Hiking Argentina – Laguna Encantada – Ushuaia

I arrived in Ushuaia to discover that my fellow salsa-dancing aficionado from Melbourne, Autumn, also happened to be in town.  She invited me along on a hike that her and her travelling companions were planning for the next day, and I was more than keen to join despite a desperate lack of sleep.  She was a bit vague on the details of where they were going, but it didn’t really matter 😊

Turned out that after a later-than-anticipated start (who knew it could take so long to buy bus tickets?!), we ended up hiking to Laguna Encantada, which starts along the same path as that to Laguna de Los Témpanos and Glaciar Vinciguerra, but keeps going straight rather than dog-legging around to the left.

Like many hikes in Latin America, there is no public transport to the trailhead, so we ended up catching the local bus to the turnoff that goes up the Andorra valley, and then were incredibly lucky to be picked up almost immediately by a young couple who could fit the 5 of us in the back of their ute (with the rubbish) for the 5km trip to the end of the road.  Score!

The trail starts off very easy – tracking along a flat, brilliantly green river plain with steep mountains on either side. 

The green valley at the start of the trail to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The start of the trail to Laguna Encantada passes through a wide, flat, green valley

This led us past what looked like a graveyard for wooden pallets – certainly one of the most puzzling sights I’ve ever seen on a hike, and one for which we could not think of a reasonable explanation.   Closer inspection revealed that these wooden structures were not pallets, but rather looked like drying racks, similar to what I’d seen the locals use to dry fish while I was in Greenland.  Unfortunately, there was nobody around to ask, so the we had to make do with our own imaginings, and the mystery remains unsolved.

Mystery structures in the valley before the climb Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

What are these??

We eventually came to the sign at the start of the hike, and were relieved to discover a bridge that would allow us to cross the river without getting wet.  After some deliberation about which of the trails we would actually do, we decided to tackle the most difficult one first (to Laguna Encantada) and see how we went from there.

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The hike to Laguna Encantada starts at the same place as the hike to the Vinciguerra Glacier. Hmmmm… which one to choose?

Like all hikes in this part of Patagonia, this one starts off by climbing through the Lenga forest, with felled logs helping to keep shoes relatively dry and free of mud through the worst of the boggy patches.

Hiking through the Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Hiking through the Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Encantada

It was a relatively steep climb which eventually ended at a large open meadow with more vibrant greenery and views of the higher mountains.

Green valley approaching Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

At the top of the Lenga forest we came out into this vibrantly green valley

And eventually, Laguna Encantada itself.

Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Laguna Encantada and its surroundings

The lake is surrounded by steep mountains, lush green grass, and sits at the base of a tall waterfall.

Waterfall that feeds Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The light was absolutely terrible for taking this photograph, but the scene was gorgeous

And seems to have been formed due to beaver dam (common around Ushuaia) blocking the water flow.

Beaver dam blocking Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Beaver dams are everywhere in this part of Patagonia. It seems that a beaver dam is partially why Laguna Encantada exists

After a quick exploration of the lake shore and a discussion in French with the only other hikers we’d seen, Jean Baptiste, Cyril and Marjorie decided that we would climb to the saddle point that you can see in the middle of the above image for a view from upon high of the Laguna.

It was steep!  And impossible to see where you were putting your feet, with Majorie ending up with a boot and trouser-leg full of mud at one point.

Climbing through the grass towards the pass above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The first part of the climb to the pass above Laguna Encantada was steep and grassy, and impossible to see where you were placing your feet

We eventually reached the top of the green slope, only to be confronted with a further, equally steep slope of scree. 

Extremely steep scree slope that we climbed to get to the saddle over Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

It was steeper than it looks… This was an incredibly steep scree slope that we climbed

And onward we climbed…

With shaking legs and bursting lungs, we finally arrived to the most incredible view from the saddle point.   On the one side, there was the view back down to Laguna Encantada.

Climbing the scree slope above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Another view of the steep scree slope we climbed above Laguna Encantada. Autumn and Cyril are still on their way up

And on the other side, a view over into the next valley, another bowl of green with a river running through.

View to the other side of the pass above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The other side of the pass above Laguna Entantada was just as beautiful

It was a stunning place.

Saddle point overlooking Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The pass offered spectacular views all around – but it was freezing cold!

Unfortunately, as with most passes in Patagonia, it was also very cold and windy, so after about 20 minutes we started our careful descent, back the way we had come.

Descending the scree slope above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Descending the scree slope back towards Laguna Encantada was much easier than climbing it

I don’t remember much about the hike back to the trail head as I was mostly helping Autumn prepare for a job interview that was scheduled for midnight that night Argentinean time (the timezone difference with Australia is terrible from Chile and Argentina). 

When we reached the bridge across the river at the start of the hike, we very fortunately ran into some Israeli hikers who had arranged a transfer to come pick them up at a specific time.   We hadn’t done such a thing and so were facing a 5km hike down the road to where we could pick up the local bus to take us back to town.  They said we could jump in their transfer if there was room.

To keep warm, we kept hiking back down the road toward Ushuaia, and met the van coming up the road.  We arranged with the driver to pick us up on the way back down for 100ARS each, and just in time too!  Because a little further down the road there was a large, white pig-dog that we didn’t like the look of and couldn’t tell if it was tied up or not.  The local dogs who had adopted us along the way were also whimpering, so our guess is that it would have attacked us had we tried to go past.

 

Recommendation

If you want to get off the main hiking paths around Ushuaia, Laguna Encantada is a really nice hike with very few people.  It is fairly well sign-posted all the way to the Lake, though if you decide to scale the mountain to the right like we did (or climb to Laguna Encantada Superior) – there is no path – it is a choose you own (very careful) adventure.

Cost:  Although we caught the local bus (7ARS) and then hitchhiked up to the trailhead (free) and back to town (100ARS), I later managed to arrange a taxi for a similar excursion for 230ARS each way.  If you can find others to split the cost – that is a much easier way to go.

Time: We took about 7 hours return to do this hike.  If you only hike to Laguna Encantada it is much, much shorter – probably more like 4 hours return

Maximum elevation gain: 381m to Laguna Encantada, 795m to the saddle point

 

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