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It was a day of gale force winds. This blustery morning could pull the horns off an ox. I lay on the bottom bunk in my bed of a six-bed dorm room feeling paralyzed by the howling gusts over the last several hours. Am I going to make this 10-hour roundtrip Fitz Roy hike today?

It’s nearly 7 am and we have to make it back in time for our 6 pm bus ride back into El Calafaté. The clanking of debris against the two-story hostel continues, and I’m convincing myself that it’s a bad idea to go on this hike as the muscle fatigue reminds me.

My alarm begins buzzing. Screw it. I already climbed three mountains in four days. I can let this one slide. The alarm buzzes again. Ugh, I don’t want to go. It sounds violent out there!

I hear my brother from above calling my name asking if we’re still going to go on this hike. We see a couple of other backpackers silently making their way out, so I tell my brother it’s his call.

He responds, “We should go.”

Argh! It’s not the answer I wanted to hear, but it’s our last hike in Argentina. I put emotions aside in the “whining” reserve box and get dressed. We briefly stop at a little market to pick up some food for our trip, and I scarf down a salami sandwich with a coffee before we begin our journey. It’s not necessarily the greatest food pairing, but neither was the temperamental weather to my hike.

I’m feeling a little cranky as we make our way to the head trail that begins at Avenida San Martin. We have about an hour of steep slope until we reach the Del Salto stream valley.

Fitz Roy Entrance

We’re walking along the outer edge of a mountain trail staring into the open valley. I’m often wondering if I’m going to get blown over or lose my balance during moments pushed by the frequent and yet fickle wind.

Fitz Roy: Del Salto Valley

The trail eventually takes us deeper into the woods through Antartic beech and eventually to a well-marked viewpoint after about another hour into our hike. Okay, okay. I now get what all the fuss is. It’s surreal in every way!

Fitz Roy

We find ourselves passing a small stream from Del Salta where we refill our water bottles from the river. It’s one of the few places in the world we could still safely do this.

We’re making excellent time seeing the great landscapes of Lagunas Madre e Hija, passing other hikers often, and are now at Poincenot campground and about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. There weren’t too many campers around. I think they probably camped overnight making this trek a two-part journey and finishing the rest of the hike today.

marshy lagoon

We’re getting closer, and I’m surprisingly feeling energized giving partial credit to my “Wanderlust” playlist with artist selections like Odezsa, Flume, and Rudimental to get me through this.

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The last 400 meters has warning signs letting hikers know how difficult and steep the last ascent was to get to Laguna de Los Tres Glacier. Blue Sky Black Death! We just hiked nearly 3 1/2 hours to get here, so this a point of no return as far as I’m concerned.

I confidently have my “Do or Die!” enthusiasm before the incline starts to seep deep into my muscles. Mother-effer this is tough. I’m preserving my oxygen controlling my breathing patterns to keep me going at a slow pace. My heart is in overdrive beating hard against my chest, and I’m perspiring more than ever. I’m using what support I can hold onto using the sporadically placed ropes or gripping rocks to pull my body weight through each climbing step.

I see others who couldn’t make it and taking short breaks along the way and finally decide to join some. I tell my brother to keep going without me, and I’ll catch up. He can tolerate the burns a bit more than I can.

I continue with the last part of my journey receiving encouragement from other hikers on their way down telling me I’m almost there.

I finally make it to the bottom of a loose granite hill. I can see people lined at the top, so I know I’m almost there. With each step, it’s like stepping into quicksand. You take one step up, and it slides you back down a bit. In other words, this hill is a b*tch! I see others passing me and fancying their walking sticks. Damn it! I want to fancy a pair of those.

Alas! After over 3,300 meters total, I am greeted by the luminous presence of an emerald lake against the granite peaks of Mount Fitz Roy. I’m mentally adding this to my top ten of most spectacular displays of nature I’ve witnessed thus far.

Emerald Lagoon at Fitz Roy

I find my brother (having trailed 30 minutes behind him), and we find a flat boulder to eat our sandwich that we picked up from the local market earlier that morning. There were maybe 20-30 others at the lagoon, but compared to how open it felt, it didn’t feel crowded. From the distance above, we see a crazy Australian (whom we later met) who took his clothes off and jumped into the lagoon. Crazy Aussies!

