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El Calafate Argentina: Easy Guide To Answer Your Questions

The stunning Perito Moreno Glacier, is a must-see in El Calafate Argentina.

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Have you ever dreamed of exploring the rugged beauty of Patagonia? Well, let me introduce you to El Calafate Argentina – a charming town in southern Argentina that’s the perfect base for adventures in this incredible region.

I recently visited El Calafate and fell in love with its stunning landscapes, friendly locals, and endless outdoor activities. In this guide, I’ll share everything you need to know to plan your own unforgettable trip to El Calafate.

Is El Calafate Argentina Worth Visiting?

Man trekking on the expansive Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate Argentina.

The short answer is YES, but what exactly makes El Calafate such a draw for travelers from around the world? Here are just a few of the highlights:

Los Glaciares National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to 47 massive glaciers, making up the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica and Greenland. The park’s most famous glacier, Perito Moreno, is one of the few in the world that is still advancing and calving regularly.

Stunning Landscapes

From the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino to the jagged peaks of the Andes mountains, El Calafate is surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. You’ll find yourself constantly reaching for your camera to capture the jaw-dropping views.

Outdoor Adventures

Do you love hiking, horseback riding, ice climbing, kayaking, or birdwatching? El Calafate offers an incredible array of activities for nature lovers and adrenaline junkies alike. You can even visit a working estancia (ranch) to learn about traditional Patagonian life.

Delicious Cuisine

Patagonian cuisine is known for its hearty, meat-centric dishes like cordero al asador (spit-roasted lamb) and locro stew, as well as its indulgent desserts featuring the local calafate berry. You’ll also find a thriving craft beer scene and world-class wines from nearby regions.

Warm Hospitality

Despite its remote location, El Calafate in Argentina has a welcoming and friendly vibe that makes visitors feel right at home. From the helpful staff at your hotel to the chatty locals at the bar, you’ll be charmed by the warm hospitality of the Argentinean people.

When Is the Best Time to Visit El Calafate Argentina?

A boat tour near the majestic Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate.

I recommend visiting El Calafate during the shoulder months of September-November or March-May for the best combination of pleasant weather, lower prices, and smaller crowds. 

Keep in mind that Patagonia’s weather can be unpredictable any time of year, so it’s always a good idea to pack layers and be prepared for changing conditions.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect in each season:

SeasonProsCons
Spring (Sep-Nov)Mild temps (40-60°F)
Wildflowers blooming
Shoulder season prices
Can be windy
Some attractions may not yet be open
Summer (Dec-Feb)Long days
Warmest temps (50-70°F)
Best for hiking and outdoor activities
Peak tourist season, higher prices, more crowds
Fall (Mar-May)Cooler temps (30-50°F)
Gorgeous fall colors
Fewer crowds
Some attractions may start to close
Colder nights
Winter (Jun-Aug)Lowest prices
Least crowded
Opportunities for winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing
Coldest temps (20-40°F)
Shortest days
Some roads/trails may be closed
Timing Table When Visiting El Calafate Argentina

How Do I Get to El Calafate in Argentina?

Tourists and locals enjoying a scenic bus tour in El Calafate, Argentina.

Despite its remote location, El Calafate is surprisingly accessible thanks to its modern airport and well-connected bus terminal. Here are your main options for getting there:

By Plane

El Calafate International Airport (FTE) receives regular flights from major cities in Argentina, including:

  • Buenos Aires (3 hour flight)
  • Bariloche (1.5 hour flight)
  • Ushuaia (1.5 hour flight)

The airport is located about 20 minutes outside of town. Taxis and shared shuttle buses are available to take you to your hotel or the town center.

By Bus

El Calafate’s main bus terminal is located in the center of town and is served by several major bus companies. Popular routes include:

  • El Chaltén (3 hour trip)
  • Bariloche (24-29 hour trip)
  • Puerto Natales, Chile (5-6 hour trip)
  • Rio Gallegos (4 hour trip)

Long-distance buses in Argentina are generally comfortable and reliable, with reclining seats, air conditioning, and sometimes even meal service. Be sure to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak season.

By Car

If you prefer more flexibility and independence, you can rent a car and drive to El Calafate from other destinations in Argentina or Chile. Keep in mind that distances in Patagonia are vast, and some roads may be unpaved or rough.

