Welcome to a land of awe-inspiring mountains, jaw-dropping glaciers, and stunning wilderness.
Patgonia spans a vast area, comprising most of the southern portions of Argentina and Chile. So rather than giving you a broad overview, I’m focusing on one of its best photo destinations, Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina—the famous Monte Fitz Roy area. Here you can photograph mighty granite spires capped with hanging glaciers, lakes as blue as the sky, and one of the greatest wilderness areas on the planet.
Los Glaciares is not for the faint-hearted. Although there are plenty of opportunities for roadside shooting, many of the most beautiful photo destinations require hiking—and even backcountry trekking—to reach.
Your base for Los Glaciares exploration will be El Chaltén, the self-proclaimed trekking capital of Patagonia. Surrounded on all sides by the national park, you can walk along just about any street in town, and keep going until it turns into a trail heading into the mountains. Chaltén has recently become a hot spot for trekkers and travelers the world over, and it is quickly transforming from a dusty border outpost to a comfortable tourist destination.
When you arrive in Chaltén, a trip to the National Park Visitor Center is essential. There, you can purchase maps and guidebooks to the area, and learn other useful information.
Relatively short hikes from the visitor center in Chaltén lead to Mirador de los Cóndores and Mirador de las Águilas, two steep hills with panoramic views of the Andes Mountains. By car (or just over two miles on foot), you can easily reach Chorrillo del Salto, a scenic waterfall that plunges 70 feet over a rocky cliff. For one of the best views in Patagonia, hike up to Laguna Capri by headlamp for sunrise (plan on at least 90 minutes of hiking time) and thrill to the sight of first light on Fitz Roy.
Some of the best photo ops are deeper in the backcountry. Consider staying overnight at Laguna Torre, with great views of 10,262-foot-high Cerro Torre. A glacier empties into the far side of the lake, spilling icebergs into the frigid waters. Another can’t-miss overnight option is a trek to Camp Poincenot. From there, you can hike to Laguna Sucia for sunset, at the bottom of a steep and beautiful glacier-carved valley. For sunrise, join dozens of other hikers to make the relentlessly steep climb in the dark to Laguna de Los Tres in order to photograph one of the most stunning alpine lakes in the world. Just hold onto your jaw to keep it from hitting the ground when you see the lake’s sapphire blue waters reflecting mighty Fitz Roy bathed in dawn light.
Consider hiring transportation in town to take you to some of the more remote destinations. Lago del Desierto, a little less than 25 miles outside of Chaltén and reached by a dirt road, offers great views of Fitz Roy and the Andes. A trail follows the entire east side of the lake, so go as far or as little as you please. Halfway between Lago del Desierto and Chaltén is Laguna Azul, a brilliant blue lake reached by a short hike.
For a different view of Los Glaciares, Patagonia Aventura leads boat trips daily onto Lago Viedma (just south of town), including a close encounter with the massive Viedma Glacier. Consider the optional “ice trek” package, which includes a three-hour hike over the glacier using crampons. Along the way, you’ll get a chance to photograph crevasses and ice caves. Compressed glacial ice is deep blue in color, and looks most brilliant on a bright, sunny day.
Although Los Glaciares has a great, easy-to-follow trail system, you might consider hiring a local guide and outfitter, especially ifyou want to get into some of the gnarlier backcountry locations. I’ve used, and highly recommend, Mountaineering Patagonia (www.mountaineeringpatagonia.com), located in Chaltén. There are a number of other guides and outfitters available.