Patagonia is an extense region of southern Argentina and Chile, the last piece of land before the Drake’s Passage and the closest to Antarctica. It can be divided by its geography in two different regions: the mountains called the Andes or better said Patagonian Andes in the west, forming a rather narrow stripe, and the extra Andean zone called Patagonian steppe which covers 80 % of the territory. The first one is characterized by its jagged mountains, forest ranging from ecotonal zones to rain jungle, beautiful lakes and glaciers, an area in which both Argentina and Chile have created several National Parks. The second one is typically an undulating landscape of hill, mesas, high pampas and low sierras that extend from the mountains to the Atlantic Ocean: this poorly vegetated area is almost constantly blown by strong westerly winds that have determined a semi-arid, cold weather that rejected settlers well within the end of the nineteenth century. A rapid look at the map of Argentina will tell you that Patagonia constitutes one third of the country’s surface having on the contrary a very minimal portion of its population. The myth of Patagonia was built from its wild geography and weather, and from all the historical figures that explored, colonized, exploited and populated this area before and after the arrival of Magellan in 1520. The fight against isolation and a harsh nature that shows itself in its full power is characteristic of man’s struggle in Patagonia. Far away from more populated regions and apparently without any obvious natural resources to be sacked or exploited Patagonia was put sideways in colonial times. Just a few vane attempts to settle the land convinced the colonial authorities to focuse on more immediate issues. Lots of ships disappeared on its coasts and very few explorers would venture further inside the sterile continent. Only the refuges, bays and inlets on the Atlantic coast had been charted. The inhabitants of the land were known or supposed to be wild, semi-human to the European eyes: these imaginary giants gave origin to the mythical and legendary character of Patagonia, a region that remained as unexplored terra incognita in the maps for a long time, a land that resisted to be conquered The originary people – the mapuches, Tehuelche, onas, yamanas, alacalufes- that had finally arrived to Southern Patagonia after a thousands year’s migration from the north disappeared when the newly formed countries of Argentina and Chile established their border and the land started to be settled at the en of the XIX century. After living in the mountain, forests, steppes and the coast of Patagonia for more twelve thousand years the early inhabitants lost their land. Famous archaeological sites like the Hand’s Cave (Cueva de las Manos) testimony the prehistory of Patagonia. In historical times, sailors, explorers, whalers and sealers, missionaries and settles have left written tales of the life and mythology of the first inhabitants of southern Patagonia. Some of the original names persist in the local toponymy such as Chaltén or Chaltel, the Tehuelche name for Mount Fitz Roy or Ushuaia, yamana name that means: bay that penetrates to the west. Patagonia offers a rich geography and a peculiar history: a unique Atlantic coastline and its incredible fauna of whales and penguins, fjords on the Pacific side; the empty steppes that puzzled and attracted so many famous explorers and writers like Charles Darwin, W. H. Hudson and Shakespeare; the stories of the originary peoples; the first sailors like Magellan and the English pirate Francis Drake, Schouten from Holland, Robert Fitz Roy, Piedrabuena; the pioneers and so many others. Furthermore, the Patagonian Andes have many astonishingly beautiful National Parks, both in Argentina and Chile being the most famous ones the Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina and the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile: a unique wild nature of incredible mountains, glaciers and Ice Fields.
El Chaltén is a young and dynamic mountain village that was officially funded en 1985. Before this date there were only a few and sacrificed settlers raising livestock living the Rio de las Vueltas Valley (Winding River Valley). They were the pioneers and their descendants, which had arrived from different parts of the world, especially Scandinavia, attracted by the possibilities of getting a piece of this newly open land. There were also National Park officers (the Los Glaciares National Park was created in 1937) and the members of the Argentinean Gendarmerie, a branch of the armed forces in charge of the borders. The most famous settler was the Danish Andreas Madsen, who charmingly write about his idyllic life in the valley in his books: Hunting Pumas in Patagonia and Tales of the Old Patagonia. This remote and isolated valley was visited only occasionally by mountain lovers: geologists, botanists, explorers and travelers that have heard about the beauty of Mount Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre and the glaciers. In the 1980’s the area started to be visited more frequently by climbers and occasional tourists moved by curiosity on the first organized tours by local and foreign agencies. The almost non-existent population in the area moved the Santa Cruz Province and the National Governments to found the village of El Chaltén in October 12 1985, to promote an effective sovereignty in the frontier. At first only provincial employees settled but little by little other people arrived attracted by the slowly flourishing tourism. They’ve build hotels, lodges, restaurants and there tourism agencies and mountain guiding companies that offer outdoors activities. Now El Chaltén has between 800 and 2000 inhabitants depending on the season and has grown up to be one the most visited trekking destination of the country, officially declared National Trekking Capital. The main attractions of the area are its mountains, the trails and the many adventure excursions that are offered. Achieving a sustainable growth has become a major challenge for its young population, the National Park and the Provincial Government. During the summer thousands of visitors come from all over the world, nature lovers, and climbers (here we call them “andinistas”) who seek the coveted peaks. Different services and new excursions for the tourists have appeared and hence, now you can choose a programme in which you can combine our daily activities like hiking, ecotourism outings, with educative lectures on natural history, bird watching, local history, National Parks, geology and glaciers or Spanish lessons. We invite you to enjoy our country in a different way and to stay in El Chaltén in a less conventional style.
PARQUE NACIONAL LOS GLACIARES
Los Glaciares National Park (The Glaciers National Park) was created in 1937, being since then the biggest of Argentina. It has 6000 km2 and it extends from the Patagonian Southern Ice Field in the west to the Patagonian Steppe in the east, including the Andean Patagonian Forest and an ecotonal area. Each zone has its own peculiar marks, fauna, flora and landscape. Particularly unique are the glaciers of the Ice Field being the most famous one the Moreno Glacier, declared World Heritage by the UNESCO. The northern area of the Park with Mount Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre and its array of trails is the favorite destination of mountain lovers. This is also the starting point for the expeditions that go into the Patagonian Ice Field. The Patagonian Andean forest also called deciduous subantartic forest, dominates the mountain zone with beautiful beech trees such as the lenga, ñire and guindo and the notros. The forest becomes very colorful in autumn. There are also in the Park Restricted Wilderness areas that were especially created to protect endangered species such the cypress and the Andean deer called Huemul. Many other plants like the coir on in the steppe, animals like the pumas, guanacos and foxes, condors and numerous wild flowers including orchids are present in the park. The National Park Headquarters are located in El Calafate 220 km south of El Chaltén on the northern: the park is divided in sections or secciones, each one of them with its Visitor Centre. More conventional tourism prefers the southern area with its many glaciers calving on the Argentino Lake whereas outdoors lovers go the Viedma Lake Area where El Chaltén is located. It’s here where we carry out most of our programmes at the foot Mount Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre and just being the Ice Field. The Park has also more remote areas which are seldom visited like the Frias Glacier Area and Seccional Guanaco and Estancia Helsingfors. The Visitor Center in the Lago Viedma area offers a welcome briefing every day so we strongly recommend you to stop by to learn about the different possibilities that the Park offers as well as about its peculiarities and actual issues. Knowledge becomes fundamental for protection and conservation.