Popular routes and approximate driving times include:

  • Buenos Aires (36-48 hours)
  • Bariloche (24-30 hours)
  • Puerto Natales, Chile (5-6 hours)

You can also rent a car in El Calafate itself and use it to explore the surrounding area, including Los Glaciares National Park. Just be sure to familiarize yourself with local driving laws and fill up on gas before setting out, as services can be few and far between in remote areas.

How Do I Get Around El Calafate, Argentina?

A horse grazes peacefully on the streets of El Calafate, Argentina.

Once you arrive in El Calafate Argentina, getting around is relatively easy thanks to the town’s small size and various transportation options. Here’s what you need to know:

On Foot

El Calafate’s town center is compact and walkable, with most hotels, restaurants, and shops located along the main street (Avenida del Libertador San Martín). If you’re staying in town and plan to mostly explore the urban area, you likely won’t need any additional transportation.

By Taxi

Taxis are readily available in El Calafate and can be a convenient option for getting to and from the airport or bus terminal, or for reaching attractions outside of the town center.Fares are metered and generally reasonable, but be sure to confirm the price before getting in.

By Bus

To reach attractions outside of town like Perito Moreno Glacier or Laguna Nimez Reserve, you can take a public bus or book a seat on a tour bus.

Public buses depart from the main terminal in town and are a budget-friendly option, while tour buses often include additional amenities like guided commentary and hotel pickup/drop-off.

By Bike

El Calafate’s flat terrain and scenic surroundings make it a great place to explore by bicycle. Many hotels and hostels offer bike rentals, or you can rent from one of several shops in town. Popular rides include the 15km Laguna Nimez Circuit and the 60km route to Perito Moreno Glacier.

By Car

If you plan to explore beyond the town limits and want more flexibility than public transportation allows, renting a car can be a great option. Several major car rental agencies have offices in El Calafate, and rates are generally reasonable. Just be prepared for some rough and unpaved roads in more remote areas.

What Are the Top Things to See and Do in El Calafate?

The serene landscape of Laguna Nimez Reserve with flamingos in El Calafate Argentina.

Now for the fun part – all the incredible things to see and do in and around El Calafate! Here’s a rundown of the top attractions and activities:

Perito Moreno Glacier

No trip to El Calafate would be complete without a visit to the awe-inspiring Perito Moreno Glacier, located about 80km from town in Los Glaciares National Park. This massive glacier is 30km long, 5km wide, and up to 60m tall, and is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing.

There are several ways to experience Perito Moreno:

ActivityDescriptionCost
Glacier viewing platformsNetwork of walkways and viewing platforms to admire the glacier from different angles.800 ARS (about $11 USD)
Boat toursBoat tours on Lago Argentino, offering close views of the glacier’s face and floating icebergs.Starting at $30 USD
Glacier trekkingGuided excursions on the glacier with crampons, including mini-treks and full-day ice hikes.Starting at $100 USD

To get to the glacier, you can take a tour from El Calafate (usually around $50 USD round-trip), drive yourself (about 1.5 hours each way on a paved road), or take the public bus (around $20 USD round-trip).

Pro Tip: Be sure to dress in warm, waterproof layers and wear sturdy shoes – the weather can change quickly and the terrain can be slippery.

Glaciarium and Glaciobar

Before or after your Perito Moreno visit, take time to explore the glaciers at El Calafate’s Glaciarium. This state-of-the-art interpretive center features multimedia exhibits on the region’s ice fields, glaciers, and climate, and is a great place to learn more about the science behind these natural wonders.

Highlights of the Glaciarium include:

  • Ice Museum: Walk through a chilly replica of an ice cave and learn about the formation and ecology of glaciers.
  • 3D Cinema: Watch a short film on the history and future of Patagonia’s ice fields, complete with 3D glasses and special effects.
  • Glaciobar: Don a fur-lined poncho and enjoy a drink at the world’s only bar made entirely of glacial ice, with glasses and furniture carved from Perito Moreno’s frozen water.

The Glaciarium is located about 6km outside of El Calafate on the road to Perito Moreno. Admission is $20 USD for adults and includes access to all exhibits and the 3D cinema.

Laguna Nimez Reserve

Just a short walk from El Calafate’s town center, the Laguna Nimez Reserve is a peaceful haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers.

