Seeing the Perito Moreno is one of the activities that things to do in El Calafate , but there are more unique experiences to live in this area of Patagonia and we tell you about them here.
El Calafate is in the plans of anyone who wants to visit Argentina. No wonder, the Perito Moreno glacier attracts thousands of tourists every year thanks to its characteristics, the proximity to see it from different panoramic points and even walk on it.
But the Perito Moreno is one of the many glaciers that are in the Los Glaciares National Park to which it belongs and it is not the only thing to see there.
🔝 Check out all the places to see in Patagonia Argentina.
📜 TABLE OF CONTENTS
How many days in El Calafate
The ideal is to stay at least three or four days to do the navigation on the lake, the trekking over the Perito Moreno glacier, to visit the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers and to visit some of the Patagonian estancias.
Those who visit El Calafate usually do so for a short time because they think there is only the Perito Moreno glacier to visit. But in reality there is much more to things to do in El Calafate and it may take you more than 5 days to see it all. And not to mention if we combine it with a getaway to El Chaltén with so many trekkings to do.
Map of things to do in El Calafate
1) Perito Moreno Glacier, the best things to do in El Calafate
It is one of the best known glaciers in the world for its beauty and accessibility. It belongs to the Southern Patagonian ice field, where it originates and descends until it reaches the southern arm of Lake Argentino.
To see it, you have to enter Los Glaciares National Park. Once there, there are different ways to enjoy it, from its contemplation in the different viewpoints and walkways, to navigation (you can get very close) or even an unforgettable walk on it.
🔝 Take a look at our article to see if this is your visit the Perito Moreno glacier if this is your only intention. There you will find more detailed information about this excursion and the Upsala Glacier excursion. Otherwise, if you want to know what else there is things to do in El Calafate continue reading below.
📷 Check here the excursion to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. These excursions include the transfer and a guide, but not the entrance fee to the national park. In addition, navigation on the Rico Arm can be booked as an option.
You can also book the round trip bus to visit Perito Moreno at your own pace.
– Perito Moreno Glacier Hike
Our great pending. There are two types of treks, one longer and one shorter. Both excursions are full day trips, but what changes is the amount of hours you are on the glacier.
- Minitrekking: One and a half hour walk on the glacier.
- Big Ice: The glacier hike is three and a half hours, with half an hour for lunch on top of the glacier.
📷 Book here the trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier, an adventure among blue lagoons, crevasses and sinkholes.
2) El Calafate glacier tour: navigation to Upsala, Spegazzini and Onelli glaciers.
These glaciers are also located within Los Glaciares National Park but, unlike Perito Moreno, most of them are in permanent retreat. They are visited as part of an excursion known as Ríos de Hielo (Rivers of Ice), in which different branches of Lake Argentino are navigated to reach them.
The jewel of this excursion is the Upsala Glacier. Its importance lies in the fact that with a tongue of almost 54 km, whose wall can be seen over Lake Argentino, it is one of the longest glaciers in South America.
🔝 Take a look at our article for see the Upsala Glacier and other glaciers on the Rivers of Ice excursion. Otherwise, if you want to know what else there is to visit in El Calafate continue reading below.
To visit the Upsala Glacier, you must take a boat in Puerto Bandera. You can go there on your own or hire one of the excursions to visit these glaciers.
3) Go to Chaltén in one day from El Calafate
El Chaltén is a small town that was born in Los Glaciares National Park and today is known as the National Capital of Trekking. It serves as a base to do some of the day hikes to reach the foot of Mount Fitz Roy, see Cerro Torre up close and also see glaciers, lakes, lagoons, forests and waterfalls in a breathtaking Patagonian landscape.
I won’t expand too much here because we have a very complete article with all the trekking there is to do in El Chaltén. Don’t miss it! It is one of my favorite places in the world.
📷 Check here the day trip to El Chaltén and reserve your place.
4) Go to Torres del Paine
Although it is possible to make the day trip from El Calafate to see the Torres del Paine, it is ideal to make it an exclusive trip and dedicate more time to its incredible trekking and some of the circuits to enjoy.
📷 Check here the excursion to Torres del Paine in the day from El Calafate and reserve your place.
Take a look at this Travel Guide to Torres del Paine from Go Patagonic’s website, which is a must. It has a very complete description of the O and W circuits, as well as other activities to do there.
