Things to do in El Calafate Patagonia

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!

things to do in El CalafateSince 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. 

1. Nautical Safari

things to do in El CalafateI 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 

things to do in El CalafateIf 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

things to do in El Calafate

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

La Tablita

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.

Recommended Tours

El Calafate & El Chalten Patagonia Eco Tourthings to do in El Calafate 

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.

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Very Best of Argentinathings to do in El Calafate

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.

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Torres del Paine & Calafate Tourthings to do in El Calafate

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.

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Discovering Salta & Purmamarca – South America Desert Region

Follow Travel Consultant, Jason Mayo, as he takes us on his journey through Salta & Purmamarca – South America Desert Region

It would be nice to have unlimited time and budget to travel throughout South America, right? But sometimes we can’t see everything we want and have to figure out the best destinations to visit!  If you have the time, I recommend spending 2-weeks exploring the South America desert region: Salta, San Pedro de Atacama, and Uyuni. On this tour, you will see the vast salt flats, feel the dry heat, hear the classic music of the region and taste the regional empanadas.

Exploring the City of Salta – South America Desert Region 

south-america-desert-region-saltaMy co-worker and I took a short 2.5-hour flight from Buenos Aires to Salta.  When we arrived in Salta, we took care of our hunger first. We were blown away by the traditional restaurant Doña Salta and the atmosphere. Picture yourself in an old building where the waiters look like they have been working there since the 70’s. I highly recommend trying the empanadas; they were by far the best part of our meal.

During the day we went on a 3-hour Salta City Tour. Salta is nicknamed “Salta la linda.” That means the beautiful one, and anyone who visits will quickly learn why. The colonial architecture combines Spanish and indigenous influences to create a masterpiece. On this tour, we rode the cable car up Cerro San Bernardo Hill, where we saw panoramic views of the city. In the afternoon we visited the Salta Cathedral and the 18th century Cabildo of Salta colonial building, where we even saw the changing of the guard. Saving the best for last, we visited the Archaeology Museum of the High Mountains. The museum can be a controversial museum because it is home to two mummified Incan children that were found high in the Llullailaco Volcano, 6,700 meters above sea level.

Safari to the Clouds – South America Desert Region

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 5.33.19 PMThe next day, we went on the “Safari to the Clouds” excursion. Now everyone is usually familiar with the Train to the Clouds, but the Safari to the Clouds was just as impressive! We departed early in the morning and arrived at the first checkpoint – the train tracks for the Train to the Clouds – when the sun was rising. We went through Quebrada del Toro up to San Antonio de los Cobres. There are thousands of cacti scattered along the rolling hills. As we traveled along the emblematic Route 40 up and down windy roads heading towards the desert, we could not help but stare in awe of the landscape.  Eventually, we crossed into Puna reaching the Salina Grandes. As we continued, the horizon seemed to fade away into the distance. The transition from desert to fertile highlands to wet valleys left us in awe.

There was no shortage of fantastic photo opportunities throughout the day. Along the journey, we stopped in picturesque towns where we meet some of the locals and enjoyed more delicious foods, famous to the region!

Arrival to Purmamarca – South America Desert Region


In the evening, we arrived at a quaint little colonial town called Purmamarca. The highlight here is the Hill of the Seven Colors, which is exactly what it sounds like. We went on a short walk as the sun was setting and stopped to admire the beauty of the hills as the lights of the little town started to flicker on.

The town has a small market in the central plaza every evening where you can buy local handicrafts and goods.  We arrived just as they were shutting down for the day, but managed to find some textiles. As we continued wandering around the town, we arrived at a restaurant called El Churqui de la Altura, and we were not disappointed!

In the evening we went to sleep sad that we were leaving Argentina, but we were ready to tackle the biggest Salt Flats in the world – Uyuni!

Stay tuned for Jason’s next adventure through Uyuni.



5 Unique Outdoor Adventure Tours in South America

In a continent as vast as South America, outdoor thrill-seekers will find plenty to explore. Sure, there are nice day hikes, and the surfing can be quite good, but some activities defy the norm and take you outside your comfort zone. Here are five of the most unique outdoor adventure tours in South America. I recommend treating yourself to at least one.

#1 Death Road – Outdoor Adventure Tours

outdoor adventure tours

Not far from La Paz, Bolivia, winds one of the world’s most dangerous roads. The Yungas Road, also known as the “Death Road”, was built in the 30’s by Paraguayan prisoners of war to connect the capital with northern Bolivia. Hundreds of people died building it, and many perish every year descending the more dangerous stretches of narrow rock and dirt.

