El Calafate has grown due to the tourist influx into Patagonia. It is set on the glacial blue Lago Argentina and is full of eager trekkers.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
El Calafate's climate is cool and dry. Summers are mild and windy while winters are cold and slightly wetter. Temperatures can even drop to below freezing in the middle of summer while the strong winds, characteristic of the climate in Patagonia makes the temperatures feel colder than it should be. Snowfall occurs from May to September.
Aerolineas Argentinas has daily flights to/from Buenos Aires (both airports) and seasonal flights to Córdoba, Rosario, San Carlos de Bariloche, Ushuaia. On-line booking and e-tickets are available. LADE flies to many many towns throughout Argentina. During peak season, flights are usually fully booked with tourist groups. Make sure you book your flight well in advance.
There are also charter flights between Puerto Natales and El Calafate operated by DAP. These flights from the tiny airport of Puerto Natales can be very scenic and let you cross the Andes in about 90 minutes and no road travel hassle (which however in right doses is something not to be missed in Patagonia).
As often in Argentina, the ATM in the airport is broken and cannot be used. But there are plenty of ATMs in the city. There is some free Wi-Fi and electric plugs in the airport.
Right after disembarking, there are remises and transfer offices at your right side. "VES" operates a bus service to any hotel in the town from the counter marked "BUS" - AR$350 one way or AR$500 return (Nov 2019). If you prefer a private trip, a taxi to the city costs AR$540, with an additional AR$400 for the planned trip back to the airport.
The only other possibility is to arrive by bus. But this means that you will spend quite some time in the bus on rough roads. Due to the dirty streets, especially when it rains, views from buses vanish fast...
A quite remarkable trip is the bus connection between El Calafate and Bariloche along Ruta 40. It is mainly operated for the benefit of tourists by the Agency Chaltentravel (directly only the Calafate-Perito Moreno stage), since people of Calafate and Bariloche have very small ties between each other, which does not sound strange after you have made the journey and seen the state of the road.
Views, if the weather is good, are in places stunning, especially between Calafate and Perito Moreno city, less between Perito Moreno and Bariloche. You must however be prepared for a long (10+ hours for 2 1/2 days) and rough trip in a small van. If you are not the kind of person who enjoys slow changes in the landscape and the beauty of lonely places, do not attempt this trip or you will regret it. Of course, if you really like this sort of thing, you will never forget the trip.
The bus trip will let you pass (and most likely stay and enjoy) through El Chalten and give an opportunity to stay in Perito Moreno from where you can organise a (long) ride to visit the "Cueva de las manos pintadas".
Make sure you book your bus ticket out of this town, when you get there, or you can get stuck there for a couple of days.
Many agencies have car rental options. The international brands Hertz and Avis have offices in town, on the main road.
- The Perito Moreno Glacier is located 80 km (50 miles) away from El Calafate and is a premier attraction in the area. You can see the enormous glacier just meters away from you, and listen all the sounds that the cracking ice makes 24 hours a day. And when a front wall of the glacier falls down, well, it is simply breathtaking! The glacier attracts huge crowds, but despite the numbers, the viewing platforms and easy trails (with quite a number of steps, though) make the visit and the observation comfortable and pleasant.
- You can visit many ranches (Spanish: estancias), where you can enjoy the wild nature, perfect meals, and stay there in the middle of nowhere. They are perfect to relax away from the hustle and bustle.
- Take a boat excursion and see many of the glaciers and places in the Los Glaciares National Park. The colors and shapes of the icebergs floating in the lake are really awesome and inspiring, making a boat ride in a sunny day a fantastic day out.
- Another perfect site is Onelli Bay, one of the most romantics areas here. You could bring a lunch box, a bottle of champagne, and enjoy a relaxing moment in the lake, or just add a piece of pure crystal ice in your drink.
- Wildlife can be watched just walking a few blocks away from main street, like in El Cañadón, or at Laguna Nimez, where you can see all kind of patagonic birds feet away from you. Wildlife and views, especially at dusk, make Laguna Nimez a must-see, perfect if you have just arrived in town, settled your next day's excursion and are eager to go see some real Patagonia.