I didn’t realize how sore my muscles were until I tried to get up from the boulder at lunch, but we had another 4-hour descent to catch our 6 pm bus. We trace back through trails we saw earlier that day and on my last several hundred meters my feet were dragging, but when I put my “Wanderlust” playlist back on it gave me that extra boost of mental Red Bull. My brother waits for me at the bottom and I run toward him in slow motion listening to “Chariots of Fire” in my head as I ran through a makeshift version of a finish line. I victoriously hiked four mountains in five days, one of the most strenuous series of activities I’ve ever done and that in itself feels like a huge accomplishment.

And, while I bitched and moaned about the wind… if it weren’t for the strong winds, we would have never seen such great portraits of the Patagonian mountains. If it weren’t for second and third and fourth winds, I would never have made to the emerald lagoon shared by the otherworldly shaped, Mount Fitz Roy.

 

Here I am in El Chaltén, Argentina’s trekking capital of the world. It’s late morning, and I’m just getting off my bus stop to walk to a hostel where I’ll be spending a small amount of time over the next two days with my little brother.

El Chalten Bienvenidos

El Chaltén is a small village nestled a few hours away from popular travel destination, El Calafaté. It’s infamous for its tempestuous weather but the home to a four-mountain chain; Cerro Torre, Torre Egger, Punta Herron, and Cerro Standhart. It’s also a vestibule for adventure warriors and climbers.

4 Glacier Mountains

My brother and I check into our six bedroom dorm, drop our things off, and then hustle our way onto a 7.3 km trail to Laguna Torre, a focal point of Cerro Torre where you can view a glacier lake and rime ice. At this point, it’s already early afternoon, and we’re going to have to race the sunset with a six-hour round trip journey. Luckily, we just missed a storm leaving us optimistically with 68-degree highs, white blanket skies and easy-going weather conditions.

We make our way through town in a matter of minutes climbing a steep hill to the base of the trail where we find signs pointing us in the right direction.

Laguna Torre Sign

The hike itself is of moderate difficulty, but you quickly forget when you pass a river and a waterfall followed by a mystically intriguing open valley of decapitated trees with Cerro Torre in the distance.

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Even though this is a popular trail for trekkers, I didn’t feel as though our experience was compromised in any way. There were very few hikers along the path, and we only ran into one small group of young backpackers who were daring enough to unpack their tents for an overnight stay.

We finally make it to Laguna Torre and were welcomed with a hidden slate-colored lagoon.

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Up close, Cerro Torre looked like a backdrop of an Ansel Adams photo. The atmosphere changed a bit bringing in cooler temperatures than I anticipated. The blanketed skies opened up, and the wind was picking up lightly. Everything began to feel more solitaire.

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It’s nearly 6 pm at this point, and we want to hustle our way back into town before it gets too dark. We’re racing against the sunset with dense clouds fleeting. The 50 shades of gray transformed into one of the most powerful and beautiful Cerro Torre sunsets Patagonia had to offer us.

Cerro Torre Sunset
The beautiful Cerro Torre Sunset

Do you think this was worth the three bus rides and 19 hours of travel to get here? Tell me what you think in the comment section below.

The halcyon sunrise begins to peak as eight trekkers share their first steps into the brisk morning of Terra Mayor Valley.

Stop to Tierra Mayor Valley
Drop-off point in Tierra Mayor Valley

I felt something unique with this group. On this day, we were going to be the only ones in the world to be at the summit of Glaciar Ojo del Albino (The Eye of the Albino Glacier). Nobody could replace this one-of-a-kind experience unless they were there with us on that given day. The next twelve hours were about to be challenged with heaps of mud, steep inclines through crumbling rocks, hiking alongside rivers, and massive amounts of ice. I am thrilled.

Peatlands
Beginning of our trek through the peatlands.

After a brief orientation at a private lodge between Sorondo’s Mountain and Alvear Mountain, in the middle of The Andes, we traverse through the Autumn-colored peatlands in our 12″ high rainboots beginning at 250 meters above sea level. Each of us is carefully watching our step learning by the mistakes of others who misstep into a sloping mudhole. There were a couple of lost boots along the way but nothing that couldn’t be fished out after a good laugh.

My rain boots were the cutest!
My rain boots were the cutest!

