Shifting Travel Itinerary on a Dime in the Middle of the Southern Ocean

When I started planning my Argentina vacation, I looked at a variety of destinations within the country to visit. Eventually I decided to spend my time in Tierra del Fuego and Argentina Patagonia, in addition to my Antarctica cruise. I had wanted to fit in Iguazu Falls up in the way northeast of country (bordering Paraguay and Brazil), but I just didn’t have the time to fit it all in. I figured MAYBE I would fit it in on another trip to the area, but I didn’t expect to really come back to Argentina.

Fast forward to the third day of my cruise to Antarctica. We spent two somewhat queasy days traversing the Drake Passage, and we were excited that the next day to finally hit landfall in Antarctica. And then…we knew something was off when the ship captain gathered us all in the lounge for a group meeting, because it was important to tell us in person. A passenger had been seriously injured and needed to be medically evacuated. In most of those situations, the goal was to get the passenger to an airstrip in Antarctica, and then fly them back to Argentina. But bad weather and clouds were expected to roll in, and that would close the airstrips. There was also the possibility that we could transfer the passenger to a returning cruise ship. However, the nearest cruise ship was 600 miles away, so that wasn’t really feasible. So that left option number three, turning the ship around and returning to Ushuaia.

As you can imagine, there was quite the uproar. We had spent the previous two days experiencing a version of the  Drake Shake, and we had to go back and do it all over again. All without even seeing Antarctica from a distance. Some of the passengers tried to argue, but there was really nothing that could be done.

So that left me thinking of how I could spend the time upon return. The cruise was supposed to be 10 days, and I already had my itinerary booked for Patagonia upon my return. But that left five days to fill with time. I briefly considered staying in Tierra del Fuego, but I felt I had seen what I wanted to see. I had a week scheduled in Patagonia, so I was going to see what I wanted there. So of course my mind wandered to Iguazu. I really wanted to see the waterfalls, and it seemed like I could fly up there and enjoy the waterfalls for a few days before flying to Patagonia.

So I was trying to coordinate all of this via WhatsApp in the middle of the Drake Passage. Thankfully the ship turned on their WiFi, and it was good enough to communicate back to the mainland. I am super grateful for the quick and professional response from Oriunda, my travel company in Argentina. I was able to explain the situation and what my desired itinerary was, and they put together an itinerary that met my needs within 24 hours. So before the night was even over after we turned around, I had a viable travel alternative planned for when I arrived back to Ushuaia.

It is to their credit they were able to book a series of flights to get me from Ushuaia to Iguazu (because I had to overnight in Buenos Aires coming and going to the town of Puerto Iguazu), and have some excursions booked. I am forever grateful they responded as well as they did, and I was able to add in a place I wanted to visit anyway. Of course this side trip wasn’t cheap, but I would say it was overall worth it.

So I can’t say really anything about Antarctica just yet, but thankfully the company comped us new voyages, so I am going back in November this year to try again. I’m hoping this time I will get the Drake Lake on that crossing. The weather wasn’t as bad as it could be, but the ship was small (which is great for maximizing landings in Antarctica), and it didn’t have stabilizers, so we definitely felt the rolling sea more than the bigger ships. It was most interesting when eating meals. The crew put down sticky placemats on the tables, so the dinnerware didn’t shift, but sometimes it still felt precarious. And I saw the wisdom of having beds with bars on them, so we didn’t fall out of bed when the sea really starting getting up. This cruise was almost like a preview cruise for this coming year. I got to see some really nice views of Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia from the Beagle Channel. I got a couple nice sunsets. And I got a better understanding of how to maneuver around a ship that is rocking from sea swells. And of course reinforce that you shouldn’t take a shower when crossing the Drake Passage.

Trekking and Canoeing in Tierra del Fuego National Park

One of the highlights and must dos if you are in the Ushuaia area for any length of time, is visit Tierra del Fuego National Park. It is not a far drive from the town of Ushuaia, and it offers a wide range of activities. The particular trip I did was a full day trip that involved both trekking and canoeing.

The same guide company, Canal Fun and Nature, that did my Lago Fagnano trip the prior day also provided the guides for this trip. The group was definitely bigger for this outing, since we were all on a bus. After getting to the park, we got outfitted for our canoe trip down a river, through a lagoon, and ultimately ending at Lapataia Bay. Since it was spring down in Ushuaia, the weather was on the chilly side, and it was good to get some waterproof pants and boots on.

We were broken up into groups and given basic paddling instructions, and then we set off from Lake Acigami and canoed down the Lapataia River. The paddling was pretty easy most of the time, because the current often just took us down the river. There were spots where the water was fairly shallow, and we had to strategically paddle to get through it. But it was a very pleasant journey surrounded by distant mountains and green shores.

