The Calafate is a small bush with yellow flowers and dark blue berries that you can find very commonly in the Argentinian portion of Patagonia, but it is also the name of a small town in the southwest corner of Santa Cruz Province. Over the years, El Calafate has become an important tourist destination for hiking and sightseeing beautiful landscapes, especially Los Glaciares National Park, Perito Moreno Glacier, Cerro Chaltén, and Cerro Torre.
For anyone traveling to Argentina and looking to explore Patagonia and Argentina’s famed glaciers, El Calafate is your gateway.
How to get there?
Landlocked and miles away from other major cities, you’ll need to take a domestic flight to El Calafate’s airport, Comandante Armando Tola International Airport (FTE). The main airliner offering daily flights to this region is Airlines Argentinas departing from Buenos Aires, Bariloche and Ushuaia. You can also board flights every other day with LAN from the same cities and LADE from Bariloche. There are also charter flights departing from Puerto Natales, which crosses the Andes, and is operated by DAP.
Upon arrival, you’re just a short shuttle right into town, or if you’re booked an El Calafate tour you can enjoy convenient airport pick-up with your package. There is no need for car rental, as there are plenty of local buses for exploring the area and the main bus station is located right on the main street. Most of the hotels offer invaluable information for visiting the surrounded areas, contacting local guides, and learning about the hiking routes.
Things to Do in El Calafate
The most visited spot is the Perito Moreno Glacier at 80km or 50mi away from El Calafate, in Los Glaciares National Park. You can stay only one day at the park and there is no camping allowed, as the park closes around 10:00pm. You can easily hop aboard a Perito Moreno Glacier tour, with options to board a boat to go right up to the glacier, hike across its surface, or view it fro the surrounding walkway.
The glacier is enormous and, from the conditioned viewing wooden platforms, you can even hear the cracking sounds of the ice as chunks break off into Lago Argentino, a truly unique experience. For sure you can spend some time sitting on a bench and just relax yourself on nature.
If you’re up for the challenge and physically fit, you can grab a pair of crapons to hike out over the glaciers. Mini trekking excursion to the glaciers consists of a morning trip to the observation boardwalks, boat ride across the lake, and then an hour and a half with crampons walking around on the Glacier. This tour runs until late May.
The more extensive ice trekking option consists of a much longer hikes with the possibility to access ice caves, but these are only open until late April. It is recommended to bring a rain jacket, warm pants, gloves, and trekking shoes or boots.
Another spot to visit is Onelli Bay, which is well know for it romantic sites. Pack a picnic lunch, a bottle of champagne, and chill with your partner beside the lake.
Surrounded by nature, there are numerous enchanting spots to visit, including El Cañadón or at Laguna Nimez, where you can see all kind of Patagonic birds.
There are also excursions up into the mountainous area surrounding El Calafate. These provide stunning views of Lake Argentino, and, on a clear day, the top of Fitz Roy as well as the Torres del Paine national park in Chile.
If you’re looking to learn about local culture and the cowboys of Argentina, you’ll love a day trip to an estancia (ranch) such as El Galpon del Glaciar Ranch, Nibepo Aike Ranch, Rincón Ranch, and Alta Vista Ranch. Here you can tour the estancia by horseback, learn about Gauchos (cowboys), and enjoy a delicious meal.
With the wealth of trekking opportunities, scenic landscapes, and enchanting encounters, a trip to El Calafate is a ust for any adventure traveler looking to visit Argentina and South America. trekking around their national parks, staying around their lakes or sailing to the glaciers is a whole experience that you cannot missed at all.
The best time to visit Calafate will be between the months of November to March, with some excursions operating until late May.
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