This protected wetland area is home to over 70 species of birds, including flamingos, black-necked swans, and silvery grebes, as well as native plant life like the calafate berry shrub.

The reserve features a 2.5km walking circuit with observation towers and informative signage about the local flora and fauna. It’s a lovely place for a leisurely stroll or picnic, especially at sunset when the light turns golden over the lake.

Entrance to Laguna Nimez costs around $5 USD and the reserve is open daily from 7am to 9pm (summer) or 11am to 6pm (winter).

Hiking and Horseback Riding

For a taste of Patagonia’s rugged wilderness, head out on a hiking or horseback riding excursion in the stunning countryside around El Calafate. There are options for all ability levels, from gentle nature walks to challenging multi-day treks.

Some popular hiking trails include:

  • Cerro Fitz Roy Base Camp (El Chaltén): A challenging but rewarding full-day hike to the base of one of Patagonia’s most iconic peaks, with breathtaking views of the surrounding valleys and glaciers. Usually done as a day trip from El Calafate.
  • Laguna Torre Trail (El Chaltén): Another full-day hike from El Chaltén, this trail leads to a stunning glacial lake at the base of the granite spires of Cerro Torre. Keep an eye out for the elusive and endangered huemul deer along the way.
  • Hito Cruz Viewpoint (El Calafate): A relatively easy half-day hike from El Calafate, this trail leads up to a panoramic viewpoint overlooking Lago Argentino and the surrounding mountains. It’s a great option if you have limited time or mobility.

If you prefer to explore on horseback, several estancias (ranches) in the area offer guided trail rides through the steppe and forest, often with the chance to experience traditional gaucho culture and cuisine. Nibepo Aike, El Galpon, and Estancia Alice are a few popular options.

Boat Tours and Kayaking

In addition to Perito Moreno, the wider Lago Argentino area is home to several other stunning glaciers and waterways that can be explored by boat or kayak. Here are some top options:

ActivityDescriptionCost
Upsala Glacier and Estancia CristinaFull-day boat tour to Upsala Glacier, including hiking, horseback riding, and a traditional asado lunch at Estancia Cristina.Starting at $200 USD
Spegazzini and Seco GlaciersHalf-day boat tour from Punta Bandera port to see the Spegazzini Glacier and Seco Glacier.Starting at $50 USD
Kayaking in Los Glaciares National ParkGuided sea kayaking excursions among icebergs and glaciers, with options for half-day paddles to multi-day expeditions.Starting at $100 USD

La Leona Petrified Forest

For a fascinating glimpse into Patagonia’s prehistoric past, take a day trip to La Leona Petrified Forest, located about halfway between El Calafate and El Chaltén.

This unique geological site features the fossilized remains of a 70 million-year-old forest, with huge petrified tree trunks and even dinosaur bones scattered across the arid landscape.

Guided tours from El Calafate usually include transportation and a short hike through the petrified forest. You’ll see some of the most impressive specimens up close, and you’ll also learn about the area’s natural history and geology from a knowledgeable guide.

Tours typically cost around $60 USD and last 4-6 hours round-trip from El Calafate. Alternatively, you can visit the site independently if you have your own vehicle – just be prepared for around 50km of rough gravel road to reach the forest entrance.

El Calafate Town and Avenida del Libertador

While most visitors use El Calafate as a base for exploring the surrounding natural attractions, the town itself is worth a wander, particularly along its main street, Avenida del Libertador San Martín.

This bustling avenue is lined with a colorful array of shops, restaurants, cafes, and tour agencies. It is a great place to stock up on outdoor gear, souvenirs, and local artisanal products like wine, chocolate, and wool.

Pro Tip: Don’t miss the iconic “El Calafate” sign at the entrance to town—it makes for a great photo op!

Other fun things to check out in town include:

  • El Calafate Historical Interpretation Center: Learn about the history and culture of the area through interactive exhibits on the indigenous Tehuelche people, early settlers, and the creation of Los Glaciares National Park. Admission is free.
  • Paseo de los Artesanos: Browse handmade crafts, jewelry, and textiles at this colorful outdoor market, featuring the work of local artists and artisans. Open daily from around 5pm to 10pm.
  • Laguna Nimez Boardwalk: Take a leisurely stroll along the lakeshore on this wooden boardwalk, with the chance to spot flamingos, swans, and other birdlife. The walk is about 2km round-trip and offers lovely views of the water and surrounding mountains.