Despite the obvious risks, the Death Road attracts travelers who enjoy spectacular views with an adrenaline rush. As a day trip, you can rent a full suspension mountain bike and start descending from 15,000ft in the high, snow-capped Andes. After the high plateau, riders continue to descend through cloud forests and eventually arrive in the sub-tropical jungle town of Coroico located at less than 4,000ft. Lunch awaits the survivors.

#2. Standup Paddleboarding in Antarctica – Outdoor Adventure Tours

outdoor adventure tours

Who wouldn’t want to experience the seventh continent? Many dream for the chance to visit, but few ever make it. Those who do, generally depart on a 10-day cruise from the southern tip of Argentina.

Many cruises, such as Quark and Oceanwide, offer comfortable cabins with educational talks on board as well as outdoor activities upon arrival in Antarctica. These may include hiking, cross-country skiing, camping, snowshoeing, sea kayaking and, more recently, stand-up paddle boarding. This is an offshoot of surfing, geared towards a slower more controlled ride. The adrenaline doesn’t come so much from the activity itself as from the environment surrounding you.

Imagine floating by an iceberg the size of a city and the shade of sapphire. Penguins rocket beneath you, and as you paddle by the white coast you hear a leopard seal calling from an ice floe. Alone and at sea level is the best way to encounter the grandeur of Antarctica.

3. Salkantay Trek – Outdoor Adventure Tours

High above toutdoor adventure tourshe potato fields and llamas in the valley, and between the misty peaks of the Andes, is a guide and several porters leading a small group of hikers towards a mythic city.

The popularity of Machu Picchu has brought nearly equal fame to the Inca Trail, a multi-day trek through the Incan ruins of the Sacred Valley. While this popular trek is definitely worthwhile, only 200 trekkers are allowed on the trail each day which means travelers must book many months in advance.

The five-day Salkantay Trek provides a convenient alternative, as well as a much more challenging adventure. With fewer tourists along the way, the focus turns naturally to the spectacular views. This is a high-altitude trek one can feel proud having accomplished, and the reward on that final day is your sunrise view at the stone citadel of Machu Picchu.

4. Bungee Jump in Action Valley – Outdoor Adventure Tours

Modern bungee jumping is a relatively recent activity, beginning in the late 70’s. It is often said that bungee jumping is more of an adrenaline thrill than skydiving because the reference point of the ground is always visible.

In South America, there are several locations where you can bungee jump, but the best is just outside of Cuzco at a place called Action Valley. There you will step into a small cage with your instructor, who will harness you up as the cage is lifted 400ft above the ground. You have a few moments suspended up there on wires attached to the surrounding hills before they count you down from 3…2…1…and then you take the dive of your life. This is the highest bungee jump in the continent. There is also a climbing wall, and it is possible to do paintballing, there is a bungee slingshot, and paragliding can be arranged as well.

5. Puenting in Baños – Outdoor Adventure Tours

outdoor adventure toursUnlike bungee jumping, puenting is arguably more terrifying. The cord is attached to one’s waist rather than their feet, while the other end is fastened to the opposite side of the bridge from where one jumps. The person puenting therefore falls like a pendulum rather than diving and bouncing like a bungee jumper.

Baños can be reached in several hours from Quito, Ecuador. It’s a lush, gorgeous little town surrounded by volcanoes and waterfalls and has established itself as the adventure capital of the country. Along with canyoning, river rafting and visiting hot springs, those looking to go puenting may jump several times per visit. The bridge sits over 300ft above the Pastaza River. Jumping face first was more of a thrill for me, but leaping backwards takes a lot of trust as well!



The Best Winter Solstice Celebrations in South America

Winter Solstice Celebrations

This week in the Southern Hemisphere, the Earth will reach its furthest distance from the sun and celebrations coinciding with the winter solstice will take place across South America. The winter solstice marks the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the agricultural new year. The Andean people from Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina participate in their own unique winter solstice celebrations. If you’re wondering when to travel to South America, the week before the winter solstice is one of the best times to visit. Aside from the famous festivities in Cusco, you can partake in many different celebrations across the continent.

In fear of the disappearing sun, the local people of the Andes pray to the Sun God, Inti. They pray for his return and his blessing for a bountiful harvest in the coming year. This historic celebration, Inti Raymi “Sun Festival,” spread across the Incan Empire mixing with local Andean beliefs. The winter solstice celebrations take place during the week leading up to June 24th. The winter solstice today not only celebrates plentiful harvests and connections with the Earth, but it also shows pride the pride among the different Andean cultures.

