El Calafate City Travel Tips, Attractions & More
The city of El Calafate in the Patagonia region in southern Argentina has got to be one of those places where at the end of everyday, you lay down on your rented bed after a busy day of exploring really exhausted but in a truly happy, relaxed, and exceedingly content kind of way.
It is blessed to be in located in one of South America’s most naturally beautiful and impressive regions so not only is it surrounded with gorgeous natural landscapes (imposing glaciers and monoliths, blue-green fjords, and sweeping grasslands) that you’d want to devour with your eyes, it is also filled with tranquility that is rare these days.
City Logistics – Getting In and Around El Calafate
From its humble beginnings as a hub for wool trading, El Calafate has expanded into a major tourist destination in Argentina so it’s been getting easier to get into the city. Visitors can get here through the El Calafate International Airport, which is currently served by three airlines – Aerolíneas Argentinas, LAN Argentina, and LADE – that have daily flights to and from other Argentine cities like Bariloche and Buenos Aires.
You can try to get into town by bus or by car if you’re feeling adventurous but beware because the roads aren’t as accessible as with the major cities. From Buenos Aires you can take a bus to Río Gallegos (36 hours) and another bus from there to El Clafate (4 hours).
You can definitely get around the city on foot but some of the city’s attractions like the Los Glaciares National Park aren’t exactly walking distance. Don’t despair! Some hotels offer free shuttle services to their guest and public buses are ample, many of them take you to the famous attractions for cheap. Additionally, you can opt to rent a car for $80 or more a day from places like Servi-Car and Fiorasi Rentacar. This might be a better option if you have a more flexible budget or if you’re splitting the charges with friends.
Internet connections come easy around town so if you are planning on keeping in touch with the digital world while you’re on vacation, then you’re in luck. The city has a lot of Internet cafes, places like El Calafate Cyber and Cooperativa Telefónica that offer fast connections for around $1 an hour.
Weather and Backpack Essentials
The weather in El Calafate never gets higher than low 80°F so it never gets too hot. Summers are usually pleasantly dry and can get from cool (mid-60s F) to warm (low 80s F).
The best times to visit El Calafate are in the springtime, from November to December (from low to mid-40s F to low 60s F), and in the fall, from March until April (from low 40s F to low 60s/50s F), (remember that Argentina is in the Southern Hemisphere so the seasons are the opposite, if you must, to that of the Northern Hemisphere!) when the temperatures are tolerable and there main attractions are not overcrowded with visitors.
When you’re visiting during the warmer month, still make sure to bring a light sweater or cardigan with you. Take a beanie and a scarf with you as well, especially if you’re planning on getting on a river cruise. Winters can get to down to below freezing so if you’re visiting around this time, you’ll definitely need to bundle up on winter clothing – thick winter jackets, thick scarfs, beanies, gloves, thick socks… the works!
Also, make sure to carry around cash with you!
Where to Stay in El Calafate?
Due to the influx of tourists in the city, El Calafate establishments tend to sell their products and services at a higher price. It’ll probably be a challenge to find anything cheaper than $50 here but there are a couple of places on Airbnb that sell private rooms a night for around $40. Make sure to book these in advance though.
Budget hotels and B&Bs in El Calafate cost around $100. The best places include Ratagonia Rebelde, Posada & Histori, Hosteria Alto Verde, Solares Del Sur, Hosteria Kaulem,, Roble Sur, and Hosteria Rukahue.
Mid-range options in the city include Santa Monica Aparts, Linda Vista Apart Hotel, and Hotel Mirador del Lago. These cost around $150 for double beds.
If you’d prefer to treat yourself to luxury after a day’s worth of trekking, hiking, or exploring the gorgeous landscape, then you’re in luck. Eolo Hotel Patagonia sells luxurious rooms for more than $500 a night. It may be too much to many but as the hotel is nestled in the middle of the beautiful Patagonian landscape and it gives sweeping views of the surrounding plains and mountains. Other lesser expensive options are Los Notros Hotel and Casa Los Sauces.
Top Things to Do
The city of El Calafante has grown so much due to tourism, it’s main attraction, of course, being the world famous Los Glaciares National Park. But as a major destination for natural wonders, there are more things to do and see here than just that. And in the main area of the city itself are lovely neo-pioneer architecture, shops, and a casino for those who enjoy an occasional gamble.
Here are the top things you can enjoy while in El Calafante:
Explore the beautiful attraction of Los Glaciares National Park that people from all over the world has come all the way to the end of the South American continent to see. There are so many things to see in this park, the most famous and magnificent of which is the Perito Moreno Glacier. Go on an ice trek across the great glacier with Hielo y Adventuras.
For a less extreme activity, go on a river cruise in the jade green waters of Lago Argentino, the largest in the country, and sail up the Upsala channel to see the Upsala Glacier then head to Estancia Cristina, founded in 1914, to explore the historic cattle ranch and learn about lives of the explorers and pioneers of the area.
Go on an adventurous horse ride to Lago Roca with Cabalgata del Glaciar and experience the gloriousness of the Patagonian wilderness. Be ready with your basic Spanish though as your guide might not speak much English.
Get a good glimpse of the ancient world in the unique landscape of Bosque Petrificado La Leona, a petrified forest and paleontological site full of petrified wood and impressive dinosaur fossils.
Zip line across Cerro Frias or tour the mountains to catch glimpses of the local wildlife, which include eagles, foxes, condors, and guanacos. Afterwards, have a delicious meal and some good wine at the ranch house while enjoying sweeping views of the valley below.
