Cruising the Viscacha Plateau: Puerto Natales to Calafate by Bus

Meseta de las Vizcachas, or Viscacha Plateau

A short series of bus ride info posts I published while on the road in Patagonia late last winter proved to be quite popular and are still attracting lots of visitors, so I’ll be posting several more as I sift through notes. [A list of those previously published is at the end of this post.] Several months have now passed so I can’t vouch for all the prices mentioned, so please consider them a guide. Whenever possible, I’ll try to track down updated information.

Puerto Natales, Chile to El Calafate, Argentina

Driving distance: 282 km/175 miles
Duration: Six hours, 20 minutes
Travel date: 08-Feb-2013
Highlights: A rainbow at the border crossing (no guarantees)

Yes, that’s correct. An average of 44.5 kilometers an hour. Slower than the peak speed Usain Bolt reached during his last 100m world record. The agent to whom I gave 12,000 pesos ($22.62/ €16.50) for a ticket said the journey would last about three-and-a-half hours while most guidebooks cited five. So I suppose my journey set some sort of record, too.

If you plan on going to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina’s Glaciares National Park from the town closest to Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, this is the route you’ll most likely be taking.

I spent much of the trip dozing and the rest reading Mark Twain’s ‘The Innocents Abroad’, so my notes here are on the spare side of almost nothing. I did jot down the name of the bus company —Buses Pacheco— and noted an on-time 08:30 departure.

Unlike arrival, the bus departed from the city’s brand new bus terminal on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t officially opened and in full operation then but it is now, so I suspect that all bus traffic is now routed to the station instead of stopping at bus company offices as is often the case in Patagonia. So if you’re staying in Puerto Natales proper, note that it’s probably a 20-25 minute walk to the station from the center of town. If you’re in a rush, all cab fares within the city are 1,000 pesos ($1.88/ €1.37).

We reached the border post at Dorotea in about 30 minutes; exit and entry combined took about an hour and a half. Please – be sure you don’t lose the Chilean tourist card you receive when entering – it saves you time, hassle and money and keeps the border officials and your fellow bus passengers happy. You really don’t want to reboard the bus and spend the rest of it, to paraphrase Twain, taking on “the look of a sad, moping, molting chicken” after being the cause of an unnecessary delay.

The only settlement of note you’ll pass through is the country’s coal capital Rio Turbio, a town of about 8,000 a half hour beyond the border where you’ll get on Argentina’s legendary national highway, Ruta 40. After that the route traverses the Meseta de las Vizcachas, a wide plateau named for the viscacha, a rodent closely related to the chinchilla that looks too much like a sad, moping rabbit. Here it’s the plains viscacha (Lagostomus maximus), the largest of the five species, that reigns supreme. This was also where I started dozing.

Between naps sightings of sheep and nandu, the South American ostrich, were common. I awoke from one nap to find the student sitting next to me reading a story about Occupy Wall Street in the Spanish edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. That was less common.

When the highway veers west from the northern edge of the plateau, Lago Argentino, the country’s largest freshwater lake, makes its first appearance. About a half hour later, you’ll arrive in Calafate’s hilltop bus station. Most buses and transports to the Perito Moreno Glacier in Glaciares National Park leave from this station. I wrote about and posted lots of photos of Perito Moreno here. Do check ‘em out.

I don’t have much to offer in the way of photos from this stretch, just a couple of snaps through a dirty bus window with my vidcam and a shot of this display of Argentinean wishful thinking re: The Malvinas aka Falkland Islands.

So first up, this small gallery and then the briefest of video notebooks. If it was any shorter, it would pass as very bad haiku.

[wpvideo qchtmj1K]

Previous bus trip posts:

~ Minefields, Guanaco, and the Magellan Strait – Ushuaia to Punta Arenas by Bus
~ Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales by Bus
~ Los Libertadores Pass – Mendoza to Santiago by Bus

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  1. M. R. says

    Well, at least it wasn’t like the bus-trip in “Romancing the Stone”! [grin]

    1. BobR says

      Very true. 🙂 Actually, none of the bus trips I was on this year –and there were lots– were anything remotely close to that. My first trips to Central America, back in the early 1990s, now those were some memorable bus experiences. 🙂

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