The city of El Calafate, located in the province of Santa Cruz, is a must-visit destination in Argentine Patagonia. If you want to know what to do in Calafate in 3 or 4 days, here we will tell you about the essential places to see, typical foods, and the best places to stay.
The name "El Calafate" comes from a fruit that grows on shrubs in the Patagonian steppe. They are similar to blueberries and can be found in various forms: jams, alfajores (traditional Argentine pastries), liqueurs, tea, ice cream, and more. It's ideal to try them while you're there and also to take as a gift.
El Calafate is approximately a 3-hour and 15-minute flight from Buenos Aires and you can combine your trip with a visit to Ushuaia or El Chaltén. There are direct flights available to and from Ushuaia, and to reach El Chaltén, you can either take a bus or join a guided tour.
To reach the city from El Calafate International Airport, it is best to take a transfer, which can be arranged in advance or directly upon arrival. One of the companies offering this service is Ves Patagonia Airport Shuttle, which offers a combined price for round-trip transfers between the airport and your hotel.
The best places to stay are around the city Center, particularly near Avenida Libertador, which is the main street in El Calafate.
The most typical food in El Calafate is Patagonian lamb, which you can enjoy in various forms, such as grilled, cooked in a traditional "disco" pan, or in empanadas, among others. On Avenida Libertador, you can find Mako, a bar/restaurant that sells delicious lamb empanadas for takeaway or dine-in. La Tablita is one of the most well-known restaurants specializing in Patagonian lamb and other types of meats. Isabel cocina al disco is another great place to enjoy a tasty and hearty meal. If you're in the mood for pizza or pasta, La Lechuza is a recommended spot for dining in or takeout.
Don't miss the opportunity to try the calafate ice cream, which can be found at Tito and Acuarela ice cream shops. They offer delicious flavors featuring this unique local fruit.
The main activity you must do in Calafate is visiting the glaciers, and you can divide these experiences across the days you'll be there.
If your first day in Calafate coincides with your arrival, you may not have time to start excursions, so you can take advantage of the day to explore the city center.
Walking along Avenida Libertador is a pleasant way to discover the typical shops and start sampling Patagonian cuisine.
You can also take a walk along the lakeshore or Paseo Kirchner, which borders Lake Argentino and offers views of Bahía Redonda, Isla Solitaria, and leads to the Laguna Nimez Reserve.
On the shores of Lake Argentino, you can also find the famous "El Calafate" sign for taking tourist photos with beautiful views of the lake. This iconic sign will provide you with the opportunity to capture memorable moments of your visit to Calafate with the stunning backdrop of the lake and the surrounding landscape.
This area is also a nature reserve where you can observe a variety of bird species.
In winter, the frozen lake turns into a massive ice skating rink.
When walking along the lakeshore or other outdoor areas, be cautious of yellow jacket wasps. They resemble bees but can sting multiple times and can also bite!
The highlight of El Calafate are the glaciers, so you can dedicate your entire second day to visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier.
To see the glacier, you need to go to Los Glaciares National Park, which is about a 40-minute drive on Route 11.
It is best to visit the glacier as part of an organized excursion. You can choose to visit the glacier from the walkways only. However, if you want a complete experience, we recommend doing the glacier hike or mini-trekking.
This is a full-day excursion (10 hours) and you can arrange for pick-up from your hotel.
It is highly recommended to purchase the excursion in advance, as it tends to sell out quickly. You can consult in "Patagonia Chic" or "Hielo y Aventura".
In addition to the visit to the walkways, the tour includes a boat navigation to the glacier and the option of doing the glacier hike or mini-trekking. The park entrance fee is not included, but you can purchase it on-site, and it is valid for two days.
Once on the tour bus, you will travel along the route that borders Lake Argentino and the Patagonian steppe until you reach Los Glaciares National Park.
The first part of the tour involves visiting the walkways, where you can explore at your own pace following the instructions provided by the guides. The views of the glacier are spectacular from every angle! If you're lucky, you might even witness a glacier calving.
There is a shelter in this area where you can buy food and stop for lunch until the bus returns for the second part of the excursion.
For full-day tours like this, it's recommended to bring a packed lunch with easy-to-transport food, water, fruits, etc., so you can eat at any time. Some hotels offer packed lunch options, or you can prepare your own by purchasing items from a supermarket or grocery store.
The second part of the tour involves a boat navigation to the glacier and the glacier hike.
Once you have crossed over to the glacier, you will be provided with a helmet and crampons for walking on the ice. The entire hike is guided, and the guides will lead you to explore parts of the glacier and provide assistance if needed. It is a moderate-level hike lasting about 3 hours, with most of the route covered in ice using crampons.
All the necessary recommendations and details are provided on the website where you book the tour.
From this point, you will have a completely different perspective of the glacier as you walk among various ice formations, such as crevasses and lagoons, culminating the journey with a glass of whisky and chocolate.
After the hike, the bus will take you back to the center of Calafate or your hotel, depending on the tour package you have purchased.
Another unique experience you must have in El Calafate is the "All Glaciers" navigation. There are different types of tours available, but we recommend taking a boat tour that will take you across Lake Argentino to visit the Spegazzini and Upsala glaciers.
You can purchase the tour at the agencies located in the center of Calafate.
Just like in the previous case, the tour includes pick-up from your hotel to take you to the Punta Bandera port, where the navigation begins. After sailing through the northern arm of Lake Argentino, you will reach the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers, where you will disembark to explore the forests and have lunch at the refuge.
Along the way, you will also see the Seco, Heim Sur, and Peineta glaciers.
During the navigation, you will also have the opportunity to see the icebergs that are near the Upsala Glacier. The sight of these icebergs floating in the lake adds to the majestic beauty of the glacial landscape.
If you have more days in Calafate, you can embark on another excursion. One highly recommended option is a visit to El Chaltén. Located a little over 200 kilometers from Calafate, you can choose to do it as a day trip or combine your visit to Calafate with 2 or 3 days in El Chaltén, especially if you enjoy trekking.
El Chaltén offers numerous hiking options in a natural setting with incredible landscapes and viewpoints, including the breathtaking view of Mount Fitz Roy.
You can explore trails of varying difficulty, from shorter walks to full-day treks. The town itself has a relaxed atmosphere, with charming accommodations and restaurants catering to outdoor enthusiasts.
Whether you decide to visit El Chaltén for a day or stay a few days, it's an opportunity to immerse yourself in the beauty of Patagonia and experience the thrill of hiking in a pristine natural environment.
And with that, we conclude our journey through El Calafate.
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