ARGENTINA: Patagonia, Buenos Aires

In Argentina, inspiring Patagonian scenery and great hiking rival any in the world. We left winter in Seattle to enjoy summer in Buenos Aires, Patagonia (in Argentina and Chile), and Antarctica from February 3 to March 11, 2005. Below are photo highlights, travel tips, and detailed self-booked itinerary.

Favorite Argentina photos

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Buenos Aires photos

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When to visit Patagonia (southern Chile and Argentina)

Spanning both Argentina and Chile, the foot of South America is known as Patagonia, a name derived from coastal giants (“Patagão” or “Patagoni” who were actually Tehuelche native people who averaged 25 cm taller than the Spaniards) who were reported by Magellan’s 1520s voyage circumnavigating the world.

  • The best time to visit Patagonia may be from March to April, when tourists disappear, yet most services remain open, wild windy weather calms somewhat, and beech tree forests glow with fall colors. At the beginning of March, children go back to school, parents go home, and crowds disappear.
  • Late February through March has less wind and rain than earlier in the summer.
  • High tourist season in Patagonia runs from December to the end of February, when accommodation and other services should be booked in advance.
  • Avoid overcrowding January to mid-February in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.
  • Patagonia is very windy all year. November can be the windiest. September to January are frequently blasted with high winds (gravity-fed katabatic winds or williwaws) which rush off the Patagonian icecap at 60 mph all day, sometimes up to 100 mph. Even in late February/early March, which have the lightest summer winds, we experienced steady 50 mph winds about every third day!
  • The ozone hole over Earth’s southern atmosphere is worst September to mid-October and continues through January — apply sunscreen every day, including cloudy days.

Mountain weather forecasts

Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

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Easy boardwalks and stairs give wide views of Perito Moreno Glacier, an impressive wall of ice 200 feet high, 3 miles (5 km) wide, flowing into Lake Argentina in Los Glaciares National Park, in Santa Cruz province. Easy access to the awesome glacier makes it one of the most popular sights in South America. The glacier flows up to 2300 feet thick and originates in the huge Hielo Sur (Southern Icefield). The flowing ice periodically dams an arm of the lake which rises for a few years then breaks across the nose of the glacier as a crashing river (in March 2004 and 1991). In 2005, a narrow river flowed across the face of Moreno Glacier which calved large chunks of ice into the water with a loud crash several times per day. In the past 90 years, its melting has equaled its advance (up to 2 meters per day, 700 meters per year), so the glacial terminus has roughly stayed in the same place — a rarity in a time of global warming.

Hikes from El Chaltén village into Cerro Fitz Roy range, in Los Glaciares National Park

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In El Chaltén, we nestled into a comfortable cabin with kitchen. Multi-night backpacking trips can be done with optional horse support, but frequent high winds can thrash tents all night. The following great trails can be done as day hikes from El Chaltén:

  • Laguna de los Tres (15 miles, 3200 feet round trip) is one of earth’s most spectacular glacial cirques, a favorite hike. Be sure and ascend the 300-foot hill above Laguna de los Tres (Lake of the Three) for the best view, which includes glacial-turquoise Lago Sucia (Dirty Lake) far below. Options: backpack or horsepack to the campground for 2 or 3 nights for more time exploring awesome beauty.
  • Loma del Pliegue Tumbada (12 miles, 3000 feet round trip, plus 3 miles and 1000 feet higher if you go to the top of the third hill with the best view). Views are so impressive that we hiked a second time in better weather. See Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy together at several viewpoints. Start this spectacular hike at Los Glaciares National Park Visitor Center (before crossing the river bridge into south end of El Chaltén). Start early to photograph classic sunrise views of the Fitz Roy Range on the main road a few hundred yards east of the Visitor Center.
  • Torre Lake (6 hours round trip) has an excellent close view of Cerro Torre. Halfway there, cool wave clouds sped over Mount Fitz Roy but clouds obscured Cerro Torre. 50 mph winds at the pass turned me back.
  • Rio Electrico to Cerro Electrico Oeste peak gives spectacular views looking south to the Fitz Roy Range. Optionally hire pack animals to support a tenting trip here, or possibly overnight at private Refugio Los Troncos, or day hike from a vehicle parked along the nearest road. The day hike is very steep with good views along the way.

Ushuaia and Tierra Del Fuego National Park, Argentina

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As the port closest to Antarctica (400 miles across the Drake Straight), Ushuaia hosts most of the cruise ships that visit the southernmost continent.

A map of southern South America (Patagonia) summarizes trip from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, Antarctica, Torres del Paine National Park (Chile), and Mount Fitz Roy (Argentina).

