Patagonia & ATWS

It has been 3 weeks since I returned from my first foray into Argentina – and wow it really has made a lasting impression.

The reason for my visit was to attend the annual Adventure Travel World Summit (ATWS) , which this year was in Salta (the wine region in Northern Argentina).  It’s a long way to go for a 4 day summit, so I opted to do a pre-summit adventure organised by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA)- and I headed to Patagonia!

After a 31 hour journey (from door to door, via New York and Buenos Aires and a quick airport change in Buenos Aires!)  I arrived in El Calafate.  This was the day before I was due to meet the rest of the people joining me on our 8 day Patagonia trekking adventure.  I stayed at the truly lovely and unique Patagonia Rebelde Hotel – the ideal place for those wanting to discover the old Patagonia – A boutique hotel constructed and decorated with recycled materials and based on an old railway station – it is part hotel and part museum.

On day 2, after a lovely jaunt down the hill and into El Calafate town (which comprises mainly of restaurants, tourists shops and tour operators!) I met up with the rest of the group (a motley bunch of 11 other tour operators and journalists who were going to be my travelling companions for the next few days!).  Accompanied by our guide Pablo, we headed along the deserted highway to El Chalten (a village within Los Glaciares National Park and a gateway to trails surrounding the peaks of Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy) and then onwards to the remote mountain huts at Laguna Condor.  By the time we arrived it was dusk and the Patagonian wind chill was making itself known.  Being early October, we were the first visitors of the season and we were shown our charming rustic bungalows set alongside a river that were to be our home for the next 2 nights.  I was paired up with an awesome and very funny Colombian lady, Angela,  who manages a tour agency and some hotels in Colombia.  Being the start of the season, our room hadn’t had a chance to warm up – it seemed colder than outside!!.  We quickly left the room and went to the lodge itself – a stunning wood & glass lodge (reminiscent of the alpine buildings) which welcomed us with a roaring fire.  As we entered, the friendly staff offered us a glass of Malbec to keep the chills away,  whilst outside the bonfire was roaring as it cooked a lamb which was to be tonights dinner.

As the snow faintly fell, and our electricity and heating decided to stop,  it is true to say that the first night here was probably the coldest night I have experienced.  Fully clothed and covered with all the duvets, blankets and  bath robes provided, I spent the night  trying to keep warm – but truthfully it didn’t detract from the beauty of the lodge and the setting (we were first in and as with anywhere truly remote – we were experiencing the teething problems of the new season)  Night 2 was much better.

The next 2 days were spent in one of the most stunning trekking areas in the world. –  Los Glaciares National Park.    We trekked over 50km over the 2 days in this mountainous region and enjoyed some of awe-inspiring scenery.   .  On day 1  we completed the classic full day hike ‘Laguna Torre’. Beginning  in El Chalten and following the Fitz Roy river valley our first lookout offered us stunning views of the Mount Torre-Adelas mountain range and the magical spire of Cerro Torre.  From here we headed to Lake Torre, having lunch overlooking this stunning lake with the Torre Glacier tumbling into it.   On Day 2 we said goodbye to our Mountain Lodge as we set out on another full day hike ‘Laguna de Los Tres’  Intially walking through  beech woods before we started to get our view of the iconic Mount Fitzoy and the glaciers and lakes which flow from it.  As the landscape opened up before us this view becomes more expansive and increasingly dramatic.  We finally climbed the steep route up to Laguna De Los Tres from where we had outstanding panoramic views.  This is also where one of our group proposed to his journalist girlfriend under the shadow of Mount Fitzroy!  A magical experience indeed. 

It was a long walk back and tonight we were staying at another charming hotel in El Chalten itself – Hosteria El Puma.

The next day we headed to Viedma Glacier.  After short drive and a 1 hour boat trip on the glacial lake, during which we observed some large icebergs,  we disembarked on a rocky promontory.  The trek allowed us to understand the history of the glaciations, the movement of ice blocks and how it has models todays landscape.  We spent a few hours on these rocks observing the Glacier from different view points.  Now talk about wind – the icy wind that came off the glaciers is something to behold!  At times a firm 2 feet on the ground is definitely essential to avoid being pushed over.  It was one of the most picturesque, stunning locations that we visited and the photos attested to this. After our boat ride back we headed back to  El Calafate, arriving there late in time for dinner – this time staying at a more central hotel – El Quijote.

The next 2 days we spent at Estancia Cristina.  A short bus ride and a 2 hour boat journey took us to this remote Estancia via the Upsala Glacier – another stunning glacier – with plenty of picturesque icebergs along the way.  The boat was full of ‘day trippers’ who come to enjoy the Glacier and hiking around the property.  We were very privileged as we were to be spending 2 nights at the lodge itself, so whilst we were at the property, the only people we saw were our group and the delightful staff looking after us..

