Entertaining Interludes crossing a Patagonian Desert – El Chalten to Torres del Paine

El Chalten – Pink Hotel (27 Jul, 2017) – El Calafate (28 Jul) – Perito Moreno (31st Jul) – Cerro Castillo (13th Aug) – Refugio Central (Torres del Paine) (13th Aug)

On the vast open stretches of Argentinian pampa even a small headwind can induce boredom and I occasionally fantasised about a speedy arrival in Ushuaia after so much time on the road. These thoughts were normally fairly fleeting, however, and would be rapidly alleviated by a favourable change in wind direction, the appearance of a world class geographical feature or some kind of entertaining interlude.  In these moments my feelings would swing to euphoria and I would bask in an appreciation of how lucky I was to enjoy such experiences in my life.  Not unlike the hills, my emotions rolled up and down on the road that never seemed to end.

Dawn at the Pink Hotel

The notable highlights of this section were the “Pink Hotel”, Perito Moreno glacier, distant views of Torres del Paine and the delightful estancia meat feasts.  This is the tale of those interludes…

Leaving mid-afternoon with a strong tailwind out of El Chalten I cycle 120+km to reach the notorious “Pink Hotel” an hour after dark. From the outside these look like just any old ruins, but the inside tells a different story…

Years of graffiti from past cycle tourists plaster the walls, offering light entertainment and a sense of ‘saudade’.

The excitement of past trips now just memories and markings on a wall.  If our memories are what define us could there be a better way to make them? Had I met anyone of these people, we would no doubt have had so much to share.

As it was, however, I see out the last hours of my birthday with hibernating flies and the sound of the wind.

Hence the name….

Back into the rolling open pampa and fending off boredom.

Occasional wildlife perks things up

After getting to the intersection, I cycle for 100 metres and, since I must come back this way, decide to stick out my thumb to the first passing vehicle. I immediately get a ride into El Calafate in an old pick-up truck. This is an out and back stretch with fast moving traffic; the decision is an easy one.

Perito Moreno, an enormous glacial tourist attraction connected to the 350km long Southern Patagonian Ice-Field.

The Ice Field is the reason that the Southern tip of mainland Chile is not connected to the rest of the country by its own roads.  It feeds dozens of glaciers, many of which have receded dramatically in the last 50 years providing a useful barometer for climate change.  A few kilometres from El Calafate, the Glaciarium museum provides more information on the matter and you can enjoy its Ice Bar after learning about one of the world’s most pressing problems.

The other side of this beast.

A rare appearance of the author. Photo credit: Javier Martinez.

Occasionally huge slabs of ice break  off the glacier and plummet into the water causing a fleeting swell of floating ice debris.

Kilometres of it stretch into the distance. No doubt less dreary on a sunny day, it’s still quite a sight.

Condors (I think!) circle gracefully

A few last looks on the way out of the park

The outskirts of El Calafate disappearing from view.

And then it’s back on the road towards Chile…

A quick climb over a small pass

Guanaco. Living out here year round. Undoubtedly tough animals.

A loner, somehow separated from the safety of the group. I imagine such an error could mean death out here.

It seems not everyone makes it through the winter

The generous Argentinian hospitality I now know so well. Every time I have knocked on the door of an estancia (farm) I am offered a place in doors. It’s not 5 stars but getting out of the wind is worth more than any fancy hotel.

Meat. Argentinians like it. This balanced diet contains both fat and protein.

For a day I share the road with world cyclist Javier from Spain who decides to return to El Calafate for a love interest. I find myself alone with the wind once more.


A day after saying goodbye to Javier I cross paths with Gurkan (my Carretera Austral cycling companion). We share the road as we head towards Torres del Paine to find out why some describe it as the “eighth wonder of the world”.

Back onto Chilean paved.

And into Torres del Paine National Park

Next post: Trudging around Torres del Paine in winter in 3 metres of snow.


Useful shelters: Pink Hotel (see embedded map), Vialidad (see embedded map – normally open to doors to cyclists – marked near Estancia Tapi Aike on Google maps) and Cerro Castillo bus terminal (we climbed through the window and slept on the floor).

You can cut out the big zig zag to Esperanza but I was warned the road was very bad when wet so I avoided it.



5 thoughts on “Entertaining Interludes crossing a Patagonian Desert – El Chalten to Torres del Paine

    • Hi Jim, I didn’t ride in Brazil – I left my bike in Buenos Aires and then travelled by bus to Foz de Iguazu and beyond. I wanted a break from the bike tour lifestyle for a while…

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