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A Guide to El Calafate


El Calafate is most famous as the gateway to the Perito Moreno glacier. Located 80km from town, the Perito Moreno draws all manner of visitors to the area and El Calafate is the logical hub for exploration. With the growing popularity of the glacier El Calafate has been transformed from a quaint town to a chic and bustling summer getaway in the far South of Argentina. Located on the shores of the turquoise Lago Argentino, Calafate has a lot to offer beyond the glacier. You won't find Starbucks here but you will find a main street filled with shops and restaurants, travelers from all over the globe, and all sorts of ways to explore the mountains, lakes, and glaciers of this region. 

So, how do you get there? El Calafate has an airport. It is the main airport for the entire southern Patagonia region (Argentina). There are multiple flights per day from Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, one per day from Bariloche, and a few other one-offs from places such as Peninsula Valdez. The airport is located about 20 minutes outside the main city. 

You can also get to El Calafate from Torres del Paine, a common route for people combining both sides of Patagonia. It's 5 hours from Puerto Natales (Chilean side of Patagonia) to El Calafate, The route is beautiful and you drive along the famous ruta 40 for much of the way. Long expanses of steppe are dotted with charismatic herds of guanaco and rhea who are sure to keep you entertained along the drive. There are no flights between Chilean Patagonia and Argentine Patagonia. 

What should we do? 

The first, and most obvious, is the Perito Moreno glacier. The Perito Moreno rises 70m from the surface of Lago Argentino and is unique for a few reasons. The first is that the glacier is stable. It has remained the same size, without receding, since recording began. The second is accessibility.  It is rare to be able to get so close to such an active glacier in such a safe manner. The park constructed a network of walkways on the peninsula across from the glacier which allows you to see the glacier from close range from a variety of different angles. With kilometers of walkways and even a series of marked paths within the network, you can easily spend an afternoon exploring the glacier from this safe vantage point. The final, and most exciting reason, is the calving of the Perito Moreno. It is a very active glacier so you are guaranteed to see some form of calving during your time at the glacier. Watching huge chunks of ice fall 70m into the lake below is not something one gets to see every day. As one of our guides said, "I always think it is funny how many people are in one place hoping and praying for destruction."

Options for exploring the Perito Moreno:

- Ice Trekking. A truly unique experience that allows you to don crampons and use an ice axe to explore the unique features of an active glacier - no previous experience required! There are two options, Big Ice or Minitrekking. Both excursions allow you to walk on the glacier but Big Ice is longer and more technical with about 3 -4 hours of walking on the ice whereas minitrekking is about 1.5 hrs on the ice. Both excursions have strict age requirements (18- 50 for Big Ice and 10-65 for minitrekking). If you don't fit into the range, don't worry! Check out our alternative options in this blog. 

- Perito Moreno kayaking. Kayak in front of the glacier and then explore the catwalks for 2 different views of the glacier. The kayaking is run by professional guides and you're given first class gear – dry suits, booties, and skirts. You spend about 2 hours on the water, seeing the main wall of the glacier from about 500m away and exploring icebergs that have calved from the main body. 

- Walkways & navigation. If you want a less active day, exploring the glacier by combining time on the catwalks with a short (30 minute) boat navigation is a good and varied option

Big Ice on the Perito Moreno

Other activities in the area: 

Aventura. Aventura is an excursion that takes you to an exclusive and unique part of the park that few people get to see. Starting at the Nibepo Aike estancia you'll boat and hike your way deep into the park. This trail meanders through river beds and forests to arrive at a truly magnificent viewpoint overlooking an iceberg filled lake with glaciers towering above. The spot is already idyllic for lunch but it's even sweeter knowing that no one else can or will be arriving at this spot for the rest of the day – it's your own private part of the National Park.
Estancia Cristina. A remote estancia accessible only by boat. This estancia offers the chance to see the impressive Upsala glacier from the water and from land, trek in an otherworldly canyon, and ride horses through the steppe. See our Estancia Cristina blog to find out more 
Mountain biking. The hills surrounding Calafate are perfect for mountain biking. After syncing with your guide, they'll help you to find the best option for your day - trails exist for every experience level and range from cross country trails to downhill single track. 
Exploring the town. Calafate has a bustling main street perfect for your shopping needs, a fascinating museum called the Glaciarium dedicated to glaciers, and a nature reserve called Laguna Nimez just outside of town where you can see all manner of local birds. 

Aventura Excursion
Glaciarium Museum

Where to Stay?
Los ponchos. A character filled house turned hotel located out of town (15 minute walk) and up the hill. Each apart is tastefully decorated and affords you 2 full floors – a living area and a loft bedroom – to spread out and relax.
Eolo. Eolo is located 20 minutes outside of the city on rolling grasslands with views of the mountains and, on a clear day, the horns of Torres del Paine. A Relais Chateaux property, the lodge has mountain bikes and horses on site for guests to use.
Xelena. Xelena has modern and spacious rooms with beautiful views of Lago Argentino. A spa with swimming pool, hot tub, and sauna is the perfect option after a day of hiking on the glacier.
Kosten Aike. Kosten Aike is one of the few hotels located downtown that we really like. It has a lot of character and, if you're exited about exploring Calafate, it's location can't be beat.

Eolo - Patagonia's Spirit
Kosten Aike

Where to Refuel for all this Glacier Trekking? 
La Zaina. A small restaurant that has our favorite atmosphere and food in town. Focus on traditional Patagonia dishes. 
Isabel. A modern take on a traditional cooking style that used ploughs to cook and serve stews. Unless you're really hungry, one plough should be perfect for 2 people. The wine cellar is worth a visit. 

La Zorra. A local microbrewery that tastes, looks, and feels like it's straight out of Seattle. If you've been craving a good IPA this is the place to go.

Pura Vida. A great option if you're craving something other than meat. They have a great variety of inspired vegetarian and plant based meals. 
Bar Ananda. Local hangout with great views of Laguna Nimez and the sound. This unassuming, unpretentious bar and restaurant serves local craft beer and tatsy food.
Olivia. A great stop for a good coffee and some pastries. Their cheese scones with whipped butter and an americano make for the perfect afternoon pick me up. Don't expect to leave without succumbing to one of their desserts as well.

Ready to plan your trip to Patagonia? Check out our Patagonia itineraries or ask us

Your friend in Patagonia, 

Kelsey Wenger 

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