EL CALAFATE, Argentina -- Patagonia is a place that conjures up
visions of snow-capped mountains, blue glaciers, beech forests,
lots of sheep and hardly any people.
Going to Patagonia has become the thing to do for people who
have been everyplace else, and indeed, South America's Austral
zone, shared by Argentina and Chile, is a very special corner of
the world. It includes North and South Patagonia, Tierra del Fuego
In different parts of the zone, visitors will find Andean
massifs and peaks, glaciers sliding down from the Patagonian ice
field, countless islands and fjords, and black and emerald
In southern Argentina, one worthwhile attraction is the Perito
Moreno Glacier, the largest of the ice fields moving downstream
from the inland ice masses; it covers some 40% of Los Glaciares
Lago Argentino is in the southern part of the park, the second
largest in the country, and the gateway is El Calafate.
There is a small airport at El Calafate that is being modernized
to receive flights directly from Buenos Aires. For now, however,
access is by car or bus on a four-hour drive from Rio Gallegos.
In turn, Rio Gallegos is a four-hour flight from Buenos Aires,
or an hour by air from Ushuaia at the tip of the continent.
While there is little of interest in El Calafate -- only the
Chapel of Santa Teresita and the Bahia Redonda, a shallow part of
the southern shore of Lago Argentino where flamingos, black-necked
swans and ducks inhabit the nature reserve -- it is a comfortable
place to relax.
A hotel in town is Los Alamos, an attractive, 88-room posada
with a beautifully decorated lobby and bar. Across the street is a
restaurant overlooking the gardens.
Another hotel choice in town is the Michelangelo, a small,
moderately priced hostelry known for its good food.
In this corner of Patagonia, the real action is a full-day
excursion to the Moreno Glacier on Lago Argentino. The glacier
presents a massive stream of ice that treats viewers to an almost
Viewed either from walkways through surrounding beech tree
forests or by boat, visitors can get close enough to hear the
Towers of ice can suddenly crumble -- almost noiselessly at
first but then, following a loud explosion, bursting into a million
pieces and crashing into the waters of Lago Argentino.
While most of the ice floe lies out of man's reach, the glaciers
in the south are easily accessible at the edge of the glacier
streams, where colossal icebergs come in shades of green, blue and
This is also the landscape one sees when taking a motor launch
excursion toward the Upsala, Onelli and Spegazinni glaciers. The
trip includes a stop for lunch at Onelli Bay and a short walk to
Onelli Lake, where three glaciers spill into its waters.
A prime view is available to guests staying at Los Notros, which
faces the Lago Argentino and Perito Moreno's glacier snout, which
is two-and-a-half miles wide and 260 feet high.
The lodge offers comfortable rooms with bath and lake views: 14
doubles and six triples, with units being added.
The split-level restaurant-bar features friendly service and
In the upstairs lounge, naturalists offer evening presentations
on the glaciers.
In all parts of Patagonia, it is important to plan client trips
that do not spend a great deal of time traveling long distances for
a brief look at the what the area has to offer, which includes
wildlife or gauchos herding sheep across the roads. Wildlife
includes the guanaco (cousin of the llama), Patagonian foxes, hairy
armadillos, Andean condors, buff-necked ibis, black-chested
buzzard-eagles and ashy-headed geese.
It takes time to get around, especially if clients are traveling
overland between Argentina and Chile .
Because of weather, the season runs between October and April,
and accommodations are at a premium. Advance planning is