We put together this El Calafate Travel Guide to help you plan your trip to El Calafate, Argentina. We spent four months in El Calafate during the pandemic and got way more out of our experience than we could have hoped! For a list of things to do in El Calafate besides visiting the glacier, check out our other posts: Hidden Gems of Calafate and Things to Do in Calafate in the Winter. This post will focus on all aspects of your trip, such as Where to Stay and Where to Eat, and the main to-do: visiting Perito Moreno glacier.
El Calafate Travel Guide
If you’re exploring Patagonia, El Calafate is a MUST on your itinerary. Whether you’re bouncing between national parks or enjoying a more relaxed Patagonian experience, El Calafate cannot be missed.
A few days in El Calafate offers the perfect rest for the weary traveler. This small Patagonian town buzzes with tourists during high season (November – March). Most tourists are lured to El Calafate by the famed Perito Moreno glacier, which sleeps in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Many even zoom through El Calafate, allotting only enough time to visit the glacier before zipping to El Chalten for more extensive hiking within the park.
This, in my opinion, is a huge mistake. There are a bijillion things to do in El Calafate: from watching (or playing!) the national Argentine sport of pato to taking advantage of sports out on the bay to visiting 4,000-year old cave paintings. IF you’re on a tight schedule, perhaps zipping up to Chalten is good for you; for all others with a bit more flexibility, a few days in El Calafate are sure to be worth your while.
Things to Do
Most people zoom through El Calafate, stopping only long enough to visit the reknowned Perito Moreno glacier. Due to the pandemic, we were in El Calafate for five months (!!), and we learned more about this town than we could have ever hoped.
From watching (or playing!) the national Argentine sport of pato to taking advantage of sports out on the bay to visiting 4,000-year old cave paintings, there are a bijillion things to do in El Calafate! Make sure to check out our other posts for details: Hidden Gems of Calafate and Things to Do in Calafate in the Winter.
Visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno glacier lives in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. You can go on your own or as part of an excursion.
The park has various walkways to admire the glacier from different angles. To go on your own, simply purchase a bus ticket from the bus terminal or your hotel/hostel.
For a more hands-on experience, book a Minitrekking or Big Ice expedition with Hielo y Aventura that takes you on the actual glacier. The Big Ice expedition is a full day experience that suits you up with crampons to climb on the glacier! We didn’t get to do either due to the pandemic, but look forward to doing the Big Ice when we return. Hielo y Aventura excursions depart from within the park.
For another unique experience, Southern Spirit offers full-day and hourly boat tours to admire the glacier from another perspective. The Mayo Spirit Trek is a full-day excursion that includes 3 hikes and time to explore the walkways in the park on your own. They also offer a shorter boat tour that visits only the Perito Moreno glacier. Southern Spirit excursions depart from a small port nearby called Punta Bandera. The boat route offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains that those simply visiting the park don’t get to enjoy.
Where to Eat
El Calafate offers many eating options. Some of our faves were:
- Viva la Pepa: café with sweet and savory options
- La Zorra: burgers, fries & beer
- Almacen de Pastas: all things pasta (see note below!)
- Mako: while we didn’t visit, we’ve heard from many that this is the best and most expensive restaurant in town
A tip on cooking at home: You can dine-in at Almacen de Pastas or buy some of their stuff and cook at home! Our go-to’s are the gnocchi de verduras (veggie gnocchi), fideos de huevo (egg noodles), and salsa de hongos (mushroom sauce). They also offer lasagna, ravioli, and soup.
SWEETS N’ TREATS:
- Ovejitas: Best ice cream in town!! To my chocolate lovers: you MUST try the Chocolate Patagonico and the Chocolate Superdelicioso. You’re welcome.
- Guerrero: Calafate’s first chocolate factory. They also offer chocolate made of calafate!
- Olivia: Calafate’s one and only dedicated coffee shop. Coffee afficionados: temper those expectations, as in general, Argentinians drink mate.
- Viva la Pepa: Their merienda special is a STEAL: coffee or tea with cake for ~$2.50 USD!
**HALT WHO GOES THERE?!** Che, If you don’t know what merienda is, then you have to read our post, “How to be Argentine” [coming soon!].
Where to Stay
El Calafate is a tourist-centered town and accommodation options abound. I’ll be brief and recommend two:
If you’d prefer a hostel, America del Sur is as good as it gets. The common area is wonderfully lit and spacious with couches, tables and games. Outside, there are hammocks and additional seating. There is an on-site bar that is well-stocked and the service was on point during our visit. Also, if you’re a longterm traveler, the common kitchen was our favorite hostel kitchen so far! If you usually opt for hostels, choose America del Sur!
AirBnB is another good option, if anything for the experience of interacting with locals. Calafateños embody both the ruggedness of Patagonia and the warmth of living in a small town. If you are interested in getting to know the real Patagonia, I highly recommend staying in an AirBnB or at least seeking out an AirBnB experience with a local host.
Furthermore, El Calafate is a relatively young town. Most locals were not born here, but moved from another part of Argentina. So if you are at all interested in getting to know the real Argentina, I would again highly recommend staying in an AirBnB and interacting with your host.
How to Get There
El Calafate is just on the other side of the Argentina-Chile border from Puerto Natales (the gateway to Torres del Paine National Park). To get between El Calafate and Puerto Natales, take a bus. It’s a 5-6 hour journey including a stop at the border.
For travel to or from anywhere within Argentina, you will likely be flying. El Calafate has an airport with domestic flights to any destination within Argentina. Depending on the length of your trip, you can head further south to the bottom-of-the-world Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. For less rugged, higher-end travels (think more spas), fly north to Bariloche.
Finally, if you have extra time, we’ve got an epic road trip planned for you: From El Calafate, head east to Camarones, then north to Puerto Madryn, then back west to the Swiss-like villages of Villa La Angostura, San Martin de los Andes, and finally Bariloche. Enjoy!!
That’s it for now! Make sure to check out our other posts mentioned above, and let us know your thoughts on this El Calafate Travel Guide post in the comments.
From us to you, Happy Adventuring!