With a brand new British-built airport one can get down there from crowdy Buenos Aires in just a bit more than 2 hours. The place is truly particular and I haven´t known anything like it: The Glaciar Perito Moreno is the only glacier left on earth that actually grows each year. If you're really lucky and well-timed you can see (and hear) it crush as it melts while invading Lake Argentino. The remarkable feature is that while you have the snow-capped, and pine-covered andes in the background, the glacier advances into a turquoise lake surrounded by a cold yellow desert that stretches along the Patagonia Basin towards the Atlantic. The Ice, the lake and the desert contrast so much that makes one feel in another planet. Being east of the Andes it is guaranteed 365 days of scorching sunlight. -Whatever your skintone, remember that the Ozone Layer is damaged in that part of the world, so do not forget protection- While the boat tours in the lake are the typical way to see the magnificence of it all, for just a hundread dollars more you can take an Ice-Trekking Tour upon the glacier itself. The companies down there provide the appropriate shoes. One of the many stops in the ice field are crevaces where it is actually safe to go down and feel the sun glowing blue through the ice walls. Towards the end of the tour the group toasts with whisky on the rocks - literally.
Lodging, as food, is the most expensive Argentina. Towns (or hamlets!) a bit farther north, like El Chalten offer backpacking affordable prices. The hotels in Calafate are an hour from the glacier so you might just as well spend the night in El Chalten and then travel 3 hours to the glacier, you'll save a fortune.
While you can take the 5 hours bus upon bumpy roads, an unforgettable one hour flight in a Cessna crosses you over to Chile while marvelling upon a particular section of the Andes range, the
- Montes del Payne: Definitely the best National Park in Chile, and along with Iguazu Falls, probably in all of the Americas, the park is as virgin as the Garden of Eden (Chileans are Oregon-level obsessive with their national parks). Although one could think that no human set foot on the huge park one can find several activities from a relaxing cruising from the fjords to the frozen-falls-shaped glaciers, to kayaking among soft-shaped mini-icebergs in tiny azur micro-lakes. In Summer trecking is the thing to do, but fall and specially spring is great as well, as the temperature is tolerable and the mid-station landscape is well worth a sight.
The tourist infrastructure of Montes del Payne N.P. is the little town of ¨Puerto Natales¨. It has one modern 4 star hotel (they make good Pisco-Sours overlooking the fjord and the mountains), but mostly dozens of backpackers hostels. The town has nothing to offer but a point of reunion and ¨nightlife¨ for backpackers heading to the N.P.
- Punta Arenas: Originally settled by the British, called Sandy Point (literal translation), this city midway between Ushuaia and Montes del Payne-Calafate, while lacking natural beauty, is, architectonically a relique from the 1900s. It's far from cheap for South American prices, but way more inexpensive than the Norwegian towns it so much resembles. Also if you a shred of urban life while trecking in the end of the world, this is the place. Probably the cleanest city in the Americas (100% in Latin America).
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