Patagonia’s remarkable beauty and expansive wilderness attract’s adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. If you have found yourself drawn to this remote region, chances are you will spend a few day exploring El Calafate.
El Calafate is an excellent starting point for a trip to Torres Del Paine, El Chaltén, or Los Glaciares National Park. The town of El Calafate is most famous for its proximity to Perito Moreno Glacier, which happens to be one of only three advancing glaciers left in the world. Read on for our recommendations on how best to spend your time in El Calafate.
Go on a Tour to Perito Moreno Glacier
Any trip to Patagonia would not be complete without a visit to El Calafate to see world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier. Perito Moreno is the most impressive glacier in the region with a front stretching 5 km long and standing 60 meters above the water. The size of the entire glacier is larger than the city of Buenos Aires and five times the size of Manhattan!
Since 1970, Perito Moreno has been what they call a “stable glacier,” meaning that it is neither advancing nor retreating. On average, it moves roughly 2 meters a day. Because it is a moving glacier, every 4-5 years it reaches the opposing Magellan Peninsula, forming a dam that prevents the arm of the Brazo Rico from draining into the Brazo Sur into Lago Argentino. When this happens, water continues to seep under the glacier putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the base and eventually forms a little passage (as pictured to the left). As the glacier continues to advance, the passageway ultimately fractures. This spectacular natural phenomenon recently occurred in March of 2016.
Recommended Perito Moreno Glacier Tours
There are plenty of different tours to see Perito Moreno Glacier including; a walking tour, a glacier trekking excursion or even a boat tour that takes you to the face of the glacier. Regardless of what you decide to do, Perito Moreno Glacier is sure to leave you speechless. Most tours depart from El Calafate around 8 AM and last between 8-12 hours. Typically tour company pick you up from your hotel in the morning and drop you off in the evening. That means you’ll need at least two nights in El Calafate.
I went on the Nautical Safari during my visit to Perito Moreno Glacier. I recommend leaving from Bajo de las Sombras Pier, located about 6 km from the glacier lookout point. This route takes you to the other side of the glacier. The boat ride lasts about 1-hour and provides plenty of opportunities to capture the perfect photo. Each photo gets better and better as you move closer to the glacier.
2. Mini Trekking
If you are an adventure seeker, it’s hard to beat walking on Perito Moreno Glacier. The mini trekking combines the Nautical Safari experience with glacier trekking. First, you will take a short boat ride towards the glacier. From there, you’ll have a short 30-minute walk to the glacier. The guides will explain how to walk on the glacier, how to use your crampon’s, the glacier’s origin and the flora and fauna of the region. You spend about 2-hours trekking on the glacier, frequently stopping to take photos of the rivers and deep crevasses on the glacier. The spectacular blue colors you will see are a mere reflection of the sun, in reality, the glacier is, in fact, white. Make sure to bring sunglasses and wear extra sunscreen to protect yourself from the intense sun rays reflecting off the glacier.
3. Walk along the catwalks
Typically people combine the Nautical Safari and the Catwalks into one tour. The Catwalks provide endless photo opportunities to see the front of the glacier. Here you will have the opportunity to enjoy lunch at the cafeteria, but I recommend eating outside where you can enjoy a good view of the glacier. Sit on one of the benches and look ice chunks calving from the glacier.
Things to do in El Calafate
Glaciarium ice museum
The Glaciarium is a beautiful museum right outside of town. If you haven’t visited Perito Moreno Glacier, you might not realize, the structure was designed to look like the face of a glacier. Visit the different exhibits and learn about the environmental impact we have seen on the glaciers. Go into the screening room for a short 10-minute documentary to learn about the glaciers in Patagonia. The museum is open from 9am–8pm during the tourist season and 11am-8pm during the winter months from May to August. To get to the Ice Museum, you can take a free shuttle from the Provincial Tourism office in town. Buses depart about every hour.
Have a drink at the Yeti Ice Bar or Glacio Bar
There are two ice bars in El Calafate, one at the Ice Museum and the other in town. Here you can enjoy a drink in a glass made entirely of ice from Perito Moreno Glacier. The signature cocktail is the “Calafate” – go figure – which is Fernet Branca, amaretto, pineapple juice and calafate berry liquor. The bar is -10° C (14° F), so they give you a special coat before entering, but you cannot spend more than 20-minutes in the bar due to the temperature. The bar is open from 11am–8pm every day and has a maximum capacity of 25 people, so there may be a wait.
Where to Eat in El Calafate
No visit to El Calafate would be complete without trying the local specialty, the Patagonian lamb. La Tablita is one of the best restaurants in town and has glowing reviews. I highly recommend ordering the Patagonian Lamb for the table as the main course and sharing a few side dishes. Sure you can get the parrilla, which is a grilled assortment of meat and chicken, but all you will want is the lamb. Ask your hotel to make a reservation in advance.
Ovejitas de la Patagonia
For dessert, you can stop by any local ice cream shop in town to try the special El Calafate berry ice cream. Rumor has it, if you eat the calafate berries you will return to El Calafate one day.
Hotels in El Calafate
Eolo Lodge – Enjoy a private and unique experience at this 5-star lodge that embodies the spirit of Patagonia.
Mirador del Lago – Overlooking the beautiful Redonda Bay, this 4-star lodge is within walking distance of El Calafate downtown. Perfect for those who want to experience Patagonia.
Hotel Kau Yatun – Nestled in the foothills of the Patagonia steppe, this 3-star hotel offers outdoor adventures and accommodations that are perfect for adventurers.
Completely immerse yourself in Patagonia on this 7-day tour. Stay at a traditional estancia where you can see the flora and fauna of the region, and feel the solitude of Patagonia while reconnecting with nature.
This tour combines all of the best highlights in Argentina, not only do you see the mountains of Patagonia, but you visit the capital city of Buenos Aires, the incredible waterfalls of Iguassu Falls and Argentina’s Lake District.
Combine the two best highlights of Chile and Argentina’s Patagonia region on the ultimate adventure to Torres del Paine national park and Los Glaciares National Park.