After about one kilometer, we finally reach a more stable ground and change into our hiking shoes leaving our rain boots behind. There’s no stopping us now as we move into a new terrain filled with dirt trails and a pearly-blue beaver dam. Now I understood why I saw so many fallen trees. I initially just assumed they were rotted or struck by lightening, but, no, they gnawed to an apple core by the beavers. Resourceful little fuckers.

Scenic view to Laguna Esmeralda

As we go deeper into the enchanted forest (and all while secretly hoping I’d fulfill some whimsical fantasy by discovering a little gnome), we begin trailing along Esmeralda River and muddier paths. I strategically hopscotch around the mud holes and successfully avoid falling flat on my ass.

A moment of no mud as we approach Laguna Esmeralda.

After about two hours into the hike, we finally make our first stop to Laguna Esmeralda, a homonymous blue-green lagoon coupled the glassy translucent mountains that reflected from it. That moment was nothing less than a cynosure elixir. I take a deep breath, sigh, and become intoxicated by the beauty. How could I be so lucky? This lagoon was mine and only shared with twelve others. Nature’s magic trick.

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I wanted to stay longer, but we still had a very long trek ahead of us. As we gain elevation, the environment changes around us. It’s getting cooler, and the Coppertone boulders, mineral gravel, and pockets of snow replace the mushy alpine trails.

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We get one last glimpse of Laguna Esmeralda, and then it disappears.

Jumping for one last look of the lagoon.

The trail ahead continues up to a 30-45 degree incline. I’m feeling the burn in my thighs and focusing on my breathing exercise. In through my nose, out through my mouth. Again, I repeat the words in my head and continue to preserve my oxygen until we get passed this stretch.

Putting on gear for our rock climb.
Putting on gear for our rock climb.

We take a break by a small stream of water caused by a melting glacier and snow and notice a little hole near a rock. My brother goes to check it out, and we discover a cave hidden underneath the snow. We grab our flashlights and take a peak. I’m a little nervous hoping there aren’t any weird creatures like I saw in the movie, The Descent, but quickly let the nervousness settle. I even make peace with this cool discovery and fill up my water bottle with the glacier water.

20' rock that we need to climb.
20′ cliff that we need to rock climb.

We’re finally at the last stretch. All we need to do is climb this twenty-foot cliff, use whatever energy we have on reserve to get over the last 1/4 mile 60-degree incline, and we’re there.

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We are greeted by the Albino’s Eye; a milky virgin body of water with continental icebergs. The glacier is flat with many dark indigo caverns.

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Ice Clamps
Clamp-ons will save your life in these conditions.

The glacier can be extremely slick to walk on with our shoes, so we quickly put on our ice clamps exploring sharp peaks of the subterranean caverns that seemed so small in the distance but so wide where you’re paired next to them.

Deep and wide caverns.
Deep and wide cavern.

My ebullience compares to a child’s first time riding a bike; fearless, victorious, and I’m elated.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve reached my very first summit.

Heart-shaped glacier pocket.
Heart-shaped glacier pocket.

 

After a 31-hour bus ride, a ferry, and a passport stamp from Chile, my brother and I finally arrive at Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.

Me taking a selfie on the bus as it just drove us debatingly safe onto a large ferry transport.

We finally get a cab to take us to Cruz del Sur Hostel just after 8 pm. At the door entrance, we see a long roster of guests who obeyed the “no shoes allowed policy” with a bookshelf of boots all lined up in military style. We’re immediately asked by the receptionist to take off our shoes as well, which I didn’t mind because it kept the hostel clean from dirty mountain trekkers like me.

As we’re waiting in line for a few other backpackers to be checked in, I hear the chatter a few meters ahead where we see a small group of travelers drinking beer and socializing, all representing their country as if it were the Model U.N. It wasn’t long before we checked in and paid our $210 ARS ($21) each per night, we hear list of more rules before getting situated in our 6 room dorm and falling asleep so that we could prepare for a light warm up hike in the morning.

