To the Ends of the Earth
After three fabulous days in Buenos Aires, my husband, two children and I flew south to Ushuaia. Against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks, the brightly coloured buildings of the town straggle along the edge of the Beagle Channel, looking out towards an ocean of ice.
We took a day-long cruise to see the wildlife, so abundant in the area. The catamaran took us to visit colonies of sea lions and fur seals, basking on the rocks only a few feet from the boat. This was merely preparation for the highlight - a visit to Penguin Island. The children were entranced. The penguins waddled down to the water’s edge, totally unperturbed by our presence.
We then visited Estancia Harberton, a farm founded by the first missionary in the area, who tried to create an English idyll in Patagonia. The garden is filled with lupins, marigolds, fuchsias and roses. In the small but excellent marine mammals museum, the children marvelled at huge whale bones and compared heights with stuffed penguins.
We spent a happy morning taking the newly restored convicts’ steam train into the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The Fin del Mundo Station is very touristy, but the ride is beautiful - even in the rain. The park is lovely and offers trails for all ages and abilities.
There are some lovely excursions from Ushuaia. Inland, around 12 miles from the town, there is a husky breeding centre which our daughter, a would-be vet, was keen to visit.
A short flight over a spectacular landscape of snow caps, ice fields and fjords took us to Punta Arenas in Chile. From there, the Torres del Paine National Park was an easy day’s journey.
Torres del Paine really defies description. Nothing can prepare you for the jagged horns of granite and the stone pillars which rise without warning from the Patagonian plain. With luck you will see them set against a vivid blue sky. We had a perfect day to walk from our hosteria to one of the look out points for the Cuernos del Paine. The children walked about ten miles without noticing, looking out for guanacos and questioning us on the finer points of glaciation.
Part of the adventure was our lodgings - a series of wooden cabins on an island in Lago Pehoé, a bright, milky turquoise lake into which the park’s biggest waterfall empties. Access was by wooden footbridge and bags were carried across from the parking area in a giant wheelbarrow - very appealing for little people.
From Torres, we crossed back into Argentina - to El Calafate - by bus. The town has nothing to recommend it but is, however, gateway to one of Argentina’s biggest draws - the Parque Nacional los Glaciares. Centrepiece of the park is, without doubt, the astonishing Perito Moreno, one of the world’s few advancing glaciers.
It creaks, it pops, it glows blue in the sunshine. Periodically, slices fall into the turquoise water of Lago Argentino, with a dull splash and a gasp from assembled onlookers. From the boat, glistening white, sparkling spires stretch high into the sky above you. Back on shore, a series of walkways overlook a huge expanse of jagged ice as far as the eye can see.
From El Calafate, we flew back to Buenos Aires before travelling home, reluctantly, the following day. A trip of a lifetime? I do hope not.
Journey Latin America client Lucy Beney