere but the USA) mustard, onions, relish, and maybe some onions and if you’re really lucky some chili sauce.  In fact, just thinking about the late night dogs we used to get in college from Manouch has me salivating.  Washington, D.C.’s specialty is the half-smoke, a plump and short spicy beef dog served on a plain bun or better yet at Ben’s served smothered in chili.  Since we haven’t been up to New York (or even Washington, DC) in awhile we had to ask a friend to fine one to enjoy for us…it wasn’t too difficult to convince him to do it though.

(Jill’s Editors Note: Danny was raised by a New Yorker, so he’s completely biased. This post is clearly wrong.  He has left our the best hot dog on the planet- the Chicago Char-Dog.  A char-broiled beef delight covered in ketchup, mustard, onions and kosher dill slices served on a poppy seed bun. Hmm… it just makes my mouth water. Anyone know where I can get one of these on the east coast before mid-december?)

In Search of Orca, the Sea Wolf

Yes, that’s what the name Orca is derived from…sea wolf. It was once believed that Orcas were descendents of wolves that had gone to the sea. For quite some time now I have counted these amazing creatures as my favorite animal and ever since seeing them snatch a living seal off of a Patagonian beach on the BBC’s Planet Earth last year…well, I wanted to see it for myself.

And that is just one of the many reasons we found ourselves finishing off our trip in Peninsula Valdez and the little town of Puerto Madryn in Patagonia. Having already headed to Punto Tombo the day prior it was time to head to Peninsula Valdez to see basically everything else: sea lions, elephant seals, more penguins, the southern right whale, and of course my friend the Orca.

The first stop was the proper whale watch for the Southern Right Whale (Ballena Franca Austral) where whale sightings were virtually guaranteed. We were a bit hesitant to even go on the trip because no boat trip could ever really beat how we started 8 months ago in Mexico but we ultimately signed on and really enjoyed ourselves. We saw a number of whales breach and several came quite close to the boat, nearly close enough to touch although not quite there. We watched as the seagulls tried to eat the skin off the babies and as their mothers taught them to dive to get away. I think the best part was seeing how many Southern Right Whales there are as its Northern brother was all but obliterated by commercial whaling. In fact the name “right whale” is derived from those days when the sailors would ask each other if they got the right whale or the wrong whale.

After that our group knew it was time to search for some Orcas. The Orcas that live here off the coast of Argentina are the only ones in the world that have developed this practice of eating seals as they “roast” on the beach and there are only a handful of places where this normally takes place. As luck would have it though, this is not the season for them to do this and we were warned by virtually everyone that we wouldn’t get to see the hunting Orcas. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t try…

We went to one lookout along the first of the two beaches, all we found there were more penguins. The second lookout, lots of roasting seals. The third, more of the same.  No Orcas but we did see plenty of seals which was even a bit upsetting in itself. I’m not so sure that we have seen an uglier animal than the elephant seal on this entire trip…and we’ve seen a ton of wildlife.

Alas there were no orcas and no seal feasts. Maybe next time….

Foodie Friday: Carne, Carne, Carne!

This is our last foodie friday in South America so we should probably dedicate it to something we can’t escape here in Argentina- red meat. For most of latin america red meat is prohibitively expensive for the general population, so we’ve been eating mostly chicken and when we can find it, fish. That was until we got to Argentina. Now we can’t find fish.

Argentina is like heaven for red meat lovers. It’s delicious, available everywhere and very inexpensive. At every restaurant from the five stars to the local diner, red meat is on the menu in a list that would make even the top US steakhouses jealous. Cut after cut, which is usually translated as something different on every menu, the steak usually comes by itself, simply prepared with even salt or pepper. Every dining establishment has a steak sandwich (lomito sandwich) on the menu, and trust us, its delicious even at the bus station.

A “bife de chorizo”, which no lie is usually about 14 ounces or more of steak usually runs less than $10, and as you can imagine its enough food for an entire day. After more than a six weeks in Argentina and Chile we’ve had our full of steak, but we just can’t get away from it. I kid you not, Danny’s been looking for trout or salmon at every restaurant for the last three weeks and he’s only had salmon once…and that was in Chile. We just can’t get away from red meat.

When Danny’s parents came to visit us, his Dad made it a mission to eat steak at lunch and dinner every day. Not that its hard to do, but after a few days he had us all begging for chicken or a salad. Imagine what we feel like after six weeks! I’m certainly not complaining, I’m a red meat person myself, but every once in a while a girl needs a salad or a grilled chicken breast just to balance things out. Our cholesterol and weight probably don’t appreciate Argentina, but our palates certainly do. You can bet that once we leave I won’t be ordering a steak for a while.