Where Should I Stay in El Calafate?

A comfortable hotel room with a beautiful view in El Calafate.

El Calafate offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every budget and travel style, from cozy hostels to luxurious lodges. Here’s an overview of some top options:

CategoryAccommodations
BudgetAmerica del Sur Hostel
Hostel del Glaciar LibertadorI
Keu Ken Hostel
Mid-RangeKau Yatun Hotel
Alto Calafate Hotel
Rochester Calafate Hotel
LuxuryEOLO Patagonia’s Spirit
Boutique Hotel La Cantera
Posada Los Alamos

For the best location and easy access to shops, restaurants, and tour agencies, look for hotels along or near the main street, Avenida del Libertador San Martín. Many budget hostels are clustered around the bus terminal and offer dorm beds as well as private rooms.

If you’re seeking a more immersive natural experience, consider staying at one of the estancias or lodges outside of town, such as Estancia Nibepo Aike or Hostería Alta Vista. These properties offer stunning views, outdoor activities, and a taste of traditional Patagonian hospitality.

Pro Tip: Be sure to book your accommodation well in advance, especially during the peak summer months of December to February, as the best places can fill up quickly. Expect to pay higher prices during this time as well.

Where Should I Eat and Drink in El Calafate?

Tourists enjoying a meal at a cozy restaurant in El Calafate Argentina.

One of the great joys of traveling in Argentina is indulging in the country’s delicious cuisine and world-class wines. El Calafate offers a tempting array of options for foodies and oenophiles alike, from cozy cafes to upscale restaurants. Here are some top picks:

Parrillas (Steakhouses)

Be sure to savor some of the country’s famous beef and lamb. In El Calafate, you’ll find plenty of parrillas (steakhouses) serving up succulent grilled meats, often paired with a robust Malbec wine. Try:

  • La Tablita: A rustic, wood-paneled restaurant known for its sizzing platters of steak, lamb, and sausages, cooked over an open fire.
  • Mi Rancho: A cozy, family-run spot serving hearty portions of grilled meats, homemade pastas, and local specialties like lamb stew.
  • Don Pichon: An upscale option with a refined atmosphere and a menu featuring prime cuts of beef, as well as veggie-friendly options.

Craft Beer Bars

In recent years, El Calafate has embraced the craft beer craze, with several local breweries and taprooms pouring unique artisanal creations. Some top spots include:

  • La Zorra: A laid-back bar and restaurant with a rotating selection of house-brewed beers, as well as tasty pub grub like burgers and pizza.
  • Cervecería Artesanal Chopen: A small-batch brewery and taproom featuring creative beers infused with local ingredients like calafate berries and rosa mosqueta (rosehip).
  • La Oveja Negra: A cozy basement bar pouring a variety of craft beers from around Argentina, as well as classic cocktails and wines.

Cafes and Bakeries

When you need a break from all that red meat and beer, head to one of El Calafate’s charming cafes or bakeries for a sweet treat or light meal. Local specialties include:

  • Alfajores: Delicate cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche (caramel) and often rolled in coconut or dipped in chocolate.
  • Mate: A bitter, caffeinated herb tea that’s sipped through a metal straw and shared among friends.
  • Calafate berry desserts: Jams, jellies, cakes, and other sweets made with the tart, antioxidant-rich berry native to the region.

Try these spots for a taste:

  • Olivia: A cute and cozy cafe serving breakfast, lunch, and an array of homemade pastries and cakes, plus excellent coffee and tea.
  • Panadería La Unión: A classic bakery known for its alfajores, empanadas, and calafate berry cheesecake.
  • Boudin Bakery: A French-style boulangerie offering fresh bread, croissants, quiches, and other savory and sweet treats.

Fine Dining

For a special occasion or a splurge, El Calafate Argentina has a handful of upscale restaurants that showcase the region’s bounty in creative ways. Try:

  • Patagonia Rebelde: A sleek, modern spot with a seasonal tasting menu featuring local ingredients like lamb, venison, and foraged mushrooms, paired with regional wines.
  • La Cocina: An intimate, family-run restaurant serving elevated takes on traditional Patagonian cuisine, such as king crab ravioli and slow-roasted lamb shank.
  • La Marmita: A cozy, candlelit bistro with a short but sweet menu of locally sourced dishes, like grilled trout with almond butter and calafate berry sorbet.

