3 Great National Parks Road Trip in Chile and Argentina
If you like the idea of wilderness but don’t fancy a three day hike to get to it, then you might want to consider the South American National Parks. In this post, brought to you in a collaboration with #LANairlines, we highlight a cluster of accessible wildernesses in Chile and Argentina that offer an unusually diverse set of experiences you can fit into a two week family road trip…
An accessible Wilderness
The crash rattles your rib cage. You can feel it physically in the stomach. Imagine ice clinking into a glass and then multiply this by an avalanche. I have seen glaciers and moraines before but this one is something else. This one does tricks!
A slice of ice
The only trouble is you’re just not sure when it’s going to do them. Perito Moreno is one of 47 glaciers in the spectacular Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. It originates on the ice cap and flows down to just 74 metres above the surface of Argentino Lake, making it accessible for melt watching.
This is a spectator sport for all as the glacial action is both visible and audible; crumbling and grumbling and rumbling for a seemingly random amount of time before a chunk goes tumbling into the sea. This glacier doesn’t wait for you to remove the lens from your camera and adjust your aperture. But then part of the fun is looking the right way at the very moment it drops out of your world and into the icy depths.
A hike to the top
But there is plenty to do in this UNESCO World Heritage site apart from watch an ice field self destruct. You can go ice hiking or walk up to look at the spectacular 3,405m Monte Fitzroy in the northern extreme of the park. You can ditch your own car and take a Land Rover excursion to the summit of Cerro Huyliche, south of Lago Roca. Then you can drive on and chill for the night in backpacker land at El Calafate, where we stayed after our bumpy, windy ride on Patagonia’s Ruta 40.
Route 40, known fondly as La Cuarenta (The Forty) is a wild, wide eyed place where the wind is a constant and there is nowhere to pitch a tent apart from a storm drain. If you are alone on Argentina’s longest road in the evening, when the cars have all shot off to the tourist towns, you can feel like the last man or woman standing. Take a moment and enjoy it.
The mesmerising towers of Torres del Paine
70 kilometres from Los Glaciares, three iconic towers, formed by the forces of glacial ice, have been standing for a good few years. Wherever you are in Torres del Paine National Park, if you are in sight of the distinctive granite peaks of Paine, your attention will be drawn to them scraping at heaven’s gate.
Torres Del Paine was voted 5th most beautiful place in the world by National Geographic and is a must see part of any Chilean Andes itinerary. Leave a few days in your schedule to camp at the official campsites or stay in one of the many refuges. And while you are there, pack a day sack and hike up a hill or head off on the famous five day W route. The area boasts valleys, rivers, lakes, and glaciers of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
But it’s not all wild. There’s even a luxury hotel within the National Park boundaries with use of Pehoé lake. If you can’t afford it then pitch up for a drink as we did. Ice is included of course, and not just when you least expect!
The southern way
On your way down the country, don’t overshoot Tierra del Fuego National Park or you may end up partying with penguins in Antarctica. This southern wilderness was the first shoreline national park in Argentina and it’s abundant with waterfalls, forests, mountains and glaciers.
Senda Costera is a popular hiking trail and the forests are home to bird life including the Andean Condor and the Magellanic Oystercatcher. The park is just under seven miles from the atmospheric little town of Ushuaia, the most southerly in the world.
A road trip of Chile and Argentina is a journey through a green and ice white landscape but it is best to go when the sun paints it gold. From December to February weather conditions tend to be good and daylight hours are long due to the southern latitude.
LANChile airline runs flights to Latin American countries including Argentina and Chile. You can hire a car in in Buenos Aires or Santiago de Chile and make your own way south at leisure. There are many tour operators who can hook you up with excursions or guides in the towns and villages you come to and in the parks themselves.
We visited these three parks 16 years ago and still remember the tumbling blue ice of Perito Moreno, the needlepoint snow peaks of Paine and the feeling of reaching the end of the world at Ushuaia and its green spaces. Due to global warming, some of these parks may not be around forever. Visit them while you still can.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you in a collaboration with #LANairlines. The ideas, research and opinions remain, as ever, entirely our own.