Cusco, Peru
Winter Solstice Celebrations

winter-solstice-celebrations-cusco_optOne of the biggest Inti Raymi celebrations takes place in Cusco, the historic capital of the Inca Empire. The festival begins with a reenactment of appeasing Inti in the center of Cusco at Koricancha, or the Temple of the Sun, before proceeding to the Sacsayhuaman ruins outside of the city. After the recreation, the celebration continues into the city where you will see dancers dressed in colorful traditional attire marching through the narrow streets and plazas. Festivities last for a few days and concerts continue late into the winter night. You can read more about Cusco’s celebrations here.

Otavalo, Ecuador
Winter Solstice Celebrations

Otavalo is a small indigenous village surrounded by volcanoes, located about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of Quito. In Ecuador, ritual purification in springs and rivers are an important component of the Inti Raymi celebration. It is believed to revitalize spiritual energy and their relationship with Pachamama, or mother earth. Members of the indigenous community in Otavalo begin the Inti Raymi festivities with a spiritual renewal at the nearby waterfalls at midnight. The celebrations continue with a grand march into the main plaza where members of the community and visitors sing and dance for several days.

Ingapirca, Ecuador
Winter Solstice Celebrations

Ingapirca-winter-solstice-celebrationsAnother major destination for Inti Raymi celebrations in Ecuador is Ingapirca. The Ingapirca complex is the largest set of Inca ruins in Ecuador and is located about 1-hour outside of Cuenca. The ceremonies begin as the rising sun shines through the doorway to the Temple of the Sun. Each year nearly 10,000 visitors travel to Ingapirca to witness the coming of the new agricultural year and join in the festival.

Tiahuanaco, Bolivia
Winter Solstice Celebrations

Tiwanak-winter-solstice-celebrationsIn Bolivia, northern Chile, and southern Peru, the winter solstice marks the New Year for the Aymara People and is a time to of celebration to bless the land for bountiful harvests. In 2010, President Evo Morales declared June 21st a national holiday and this June 2016 marks the 5,524th year of the Aymara culture.

Tiahuanaco is about an hour away from La Paz towards Lake Titicaca in western Bolivia. Tiahuanaco was the sacred and political center of the ancient Tiahuanaco culture. The city dates back as early as 1500 BC. Similar to Ingapirca, the festivities at Tiahuanaco get started as the first rays of sunlight pass through the Sun Gate to the east of the ruins. Food and sacrifices are offered to Inti and Pachamama to bring fertility and prosperity during the start of the new agricultural period. Festivities continue throughout the cold night, so be prepared for lots of dancing, eating, and drinking of a warm grape liquor known as signani to stay warm.

Winter Solstice celebrations are a unique and fun cultural experience in South America. Contact us today and let our travel consultants plan the perfect tour throughout South America, or look at some of our recommended South America Tours

A Weekend in Paraty – Recommended Paraty Tours

Travel Consultant, Tom Maker, recently spent a month living in Rio de Janeiro and one of his favorite weekend getaways was a trip to Paraty.  Read on for part 1 of his 3 part blog series focusing on different coastal destinations easily accessible from Rio de Janeiro.

CEO and co-founder Juergen Keller is famous at for saying, “Everyone should visit Brazil!” His love and enthusiasm for Brazil is infectious, so naturally when I was planning my trip to Brazil, I asked him where he thought I should go. Juergen told me about all the beautiful destinations, from the tropical beaches of the northeast, to the Amazon, to Brazil’s southern coast, to the city of Rio de Janeiro and more. Of course, this made me excited – with so much to experience in just one country, I couldn’t wait to get there! But I was also completely overwhelmed. The country is so massive that deciding which destination to visit can become a bit overwhelming, especially when restricted by time. One could spend several months traveling the country. However I, like most of our clients, didn’t have this kind of time!

I decided to start with the essential Brazil destination – Rio de Janeiro, the ‘marvelous city’ as this was the obvious choice for my first trip. However, while in Rio, I went on numerous short trips to coastal destinations and Paraty was by far one of my favorite places.

