When we were planning our stay in Patagonia, I would constantly catch myself thinking about how it would be like to spend my birthday at the End of The World. To make it even better, it would be our first day in Ushuaia, after a long journey from São Paulo, so we were incredibly excited, looking forward for the adventure ahead.
Spoiler alert: I could never have imagined how amazing it would be. Not in a millions years.
We started the day very early in the morning. Marco, our guide for the 4×4 Off-Road Expedition, picked us up at the hotel around 7 a.m. on a huge jeep. Just by looking at the vehicle, you could definitely tell we were about to experience some of the “extreme conditions” Patagonia travel guides talk so much about.
I must mention that Marco was an amazing guide – He was born and raised in Ushuaia, and knows a lot about the region’s geography, environment, and history. He patiently answered all our questions through the day and was very thoughtful on providing us the best experience.
In fact, he taught us a lot of the things you can read in my previous post while we were driving to our first stop.
Our first stop was in Paso Garibaldi, on the National Route 3 (or Ruta Nacional 3, in Spanish). This place has a beautiful lookout point where you can see Lake Fagnano and Lake Escondido.
There is not much to say, to be honest. I believe the pictures speak for themselves. Paso Garibaldi is a peaceful place to stop and admire the view.
On our way to our second stop, we saw many impressive dams that were actually built by local beavers!
Interesting fact: Patagonian beavers are originally from North America. These animals were transported to Ushuaia in a failed attempt to feed the fur-production industry – This was due to Ushuaia’s extreme winter conditions. Over time, the beavers started reproducing exponentially and, since there are no natural predators for them in Patagonia, quickly became too many to control.
As you can imagine, since there were so many of them, they began to destroy forests and devastate the region. The situation was so out of control that the regional government actually hired locals to hunt the animals down – to this day, the matter is still far from being solved.
Such sad consequences of human interference on nature…
On our second stop I realized why this tour is called “4×4 Off-Road”.
The road to Lake Fagnano is a dirty and bumpy track with lots of ups and downs. It felt like being in Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain rollercoaster, but better – Please notice: I am a huge Disney fan, so this is a major compliment, coming from me. It had also rained the day before our visit, so the road was completely wet and slippery.
Luckily, as I mentioned before, we were on a huge jeep, totally prepared for this situation.
The drive was so exciting that when we got to Lake Fagnano, we were actually inside the lake!! Of course, in a minute we were back on track and there were no signs of water inside the vehicle – As I said, the expedition is prepared for it.
When we reached Lake Fagnano and I looked to the sight right in front of me, I was completely lost for words.
Lake Fagnano is about 100km (60 miles) north of Ushuaia. It borders both Chile and Argentina, although most of its waters fall into Argentinian territory.
According to our guide, when there is little wind, the lake turns into a “water mirror”, something that we unfortunately did not see on the day we visit. Because the water perfectly reflects the landscape, the locals call Lake Fagnano the “rest of the horizon”.
The water was clear and the sun was shining bright upon our arrival. I felt like going for a swim, until I put my hand in the water and realized it was truly freezing.
In December 2010, ten years before we traveled to Patagonia, I visited a very similar place in New Zealand. I was in Kaikoura, a small city in the South Island. I don’t know if my birthday had anything to do with all these nostalgic feelings, but right now, as I write this post, I remember looking at Lake Fagnano and having the same feeling from seeing Kaikoura’s landscape: We are very small in front of nature’s magnitude.
Back to the Jeep for the last stop of the day: Lake Escondido, at the foot of Garibaldi mountain.
After driving a few minutes, we reached a trail. Lake Escondido is a lot smaller than Fagnano and is completely surrounded by forests – In Spanish “escondido” means hidden, so now you see why it has this name. To get to our destination, we would have to walk a few minutes.
The trail was quite easy. There were no slopes, and the floor was not slippery at all – In fact, the floor was “soft”, as if we were stepping on cotton.
Our guide explained that it happens because the fallen vegetation takes hundreds of years to decompose due to Patagonia’s climate. On summertime, it is very humid. During the winter, the forest gets completely frozen. Therefore, the leaves remain intact for a long time, creating this curious “fluffy cover” on the forest floor.
A few moments later, there it was, in the middle of the forest, Lake Escondido. The sun was still shining bright when we arrive and there was only us there – It felt very peaceful and quiet.
Near the lake’s edge, there was a small wooden hut. Since it was already 1 p.m., Marco invited us to sit down for a while and have lunch – A traditional Patagonian barbecue that he would prepare for our small group.
It was 1 p.m. and the first time in the day I was thinking about the time and food – I didn’t even notice the time passing.
For someone like me that usually spends the whole day thinking about deadlines and running from one meeting to another, it was a nice and interesting feeling. The landscape can definitely make you forget about any of those things.
Not the best quality for the pictures, but the food was amazing – There is something about the Argentinian meat that I just cannot explain.
When we left the hut, the sky was getting cloudy, but according to Marco we still had a few minutes until it was time to go home.
After walking around and admiring the view of Lake Escondido, he asked if me and my sister would like to ride a boat on the lake. Of course, we said yes – And it was probably one of the most scary and amazing things we did on this trip!
We stopped when it started raining – Unfortunately that meant it was time to finish our Expedition. We picked up our backpacks very quickly and just before the rain got strong, we finished the trail and were inside the Jeep again.
We drove South on Route 3, back to Ushuaia, for a little more than half an hour.
While looking at my window, I understood why every travel guide I read before mentioned that Patagonia’s weather is completely unstable on summer. The sky was dark, there was fog on the mountains and the wind was blowing fiercely. It was hard to believe that a few hours before I was in front of Lake Fagnano considering jumping into the water.
By the time we arrived at the hotel it was not raining anymore, but the sky was still cloudy. After a warm shower, I sat down at my room window which had a beautiful view from Ushuaia’s city center and sea. After seeing the pictures from the 4×4 Off-Road Expedition, all I could think was: “I can believe this is how I got spent my 25th birthday!”
4×4 Off-Road Expedition on Map: