We will now take a look at the mystic and quiet section of Route 40, from El Calafate, where you will visit Perito Moreno Glacier, to the town of Los Antiguos at the shore of Buenos Aires Lake. In between the endless steppe and the farthest depths of Patagonia, you can find this renowned section of the Patagonian route. Miles of desolate plains and almost no vegetation make up this landscape. But crossing it has its rewards: The entrance to the town of El Chaltén and the views of Mount Fitz Roy and Torre and available trekking circuits, lakes such as San Martín and Belgrano, Perito Moreno National Park and the majestic San Lorenzo Mount. The captivating splendor of the solitude and the large semi-desert areas hide beautiful lakes such as Posadas, Pueyrredón and Buenos Aires, as well as cave painting in the Cave of Hands and towns such as Perito Moreno and Los Antiguos. Since this route was created it has become a must for adventure travelers, and it continues to be so throughout its thousands of miles.
From El Calafate to El Chaltén on Route 40
As you say good bye to El Calefate to head to El Chaltén, you pass through a bridge above Santa Cruz River. This is the point of departure for your intended section of Route 40 if driven from south to north. In El Calafate you will visit Perito Moreno Glacier and sail the cold waters of Argentino Lake as far as Estancia Cristina. The road between Calafate and Chalten is an uninhabited area where strong winds prevail and the steppe is the absolute highlight. You will leave the estuary of La Leona River behind and keep going until you find the entrance to the city of Viedma. In El Chaltén you will devote your days to trekking. This mountain town is renowned for its hiking trails such as the trail from the base of Mount Fitz Roy to Laguna de los Tres or Mount Torre and other trails like Pliegue Tumbado, Piedra del Fraile, etc. Save one afternoon for the visit to Laguna del Desierto (Desert Lagoon.) In order to reach there, you will take the same provincial Route 21 bordering the Rio de las Vueltas (De las Vueltas River) until you find this stretch of water well hidden from view. Here you can hike to Huemul Glacier. As days are short, you will have to continue on your planned route to the north in order to arrive to your new destination: Perito Moreno National Park.
Perito Moreno National Park
This is a natural wonder where the desert merges with the mountain range and Mount San Lorenzo’s shape dominates the view. This area receives fewer visitors than other protected areas in Argentina. This is why on its great, unspoiled extension, nature’s beauty is kept intact. Lakes, mountains, steppe and forests are dominated by flora and fauna. The park was created in 1937 and covers an area of 285,000 acres in the northwest of the province of Santa Cruz. Its protected domains include several areas of Sub-Antarctic forest, steppe and transition areas between both ecosystems.
In the park you will find water stretches such as Belgrano and Burmeister Lakes. In Lake Belgrano there is a trail leading to the peninsula in Belgrano Lake, with turquoise waters and a large number of flamingos, ducks, great bustards and the presence of Cerro Heros (Mount Heros.) You will find local species such as the Patagonian sierra finch or the Austral pygmy owl as well as packs of guanacos sharing their habitat with pumas, red and grey foxes, rheas and wildcats. On Lake Burmeister, there is a trail starting to the south of the ranger’s house and after 9, 3 miles, you will reach a beautiful water stretch well hidden from view. There are also other trekking options available if you follow the course of Roble River, which originate on this lake, and reach the base of Casa de Piedra Mount. In this region there is rock art from indigenous people older than the Tehuelches.
Pueyrredón and Posadas Lakes
After crossing a dry stretch of the Patagonian steppe with the Andes Mountain Range as background and on the detour of Route 40 and Provincial Route 39, Bajo Caracoles and the entrance to Cave of Hands are located. In the middle of the Patagonian steppe you will find this small town which is a kind of resting location for travelers visiting this part of Patagonia. Continuing on along Provincial Route 39 towards the west, you will pass through Pampa de los Alemanes. Here you will find the abandoned old country store (general store.) On the surrounding landscape, the Andes Mountain range prevails to the front and San Lorenzo Mount to the left. Before descending from the plateau, the route passes through a steep ravine of reddish and greenish shades landscape.
Before reaching the lakes you pass over the town of Hipólito Yrigoyen - better known as Posadas Lake - with only 500 inhabitants and surrounded by farms and “estancias”, an amazing haven in the middle of the dry landscape. You will leave the town heading west where a sandy, uneven area starts. To the left, you will see Posadas Lake, and after some 4 miles you will reach the neck of land separating lakes Posadas and Pueyrredón.
Lake Posadas is small sized and its waters have a different shade of blue, which provides for a beautiful contrast. The different color - blue for Pueyrredón Lake and light blue for Posadas Lake - is the most remarkable feature of these wonderful lakes. This rounded shaped stretch of waters is located in a lovely area and is virtually attached to the neighbor Pueyrredón Lake, only separated by a narrow neck of land, just a few feet wide.
Pueyrredón Lake is the larger of the two. Such as other Patagonian mountain lakes it has glacier origins. This is why it is a very deep lake, with cold, clear waters and abundant local fish, such as brown trout, Pacific salmon, rainbow trout, etc. The lake goes through the Andes axis and runs deep into Chile Chico to be part of the Baker River Basin which waters flow into the Pacific Ocean forming wonderful fiords surrounded by the imposing Northern Ice Field.
Cañadón del Río Pinturas
This is a spectacular geological formation in the midst of the plateau that goes along the course of Pinturas River, running between high walls of intense colors. The ravine is also home to a must-see set of cave painting in the Cave of Hands, close to Perito Moreno town. In the mist of the dry plateau, the Cañadón de Rïo Pinturas is a haven with water and food where prehistoric indigenous people, Tehuelches and white men took shelter. This is such a beautiful destination that would worth a visit even without the presence of the famous caves. There is an odd cut in the midst of the plateau which walls are 650 feet above sea level and 1600 feet wide. The sides of the ravine display a wide variety of red and green shades. Even well into the 20th century the surrounding land was indigenous people’s territory. The first white settlers of the area (usually Spaniards) had no problem mingling with these local people and started settling down in 1910.
Cave of Hands
In the northwest of Santa Cruz, the Pinturas River runs through a 550 feet deep ravine. Among the creases of its high walls you can appreciate the rock paintings by the Tehuelques painted some 9000 years ago. These paintings were discovered by Father De Agostini in 1941 and are located in three natural shelters: Caves, eaves and thick walls. The famous cave paintings display hands mainly but include drawings of guanacos, the sun, groups of lines, spots and geometric drawings as well.
These frescos display positive and negative printings in red, yellow, green, ocher, white and black shades. The paintings cover almost 200 feet and are distributed in some 650 feet. The caves are 66 feet deep and the entrance is 50 feet high and 50 feet wide. In general, paintings are displayed between floor level and 10 feet high. However, some low areas of the roof have also been painted, especially in the back part of the cave where the height is relatively low.
The Cave of Hands is located on the slope of the ravine, some 290 feet above river level. It has been declared National Historic Monument due to its magnificent art and for being one of the most important evidences of prehistoric hunters inhabiting the Patagonian steppe along with large packs of guanacos, over ten thousand years ago.
In 1876 the “perito” (which means specialist in a number of fields) Francisco P. Moreno was one of the first explorers to report the existence of cave paintings in Patagonia. Great explorers such as Ramón Lista and Father Alberto De Agostini – who took the first photos of the Cave of hands – followed.
How can you enter the Cave of Hands?
There are 2 options: Through Bajo Caracoles or through Estancia Los Toldos. Bajo Caracoles is a direct entrance, whereas through the “estancia” you need to trek across the Cañadón del Río Pinturas, which is an interesting hike.
Other Caves with Rock Paintings
To the north of the Cave of Hands there are other examples of rock paintings: the Charcamata eave and Cueva Grande (Great Cave), reachable through the city of Perito Moreno or from Estancia Telken. This “estancia” was founded by British colonists in 1925. This facility is devoted to cattle and sheep breeding and offers lodging as well.
Alero de Charcamata (Charcamata Eave)
This archeological site is located very close to the Cave of Hands located over Charcamac canyon. They are interesting positive and negative rock pictographs, located inside 223 feet long and 62 feet high caves. This eave is wedge shaped and there are pictures of hands, guanacos, human figures, hunting tools, among other drawings. According to archaeologists’ researches carried out in this cave in the early ’70, this pictures date from 7,000 BC.
