7 Things to do in El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina

In the southern part of Argentine Patagonia, along the shores of Lago Argentino, lies the small town of El Calafate. The town serves as the gateway to the Patagonia region and is one of the most-visited destinations in Argentina. 

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El Calafate offers access to Los Glaciares National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares), a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site, consisting of 13 ancient glaciers. 

The most famous glacier, Perito Moreno, is a big draw card of the region, with the other popular noteworthy ones being Upsala (accessible only via remote boat ride), the Onelli, Bolados, and Spegazzini glaciers.

El Calafate’s central location makes it an ideal jumping off point for exploring Los Glaciares National Park as well as the Patagonian Ice Field. If you’re planning to see more of southern Patagonia, the town is conveniently located right between El Chaltén and Torres del Paine, Chile. 

Did you know? The town of El Calafate is named after the local blue-coloured calafate berries. Once eaten, they say it guarantees your return to Patagonia — a tale we are happy to get behind! 

Many visitors use El Calafate as nothing more than an arrival/departure point en route to El Chalten, the hiking capital of the region, located about a three-hour drive away. But we are so glad we followed the advice of our Trip Planner at Adventure Life and opted to spend a few more days exploring this area. 

Read on to discover what we got up to during our vist and what we recommend you add to yours!

Argentina El Calafate Lago Argentino 0443

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How to Get to El Calafate

By Plane

El Calafate is one of the easiest and most accessible destinations in Argentine Patagonia.

El Calafate Airport (FTE) has daily direct flights to/from Buenos Aires with the journey taking about 3 hours. There are also flights to Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego), Bariloche (Lake District), and Trelew (Peninsula Valdes). From the airport, El Calafate town is only a 30-minute drive away.

By Car/Bus

Those traveling from Chile will find it easy to reach El Calafate by car/bus. Cross-border buses from the city of Puerto Natales take about 7-10 hours depending on border control. A bus ticket will cost you around USD $31-$36.

Bus in El Calafate
Bus in El Calafate

Best Time to Visit El Calafate, Argentina

With the seasons in South America being reversed compared to the Northern Hemisphere, the season to visit El Calafate starts in October and lasts until late April. This coincides with Patagonia’s spring, summer, and fall months. The weather varies across the seasons, each offering a unique backdrop for any Patagonian adventure.

Summer is the high season, considered by many to be the best time of year to visit. The temperatures are at their highest, and days are clearer and longer, perfect for outdoor excursions. Meanwhile, spring sees flowers in bloom and local fruits in season, while autumn shows off dramatic colours against the Patagonian landscape.

Winter in Patagonia (months from June to August) can be harsh and uninviting, so we recommend avoiding visiting Patagonia during this time. Many hotels and establishments close for the season, and even iconic attractions like the Perito Moreno Glacier or Los Glaciares National Park may be too cold to enjoy during the winter.

We visited El Calafate in late February and had fantastic weather during our week there. While we still needed a warm jacket in the mornings and evenings, the daytime temperatures were warm enough to wear just a long-sleeved T-shirt—perfect hiking weather!

View of El Calafate town
View of El Calafate town

Things to Do in El Calafate 

1. Visit the Perito Moreno Glacier at Los Glaciares National Park 

Perito Moreno Glacier tops the list of things to do in El Calafate. It’s an incredible natural attraction that can be explored in a number of ways. The Glacier is located about 30 mins from El Calafate inside Los Claciares National Park and can be reached by car or bus. Once at the glacier you can admire its glandiour from the observation platforms, get closer to it on a boat excursion or in kayak or opt to explore it on a mini-trekking excursion. 

We really enjoyed mini-trekking, an activity that allows us to literally walk on top of the glacier, explore some of its nooks and crannies, admire its beauty from up close and learn more about its history and landscape from a knowledgeable guide. 