Estancia Cristina is located on the remotest arm of the Argentino lake.  The Estancia was set up by a Pioneering British family and over the years it became well knows amongst explorers, climbers and adventurers who used it as the starting point to venture into the Ice cap.  There is a fascinating small museum, which keeps this history alive.

The lodge itself  offers a luxurious experience and a chance to explore this area.   I don’t think you can have a better view from a room! and the private lodge – The Octagon –  that was to be our home from home was out of this world.  We arrived in time for one of the best lunches I have ever experienced….

On a full stomach,  we donned our hats and chaps and set out on a horse riding trek in the valley.  A really enjoyable few hours were spent on the ‘exceptionally well behaved’ horses as we rode through rivers and along paths.  I think most of us were also pleased to get OFF the horses – I can trek for 8 hours, but 2 hours on a horse is plenty!!

After a freshen up we retired to the Octagon where we enjoyed a talk on Madagascar (from 2 of the other people in our group – Sonja and Patrice who were a husband and wife team and an inbound tour operator in Madagascar) before eating and drinking some more!  Tonight about ½ of our group ended dancing under the stars – with absolutely no light pollution the stars truly were out of this world.

Our second day at the Estancia was the first and only day that we experienced proper Patagonia weather as the rains descended on us.  Not to be put off we enjoyed a trek to the East of the Estancia – some of the views were non existant due to the clouds closing in, but it is such a magical area – even this didn’t put us off.   We headed back to our lodge (closely avoiding one of the wild bulls in the area).  We had a relaxing afternoon and in the evening we enjoyed a Belize talk (from Leif, one of the guys in our group, who services we already use for our kayaking trips) .  Another fabulous evening of food, wine and dance before we retired.

Our last day at the Estancia was a full day hike into Fossil Canyon.  Starting with a 4 wheel drive to the ridge – here we left the vehicle and were immediately rewarded with a fantastic panoramic view of the Upsala Glacier.  This ice cap is the 3rd largest amount of ice in the world and the biggest outside polar latitudes.  Reluctantly leaving behind this awe-inspiring view – we began our descent  into Fossil Canyon.  Many of the rocks show imbedded fossils from when the Pacific Ocean covered most of Patagonia – and this combined with colourful rocks and deep water pools made for a truly absorbing walk before we reached the valley floor and back to the Estancia in time for tea.  We then headed to the museum before we took our afternoon boat back to El Calafate.

Tonight we had our farewell dinner (or at least farewell to Pablo, our truly awesome guide – the rest of us where to meet again in Salta for the summit).   Patagonia has definitely left a lasting impression on me, – not just the scenery  (but WOW) but also the Patagonian people who were so friendly and real and of course our group, a really great bunch of people who I am sure I will meet with in the future.  My fitbit has also  never been so impressed with my activity level.

We were all on different flights up to Salta the next day and I left El Calafate around for my  flights to Buenos Aires and then onwards to Salta.  Arriving late, I transferred to my hotel arriving around 12pm.

No rest for the wicked –  at 7am the next day I was walking through the (safe) streets of Salta, to my meeting point for my Day of Adventure.  As part of the summit, all delegates get the opportunity to experience a ‘day of adventure’ in the conference location – this is to showcase some of the adventure options that are available as well as being a good way to meet other delegates in a relaxed setting.  There were about 20 different ‘adventures’ to chose from, but I had opted for one in the  Calchaqui Valleys and Cafayate – Hike, Bike and WINE!.

We had a fabulous day.  The drive was a few hours, but through an extraordinary range of landscapes.  We explored the colourful and otherworldly rockscape of Quebrade de Cafayate, before heading on a 18km (mostly downhill) ride via one of Salta’s most scenic highways.  With the bike ride finished, we were treated to a private dining and wine tasting at a beautiful Hacienda where we got to sip some of Argentinas famous Malbecs and Torrontes.  Arriving back to the hotel around 7pm, there was a quick turnaround before I headed back out on foot to another venue which was our opening party, hosted by Panama.  The ATWS had started!

My next few days were spent ‘working’ or I think that’s what we call it.  It was my first time to an Adventure Travel World Summit, but it won’t be my last.  The idea is to offer a relaxed networking setting for people in the Adventure Travel Business worldwide.  This is combined  with some inspirational talks, interesting seminars  and some great evening get-togethers.  I  came back from the summit, truly inspired and with new ideas for Pioneer – from new countries and adventures that we can offer our clients, to actually how we can be a better company and improve our impact on the world.   Some of which we are already putting in place ‘ Travellers Against Plastic’ – a blog to follow on this and we are looking into how we can be carbon neutral.  So  watch this space!


Extraordinary Sights

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