Set on Lago Argentino, El Calafate in Patagonia attracts hikers and climbers drawn to the breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park.
This once modest town has grown due to the influx of tourists, and now offers lodging, restaurants, shops, and recreational services, including horseback riding and quad bike rentals.
El Calafate serves as a starting point for tourists visiting Los Glaciares National Park to witness the stunning 97-square-mile Perito Moreno Glacier and the Cerro Chaltén and Cerro Torre mountains.
La Estela Ranch, overlooking the glacier, provides horseback rides that circle the shore of Lake Viedma.
El Calafate is home to La Tablita, a steak restaurant specialized in Patagonian lamb and bife de chorizo, as well as an exquisite dessert menu.
The Walichu Caves, dating back 4,000 years, still preserve paintings attributed to the pre-Tehuelche people of the Upper Paleolithic period.
El Calafate shops sell hand-spun parkas and ponchos made with pure sheep wool, as well as crafts featuring unique Mapuche and Tehuelche designs.
The Parque Nacional Los Glaciares covers over 726,927 hectares, making it the largest national park in Argentina. It is home to the Perito Moreno, Upsala, Spegazzini, and Viedma Glaciers and offers many activities such as climbing around Mount Chaltén, hiking, trekking on the Patagonian ice field or fishing and sailing on Rock Lake. Adjacent to Desert Lake are campgrounds where visitors to the park can camp, have picnics and go sports fishing. Visitors to the park must register in the park's Information Center and use only authorized areas for hiking and setting up tents.
The Museo del Jugete is a toy museum displaying toys from 1870-1970. It is renowned in El Calafate for the toys donated by Eva Perón. One of the exhibitions at the toy museum is the Eva Perón Gallery, where you'll come across porcelain dolls, books, a little drum, and more. The Eva Perón exhibit is meant to bring all races, classes, and economies together as one united Argentina. Another museum exhibit is the Album Gallery, where vintage images of Batman and Tarzan grace the covers of vinyl records.
The El Carafate History Museum exhibits the remains of the dinosaurs and gigantic mammals that once ruled the area. This museum features skeletons, enlarged images, replicas, photographs, and sound bites that vividly evoke prehistoric Argentinian Patagonia. Peruse each display's data and learn about the glacier formations and ecological transformations of the Pleistocene. The museum also examines the area's rural worker's strike of 1921-1922, which led to violent suppression by the national government. This aids a deeper understanding of El Calafate and Argentina's culture.
Take a guided tour of the Laguna Nimez Reserve. It offers a wealth of magnificent flora and fauna. Marvel at the diverse ecosystem that provides habitats for a plethora of birds such as flamingos, upland geese, red-gartered coots, and more. This beautiful sanctuary offers visitors the opportunity to spot the diverse species of animals that share the forest with the birds. In addition, Lago Argentina provides water for the forest trees and wildlife living in the reserve. A paradise for bird watchers.
If you love archaeology, the Punta Bonita and Walichu Caves offer spectacular symbols representing prehistoric human language. Located in Punta Bonita, the ancient Walichu caves bear paintings created by primitive people born over 4000 years ago. Each pictorial representation was drawn with precision using hands, bunches of hair, and by blowing through the hollow crevices of guanco bones. The images on the caves are adorned with amazing hues of red, yellow and black and white. Walking through the caves is easy and provides a tranquil environment as you peruse each illustration.
January and February, during Patagonia's summer, are popular months to visit, but are also more expensive. November to mid-December and March to April are less crowded and more comfortable.
There are daily flights to El Calafate International Airport (FTE) from Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Bariloche, and Trelew. From the airport, a short taxi ride to downtown El Calafate averages AR$155, and the Aerobus shuttle is AR$62.
By car, El Calafate is 1864 miles from Buenos Aires and 195 miles from Rio Gallegos along National Road 3.
From Buenos Aires, you can take a bus to Rio Gallegos and then to El Calafate. The trip to Rio Gallegos is approximately 36 hours and then four hours to El Calafate. From Puerto Natales in southern Chile, the trip to El Calafate is five hours.
The Camping and Hostal el Ovejero is a campsite with a fireplace, table, and electricity at each spot, as well as hot showers, a laundry room, and a restaurant. The Rochester Calafate provides more upscale amenities, such as king size beds, minibar, and cable TV.
Los Glaciares - Los Glaciares National Park offers trekking tours of the Perito Moreno glacier.
Lago Argentino - set sail on Lago Argentino to view the magnificent glaciers up close on one of the many sightseeing cruises.
Pasarelas Perito Moreno - another way to see the glaciers is along the Perito Moreno walkways that circle the lake.
El Calafate can be explored on foot. Some hotels on the hill offer free shuttle service.
Though taxis are available, most sites are accessible on foot.
Rental cars in El Calafate start at AR$744 a day.
On Avenida del Libertador, you'll find souvenirs, chocolate, crafts, and clothing.
Supermercado la Anónima features a selection of staples, while Feria de Frutas y Verduras la 37 sells fresh fruit and produce. El Calafate is very inexpensive; a dozen eggs costs around AR$20.
La Zaina Restaurant & Wine Bar specializes in regional Patagonian cuisine and showcases an extensive selection of Argentinian wine. Entrees average AR$341. Cerveceria Artesanal Chopen serves tapas and picadas. Dishes average AR$93.