This is a small 3000 inhabitant town, located to the southern margin of Buenos Aires Lake, on the shores of Los Antiguos River, 40 miles from Perito Moreno and on a fertile plateau, with mild weather. The valley offers a special climate and attractive scenery of lakes and snowed peaks of the Andes Mountain Range. It has water channels for ongoing watering of plantations and quaint farms (“chacras”) growing fine fruits such as cherries and strawberries. This is the case of Chacra el Paraíso which is a model fruit and vegetable facility. From the viewpoint at Jeinimeni River, you can enjoy an excellent panoramic view of the whole area. To the front, you find Buenos Aires Lake, framed by the mountain range. To the right, Los Antiguos and the fertile valley where farms and cultivated fields are located. And to the left, the crossing of Jeinimeni River, the international border. Far away, you catch the sight of Chilean town Chile Chico, located 2.5 miles from Los Antiguos.
Paso Roballos: Zeballos Mount and Forest
Continuing on Provincial Route 41, you will find the ravine of the Jeinimeni River. This road will take you to Zeballos Mount and forest. This forest is populated with lenga and Antarctic beeches. It covers 2,200 acres at an altitude of 7,200 feet above sea level. Besides the abundant nothofagus, you can also find barberry bushes and birds such as the buff-necked ibis, the striped woodpecker and the torrent duck. The road leads you through waterfalls, lakes and hills. The section between Los Antiguos and Paso Roballos following the course of Jeinimeni and Zeballos rivers was described by British writer Bruce Chatwin on his renowned book “In Patagonia”, which was an inspiration for many European visitors. This location is the setting of the mythical City of the Caesars in the story.
Buenos Aires Lake
Covering 864 sq miles, this is the second largest lake in South America, after Titicaca Lake. Its deep blue waters flow into the Pacific Ocean through the Baker River, the largest river in Chile. The surrounding landscape is dry, with low bushes alternating with poplars and willows. On the Chilean margin the city of General Carreras is located. The lake has a fish population made up of salmon, trout and perch, which is a main economic resource in the area.
Excursions Ruta 40
Roballos Pass, Monte Zeballos, Los Antiguos and Buenos Aires Lake
Breakfast at hostelry. We set off in the morning along a mountain path taking Route 41 towards the Roballos Pass and the Monte Zeballos, going some 180km along a mountain path, between the Cordillera de los Andes and the Buenos Aires Lake plateau. We will be able to see the second biggest lake in South America (after the Titicaca Lake): the Buenos Aires Lake, it flows into the Pacific Ocean through the Baker River. This lake is ideal for trout and salmon fishing. After midday we move on towards Los Antiguos. It is located in a wonderful valley, with a special microclimate, at the shore of Los Antiguos River and near the Buenos Aires Lake. Every year, during January, the Beer National Feast is celebrated. We can observe agricultural ventures dedicated to cultivation and production of fine fruit, such as raspberries, strawberries, morello cherries, etc. We arrive at the lookout points at the Los Antiguos and Jeinimeni Rivers – International boundary Argentine-Chilean- and the Buenos Aires Lake.
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Breakfast in the hotel. We start our journey in Los Antiguos travelling to the south of Chubut some 60km along the Ruta 40 up to the entrance of the Estancia Cueva de las Manos (Ex Los Toldos) and from there, other 30km where we have to cross the Pinturas River and descend to the bottom of the Cañadón de Hiucacha. The Alero de Charcamata is formed of a rocky structure over 65 meters long by almost 18 meters high. In the inside there are paintings of hands, related to the hunting of animals and symbols with geometric drawings.
There are different colours from black to light red. The discovery of Charcamata was at the beginning of the 70s. We start trekking and after an hour we get to the entrance of the Alero de Charcamata, by a rocky path with vegetation. This place stands out for the cave paintings displayed of more than 9,000 years old, with an excellent state of conservation. We take the enough time to rest of the trekking and then we have lunch. In the afternoon we return to the hotel.
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Cueva de Las Manos by Bajo Caracoles
Breakfast in the hotel. We will go to the Cuevas de las Manos. It is one of the most important archeological places in Patagonia, as the Estancia La María in Santa Cruz. Its cave paintings are very meaningful and are 7,500 years before Christianity old. The cave has many eaves where the paintings, reflecting the nomadic people´s habits who were principally hunters, are. The best known is the negative image of the silhouette of the hands, superimposed. Old airbrushed methods have been used. Other figures are representing animals, such as the choique and the guanaco.
There are typical scenes of the hunting of these animals. The human figure appears but in less proportion, with more lineal and geometric outlines, as the example of the spiral drawings. They drew with fruit, plants and animal blood. Different times of evolution are evident in the lines and geometrical drawings. We early set off from Perito Moreno to go 120km along the Patagonia Agreste (Wild Patagonia), most of these km are on Ruta 40. We start the visit to the Cave walking some 600 meters till we are near the Cave Paintings with more than 8,000 years old. After that a trekking along the canyon of the Pinturas River. We return along Bajo Caracoles to take Ruta 40 again towards El Chaltén.
Our itinerary will be different depending on the place where we enter
We can arrive crossing the canyon of the Pinturas River with a mini-trekking or by entering the cave by Bajo Caracoles. It depends if we want to walk or simply arrive directly to the place..towards the Posadas and Pueyrredón Lakes.
Otherwise if we enter by estancia Los Toldos, the way is shorter, we do 60km without waking up so early. Once inside the estancia, we go 7km up to the manor, then we continue along the path some 16km more until we reach the canyon of the Pinturas River. At this moment is when the real adventure begins, when we have to descend to the Pinturas River, trekking almos 2,500 meters. Then we must descend to the other end of the canyon to reach the cave paintings. After lunch and a short rest, we take the same way to reach the vehicle and to continue along Ruta 40, travelling up to the Posadas Lake. Then we continue towards the Cordillera de los Andes (Andean mountain range), to the west to arrive at Posadas Lake.
Note: If you want our opinion, don´t hesitate to cross the canyon, it is a real adventure. To walk, special trekking shoes are highly recommended. The route is difficult because the canyon is steep and the ground is unstable when descending, specially in the first stretch.
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Posadas & Pueyrredón Lakes, Mount San Lorenzo and Río Oro Canyon
Breakfast in the hostelry. We start along the zone of the Posadas and Pueyrredón Lakes, enjoying a special sight of the Cerro San Lorenzo of 3,706 meters high, together with the Cordillera de los Andes. When passing the isthmus or small tongue of land of 100 meters long and 5 meters wide, that separates both lakes, we can appreciate the different colours between both lakes, the Posadas in green and the Pueyrredón in blue. It is located on a very wide glacier valley which limits the plateau of the Buenos Aires Lake from the Cerro San Lorenzo range. We walk this valley surrounded by the most beautiful lakes in the Patagonia, with pretty formations and an autochthonous fauna that inhabits the damps.
We trek along the canyon of the Río Oro that is born in the Cerro San Lorenzo and flows its cold waters into the Pueyrredón Lake. We start walking at the Posadas Lake, to a western direction, towards the Pueyrredón Lake. The way crosses mounts and canyons, being able to watch guanacos, ñandúes (Patagonian ostrich) and choiques. We cross over the bridge on Río Unión, between Posadas and Pueyrredón Lakes, we observe the ecosystem of the lakes of the peninsula where ducks, flamingos, avutardas, long black neck swans and bandurrias nest. We continue to Valle del Oro, 15km away, we cross over its bridge and ascend along the path up to the river gorge, with its 150 meters in free fall. We enter the legendary ñires and lengas (beech) forests, following the path of the slopes that embrace the forest. When it is sunny, we can enjoy the Cerro San Lorenzo presence. Before dark we leave the town Irigoyen to overnight in a Patagonian estancia on the shore of the Belgrano Lake.
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Perito Moreno National Park: Belgrano Lake
Breakfast in the estancia. The Perito Moreno National Park is one of the most beautiful and wild ones in all Patagonia, it keeps many secrets, carefully hidden, thanks to the fact that massive tourism does not reach those lands. Thanks to Argentinian Explorer and its exclusive program along Ruta 40, we are able to discover this natural paradise. The estancia is in middle of the Patagonian steppe, very near the colossus Cerro San Lorenzo. We can taste typical food prepared with vegetables from their own vegetable garden and greenhouse and first class meat from the estancia. We can choose between a visit to the park or horse riding or walking along the neighbouring areas. The Perito Moreno National Park is only 15km away from the estancia. The National Park Post has many different start-points to the Burmeister, the Belgrano and the Volcán Lakes.
We can trek to the Sendero del Viento (Wind Path) or the Mansilla Lake. Along the Sendero del Viento we arrive to a moraine, where we have unique sights to one of the sides of the Perito Moreno National Park and the Valley of the Belgrano River on the other side, we cross the river over a bridge to return to the manor of the estancia. The trekking to the Mansilla Lake is special to those who enjoy bird watching. Another alternative is to ride on horseback along the Águila plateau, with the help of a local, enjoying fantastic sights of the park, of the Cerro San Lorenzo and of the lakes. There are farmyards made by the Tehuelches natives which are investigated by anthropologists who call them parapets.