We did a little research about outdoor activities in the area and read about Glaciar Martial (Martial Glacier). It didn’t cost any money to hike the mountain and it was only a 2-3 hour hike to get to the glacier. We used the opportunity to sleep in a little, find the visitor center to get our passport stamped with the Ushuaia logo (in hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have wasted a portion of my passport but it seemed novelty at the time). We make one final stop at a tour company’s office to book a full-day excursion the following day to Glaciar del Albino (Albino Glacier) before they helped us get a taxi cab to the base of the mountain.

The drive from Ushuaia city to town is only a few kilometers, but I’d recommend taking a cab instead walking it – unless you’re on a super budget – which I did see a solo female backpacker doing. It’s a paved and windy road so the walk is doable if the weather is nice.

Once you reach the base of the mountain and where the trail begins, there’s a cute little ski lodge, Refugio de Montana, where you can either dine or take away. We hadn’t eaten any food all morning and ended up doing both having a light breakfast and then a sandwich for the hike.

The base of Martial Glacier trail.

The trail itself has a fairly easy ascent, but there were parts of the trail where you found yourself hiking on spongy-like and sometimes muddy terrains.

Spongy Trail Glacier Martial

There are several great viewpoints where you can see a panoramic view of the Beagle Channel and islands. With an average of 146 days of precipitation a year including 206 cloudy days, I’d say we lucked out with the March weather. A rainstorm just passed a couple of days prior leaving us with nothing but beautiful crisp skies.

Glaciar Martial Pretty View with Trail
View from about halfway.

If you’re looking to take it to next level and are an experienced rock climber, you could free climb above the glacier like my brother did.

Glaciar Martial Off the Beaten Path

It’ll be an interesting ride back down, but you’ll somehow make it down if you aren’t afraid of a few scratches. It’s not something I would try first initially, but for daredevils and those who like to explore the mountains in an extreme way I’d say go for it!

My Glaciar Martial photo opp jump!

 

 

 

If you’re a go-getter, and you have a reputation for going big or going home, then this trip is perfect for you for you. Here’s how you can hike four mountains in the Southern Patagonia region in five days starting in Ushuaia and ending in El Chaltén. This is not for the faint heart. You’ll be on long bus rides, juggling flights, followed by long hikes and unpredictable weather. But if you’re an adventure warrior, you can totally pull it off like I did. The best time to complete this is during Argentina’s Summer or early Fall (December through early March) when the weather is far less inclement and treacherous.

DAY ONE: 1/2 day hike followed by one overnight stay.

Martial Glacier

Hike #1: Glacier Martial
Highlights: a spectacular view of Andorra Valley, Vinciguerra Glacier and Mount as well as postcard pictures of the Beagle Channel, Navarino and Hoste Islands.
Mountain Range: The Andes
Region: Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Elevation: 1,050 MASL
Distance: TBD
Approximate time to complete:
Level of Difficulty: Easy. The first slope is the steepest.
How to Get There: the best way is by taxi, but I’ve seen trekkers walking 2 km uphill from Ushuaia city.
Fun Fact: it is the most important source of fresh water in Ushuaia. It has been named after explorer Luis Fernando Martial, chief of the French expedition that reached the area by scientific purposes in 1883. Amazing Race was filmed here (airdate: March 18, 2007).

Sleep, and get rested for next hike.

DAY TWO: Full-day hike

Laguna Esmaralda

Hike #2: Laguna Esmeralda / Ojo del Albino Summit
Region: Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Highlights: Panoramic views of the mountains, flora and fauna, emerald lagoon, white lagoon, and hanging glacier
Mountain Range: The Andes
Region: Tierra del Fuego, Argentina
Elevation: 350 MASL / 980 MASL
Distance: 14 km round trip
Approximate time to complete: 10 hours
Level of Difficulty: Moderate difficulty in good weather
How to Get There: Start at Nunatak Shelter by shuttle bus or car.

DAY THREE: (Transporation Day / Rest Day)
Fly to El Calafaté: Fly. Check out prices on Skyscanner.
Bus from El Calafaté to El Chaltén: 3-4 hours (weather permitting)

DAY FOUR: You’ll have traveled many hours getting you into El Chaltén at an early hour. Check into your accommodation and eat (time permitting) and then head out on the trail.

Hike #3: Cerro Torre
Highlights: flora and fauna, a waterfall, Fitz Roy River, wide valleys, and views of Cerro Torre mountain and the quiet glacier lagoon
Mountain Range: The Andes
Elevation: about 250m (820ft)
Distance: 21 km round trip
Approximate time to complete: 7-8 hours round trip
Level of Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
How to Get There: Walk from El Chaltén village

Get some rest and prepare for the next day.

