El Calafate is one of the most accessible towns in terms of airport, buses and, despite our expectations, it is an interesting place to spend several days. Apart from taking a walk around the alpine style streets and eating cerdero patagónico (the meat is lamb), you could cook a thing or two with products from the store or visit small hotels and hostels in search of views until the sun sets (yesterday it set at 10 o’clock). While the long and late sunsets keep you awake, during the long days you can enjoy things, which are a walking or driving distance away from El Calafate.
1. Nimez Lagoon
НTwenty minutes away from the center this reserve is the best way to see hundreds of bird species. The 2-kilometer path leads to two small lagoons from where you can observe the birds. You can also reach the entrance to the beach of Argentino Lake. It is a bright blue delight, which can be seen from the road to El Calafate. Lago Argentino is the biggest freshwater lake in Argentina and it supplies the Argentineans with all kinds of trouts and other delicious fish. However, to us it remains the most beautiful blue color, which catches the eye in the steppe of Santa Cruz Province.
And so, birds, lake, lagoons…a nice walk for a few hours and the ticket of 70 pesos for foreigners is valid for a week, You’ll need that long to take photos of all the birds. And be careful not to step on any of their eggs.
2. El Calafate might be no higher than 200 m above sea level, but there is a mountain behind it!
When you climb to 1000+ m the climate changes, the steppe makes way for the desert. The landscape is suitable for a movie like “Lord of the Rings” or a ultramarathon. This area is also called the Balconies of Calafate. The strong wind there changed our plans. We didn’t go up by the lift, but took a 4×4 truck. We were told that during the winter there is no wind. But now it is summer and the situation was different, on several occasions the wind could knock you off your feet. And we are traveling by ATV… we pitied the cyclists, but at least they were going downhill and maybe the wind wasn’t as strong there.
Huge natural formations of rocks and chiseled rocks alternated with driving along ridges with views of the sparkling Argentino Lake. It was hard to decide which way to look or lean on because it was hard to stay on the road. I could lose my helmet along with my head. It was an extreme experience, an hour passed without us noticing it. We were putting the pedal down on some turns, which the wind didn’t want us to make. The goal of our sports activity was Cerro Huyliche, a windy cabin, but at least they warmed us with hot chocolate and served us muffins. There was no way we could go back by lift, but the truck made it through a steep and winding road, something like the local version of Ruta de la Muerte. Due to the bad weather we got two trips instead of one.
3. Horse riding
The gauchos with their horses and big houses, decorated with sheepskin, have a lot to offer. Previous experience is not needed, but it is good to know how to halt the horse. It is needed in case you get some rebellious caballo blanco that prefers to graze until a gaucho winks at it and it becomes the fastest horse. You just mount it with as little thinking as possible.
The views are worth it – we pass through the steppe, the sand around the huge Argentino Lake and we see the mountain. We even manage to outrun the strong wind, especially when the horses are well motivated. Two hours pass unnoticeably. On the way back we played a game of hitting a nail with a ring on a rope and we eat sweet bread.
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