The excursion also included a boat trip to the base of the glacier and a short stop at the viewing platforms. While at the platforms, we got a chance to witness the iconic glacial calving- when huge chunks of ice break off from the main glacier and plummet into Lake Argentino in a huge splash. It was an experience to remember (but not one we successfully captured on camera). 

Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

2. Spend an Evening at an Estancia

There is no better way to learn about the Patagonia region and the gaucho lifestyle that is prevalent in this area than to spend an evening at a traditional estancia. We visited El Galpon del Glaciar, a working estancia that offers tours of the property. 

Our evening began with a cup of traditional mate tea and continued with an introduction to sheep herding, a sheep shearing demonstration, and a delicious parilla-style meal to finish off the day.

Max at El Galpon del Glaciar estancia
Max at El Galpon del Glaciar estancia
Sheep herding at El Galpon del Glaciar
Sheep herding at El Galpon del Glaciar

3. Explore El Calafate Town

Spend a few hours exploring El Calafate town. The main street, Avenida del Libertador, is packed with restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops. There is also a small museum called Centro de Interpretacíon Historico, worth a quick visit for a glimpse of the region’s history and culture.

For local wares, visit a lovely open-air artisan market called El Mercado Artesanal, where you’ll find local artists putting their works on display every evening.

Stop by the Glaciarium for an impressive exhibit on the Patagonian Ice Field and its glaciers, which ends with a drink from the ice bar. Head to the north shore of the lake, where Laguna Nimez Reserve is, and spot Chilean flamingos and up to 100 other bird species. 

El Calafate town
El Calafate town

4. Walk the Boardwalk at Lake Argentino 

A walk along the boardwalk at Lake Argentino is a nice activity in the early morning or at the end of the day. The boardwalk is within walking distance from town and is a great spot for bird watching and catching the beautiful Patagonian sunset. 

Lake Argentino 
Lake Argentino

5. Try Local Cuisine

If you want to eat your way through Patagonia, head to a parrilla and order the iconic Patagonian Lamb. Grilled the traditional way on a cross rotisserie over a fire, the meat is super tender and evenly cooked. 

Patagonian chocolate is also a favourite delicacy, often paired with strawberries or stuffed with hazelnuts, pine nuts, almonds and nuts, or even sweet milk. When in El Calafate, don’t miss the Calafate berries, which they turn into jams or even ice cream. 

Dining in El Calafate
Just one of the many dishes we tried in El Calafate

6. Take a day trip to El Chaltén 

El Chalten is known as the national trekking capital of Argentina, where you’ll find Mount Fitzroy, the Torre Mountain Peak, and many spectacular trekking trails. It’s a hiker’s dream and is a destination worthy a 4-5 day stay. 

But those short on time will be happy to hear that it is possible to visit El Chalten on a day-trip from El Calafate. The town is located just 3-hours away and a number of tour operators offer full-day tours from El Calafate to admire the stunning scenery of the region. 

El Chalten, Patagonia
El Chalten, Patagonia
Argentina Patagonia Explora El Chalten Lago de los tres OM 08893
At Laguna de Los Tres

7. Spend a few days in Torres del Paine, Chile

If you have a few days to spare while in El Calafate, consider crossing the border to Chile to visit Torres del Paine. 

Though it is possible to get a glimpse of Torres del Paine on a day trip from El Calafate, we strongly recommend against it. This destination deserves at least a few days. If you are planning a trip to the region and are considering a visit to Torres del Paine, contact one of the Adventure Life trip planners for assistance with logistics and recommendations. 

We visited Torres del Paine back in 2017 and spent almost 2 weeks in the area, giving ourselves plenty of time to appreciate the Patagonian landscape within Torres del Paine. The national park is surrounded by splintering glaciers, lakes, lagoons, and waterfalls, with the mesmerizing Andes Mountain Range peeking through. 

Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park
Last photo stop before Paine Grande in Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park

READ NEXT: Hiking the W Trail in Torres del Paine

Have more time? 