Patagonia and Antarctica itinerary

Our self-booked private group traveled from Seattle to Buenos Aires, Patagonia (Argentina & Chile), and Antarctica from February 3 to March 11, 2005:

  1. Fly to Buenos Aires, Ezeiza airport (code EZE, Ministro Pistarini International Airport). Stay in San Telmo barrio (oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires). See tango shows, shop at street fairs, dance in Dorrego Square.
  2. Fly 1500 miles from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia (airport code USH), in Tierra del Fuego province of Argentina. Eat king crab pizza with frosty beer, take the ski lift to hikes, and walk in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
  3. From Ushuaia, cruise 12 days round trip with GAP (now called G Adventures) through the Beagle Channel and across rough 400-mile Drake Straight to explore the frozen Antarctic Peninsula.
  4. Fly a short hop from Ushuaia to working-class Punta Arenas (airport code PUQ), in Chile. Ride vans and buses to tourist town Puerto Natales.
  5. Bus from Puerto Natales to lodges or trailheads in Torres del Paine National Park (Chile). Trek or day hike happily for a week.
  6. Bus from Puerto Natales (Chile) to thriving tourist town El Calafate (which has an airport with frequent flights from Buenos Aires) in Argentina, where awesome Perito Moreno Glacier is a popular day trip. Most people take a bus tour to Moreno Glacier round trip 8:30am to 5:00pm, which most hotels can book upon your arrival. But for better photographs, rent a car, drive in early around sunrise (2 hours driving one way), and experience morning light from the boardwalks. Staying for sunset light may also be good. For two or more people, car rental is cheaper and more flexible than a bus tour.
  7. Bus from El Calafate round trip to frontier town El Chaltén. The road is now paved and 2.5 hours by car or 3 hours by bus. (The formerly gravel road took 5 hours by bus in 2005.) Explore spectacular Mount Fitz Roy via classic day hikes.
  8. From El Calafate Airport (code FTE, 20 km east of El Calafate), fly back to Buenos Aires. Frequent daily flights.

Recommended Patagonia, Argentina, Chile, and Antarctica books and maps

Search for latest Patagonia travel books at Amazon.com:

2009:

Search for latest Argentina travel books at Amazon.com:

2012: 2010: 2011: 2006:

Search for latest Chile travel books at Amazon.com:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:
2006: 2008:

Search for latest Antarctica travel books at Amazon.com:

2012: 2008: 2009:

ANTARCTICA

From Ushuaia, Argentina, we cruised 12 days to Antarctica, through Beagle Channel and across the treacherous 400-mile Drake Passage, February 9-20, 2005. My father, my wife, a friend and I explored the frozen Antarctic Peninsula for 6 of the 12 days. Our voyage on the good ship Explorer was run by the excellent value tour company now called G Adventures (formerly GAP). We left winter in Seattle to enjoy summer in Buenos Aires, Patagonia (in Argentina & Chile), and Antarctica from February 3 to March 11, 2005.

Favorite photos from Antarctica

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Antarctica photo tips
  • Don’t approach penguins closer than 15 feet, according to Antarctic tourism rules. But if you lie down on the ground more than 15 feet away, curious Gentoo penguin chicks will often walk over to inspect you closely.
  • For best photography of wildlife and icebergs, get a telephoto lens 300mm or longer (≥450mm in terms of full frame) with optical image stabilization.
  • Bring a good DSLR or mirrorless camera with 11x (or greater) zoom lens as described in the BUY>CAMERAS menu.
Antarctica travel tips
  • Find a cruise ship with the fewest passengers (90-130) to increase your land excursion time. Only 100 people per ship are allowed on land at a given time.
  • The shortest Antarctic Cruise is 10 days, and we went for 12 days. If affordable, extend your cruise (to 22 days) to spectacular South Georgia Island to see vast colonies of Emperor Penguins.
  • Don’t forget a prescription medicine patch to prevent motion sickness on the rough Drake Passage (5 days round trip on treacherous seas)! We were very, very sick for a solid 24 hours until staggering around to find someone on board who was willing to give us the patch cure, which you simply attach to your neck.
After our trip in 2005, the M/S Explorer sank November 23, 2007

Just two and a half years after our successful trip on the M/S Explorer, the ship sank! In telling this harrowing story in November 2007, Reuters News Pictures Service published three of my M/S Explorer images from 2005. The Explorer, owned by Canadian travel company G.A.P. Adventures (renamed to G Adventures in 2011), took on water after hitting ice at 12:24 a.m. EST on Friday November 23, 2007. 154 passengers and crew climbed into lifeboats and drifted some six hours in calm waters. A Norwegian passenger boat picked them up and took them to Chile’s Antarctic Eduardo Frei base. There they were fed, clothed, checked by a doctor, and later flown to Punta Arenas, Chile. The ship sank hours after the passengers and crew were evacuated.

