Destination: Argentina: Patagonia
Just Back From...Patagonia
Argentina has always topped my travel wish list. But when I began planning my trip there with a friend, the aspect we debated most was where we would shop and eat in Buenos Aires. As a mom, I rarely have time to schedule girlfriend getaways, and this was going to be our chance to reconnect and indulge in ways we don’t have time for at home. I looked forward to browsing Palermo’s funky boutiques, dining at hip restaurants and spending afternoons strolling (stroller free!) the aristocratic avenues of Recoleta. I did all that, and it was fantastic. But to my surprise, the most enjoyable moments of my trip came later, when I was clinging to a glacier and sipping bitter mate in a remote corner of Patagonia. I’m far from a mountaineer in my day-to-day life, but this trip made me think that if the economy continues to go south, I may do the same and spend my days happily herding sheep across the windy steppe.
Or maybe not. But Patagonia is the kind of destination that inspires feelings like these. The frontier town of El Calafate is populated with hearty locals and a growing stream of urban refugees who trade a cosmopolitan existence for life in the midst of one of nature’s grandest spectacles. The area attracts adventurers, entrepreneurs (the tourism business has grown exponentially) and even the odd outlaw (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid bought a ranch in Southern Patagonia near Rio Gallegos and spent years raising cattle and robbing local banks). Travelers arriving by plane set down in an almost lunar landscape, with dusty brown plains punctuated by towering cliffs spreading as far as the eye can see. Lago Argenina, a deep glacial lake that glistens an otherworldly shade of blue, abuts the small village, and the only road winds inland towards the pointed, snow-covered peaks of the Andes. It truly looks like something out of a dream.
We stayed at Eolo, a welcoming lodge that ranks amongst my favorite hotels. After three nights in BA’s Park Hyatt, I assumed the Patagonian properties would be a serious step down. But the service, simple furnishings and drop-dead views compete with the best. Eolo has just seventeen rooms, and even when full, it feels more like a private home than a hotel. Each morning, the staff would send us off with packed gourmet lunches, and each evening they would welcome us back with fresh cookies and herbal teas or, my preference, a big glass of an Argentine Malbec which we sipped while watching the sun set from the deck. During the days, we climbed mountains, forded rivers on horseback and strapped ourselves into crampons to trek across a portion of the famed Perito Moreno glacier. (Contact Indagare to be put in touch with a fantastic company that arrange all this and more.) Our days were perfect and our nights some of the most restful I’ve passed in my life. There was something simple and satisfying about passing the days in nature, and the combination of fresh air and physical exhaustion worked like a super-strength sleeping pill every night.
It’s worth noting that although Argentina triumphed over an economic meltdown in 2001, they are not immune to the problems the rest of the globe is facing now. Everyone I met reported that tourism had slowed as much as 30%, and the hotels, restaurants and guides all share a concern that the country could lose some of the gains it has made over the past few years. To lure travelers, even the most in-demand properties have lowered their prices and are offering special rates. When combined with the inexpensive boutiques and restaurants, this makes BA, Patagonia and Argentina in general one of the best deals around. Now is a great time to take advantage of a stronger dollar and weaker market to discover one of the most fascinating and ever changing destinations in the world. Even travelers who, like me, think of themselves as urbanites may be surprised at how moving and memorable the landscapes can be. You may not take up sheep herding, but I’m certain that after a couple days in Patagonia, the thought will cross your mind.
We’ll have a full destination report shortly, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please email us or call 212-988-2611.
Explora founder Pedro Ibáñez explains the difference between a traveler and a tourist: “Tourism focuses on the main cultural points of interests, and the more sights you visit, the better. In travel you don’t care about the destination, you care about what happens during the trip. With time and liberty, you allow things to happen, and the surprises are the things you remember. Read an exclusive Q&A
Read a review of Eolo.
Read our destination report on Buenos Aires.
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