For a change of scenery, you can also head to the desert. Hike through La Leona Petrified Forest, an incredible archaeological site, or look for cave paintings at Punta Walichu.

Where to Stay in El Calafate, Argentina 

Esplendor El Calafate 

During our stay in town, we stayed at Esplendor El Calafate, a 4-star boutique hotel just 500m from Libertador Avenue. From here, we could easily access the town and arrange pick-up for our tour to Perito Moreno Glacier (70km away) and Los Glaciares.

The interior at Esplendor was really unique, incorporating elements of Patagonia into every room, and offering excellent views of El Calafate Hill and Argentino Lake. The rooms were spacious and elegantly designed. There’s an on-site restaurant that serves complimentary breakfast and a sophisticated signature menu for lunch and dinner, plus a spa, a heated indoor pool, and a sauna.

Esplendor hotel
Esplendor hotel

El Galpón del Glaciar

El Galpon del Glaciar is a traditional working estancia that offers overnight stays and evening tours. This warm, cozy country inn is perfect for those who want to extend their gaucho experience with a unique stay at the Estancia. There are 16 rooms with views of either Lake Argentino or the Andes Mountain Range. Guests can choose between double or triple rooms with private bathrooms.

Around the ranch, you can explore the terrain on foot or on horseback, go bird watching from their booth at the Laguna de los Pajaros Nature Reserve, or watch a sheep herding and shearing demonstration. There’s also a restaurant that serves typical Patagonian cuisine, best enjoyed by the heat of the fireplace.

El Galpon del Glaciar estancia
El Galpon del Glaciar Estancia

EOLO – Patagonia’s Spirit

For a stay worth a splurge, check out EOLO, a Relais & Chateau property that embodies the spirit of Patagonia. It’s in a tranquil 10,000-acre estancia between El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park. The area is windy, vast, and quiet, with more than enough space for outdoor activities and indoor relaxation.

There are 17 rooms, each one with its own magnificent view of the surrounding landscape. Simple lines and pastel colours make nature the star of the show. There’s WiFi, central heating, and a full set of amenities save for TVs—but the scenery is more than enough to keep you entertained.

As for dining, there’s an impressive restaurant and bar on-site that offers a unique gastronomical experience. We hear that their chef blends regional products with world-class techniques and aesthetics, making each dish a work of art. 

We didn’t get a chance to experience EOLO firsthand as the property was sold out during our visit, but we heard rave reviews about the experience from friends who had stayed there during their visit. It sounds like it was well worth the splurge!

Argentina El Calafate driving road 08545

Where to Eat: Best Restaurants in El Calafate, Argentina 

There are plenty of dining options in El Calafate town. 

We really enjoyed our meal at Mi Rancho Restaurant Patagónico, a family-owned restaurant. Their portions are generous and affordable, and they serve delicious lamb, steak, trout, and pasta dishes. They also have a great local wine selection and homemade desserts.

Another popular recommended spot was Parrilla Don PichonGo for your fill of lamb and steak, a glass of Malbec, and great views. It’s a short hike from the main street, but they do offer a free shuttle service that takes guests to and from their hotel. 

Casimiro Biguá is a small local restaurant chain known for good parrilla (Argentinian grill). The main course is lamb grilled over firewood, but they also serve steak, salads, pasta, and fish options. This restaurant is located along the main shopping street in El Calafate.

Dining in El Calafate
Dining in El Calafate
Grilled Lamb at Casimiro Bigua restaurant
Grilled Lamb at Casimiro Bigua restaurant

The Bottom Line

El Calafate is a scenic town that offers many great Patagonian adventures. The sights along Lake Argentino and around Perito Moreno Glacier are worth a stop on any Patagonia itinerary!


Disclaimer: Big thanks to Adventure Life for hosting us on this incredible leg of our Patagonian adventure. As always, all opinions expressed in this article are our own, no matter who is footing the bill. 

READ NEXT: Staying at Explora El Chalten, Patagonia, Argentina

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