The adventure begins in the rural town of El Calafate, where palatial glaciers and icebergs in Argentina’s Patagonian region rise to unimaginable heights and glisten like blue diamonds. It’s an ice show unlike any other.
As enormous chunks of the ice formation break apart and crash into the sea, its impact reverberates for miles. For a more intimate encounter, don a pair of cleats and travel along the Perito Moreno Glacier or explore the Walichu Caves, where you will find paintings attributed to the aborigines of the Paleolithic age.
The climate is surprisingly dry with a high temperature of 50 degrees and a low of 28 during the winter. The combination of brisk weather and glacier hikes can stir a voracious appetite, and Argentina is a country of culinary delights. It’s no secret that Argentineans are beefeaters. The asado (barbecue), is a favorite dining occasion at the open-air grill restaurants called parrillas. There you’ll find a mix of prime ribs, pork, chicken, sweetbreads, and kidneys — sometimes all on the same plate. Wash it all down with a swig of mate, a warm tea mixed of various leaves and herbs. Or choose a Malbec, considered the best red wine from Argentina. Torrontes is a favorite dry white.
While there are several languages spoken throughout Argentina, Spanish is the official languge and English is widely spoken. Tehuelche, the native tongue of the Patagonian region, is nearly extinct.
Next stop, Ushuaia, the southernmost city on the map. It is affectionately known as “the end of the world.” It is also the gateway to Antarctica. What is normally a short, direct flight from El Calafate took nearly five hours because of a snowstorm. In fact, our captain decided to return to El Calafate where we exchanged planes for a larger, sturdier jet in order reduce the risk of landing. By the time we finally arrived, the area was totally covered in a beautiful, bounteous blanket of endless snow.
We collected our bags and boarded a van that brought us midway up the mountainous climb to a lodge overlooking the city. A cozy yet grand wood-burning fireplace creates the perfect atmosphere for a fine cognac or glass of eggnog and engaging conversation with visitors from around the world.
On your list of what to see and do, start with a visit to Museo del Fin del Mundo for a perspective on Ushuaia’s history and culture. Cruises to the Beagle Channel are extremely popular and offer a great way to experience the abundant marine life, mammals, and birds of this popular ecotourism destination.
An annual jazz festival takes place in mid-November, in addition to live concerts through the New Year. A skier’s favorite is the Bajada de Las Antorchas on June 21. That’s when the longest night of the year (daylight is from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) is celebrated by a torch-lit descent down the slopes of Cerro Martial. The event serves as the official inauguration of the ski season. For the ultimate challenge, top choices include the Sierra Alvear region