Paraty Tours – Colonial Masterpiece

Paraty is a small charming Portuguese colonial town that sits alongside a beautiful bay amongst the ‘Costa Verde’ between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Characterized by cobblestone streets lined with white colonial buildings and churches, all with a stunning lush backdrop of green valleys and bath-temperature warm green waters. Paraty is the perfect destination to spend a couple of days relaxing, and a great complement to the energy of Rio de Janeiro.

paraty-toursParaty is 4-hours south of Rio de Janeiro. Roads quickly connect these destinations, the majority of which run beside picturesque bays, deep green valleys, and small Brazilian townships – many of which are reminiscent of tiny beach towns in Central America. The drive passes the Bay of Angra dos Reis, where boats to Ilha Grande depart. While the 4-hour trip may sound long, it is easily broken up by a stop for a traditional ‘Salgado’ – a savory Brazilian pastry filled with anything you can imagine!

paraty-toursParaty was settled in 1667 as a gold port by the Portuguese, and until the late 1800’s, it was a stopover point for people traveling between Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.  The historical center of Paraty is well preserved for tourists – seemingly stuck in a time warp of Portuguese colonial architecture, and cobblestone streets lined with small stores and restaurants selling delicious foods and souvenirs. You will quickly be drawn in by the charm and beauty of the town’s whitewashed walls and crystal green waters, sure to leave you wanting to explore every inch of Paraty!

How to get there – Paraty Tours

Bus: Paraty is about 160 miles south of Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, and easily accessible by road. The bus departs from Rodoviaria Novo Rio, Rio’s central bus station and takes around 4.5-hours with only one stop. Look for the Costa Verde bus company; these are modern and comfortable buses that depart every hour. Many buses even offer wifi! The terminal in Paraty is just a short 5-minute walk from the city.

Private Transfer: We can organize private transfers with an English speaking guide from Rio de Janeiro to Paraty. This is about a 4-hour private transfer, including one stop. It is by far the quickest and most comfortable way to get to Paraty!

Shared Transfer: A number of companies offer shared transfers from your hotel in Rio de Janeiro to your hotel in Paraty for a reasonable price. Companies such as Paraty Tours or Easy Transfer run departures that leave in the morning and take around the same amount of time as the bus. If you don’t want to be bothered with arranging your tours, we can customize your own transfer and arrange it for you.

Recommended Paraty Tours

paraty-toursSchooner Boat Tour: Take a half day cruise through the bay leaving from Paraty to visit some of the 65 islands nearby. The waters are emerald green, perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The islands are stunningly beautiful with rich, green tropical vegetation and soft sandy beaches. Enjoy the picturesque view of Paraty aboard the Schooner boat, with the iconic main cathedral standing to the backdrop of rolling green hills. The only complaint some people may have is that the water is too warm.

paraty-toursJeep Tour: Take this half-day tour through the forest to see and swim in tropical waterfalls and visit a traditional rum distillery! The waterfalls are epic, yet relaxing and enchanting. Overall, this is just a beautiful outdoor tour!

Explore the Town by Foot: The best thing to do in Paraty is stroll around the town by foot and explore the picturesque streets and locally owned shops. You can walk through the entire town easily in half a day, but every time you return, you are sure to see something new! It’s surprising how easy it is to get lost amongst the streets (the good type of lost!) while browsing or café hopping. This makes for a fantastic afternoon to complement a morning tour or half day at the beach!

The Beachparaty-tours: While Paraty is not a beach destination, the beaches nearby are still beautiful and make for a relaxing swim or siesta. Praia do Pontal is the beach closest to town. The beach is lined with little restaurants and outdoor tables serving seafood, fresh juices, and ice-cold beers. There are many other beaches within walking distance of the town, which are slightly more secluded and quiet – Praia do Jabaquara was my favorite in the area! Ask your guide or your hotel receptionist what beach they recommend!

Where to Stay – Paraty Tours

Posada do Sandi paraty-toursis located in the historic district of Paraty. It combines modern design and comfortable amenities with cultural and historical surroundings. As one of the few Posadas located in the historic district, Posada do Sandi will allow you to immerse yourself in the culture and offers an authentic feel with everything at your doorstep. Be sure to request a room with a balcony overlooking the street, where you can relax and open the tall doors and let the sunlight and fresh sea air fill the room.

Best Time to Visit Paraty

Like Rio de Janeiro, there is no bad time to visit Paraty. Year round, you can expect beautiful blue skies and warm weather, often with a gentle breeze. In the summer, the days are longer and temperatures can reach up to 35 °C (95 °F) whereas, during the winter, temperatures do not drop lower than 15 °C (60 °F).

Let us include Paraty on your next trip to Rio de Janeiro – the perfect finish to an unforgettable South America adventure! CONTACT US TODAY AND LET OUR TRAVEL CONSULTANTS PLAN YOUR PERFECT TOUR IN BRAZIL, OR TAKE A LOOK AT SOME OF OUR RECOMMENDED BRAZIL TOURS