Walk from town to the serene ecological reserve of Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary where you will see flamingoes and about 80 more species of birds, both local and migrators.
Indulge in your favorite winter AND summer activities like skiing, kayaking, four-wheeling, and hiking at the Calafate Mountain Park, a ski and mountain resort that offer sweeping views of the Andes mountain range and Lago Argentino in the distance.
Visit the Glaciarium for a less active day and learn about the geology, ecology, and history of the glaciers. It is one of the few museums dedicated to glaciers in the world and is a must-visit when you’re in the area.
While it may not be as authentic, the Walichu Caves and its wall paintings might be worth visiting if you have some extra time in your visit. The paintings are but recreations of the originals from the Paleolithic age and are considered by locals as tourist traps but the caves are fun to explore in, if you’re willing to pay for a tour, and the surrounding landscapes are worth seeing.
Go on one of the many tours of the stunning landscapes of Patagonia. Lonely Planet lists a few great options in their site.
Explore El Calafate
The stuff in our top things to do in El Calafate list will pretty much take up most of your time during your stay but do save a couple of hours to explore Av del Libertador in the downtown neighborhood. Great restaurants, Internet cafes, and shops painted with bright colors line this avenue that serves as the city’s main street. It’s a picturesque area that maybe likened to a small mountain town in Canada.
Av del Libertador is the city’s main shopping area. Here you will find everything from outdoor clothing to local art to souvenirs. Shops in Calafate can get very pricey though so if you’re on a budget, make sure you have everything you need before you go into town. There’s no reason to spend more money on a shirt or a jacket you can get for cheaper somewhere else.
Do stop by a shop called Vellón Negro, however. They sell really nice warm sweaters made from local wool.
Foodies – Where to Eat and Drink in El Calafate
While in El Calafate, don’t just immerse yourself in its glorious landscapes. Slow down and take some time to enjoy the best of Argentine cuisine as well. Besides, isn’t food even better after a day’s worth of exploring the wild?
Like with a lot of things in the city, restaurants can be a tad expensive; but if you know the best places, you will definitely get your money’s worth. Sample delectable Argentine food in these highly recommended places:
Pura Vida, for a taste of Argentine home cooking and delicious desserts,
Don Pichón, for scenic views of the Patagonian landscape while enjoying your lamb dinner,
La Tablita, for some delicious fish and grilled meat,
Casimiro Biguá, to enjoy some of Argentina’s best wines with your lamb stew or grilled trout,
El Cucharón, to try the famous cazuela de cordero, a meat stew traditional in the region.
When you’ve had your hearty fill or in the morning to start your day off, grab espresso or a cup submarine (chocolate bar melted in hot milk) from El Ba’r or some nice hot cocoa from the local chocolate factory, La Chocolatería.
Calafate is no Paris or Buenos Aires but it does have some of the most gorgeous scenes in nature you’ll ever see in your life; so while the city doesn’t necessarily cater to romantic holidays, there are many things you can do here to spend some quality romantic time with your partner.
When finding accommodations, checking in at your hotel, or making dinner reservations, for example, request for a room or a table with a beautiful view of the Patagonian landscape.
In the daytime, spend your days together indulging in activities like exploring the landscape on horseback or going on a river cruise on Lago Argentina and capping those off with a hearty picnic and a fine bottle of wine.
And at night, experience Argentine music by watching local performances of the tango and the folklórico while sipping on some Argentine wine in one of the city’s several late night places.
Nightlife and Special Events
There are a few great places to cap your Patagonian nights off in Calafate. Some serve quality beer and cocktail drinks while others offer entertainment like karaoke and live music acts. Here are five of the best late night places in the city:
Sholken, if you’re looking to enjoy your beer with some terrific beef empanadas with a kick,
Librobar, where you can have your fill of either coffee or cocktails while browsing through coffee table books on Patagonian wildlife photography,
Grouse, if you’re in the mood for a night of drunken singing in front of strangers,
Shackleton Lounge, for some good music and fantastic daiquiris,
Don Diego de la Noche, to experience some terrific Argentine folk music called folklórico.
There are not a lot of special events going on in Calafate but it does celebrate two big festivals every year. One of them is Festival del Lago Argentino, the town’s biggest festival. It is celebrated a week leading up the February 15. The second festival is Fiesta Nacional de Trekking, during which many outdoor sports competitions and races are held in the last week of February.
Best Day Trips Outside the City
If you’re planning of making a trip farther from the main attractions of El Calafate, make sure to rent a car. There are buses but since the roads are not paved, the journey can get quite uncomfortable, especially if you’re used to more modern roads. At least, when you’re travelling in a rented car, your drive will be a lot more tolerable.
There are two places of interest you must visit if you’re planning on going on a day trip outside the city. The first is the mountain town of El Chaltén. More of an important stop for backpackers, mountain climbers, and trekkers than an actual town, it offers not only restaurants and shops but also camping sites for those who’d like to stay the night. The best draws of this town are the spectacular views of the mountains of Cerro Chaltén (Monte Fitz Roy) and Cerro Torre.
The second would be the neighboring Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. This beautiful national park covers many mountains peaks, blue lakes, and rivers. It is also home to the famous Cordillera del Paine.
People from all over the world cluster to this small city in Argentina to see and experience its collection of stunning landscapes. In El Calafate, there are massive glaciers, rolling hills, impressive peaks, and glacial lakes that will make you want to stay just a little longer… and then a bit more. Whether you’re travelling with friends, on a family vacation, or having a romantic getaway, this city in the southern border of Lago Argentino will not leave you wanting.
If you have any tips or suggestions about El Calafate, we’d love to hear from you!