The thought of creating Travel and Food Guides was floating around in my mind for a while now. I do so much travelling throughout the year so why not share with you what I saw along the way and where I ate the best vegan food? So here I am starting off with my first Travel and Food Guide to Patagonia with a focus on must-do hikes/sights and healthy food! Going to Patagonia was a pretty bold choice for me. It meant dealing with crazy weather, demanding hikes, limited comfort at times and a real struggle to find vegan/vegetarian food. But in saying that, the moment I laid my eyes on the first crystal clear lake surrounded by snow kissed peaks after climbing hundreds of rocks, I suddenly did understand why Patagonia was just the right choice. With its endless roads and hikes, Patagonia gives you a lot of room to think and digest. And I felt after a long year of 2017, I had a lot to digest. Not being dramatic, but at first I felt that especially those tiring hikes and insane weather conditions broke me pretty fast but built me up again in the next moment by its sheer beauty. To me Patagonia was one of the toughest, demanding, and most beautiful trips I have undertaken in the last years.
“Patagonia is an adventure that happens outside.” – Unknown
But for all of you that have never considered Patagonia as a travel destination, I would like to draw a picture for you here: sky-high snow kissed mountain peaks, crystal clear blue lagoon lakes, wild yellow-colored grasslands dotted with guanacos, armadillos and skunks, endless roads seeming to lead nowhere. A huge piece of sparsely populated land shared between Chile and Argentina stretching right down to the Tierra del Fuego with such fierce weather conditions it seems like no one is supposed to live there. So if you have a little adventurer inside yourself you will truly appreciate this rough piece of land as much as I did and I really hope you will be inspired reading this little piece of travel advice.
WHAT TO PACK
There is not much I recommend you should take but weather (wind!) will be your biggest enemy. You will definitely need: a high performance wind breaker, a water resistant jacket, sunscreen, a hat and a beanie, sunglasses and good hiking shoes. I would also recommend taking 2 pairs of wool underwear to keep you warm. I also took some good hiking leggings.
WHEN TO GO
We visited in December which is their summer and I would recommend visiting during that time. Winds were still extremely strong, but there is less rain and you have a good chance of brilliant hiking conditions. Weather conditions change extremely fast but temperatures are usually between 10 to 18 degrees Celsius.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Contrary to my expectations, Patagonia has a fabulous infrastructure, amazing roads and navigation is straight forward. You can either catch a bus which easily connects all the tourist destinations but if you would like to go at your own pace, I recommend you rent a car like we did. Rental prizes can be crazy in high season and we paid a steep 3000€ for a 4 wheel drive for 2.5 weeks. Make sure that you notify the rental that you will be crossing borders between Argentina and Chile so they can provide you with the right documents. If you go down to the Tierra del Fuego as well you are most likely catching a ferry. On the way to the Tierra del Fuego ferries are usually on time but be warned on the way back it took us 7 hours waiting time to get on to the ferry.
VEG FOOD/ HEALTHY FOOD
Finding healthy vegetarian (we are not even talking vegan) cuisine was a real challenge in the ‘land of the steak’. Your best bet are the supermarkets (only in bigger cities like El Calafate, Puerto Natales) – there you will have a reasonably stocked veg and fruit section. Imagine that everything has to be brought to Patagonia as farming is difficult due to the weather. Just one thing to mention: if you are crossing the border between Chile and Argentina in Patagonia you have to discard all fruit and veg which meant I was munching on a least 3 apples and a handful bananas on each border crossing. Don’t expect to find any vegan products like soy yogurt, vegan cheese etc. I only found soy milk once in a bigger supermarket in Ushuaia.
You will find a great selection of accommodations catering to any budget ranging from anything from homely Airbnb’s to high end hotels and down to earth hostels. We used whatever we felt like, after a long hike or when we felt like having a break we also went for mid-range hotel sometimes. We saw a lot of people camping too but with those crazy winds I wasn’t even close to tough enough to spend a night in a tent but maybe a good option for some real adventurers out there?! I found in general that accommodation is quite pricey but the standard was quite good. On the upside, breakfast is complementary for most accommodations even in simple hostels. But I felt breakfast is rarely nutritious but often consists of toast, coffee and highly processed cereals and yoghurt. We started bringing our own food for breakfast as well such as avocados, bananas, PB, oats and fruits. WE used a good mixture of Airbnb, hostels and sometimes hotels when we needed a break.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”― Jack Kerouac
WHERE TO GO
El Calafate + Perito Moreno Glacier
When you arrive in Patagonia by plane you most probably land in El Calafate. To me, El Calafate seemed more like a tourist village in the US rather than a city in Patagonia. It’s a gathering of restaurants, supermarket, tourist offices, hotels and souvenir shops which made it a bit dull and not very original for my taste but It’s s situated right next to a lake where you can spot flamingos most of the time. El Calafate is the spot to stock up on groceries, book your tours or buy a souvenir – and that’s about what there to see and do. And it’s the starting point to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Highlights in El Calafate:
+ Take a drive to the Perito Moreno Glacier. It’s one of the rare glaciers in the world that is still stable in size. It is magical to watch this enormous monster of a glacier. Think about it; the glacier is more than 80 meters high. It is one of the most impressive natural sights I have seen. If you stay long enough you will witness up close how massive pieces of ice melt and crash into the ice blue lake. Beat the crazy tourist crowds by showing up at 9am in the morning, otherwise it gets really crowded. The Perito Moreno is touristy but don’t give it a miss!
