Wow, was the first word that came out of my mouth when I finally reached Luguna de los Tres, in the foothills of Patagonia’s magical Mt Fitz Roy. After an eight-hour walk, then a slippery 420m vertical climb on my niggly knee; the sight before me took my breath away. The mountain range, glaciers and lagoon were vast. I’ve done many of the Great Walks in New Zealand – but this was on a different scale. Patagonian mountain ranges are like New Zealand mountains on steroids.
Late last year I was lucky enough to spend more than two weeks in Patagonia.
South America is a hot travel destination for Kiwis, and every day of my trip had its own ‘wow’ moment. To kick off, we flew into Buenos Aires, and explored Argentina’s beautiful capital city, enjoying an amazing dinner and tango experience. From there, we disappeared into the Patagonian wilderness. The 16 day trip had a number of magical moments – but the highlight for me without a doubt was the moment I panted my way up to Laguna de los Tres. It is not only the closest view to the towering granite walls of Mt Fitz Roy and its surrounding peaks, but a spectacular vantage point for the area’s lagoons and glaciers.
Fitz Roy is a mountain located near El Chalten village in the Southern Patagonian, on the border between Argentina and Chile. In Tehuelche dialect, Mt Fitz Roy is ‘Chalten’, which means ‘smoking mountain’. A cloud that forms around the peak gives the mountain a smoking volcano look.
Hard core climbers have the option of various multi-day trips to some of the more remote peaks that surround the ice cap, but the trek I did is one of the most popular walks in Patagonia, and an amazing experience for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness who loves hiking, wildlife, and the great outdoors.
And after nursing a torn cartilage in my knee in the weeks leading up to my trip, I was thankful to even make it. Ibuprofen was my friend that day.
The trek started at El Chalten, a colourful town and the hiking hub of the Los Glaciares National Park, home to some of the world’s most stunning ice formations.
Before we’d even set off, I recognised an advantage of travelling with a tour group. I chose to travel with Viva Expeditions and would absolutely recommend them to my clients looking for a similar experience - our guides were local and had a wealth of local knowledge. It helps to speak the language when someone’s luggage goes missing! Our trusty guide not only managed to source some local hiking boots, but also arranged for someone for wait for the missing bag while we were out walking.
The trek follows a loop around the foothills of Fitz Roy, followed by hearth-thumping short steep ascent through ice and snow. Although much of the walk is on a gravel or wooden paths, at the end it can be slightly tricky. Our group of ten Kiwis – aged between their 20’s and 60’s - all managed without a problem, but I would definitely recommend walking poles.
The contrasting scenery along the way – which seemed to change by the hour – kept us going, along with an amazing packed lunch!
As well as its wilderness, Patagonia is renowned for its exotic array of wildlife. Some travellers may see the incredible sight of the endangered Andean Condor soaring above them – a symbol of power, health and wealth for local people – and with a wing-span of 3-metres, the largest bird in the Americas. I was lucky enough to not only see the massive condor that day, but also a number of, guanacos, similar to a lama, but with a longer neck and legs.
The trek took us into an Antarctic beech forest, through wild open terrain, and across a nail-biting swing bridge above a river, before we finally arrived into Rio Blanco camp, which is a base for more serious climbers.
From there, we had the slippery short climb to our view point. Again, wow!
As a travel consultant, travel is not only my job, it’s my life. I’ve been to more than 50 different countries, but this was my first trip to South America, and it’s a part of the world I know I will never tire of. The feeling of standing under that huge Patagonian sky and looking out at the mountain range, lake and glaciers is something that will be burned into my memory forever. Already I can’t wait to go back!