After a couple hours of paddling, we ended up at Lapataia Bay, which is where the Pan American Highway 3 ends. The viewpoint was really pleasant, though we didn’t spend too much time lingering, because it was lunch time and we needed to get to our lunch hut.

Setup for lunch was similar as my lunch the previous day, though I missed the abundance of grilled meat, but there was plenty of wine. However, unlike the previous day, I definitely watched my wine intake, because I knew we were only half done with the day’s activities. We still had a hike ahead of us.

The afternoon was a guided 8km hike along the Senda Costera (Coastal Trail). I would rate the hike in the medium difficulty, though fitness fiends would think it was pretty easy. We were dropped off by the side of the road and immediately headed into the forest. There is a lot of good forest cover in the area, and the trail is clearly marked as it wends its way through the woods.

The trail itself goes up and down over the terrain. I personally found some of the uphills to be challenging, and deliberately stuck close to the guide up front, so as not be left behind. The guide was kind enough to help me when we reached big obstacles to traverse (like fallen trees) or some particularly tricky down hill.

The trail can be done in either direction, though I was glad we did it in the direction we did. Both directions will have their share of short but tricky uphill sections, but it looked like the other way would have had more and longer challenging uphills. I may watch my feet carefully on steep downhills, because of my clumsy nature, but it wasn’t hard to do physically.

My body did get tired though, even though it was only 8 km, but we were rewarded with some very nice views of the Beagle Channel, with its blue seas and pretty mountains. We ended the hike at Ensenada Bay, which is where the post office at the end of the world is located. By that point, we were in the open air, and the strong Tierra del Fuego winds ensured we didn’t linger too long at the shore.

It was definitely a good day of physical activity and a variety of scenery to get a taste of what Tierra del Fuego National Park has to offer.

Tierra del Fuego Lago Fagnano Adventure

Lago Fagnano

This past fall, I finally got back into the experience of overseas travel, after not traveling outside of the USA since the fall of 2019. It was nice to get back into the swing of things and experience new places. As it happened, my first trip was to Argentina. To be honest, I had never really given much thought to Argentina in the past. But since I had booked a cruise to Antarctica, and most Antarctica cruises start from Argentina, I was going to be in the country anyway. Since I like to get as much bang for my travel buck as possible, I figured if I am already down at the end of the world, I might as well explore the country and see what it has to offer.

Once I started my research, I realized that Argentina has a wealth of places to see and do and a variety of climates to make travel interesting. Tierra del Fuego sounded really interesting from my travel research, and I knew the terrain would be very different from home and what I am used to. To start my vacation since my Antarctica cruise had a fixed time and I ran the numbers in terms of work vacation days spent, I decided to go to Argentina early enough to give me three full days in Tierra del Fuego and the town of Ushuaia to explore. Working with my travel agent, Tesa Totencgo, she (in conjunction with an amazing Argentina travel agency, Oriunda who made all the arrangements on the ground) recommended some fun activities in Tierra del Fuego. My first full day in Argentina was a trip out to the large Lago Fagnano. It’s on the island of Tierra del Fuego, but not in the national park to my knowledge. It was a good opportunity to see and do something different and get comfortable in the Tierra del Fuego area.

Lago Escondido view from Paso Garibaldi

I was picked up early by my guide from Canal Fun Nature, the group that offers this tour. There were about six of us in this SUV, and we met up with a couple other SUVs and headed out. Our first stop was the mountain overlook, Garibaldi Pass, which gave us a very expansive view of Lago Escondido and the surrounding mountains.

After that, we headed out to Lago Fagnano (a huge lake of around 100 km across) and took advantage of the SUV’s 4×4 capability to navigate some rather rugged trails on the lake shore, and sometimes even in the lake a little bit. This lake is huge, and in fact part of it is in Chile (since both Argentina and Chile share borders on Tierra del Fuego island). Our guides pointed out local flora (such as the fragrant floral calafate berry bush that produced a very pretty yellow flower, and also the berries that were very popular in the region), and castors, which are beavers that have been beavering everywhere and cutting down trees to make numerous dams.

Our guides dropped us off at the lakeshore and instructed us to follow the shore for about a half mile and then turn inland to the hut. They went ahead and prepared the lunch buffet. It was nice to get out and walk along the lake shore. The sun was shining, and the wind picked up every so often to create small white caps on the lake surface. It was pleasantly chilly and the wind is a hallmark of the weather in Tierra del Fuego.

Our easy walk brought us to the hut where this very tasty and expansive lunch buffet was prepared. There were a wide assortment of grilled meats, sausage sandwiches, a variety of sides, and oh so much Argentine wine. By the end of it, we were stuffed and rather drunk, but definitely got our money’s worth. Thankfully the lunch was the culmination of our day’s activity, so we took our time navigating out of the lake on a different road, an actual road within the park. Afterward we took a different road back to Ushuaia to enjoy the view. It was definitely an enjoyable day, and a great start to my multi-week Argentina adventure.