DAY FIVE:


Hike #4: Mount Fitz Roy
Highlights: the most sought trek in Argentina, Fitz Roy massif, an emerald lagoon, flora and fauna, and vast landscapes. This viewpoint is the closest you can get to the Peak’s walls in a non-technical hike.
Mountain Range: The Andes
Elevation: 800 meters (2,624 feet)
Distance: 20.4 km round trip
Approximate time to complete: 9-10 hours
Level of Difficulty: Moderate difficulty in good weather
How to Get There: Walkable from El Chaltén village

Sleep or take a bus to El Calafaté where you can continue your adventure.

Is Puerto Madryn Patagonia’s steppe-child? The answer is yes. Read more about what makes it a steppe-child and four reasons we should show this little town some love.

It’s no doubt that when you think of Patagonia you think of the Argentina’s many alluring national parks stapled with towering glaciers against distinctly shaped mountains. But what about the Patagonia steppe that rests along the East Atlantic Ocean in Puerto Madryn, and why is nobody talking about it?

argentina-map

I can best describe Puerto Madryn and the steppe as an ecoregion that (in my opinion) got the short end of the stick. It’s full of grassland planes but no trees and scrubby vegetation. It’s too dry to support a forest and yet too dry to be called a desert and violent windstorms are no stranger to the steppe either.

Puerto Madryn Patagonia steppe

Why should we visit this tiny town then?

Here are 4 Reasons to Visit Puerto Madryn:

  1. The Whales and Orcas: If you ever wanted to know it felt like to step into a National Geographic documentary come visit Puerto’s Madryn. You’ll see mama whales and their calves swim so close to the bay you could swim with them, literally, like 20 feet away from the shore. It’s also free! We love free things. 🙂
  2. Other Wildlife: sea elephants, sea lions, penguins, dolphins, exotic birds, guanacos… you name it. There’s no shortage out here to get up close to the sea lions who will literally park themselves on a staircase connected to Puerto Madryn’s only pier, the penguins that swim between beaches so close that you might even have one pop up close next to you when you’re taking a dip at sea. Or just a couple of hours south in Punto Tombo, there’s a large colony of Magellanic penguins you can walk next to; it’s also the largest such colony in South America.
  3. Camping: if you’re a backpacker or just love the idea of camping, you can beach camp here for free along an entire coast of protected waters. Many of the beaches feel as though it were privately your own.
  4. The People: I spent three weeks volunteering and drinking maté with the Puerto Madryn park rangers and they were some of the nicest, intelligent, and relaxed group I’ve met on my travels. I also spent time learning to make empanadas and make lavender products on a family lavender farm. It was a great way for me to practice my Spanish, exchange cultural differences, and even learn how to party like a local Argentine being invited to a birthday party!

The best time to visit is June through September during Argentina’s summer with the peak season being in October.

In the southern region of South America lies Argentina, a country that prides itself with the gift of nature’s beauty. Argentina boasts of a chock-full of must-visit and adventure-filled attractions. With so many places to visit and so many things to do, here is a round-up of the best places for the most exciting journey you’ll ever take.

VISIT ONE OF THE GREAT WONDERS OF THE WORLD

Take time to visit the world’s largest waterfall, Cataratas del Iguazú. Stretching between the borders of Argentina and Brazil, this waterfall promises a jaw-dropping, visceral experience either lit up by the sun at day or the moon at night.

ADVENTURE TREK

Embark on a 24-kilometer-long journey at the Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado trail located at El Chaltén. In this place that’s touted as Argentina’s trekking capital, tourists can look forward to the best panorama in the area, including breathtaking views of the Fitz Roy, Lago Viedma, and Laguna Toro that can be enjoyed to the fullest on a clear day.

DRIVE DOWN MEMORY LANE

Explore Argentina’s history, culture, and national character as you drive down Ruta Nacional 40 (RN 40) usually referred to as “La Ruta Cuarenta.” It offers an epic journey that will give you a keen sense of what it’s like to live as an Argentinean native.

