February 20, 2018
We had arranged our bus transport through the tour company and had a 7AM departure out of Puerto Natales. The bus station doesn’t open until 6:30 so there is no reason to get there any earlier. When we arrived our tickets were waiting for us at the ticket counter.
It’s an hour drive to the Chile-Argentina border, just a short ways past the turn off for Torres del Paine National Park. At the border you first have to queue at the Chilean side of the border to pass Chile passport control. Make sure you still have the piece of paper they gave you when you entered the country. The bus then drives a short distance to the Argentinian side where you go through the same process. Should take about an hour at each passport control office.
This is big sky country, rolling grassland against a backdrop of majestic buttes and clear blue skies streaked with various cloud formations that look like an abstract painting done in various shades of white and ice blue. Watch for guanaco (a llama looking animal) and nandu (something like an ostrich).
It’s about a 3 hour drive from the Argentina border to El Calafate. The scene doesn’t change much until you get closer to town where you begin to see the ice blue glacier lakes with snowy peaks in the distance.
We were planning on a long layover in El Calafate as we were booked on the 6PM bus to El Chalten, but when we went to pick up the tickets at 1:30PM we were offered the opportunity to change to the “now” bus, i.e., the bus that was leaving right now. It didn’t take much thinking to say, “yes”.
We got our tickets and boarded straight away. The double decker Cal Tur bus was roomier than the Chilean Zaahj bus. With few passengers on board we could spread out in the upper deck.
The 3 hour drive from El Calafate to El Chalten has similar views, but more glacial lakes and rivers run through the golden grasslands.
As you approach El Chalten the Fitz Roy mountain range appears with impressive snowy peaks and glaciers. Fitz Roy itself was still shrouded in clouds.
Our bus was met by Fernando, arranged by Walk Patagonia. We got money at the new ATM next to the bus terminal. Fernando showed us the town, where we could find restaurants and other things we needed such as laundry services before dropping us at Destino Sur Hotel, our home for the next 3 nights.
Sleeping and Dining in El Chaltén
February 20-22, 2018
A large tourist type hotel with sizable rooms. Rooms have a dressing room off of the bathroom making a good arrangement for friends rather than couples sharing a room. The usual amenities were provided including a safe. Wifi is sketchy and very slow at times. The beds are OK but not fabulous.
Their sizable breakfast buffet is setup in their sunny dining room and includes a selection of pastries, breads, cut fresh fruit as well as cereal, yogurt, scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, potatoes and bacon. Also available is fresh brewed coffee with hot milk and a selection of juices.
Dinner at Maffia Trattoria
This highly-rated, cozy restaurant housed in a log cabin near the center of town is known for its homemade pasta. If fact, you can buy the fresh pasta to go to cook at home. Arriving after 8PM on a Wednesday evening it took us a while to get in. They put our name on a waiting list but it took a bit longer than the 40 minutes he told us.
They price the pasta, including ravioli, separate from the sauces. I tried the lamb ravioli with a tomato sauce. It was good, pasta cooked al dente, but the sauce needed salt. Frankly I was satisfied but underwhelmed.
For a quick bite Che Empanadas has a great selection of empanadas to go. There is a seat or two in the small establishment, but this is really a takeout place. They have around 20 different fillings including both meat and veg and cheese options – barbeque pork, four cheeses, Roquefort and onion, corn and squash, just to name a few.
On a pleasant summer evening we sat outside. They have two kinds of beer, lager and bock, but they have no burgers on the menu.
Dinner across the street at B&B Beers and Burgers. (Not to be confused with B&B Burger Joint.)
We met a guy outside this burger joint who was fixing his Volkswagen bus while drinking a beer. He’s been traveling in South America for the last two and half years and said that they had the best burgers in South America.
I tried the blue cheese burger with sun dried tomatoes, very tasty. Great French fries. A cute place with picnic tables and efficient, friendly service that hits the spot if you are looking for a burger.