El Calafate is a Patagonian town on Lake Argentina that’s home to one of the coolest attractions in the country. The Perito Moreno Glacier is a spectacular sight and a must-visit in Patagonia, but that’s just about all there is to do here. El Calafate is a one-trick pony and many travelers see the glacier, then leave for nearby El Chalten. If you are short on time, you can also use El Calafate as a base to day trip to one of the best hikes in Argentina.
How to Get Around
El Calafate is small and walkable, but the bus station and airport are both a ways from town. VES offers airport shuttles to and from your accommodation at a good price.
Where to Change Money
*All prices are in USD due to Argentina’s high inflation*
What to Do
Perito Moreno Glacier – There are two ways to visit the glacier. One way is to book a mini-trekking tour with Hielo y Aventura. You’ll have the chance to walk on the glacier for 1.5 hours, take a boat ride across the lake beside the glacier, and spend two hours on the walkways to see the viewpoints. They are the only company offering this experience and it costs $172 plus the $12 national park entrance fee. It was a very cool experience, but I wouldn’t call it a highlight of my trip.
You need to book the tour a few weeks in advance and pay by card, so you can’t take advantage of the blue dollar. If $172 is more than you’re willing to pay, you can stop by the company’s office in El Calafate and see if there are places available due to cancellations. The odds are not in your favor, but I met a couple who tried this out and were able to secure their place with cash.
The cheaper way to visit is a tour that gives you 4 hours on the walkways, plus the option to do the boat ride for $14. The total cost for the tour and entrance is $35. I spent almost a week in El Calafate, so I visited both ways. I have to say the highlight of the glacier was watching the huge pieces of ice fall into the lake. It sounds silly, but it’s a crowd-pleaser.
Glaciarium Patagonian Ice Museum – This museum is not a must-visit, but if you have the time it’s interesting to learn why the Perito Moreno Glacier expands and how melting glaciers impact the world. The entrance is $4.50 and there’s a free shuttle to the museum from 1-7 PM that leaves every hour. The pickup spot is on Calle 1 de Mayo between Avenida Del Libertador and Calle Julio Roca. It’s best to arrive 5-10 minutes before the top of the hour or you might not get a place.
Day trip to Mount Fitz Roy – Fitz Roy is probably the most famous hike in Argentina and it’s the logo for the Patagonia clothing brand. The trail starts in El Chalten, which can be reached on a 3-hour bus ride or with a tour company. If you have the time and like to hike, El Chalten is a fantastic town to spend a few nights.
Where to Eat
El Gaita – The restaurants in El Calafate were largely average and expensive for Argentina, but El Gaita had fantastic pizza.
Where to Stay
Red House Hostel – I stayed here on a few occasions and the social atmosphere was awesome every time. It has a spacious yard and quality amenities for a hostel. The owner is friendly and will help book tours and buses at a fair price.
Hostel Nakel Yenu – A relaxed hostel with a great location between the town center and bus terminal.
Bookaway is a great resource that allows you to compare the prices of both buses and flights, and secure your seat in advance!
Where to Next
El Chalten (3 hours by bus) – The trekking capital of Argentina has the Fitz Roy hike and an awesome vibe.
Ushuaia (17 hours) – The southernmost city in the world has fantastic hiking and the chance to walk with penguins.
Bariloche (29 hours) – An incredibly scenic town in Patagonia’s Lake District known for its viewpoints, craft beer, and chocolate.
Buenos Aires (3-hour flight) – A food paradise with European influence and exciting cultural events including street parties, tango shows, and interactive dining experiences.
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