Pro Tip: If you have dietary restrictions or preferences, be sure to communicate them clearly to your server, as vegetarian and vegan options can be limited in Argentina’s meat-centric culture. Most restaurants are happy to accommodate with advance notice.

What Should I Pack for El Calafate?

Essentials for a trip to El Calafate, Argentina, include warm clothes and a camera.

Packing for Patagonia can be tricky due to the region’s unpredictable and fast-changing weather. Even in the summer months, temperatures can swing from hot and sunny to cold and rainy in the span of a few hours.

Here’s what to bring to stay comfortable and prepared:

CategoryItems
ClothingWaterproof and windproof jacket
Fleece or down midlayer
Quick-drying hiking pants or leggings
Moisture-wicking t-shirts and base layers
Warm hat, gloves, and scarf
Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots or shoes
Comfortable walking shoes for town
Swimsuit and towel (for hotel pools or hot springs)
GearDaypack for hikes and excursions
Reusable water bottle
Sunglasses, sun hat, and sunscreen
Headlamp or flashlight
Camera and extra batteries/memory cards
Binoculars (for wildlife spotting)
Trekking poles (optional but helpful for uneven terrain)
Insect repellent (for pesky horseflies and mosquitos)
Toiletries and First AidToothbrush, toothpaste, and floss
Shampoo, conditioner, and soap
Deodorant and moisturizer
Prescription medications
Pain relievers and allergy medicine
Band-aids, blister pads, and antiseptic wipes
Lip balm with SPF
Tissues or toilet paper (for public restrooms)
Other EssentialsPassport and photocopies
Cash (Argentine pesos) and credit cards
Electrical adapter and charger
Travel insurance documents
Phrasebook or translation app (if you don’t speak Spanish)
Small gifts or trinkets (for homestays or guides)

Pro Tip: If you plan to do any glacier trekking or ice climbing, you’ll also need to pack or rent speciality gear like crampons, a helmet, and a harness. Check with your tour operator to see what’s included.

Final Tips for Visiting El Calafate Argentina

Woman using binoculars to spot birds at Laguna Nimez Reserve in El Calafate.

As you can see, El Calafate is a travel destination that truly has it all – jaw-dropping natural beauty, exciting outdoor adventures, rich cultural traditions, and warm hospitality.

Before you go, here are a few final tips to help you make the most of your visit:

  • Learn a few key phrases in Spanish like “hola” (hello), “por favor” (please), and “gracias” (thank you). Locals will appreciate your effort to communicate in their language.
  • Be prepared for some sticker shock, as Patagonia is one of the most expensive regions in Argentina. Budget accordingly and look for deals where you can.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to explore and don’t try to cram too much into your itinerary. Distances between attractions can be vast and weather can be unpredictable, so it’s best to have some flexibility built in.
  • Respect the fragile environment by following Leave No Trace principles – pack out your trash, stay on marked trails, and don’t disturb the wildlife.
  • Disconnect from your devices and take time to fully immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and unique culture of Patagonia.

I hope this guide has inspired you to add El Calafate Argentina to your travel wish list and given you all the tools you need to plan an unforgettable trip. As someone who has fallen in love with this special corner of the world, I can promise that you won’t regret making the journey to the end of the earth.

Why is El Calafate famous?

El Calafate is famous for the Perito Moreno Glacier, a massive and growing glacier where you can see ice chunks dramatically break off and crash into the water. It’s a gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, offering boat tours, hiking, and glacier trekking. The town also offers unique Patagonian cuisine, like slow-roasted lamb and Calafate berry treats​.

Is it safe to go to Calafate?

Yes, El Calafate is safe for travelers. The town is well-prepared for tourists, with plenty of amenities and good infrastructure. Most visits are trouble-free, and the main risks involve outdoor activities. Crime rates are low, and common sense precautions, like securing valuables and staying aware of your surroundings, are sufficient. It’s also advisable to prepare for varying weather conditions, as Patagonia’s climate can be unpredictable.

What is the closest international airport to El Calafate?

The closest international airport to El Calafate is Comandante Armando Tola International Airport (FTE). This airport is just 10.7 miles (17.3 kilometers) from the town, making it very convenient for travelers. Regular flights connect El Calafate with Buenos Aires and other major cities in Argentina​.

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