+ Tour with Glaciares del Sur, skip the crowds and visit the unexplored part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Our tour included a bus ride to the lake Roca where you change to a boat followed by a 4 hour hike to the glacier Frias. But take some food along and don’t rely on what they call lunch box, it’s a cheese sandwich and biscuits.
+ Pura Vida Restaurant serves home-style vegetarian food; this has been recommended to us by a local. We had the stuffed pumpkin here which was lovely but fairly pricey.
+ Viva La Pepa is also a good option for vegetarian crepes and sandwiches with a cute courtyard and some good wines.
El Chalten + Fitzroy
El Chalten is a 3-4 hour drive from El Calafate and watching the massive Fitzroy mountain range grow in front of your eyes the closer you get is simply mind-blowing. That is the weather is good! If the weather is bad the chances are high the mountains are covered in clouds and you don’t even guess what a beauty is unraveling once the weather clears. El Chalten was the secret star of the entire Patagonia tour with the best hikes and my favorite restaurant in the whole of Patagonia.
Highlights in El Chalten:
+ Hiking the Fitzroy is a must. It is a 10km walk, the last km is a steep climb but you will be rewarded with the most beautiful views and a glacier like which is fairytale like. Be prepared for really strong winds and take sunscreen and lots of water. Start your hike as early as 7am/8am to beat the crowds on the track.
+ Drive to Lago Desertio: this was a tip we received from a local and it was well worth it. This dirt road leads through amazing forests with ice blue rapids, passing a massive waterfall and ending in a bay with a fjord like landscape. We absolutely loved that day trip!
+ Curcuma Resaurant is a tiny cafe serving homemade healthy (also raw) food. With only a couple of tables, it felt like joining the chefs in their kitchen watching them cooking up everything from homemade wraps, zoodle bowls and cashew cheese pizza. This place is a bit pricey but insanely delish and so good.
+ Holistic massage: A perfect pick for rainy days or when you need some time off hiking and exploring. I cannot find the name of this place anymore but its right next to the curcuma restaurant. They offer hot stone massages, pure bliss.
Torres Del Paine National Park – Salto Grande HikePuerto Natales + Torres Del Paine NP
Puerto Natales again is more like a spread out village and isn’t spectacular at all but with clear skies you can the mountains surrounding the city. But it is gateway to the Torres Del Paine NP which couldn’t be more spectacular. There is a massive wild population of guanacos to see there.
+ When visiting the Torres Del Paine which is roughly a 113km drive from Puerto Natales, take the main round road though the National Park. Do a one hour hike at the Salto Grande waterfall and just stop as often as you can to admire the landscape.
+ Do not miss the day walk to the 3 Torres with a massive clear glacier lake. To me this was quite an exhausting hike especially the last bit gets quite rocky but so worth it.
+ Aldea restaurant is a beautiful restaurant with amazing service and equally brilliant vegetarian food. It’s fresh, homemade and slightly pricey. But it’s the best pick in town.
Tierra del Fuego + Ushuaia
Skipping Ushuaia seems like the obvious thing to do, it’s far away and weather is even more unpredictable. The long drive and ferry ride was tiring but driving into the NP reaching the most southerly city in the world is simply breathtaking. Ushuaia is very touristy admittedly. Most expeditions to the arctic ice start from here and cruise ships rest in the harbor.
+ Hike the Tierra Del Fuego National Park close to Ushuaia.
+ Visit the king penguins at the privately owned Parque Pinguino Rey: it’s an 80km drive from Porvenir (on gravel road) to get there but we thought it is really worth getting so close to these beautiful animals that are usually only found in the Arctic. Bring binoculars if you can!
+ Marco Polo Freelife is a health cafe where you can have fresh juices and healthy take away food.
Let me know if you enjoyed my Patagonia Food and Travel Guide! I am looking forward to share many more adventures with you! What adventures have you planned for this year?