Antarctic wildlife, icebergs, and cruise ship photo show

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Deception Island photo show

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Ushuaia, Argentina photo show

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Global Warming

Since the industrial revolution began, humans have increased atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by 35% through burning of fossil fuels, deforesting land, and grazing livestock. The world’s climate scientists agree that human-caused carbon-compound gas emissions are accelerating global warming, rapidly melting glaciers, and raising ocean levels worldwide. Humans have forced a grand warming experiment affecting all life on earth, with unknown consequences.

  • Sea level is currently rising by 1.3 inches (3.2 centimeters) per decade.
  • Since the industrial revolution began, excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from humans has acidified the oceans by almost 30%, with possibly drastic affects on shellfish and fisheries (from pH 8.25 to 8.14 in the period from 1751 to 2004 according to Jacobson, 2005).
  • Climate change may be most dire for subsistence farming societies in Africa and Asia.

Industrial nations are challenged to replace fossil fuels with energy sources that don’t increase atmospheric greenhouse gases. Other than hydroelectric, solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources plus energy conservation, few viable alternatives currently exist to replace growing industrial addiction to oil and coal. Nuclear energy has serious problems of safety and long-term storage of radioactive waste. Japan’s tragic 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami caused expensive nuclear plant meltdowns, forcing long-term evacuations of hundreds of thousands of residents.

Humans must reduce global demands upon earth’s resources to sustainable levels before consequences become dire. One of our highest priorities should be worldwide family planning to stabilize earth’s human population in a better balance with nature.

A map of southern South America (Patagonia) marks cruise from Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego province of Argentina) across Drake Passage to Vernadsky Base run by Ukraine in Antarctica. Extent of winter and summer ice is indicated.

Climate change in Antarctica

Global warming is measurably highest in the Northern Hemisphere (which has the most land mass) and on the Antarctic Peninsula. The Antarctic Peninsula is a relatively small but climatically important piece of the continent of Antarctica which juts into the westward path of the strongest and fastest of all ocean currents, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC).

Two-thirds of the planet’s freshwater is frozen in Antarctica. Surprisingly, Antarctica is actually a desert in terms of annual precipitation — only 200 mm (8 inches) along the coast and much less inland. The average temperature of the continent of Antarctica is predicted to rise slightly over the next 50 years. But warming deep ocean waters just off the continental shelf may be the biggest threat: if floating Antarctic ice shelves melt too fast over the sea, the pressure of land-based feeder glaciers will send extra ice to melt, thereby accelerating global sea level rise. The extra ice that flows off and melts from Antarctic land will be partly offset by increased snowfall over Antarctica expected as warming climate evaporates extra moisture into Antarctic air masses. Climate scientists are feverishly studying these complex questions:

  • An article in American Scientist Magazine July-August 2008 reports:
    “The average midwinter temperature here [at Palmer Station, on the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula] has increased by 6 degrees Celsius since 1950; this is the highest rate of warming anywhere on the planet, five times the global average….Whereas the continent proper has not warmed appreciably in the past century, there has been a 3.4 degree increase in the mean annual temperature along the peninsula….If the trend continues,…[after] the middle of this century… sea ice will not form in most years, leading to a regime change in the ecosystem….We sound an urgent call to mitigate all the factors under human control that are contributing to global climate change.” The three scientists who wrote this speak with the authority of having “spent a collective total of 36 seasons at Palmer.”
  • A study published 2009 in the journal Nature reported that the annual temperature for West Antarctica has warmed by about 1 degree Fahrenheit in the past 50 years (to about 50 degrees below zero) and has exceeded the slight cooling measured in East Antarctica (says lead author Eric Steig of the University of Washington, Seattle).
  • Suggested reading:  National Geographic Magazine August 2007.

Read more about global warming, climate change, and lifestyle sustainability.

Recommended Patagonia, Argentina, Chile, and Antarctica books and maps

Search for latest Patagonia travel books at Amazon.com:

2009:

Search for latest Argentina travel books at Amazon.com:

2012: 2010: 2011: 2006:

Search for latest Chile travel books at Amazon.com:

2012: 2011: 2011: 2010:
2006: 2008:

Search for latest Antarctica travel books at Amazon.com:

2012: 2008: 2009: