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Argentina & Chile
Journey to the end of the World
February 2023

This was an exhilarating journey through Argentina and Chile, predominately centred around Patagonia - home to some of the most spectacular landscapes on earth - which encompasses the most southerly part of these two South American countries. Patagonia is a region blessed with jaw-dropping scenery, it attracts backpackers and trekkers in their droves who come to experience mother nature at her most inspiring, and are rewarded with egregious mountain vistas and glacial rivers of ice that almost defy description. To add some spice to the trip Argentina is home to the sensual dance of tango as well as producing probably the best beef on the planet.

Argentina – A Brief History

The earliest immigrants were hunter-gatherers who arrived from East Asia into the Americas approximately 12,500 years ago. As sea levels fell during the last major glaciation, this resulted in the two continents becoming connected via a land bridge across the Bering Sea, thus enabling these early migrants to systematically move across and settle in various locations throughout the Americas. These early settlers exploited the big game that flourished following the end of the last ice age. What would become modern day Argentina was subsequently sparsely populated by subsistence farmers who grew crops such as potatoes and squash.

Around the year 1480 the ever - expanding Inca Empire extended its dominion into the north western area of the country, strongly influencing the populous number of diverse cultures then present in the region. The Inca domination would last for approximately half a century, when it was dramatically curtailed with the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 16th century – a brutal colonization ensued that would last for three hundred years - initiated by the seminal voyage of discovery of Amerigo Vespucci in 1502. The Spanish conquest was fuelled partly by religious and nationalistic fervour, but mainly by the quest for perceived instant immeasurable riches from the rumoured rivers of gold and the fabled El Dorado.  

By 1536 the Spanish had established the first small settlement at the modern- day location of Buenos Aires. The net corollary for Argentina of the dystopian Spanish colonization would be the alienization of local tribes, the spread of European killer diseases - which the local people had no immunity against - and the plunder of their indigenous cultural artifacts and their abundant natural resources.  During the Spanish colonisation much of the southern Patagonian region of the country was sparsely populated, it remained under the control of fierce bellicose local tribes whose contumacy thwarted Spanish incursions into this region.

The year 1812 saw the nascent progenitor of the Argentine War of Independence against their Spanish colonial overlords, eventually culminating in Argentina declaring independence from Spain on 9th July 1816. By the 1920’s Argentina was the 7th richest country in the world, at the zenith of its wealth and power, however like the rest of the world it was severely affected by the catastrophic Wall Street Crash of October 1929 that devastated world financial markets.

Much of independent Argentina’s formative years were dominated by political dictatorships, civil wars and military coups became de rigueur. In 1982 Argentina’s military dictatorship invaded the British Falkland Islands, resulting in the British sending an expeditionary force to retake the islands in a short but bloody military campaign. Today modern democratic Argentina is a regional power broker with the second largest economy in South America.

A street performance showcasing Argentina’s sensual dance of tango

Chile – A Brief History


Chile’s history prior to independence very much mirrors that of Argentina with regards seminal immigration and colonisation. Its earliest immigrants similarly moved down through the Americas after crossing the Bering Straits some 12,500 years ago. These early hunter gatherers established conurbations in the fertile valleys and coastal areas of what is present-day Chile.

In the late 15thcentury the Inca Empire briefly extended its domain into what is now northern Chile, they faced fierce resistance in the south of the country, and as was the case in southern Argentina they were similarly unable to exert their influence in southern Chile.  

The first European to sight Chilean territory was Ferdinand Magellan in 1520, he was followed by the invading Spanish Conquistadors who arrived in the 1530’s, initiating the atrophy and eventual road to perdition for the endemic population.  The indigenous groups of hunter-gatherers and farmers would have numbered approximately 1.5 million at the time the Spanish arrived. After a century of brutal colonisation the Spanish had decimated the local population by at least half, primarily due to bellicose action and the introduction of European diseases. The Spaniard Pedro de Valdivia, with a small army of 150 men, invaded central Chile in late 1540, and founded a small settlement – this would ultimately become Santiago, Chile’s modern- day capital - in February 1541. Despite the perceived rumours of El Dorado, the search for instant riches proved elusive and a mere scintilla of gold was ever found by the Spanish in Chile.

Chile declared its independence from Spain on 5th April 1818, and the wonderfully named Bernardo O’Higgins became independent Chile’s first president. During most of Chile’s initial 150 years of independence the country was dogged by political chaos, truculent military dictatorships, and economic instability. In the late 19th century Chile was involved in a series of territorial wars with Peru and Bolivia, resulting in territory being gained at the expense of both its adversaries.

In 1973 the army instituted a coup d’etat, resulting in the brutal military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, his subsequent 17-year regime was responsible for the “disappearance” of thousands of civilians opposed to the regime, most of their whereabout still remain unknown. In 1993 Chile made a peaceful transition to a democratic system of government, which continues to this day. Today modern Chile is one of South America’s most socially stable and economically prosperous nations.

An abandoned ship lies grounded in a most majestic setting

The Journey

This incredible journey begins with a short flight to Madrid, followed by a very long 12- hour flight covering 10,300km to Buenos Aires. Argentina has a population of 47 million, with social deprivation accentuating the large discrepancies between the wealthy and the poor; unemployment, homelessness and rampant corruption remain a major problem. With inflation running at 90% prices in the shops increase week on week. The economy revolves around the US dollar as the Argentine Peso is virtually worthless. Argentina’s premier industries are food processing, automobile production and mineral mining.

Buenos Aires has a plethora of elegant buildings, an eclectic mix of European architectural styles, whilst some are beautifully maintained, many others are sadly dilapidated and boarded up and in need of drastic sympathetic restoration. Wide boulevards, colossal monuments and expensive designer shops make the city appear very European looking, earning it the epithet “the Paris of the South”. The city orientation tour covers most of the important sites; the elegant Teatro Colon or opera house, the Presidential Palace and the heart of the city, the Plaza de Mayo where massive demonstrations were held in relation to amongst other momentous events the Falklands War, and most recently Argentina’s triumph in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The financial district with its towering skyscrapers has earned the sobriquet “money laundering land” due to the ubiquitous corruption that pervades the country.

The early morning sunshine casts its rays across the peaks of Torres del Paine

La Boca is literally the city’s most colourful neighbourhood with brightly coloured houses and arts and crafts stalls lining the streets. Originally settled by Italian immigrants, the district is most acclaimed for being the home of the Boca Juniors Football Club, and is bedecked with iconic images of Maradona and Messi who are worshiped by the football mad Argentine public. The SanTelmo district of Buenos Aires with its narrow colonial style streets, antique shops and street arts and crafts is a wonderful place to amble around, have a coffee or just watch the world go by. Here is where serendipity produced one of the highlights of the trip, a chance encounter with the embodiment of Argentine culture, an impromptu street tango performance, this sensual dance is often referred to as a vertical expression of a horizontal desire!

It’s a ridiculously early 01.30 start to catch a 04.40 internal flight down to Ushuaia in the Patagonian region of southern Argentina. Ushuaia is the world’s most southerly city spectacularly located on the island of Tierra del Fuego, it has a population of 100,000 and sits just 700 miles from Antarctica, literally at the end of the world. Here the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans converge making the region among the most challenging of navigable seas on earth. Ushuaia is the final port of call for many scientific missions, as well as the increasing number of tourist cruise ships heading to Antarctica.

Ushuaia is most definitely hard - core backpacker and trekker territory, and has the feel of a frontier town. The region is a target rich environment of photographic opportunities due to the amazing quality of the light. Ushuaia’s one main street is an agglomeration of innumerable outdoor clothing shops, restaurants and for those with a sweet tooth, quite a few specialist chocolate shops.

On land Ushuaia’s main attraction is the Maritime Museum, housed in the city’s former prison complex. The museums 380 individual cells contain images and artifacts that showcase the harsh realities of living and working the treacherous seas in this region. In tandem the various cells are additionally a repository for exhibits on natural history, marine art, and a collection of scale models of ships that played a role in the local history - including Ferdinand Magellan’s Trinidad and Charles Darwin’s Beagle - making this facility a fascinating and informative destination. On the water for lovers of wildlife there are innumerable opportunities for boat trips, the area is a haven for penguins, sea lions and many varieties of sea birds.

The Tierra del Fuego National Park is a landscape blessed with an abundance of lakes, wildlife and verdant forest, all set beneath an imposing backdrop of spectacular ragged mountain peaks. Whilst walking in the park there is the wonderful opportunity to have your photograph taken standing at the end of the road that finishes at the end of the world, next stop Antarctica.


Today involves a long 12- hour drive, crossing the border into Chile, including a ferry sailing across the Magellan Strait. Chile is located on the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, and as such is subject to frequent earthquakes, the world’s most devastating tectonic event occurred in Chile in 1960.  Chile’s premier industries are tourism, mineral mining and wine production.

The initial port of call in Chile is the former penal colony of Punta Arenas. Founded in the late 19th century, Punta Arenas has a population of around 200,000 and is one of the largest maritime settlements in the region. Its location on the Magellan Strait facilitated the main access between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans prior to the opening of the Panama Canal.

The drive across the Patagonian Steppe reveals a spectacular landscape, a kaleidoscope of jagged mountains, florid turquoise-coloured glacial lakes and apocalyptic scenery consisting of vast areas of dead trees, the latter caused by a combination of floods, high winds and beaver activity.


Discovered in 1895, the Milodon Cave contained the remains of skin, bones and other body parts belonging to a ground sloth called a Milodon – an extinct animal resembling a large bear - that died some 12,500 years ago. The massive cave is more than 200m deep, 30m high and 80m wide, and its archaeological importance was such that it was declared an historical National Monument.

After a brief lunch stop in Puerta Natales the journey continues to the Torres del Paine National Park, the landscape here contains some of the most stunning natural vistas on earth. The Torres del Paine are a range of spectacular pinnacles of sharp granite that rise to over 2600 metres, piercing the sky in a display that can only be described as unbelievably jaw–dropping.

At this juncture in the trip the serious walking part of the holiday commences with an 8km hike to Lake Amarga, stopping briefly to admire the stunning Paine Cascade waterfall, and culminating with lunch under the backdrop of the impressive jagged peaks of the Torres massif. The afternoon was equally inspiring with a speedboat trip on the Serrano River to observe the hanging Balmaceda Glacier, followed by a 1 hour walk to obtain a close-up view of the Serrano Glacier. Surrounded by verdant pine trees and a dramatic mountain-scape, the glacier descends steeply into a lagoon created by its own meltwater, presenting the ideal opportunity for a captivating photo stop. The speedboat return trip was a real white-knuckle ride, hurricane force winds and sideways rain pummelled the boat and its drenched occupants, words are inadequate to express the exhilaration and relief at stepping back onto terra firma.

Crossing over the border back into Argentina, it’s a long day on the road transiting the vast empty, flat and treeless Argentine plateau, the eventual destination being El Calafate, the portal to Los Galciares National Park. The last 10 to 15 years has seen El Calafate become the poster child for Argentina’s tourist boom, aided substantially by the opening of an airport. This has resulted in hypertrophied amounts of new building projects being undertaken, and the town’s main street being awash with restaurants and tacky tourist-tat shops. The downside of the tourism boom is that El Calafate’s population has doubled in a decade and real estate prices have skyrocketed.  

An excursion to view the Perito Moreno Glacier was always destined to be one of the supreme highlights of this trip, the glacier ranks as one of South America’s most stupendous sights and possibly one of the planet’s greatest natural spectacles. Fed by the vast expanse of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the glacier is 30km long and over 700m at its thickest point, it stands 60m above the surface of Lake Argentina, with another 20m below the surface. The glacier is moving forward at the rate of 2 metres per day, whilst vast chunks of ice regularly calve off this rasping river of ice, which equates to it pretty much remaining stationary for almost a century. There are a series of walkways that provide spectacular views of the glacier, facilitating fantastic photographic options. But no matter how good any photograph maybe, it is impossible to convey the awe - inspiring majesty and sensorial overload of this sight when standing in its presence.

The opportunity to take a boat trip and to get close up and personal to the glacier face is something not to be missed. After the boat trip there was an amazing excursion transiting across the glacier’s boulder field, and the chance to venture inside of one of the many ice caves scoured into the body of the glacier. As an addendum, on the return boat trip to round off this spectacular day we were treated to a drink served with a large chunk of glacier ice.

 Another day on the road across the relentless Patagonian Steppe, the refreshment stop was in La Leona, a location with a fascinating history. This was where Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid – they of the eponymous 1969 Hollywood film - hid out after fleeing America; assuming new personas as cattle ranchers in an attempt to avoid capture, they then fled to Bolivia where both were eventually killed. Old photographs and wanted posters of the two outlaws and their infamous gang, The Wild Bunch, adorned the walls of La Leona’s café making this quite a unique and special place to stop for a coffee and a cake.

El Chalten is a town situated within the Los Gacieres National Park, and is a convenient gateway to the trails surrounding the Mount Fitzroy massif. Due to its location El Chalten is most definitely a backpacker and trekkers haven with the feel of a wild west town. An 8- hour trip today encompassed a lengthy scenic drive to Lake del Desierto, then a tranquil boat trip on the lake, culminating in a one and a half hour hike to the Vespignani Glacier lookout point. The photographic opportunities here were something quite special with wonderful views of the glacier, gushing waterfalls and with Mount Fitzroy forming a spectacular backdrop at every turn.

Mount Fitzroy in all its glory

With the aid of local guides the trek to the base of Mount Fitzroy was one of the absolute highlights of this trip. The mountain towers to a height of 3405m and the trek to its base at 1200m covers a distance of 22km and takes some 10 hours to complete. The mind-boggling scale and grandeur of the setting – yet another of Patagonia’s world beating natural wonders - where glaciers appear suspended between Mount Fitzroy’s jagged peaks, make the sheer physical exertion and exhaustion disappear, and be replaced with an immense sense of achievement as you gaze upon the amazing display that mother nature presents. As with many other magnificent attractions, the photography, no matter how good, completely fails to do justice to the majesty of the setting.

From El Chalten it’s a flight back to Buenos Aires, where on the final night there is the chance to experience a professional tango show, dinner and beverages included.  An extremely polished and slick performance, with fabulous costumes and dazzling footwork, the show was very impressive but lacked the sensual element that was all too present in the street performance witnessed earlier in the trip.

An Overview

This revelatory journey through Argentina and Chile was a very especial experience with many exceptional highlights. Top of that list was mother nature’s dramatic awe- inspiring scenery, some of the world’s most incredible mountain vistas and glaciers on a vast majestic scale, this was the embodiment of photographic nirvana. Experiencing Buenos Aires, the Paris of the South, plus the chance to travel to the very tip of the continent made this trip something that will linger long in the memory. This was the epitome of a recherche peregrination that when you return home and look at the photographs, you have to pinch yourself to realise that you actually went there. The vast distances travelled and the physical exertion expended during the trip made this a true paradigm of the archetypal cliché, that when you return home you most definitely need a holiday to get over the holiday.

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