MARCH WITH PENGUINS

Península Valdés is home to the world’s largest penguin colony. It stretches three kilometers long and is covered with sand and gravel. Penguins breed and build their nests under bushes or in small burrows every year between September and March. Be sure to time your trip between these months.

RUN WITH TAMED HORSES

At Estancia Los Potreros, tourists can be thrilled in equestrian adventures on the back of exceptionally bred horses. Guests can expect to go riding for stretches of about four to six hours. At the end of the day, guests go back to the estancia for a taste of life with the locals. Guests get to eat local meals, share in the chores, and play traditional gaucho games. Among the most popular among these games is La Corrida de Sortija.

TANGO THE NIGHT AWAY

Channel your inner Latin-American at Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina.  Be sure to check out a milonga (Tango dance party) while touring the city that gave birth to one of the world’s most sophisticated dances, the Tango.

Pulsating with breathtaking sceneries, wildlife abundant jungles, rich history, and vibrant culture, it is no wonder that Argentina is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world. Talking about destinations to see before you die? Argentina should rank near, if not on top of your list.

The Southern Patagonia region is filled with some of the most extraordinary things your eyes will ever witness. Nearly 800,000 km are covered in lakes, mountains, forests, and glaciers. Los Glaciares National Park is no exception so this makes the attraction naturally a bucket list item for many adventure lovers. It’s filled with some of the most powerfully seductive glaciers that will deeply move you in ways you could not have imagined if it doesn’t first take your breath away.

Glaciers

But if that’s not sublime enough for you and you’re someone who craves for next-level experiences in areas where people aren’t generally stampeding on each other, I’d recommend kayaking through the Upsala channel in Lago Argentino (Argentino Lake). You’ll find yourself traversing through icebergs so close you could taste it. The temperature is so refreshingly invigorating that your entire body feels like a pack of Altoids have absorbed into your veins. You’re also the only one besides about 15 others who are there.

Photo credit: Viva Patagonia

The first part of our journey begins with getting up in the wee hours of the morning just before the butt crack of dawn. My eyelids are partial to opening all the way and I have my hoodie sweatshirt propped over my head as I lean against the cold window for support. We are about halfway to our catamaran as I see the mysterious sunrise making its way into Thursday.

Magical Sunrise El Calafate
Magical sunrise in the first stage of its performance.

It was brilliant in every way as if it mother nature wanted to gift us with a spectacular show illustrating every rich and romantically warm watercolor it could pull from the paint box. So brilliant, in fact, that I wanted to clap once we reached our destination.

Sunrise Before Kayaking to Glaciers

It’s time. We are moments away from making our way through Lago Argentino (Lake Argentino), the largest freshwater lake in this region covering over 1,400 km of surface and average depths of 150 meters. Can I get a hell yes?

On our way in these milky blue waters!

Over the next 3 hours, I’m seeing these mystical gigantic masses of ice drift at a glacial pace. If these glaciers could tell stories I wonder what would they be? Maybe the icebergs could at least give me the tip of what it’s like to be one of our eternal witnesses of time.

Icebergs

Our three guides give us instruction and we change into our waterproof dry suits as we slowly approach an isolated beach with not a human in sight but the ones who are on this water vessel.

Warm-up exercise! Photo credit: Viva Patagonia

We carry our own kayaks out and make our way into the waters with two hours of unimaginable bliss. The guides were also pretty entertaining with a few kayaking tricks.

Guide showing off. 🙂

We did experience some light drizzling on our way back to shore, but I welcomed it to gently kiss my face.

After we successfully dragged our kayaks out of subzero temperatures and back onto the sandy cove, our guides all asked us to jump into the water. If body language could speak seeing the reactions of the other 12 kayakers, it would easily say, “Are you insane?”. The guides laughed and told us to get in a second time. Nobody wants to be the salmon so we all convincingly jumped in. No hypothermia. Only one good laugh for a group photo.

Group photo in subzero temperatures. Photo Credit: Viva Patagonia

While the trip itself was a little pricey at 2.700,00 pesos (over $300 USD), it was an experience of a lifetime. And if my story didn’t convince you that kayaking to glaciers is possibly one of the coolest things (literally) you can do in your life then I’ll just have to go again with you.

“We came and we conquered.” Photo Credit: Viva Patagonia
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