5) Museums in El Calafate
– Glaciarium, ice museum
There are not many glacier interpretation centers in the world, but since this is an area with a large number of glacier interpretation centers, it deserved their existence. So there you can learn a little more about them.
For a special experience, in the basement there is the Branca Glaciobar, whose entrance fee is paid separately, and you can have a drink in an ambient temperature of -10ºC.
📌 General admission in 2022 to visit the Glaciarium: AR$ 1400 (≅ 6 €), with discounts for minors, students, retirees and residents of the province of Santa Cruz. If you don’t have a car to get there, the transfer from the center is included in the price.
– Calafate Historical Interpretation Center
Although it seems that its name suggests that we are going to find an ethnological museum, in reality it covers in a few rooms not only this but the entire history of this area of Patagonia since its creation millions of years ago. There are exhibits of fossil remains of the dinosaurs that lived in this area, the original inhabitants of these lands, the Aonikes, are not forgotten, and there is even a mate tasting to warm up.
📌 General admission in 2022 to visit the Historical Interpretation Center: AR$ 900 (≅ 3 €).
– Argentine Toy Museum
No one could imagine that in this remote part of the planet there could be a museum dedicated to the toy, although it also includes other memorabilia of all materials such as posters, signage, ornaments, cameras, photographs and much more. It is a vintage review of the last century of toys from around the world and especially Argentine toys in the Eva Perón room. As the sign at the entrance says: it’s a happy trip back in time.
📌 General admission in 2022 to visit the Toy Museum: AR$ 1.700 (≅ 5,5 €), with discounts for minors and retirees.
– Regional and Municipal Museum
It is free admission and open Monday through Friday with limited hours. It has some exhibits of embalmed animals of the area and of the native flora, in addition to elements belonging to the first inhabitants of the region. It is small and easy to navigate.
– First home in El Calafate
The first house that existed in El Calafate can be seen from outside in the center of town. It is abandoned, so it cannot be visited inside. You will be able to see a sign indicating the place.
6) Laguna Nimez Reserve
If you are a fan of birds and want to see them in their natural habitat, you will love this place because you will be able to see many species in one place. From flamingos, swans and ducks to geese, terns and coots.
This natural reserve is a lagoon or wetland that you can walk around through an interpretive trail where there are different balconies to rest and observe carefully. In addition, the scenery in the background is spectacular as you can see El Calafate, Lake Argentino and part of the Patagonian steppe.
The entrance fee includes a brochure with the birds and other animals that you can see on the tour and identify them more easily.
7) Balcony of El Calafate
El Calafate is located on the southern shore of Lake Argentino and is surrounded by the Huyliche range with the hill of the same name, which can be climbed to have a 360º panoramic view of the entire environment. Even on clear days you can see Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy.
It is usually visited by excursion since a good vehicle is needed to make the journey and includes a trek through the Stone Labyrinths.
📷 Check here the excursion to go in 4×4 to Balcón de Calafate with a local agency and book your place.
8) Bahía Redonda and Punta Soberana
Lake Argentino has a small enclosed bay on which El Calafate sits. In summer it takes on a greenish color and in winter it freezes, transforming into an immense skating rink. In fact, in July the Ice Festival is celebrated and many activities are held such as figure skating, ice hockey, ice sculpture tournaments and sled races. Winter is also a good time to visit El Calafate.
A promenade along the lake runs through the city. As we move westward, we enter Punta Soberana and gain altitude and have another view of the surroundings, both of the city and the lake.
9) Estancias to see in El Calafate
- Estancia Cristina: we talked about it in detail in the article about the Upsala Glacier and other glaciers. An inhospitable place to live, only accessible by boat, and surrounded by incredible natural landscapes. It is worth a visit.
- 25 de mayo: the best thing about this estancia is that its hull is very close to the city center and you can walk there. The experiences there are half-day or half-afternoon camp experiences, which may or may not include lunch or dinner.
- Nibepo Aike: Although accessible by a gravel road, this estancia is also quite far from the center of El Calafate, on the southern arm of Lake Argentino. It is also possible to visit, stay and do different activities.
📷 Check here the excursion to spend half a day at Estancia Nibepo Aike and navigate the Brazo Rico to observe the Perito Moreno glacier.
10) Downtown El Calafate and small squares
- Avenida del Libertador: the city’s axis and landmark.
- Paseo de los Artesanos: this promenade can be found on a street that runs perpendicular to Libertador Avenue. Perfect for shopping for souvenirs and gifts made by local artisans. Products in leather, ceramics, wood, silverware and even hand-woven or hand-loomed fabrics and delicious chocolates. Most open stalls can be found as early as 5 pm.
- Plaza de los Pioneros: a central square on the main avenue where you can go to have some mates and where the children can have fun for a while in their games. These have a rubber floor to cushion falls.
- Plazoleta Héroes de Malvinas: it is located almost at the foot of Lake Argentino and features a monument to those who fought in the Malvinas War.
11) Other lesser known places around El Calafate
– Gualicho Caves
These caves are located on the shores of Lake Argentino, 7 km east of El Calafate, and are a series of rock art paintings that, although the date is uncertain, are believed to date back to 4,000 BC.
📷 Check here the excursion for a city tour plus a visit to the Walichu caves and reserve your place.
– La Leona Petrified Forest
On the way to El Chaltén, visitors are enchanted by the La Leona Petrified Forest. The fact is that there is a mini trekking that has some difficulty, especially for those who suffer from vertigo. Dinosaur bones and petrified trunks can be observed at the site.
📷 Check here the excursion to La Leona petrified forest and reserve your place.
The La Leona inn is a classic on trips from El Calafate to El Chaltén, being a resting point between the two places frequented by tourists.
– Hoya del Chingue
It is one of the great unknowns of El Calafate. It has a single ski slope that only opens when it snows (usually in the winter months). The views of Lake Argentino from there are beautiful. Take the opportunity to visit it and have a drink in its cafeteria, which does not have many options in its menu, but it is quite good to have a good time.
Help! I had no idea there was so much things to do in El Calafate.
I know, I didn’t know it either when I went for the first time, but now I know it for the next time I go back in the company of Juan and Benji.
It is clear that there are things that you can’t miss in El Calafate, among them the Perito Moreno Glacier, the Ríos de Hielo excursion and a multi-day visit to El Chaltén… that’s why it’s better to tohave all the information and decide accordingly according to the tastes of the whole family and consider it a more integral destination.
I share with you a phrase that I saw at the La Leona Parador that I loved:
Practical information for traveling to El Calafate
Buy your travel insurance and travel safe!
🚑 Take a look at these tips for choosing the best travel insurance (updated to 2023 and with juicy discounts) for the type of traveller you are, and they will also help you clear up the most common doubts. Travel safe!
– El Calafate hotels
El Calafate is a somewhat expensive destination, but there are still relatively inexpensive options for every type of traveler.
- Calafate Hostel This is the place I chose to stay when I was there because I was traveling alone and wanted a central, cool and affordable place to stay. This place has it all. Even if you want to stay in double or triple rooms, you have that possibility.
- Sierra Nevada This hotel is located on the main avenue, a few blocks from downtown and has a neat decoration and beautiful views if you are traveling as a couple. It also has family rooms.
- Altos del Lago There are many cabins in El Calafate, but we have chosen this one for its balcony with sun and views of Lake Argentino, equipped kitchen and modern facilities. It is not very close to the center (only 1.5 km). Recommended for families traveling by car and at their own pace.
🏨 Do you want to look for other options? Find here the best hotels in El Calafate.
🔝 Check out this more complete article with all our recommendations on where to stay in El Calafate.
– How to get to El Calafate
The best way to get to El Calafate is to take flights from different parts of the country. If you are traveling in Argentina with little time we do not recommend you to travel by bus because the distances are very long and you can lose a day in the trip.
✈️ Search here for cheap flights to El Calafate.
The airport of El Calafate is located 20 km from the center of the city and there are different companies that make transfers at very good prices, from shared combis with more people to private cars with excellent service.
📷 Check here for private car transfers from the airport to your city center accommodation and from your hotel to the airport.
Discounts and useful resources to save on your trip
- Cheap flights with Skyscanner
- Rent a car with Auto Europe
- Interrail Pass
- Eurail Pass
- Train Tickets with OMIO
- Bus tickets with OMIO
- Ferry tickets with OMIO
- Asia tickets with 12Go
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