- At night, grab a chair and go outside. The unpolluted sky shows a rare number of stars, and don´t be surprised by satellites passing by!
- 1 Perito Moreno glacier. Excursions to Perito Moreno glacier by bus, or use a recommended Argentine travel agency to arrange private trips for ice walking, drinking whiskey with glaciar ice, among many other possible activities. Sliding scale entry fee to National Park, AR$700 for extranjeros (foreigners), AR$150 for people of South America and less for Argentinos..
- There are three very expensive bus companies (AR$800 round trip - 90 minutes each way), leaving around 8AM in the morning or so and one company (Cal Tur) also at 13:45. The return time is around 16:00pm. The bus will drop you off at the port for boat trips and take the rest onward to the glacier before coming back upon return. Try to sit on the left side of the bus for the best views of the glacier and surrounding landscape.
- More conveniently, a taxi is AR$300 round trip, so, if there are at least three of you, it's easy maths.
- The Hielo y Aventura minitrekking excursion - morning trip to the observation boardwalks, boat ride across the lake, and then an hour and a half with (provided) crampons walking around on the Glacier. Proper foul weather gear (rain jacket and pants) and trekking shoes/boots are strongly recommended, and can be rented from several places in town. Bring sunscreen, and don't bother with water (you can drink the water off the glacier).
- There is a hideously expensive (by any standard) restaurant onsite (meagre coffee in styrofoam cup is AR$60). Be a cheapskate and take a picnic and flask and keep smiling. Numerous places to sit and eat overlooking the glacier.
- Boat trips that take you near the glacier can be booked near the restaurant for AR$700. Each trip lasts around 1.5 hours.
- Fernandez Campbell All Glaciers boat tour. All day long, but some incredible glacier views that you won't be able to see otherwise. When booking, see if you can get on the smaller boats (they have one large and three small ones).
- Glaciarum. A newly built museum dedicated to glaciers, stands several kilometers outside of El Calafate. This museum provides exhibitions and detailed information on the makeup, history, and importance of the glaciers found in this region.
- 4x4 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. They also stop for refreshments and visit geological formations caused by glaciers known as the ´Mexican hats'.
- Ranch visit. Ask your travel agency where to go. Recommendations ; El Galpon del Glaciar Ranch, Nibepo Aike Ranch, Rincón Ranch, Alta Vista Ranch. On most estancias you can ride a horse.
- Centro de Interpretación Histórica Calafate, Av. Brown y Bonarelli. 10:00-20:00. A museum telling 100 million years of local history, with dinosaurs, megafauna and originary peoples as main characters.
Food is expensive mainly due to the remote location of the city. There are several supermarkets in town, including a big one ("Anonyma") at the Eastern end of the main street, with fair prices. It remains open at least until 9PM (except on Sunday). Buy your food for your tours in advance, because on ruta 40 and in the glacier national park there are almost no places to buy food.
Handicraft and souvenirs can be bought in large scale at the main street.
There are plenty of ATMs in the main street. Of course, they are not all working, not all open, and not all have cash. But you will for sure find one that will deliver cash to you!
- Patagonic Lamb (Spanish: cordero patagónico) is the main dish. Typical barbecue (asado) is very good, but if you are tired of meat, just try pizza and empanadas at La Toldería bar, Libertador 1177. It turns into a disco after 1AM. The pub of El Calafate.
- Don Pichón. A very good grill and restaurant.
- Pura Vida. A colourful joint with tasty dishes and nice lake views managed by four youngsters with a 'vision'.
- Sancho, 25 de Mayo 90. Ask for the stuffed beef, or Bife de Lomo relleno.
- La Chancha y los 20, Libertador 1250. Ask for brochettes. One brochette is enough for two average persons.
- La Vaca Atada (English: The tied cow). Ask for the "milanesa completa". If you like meat, don´t even ask what it is, just surprise yourself. It is a delight.
- Pizzeria La Lechuza, Av. Libertador. Named for a Patagonian owl. Try the great empanadas, pizza and different kinds of milanesas. The English-language menu is not very helpful as it makes no sense.
- La Tablita. The first restaurant that locals mention when you ask where to eat. It receives mixed reviews but provides steaks and grilled Patagonian lamb.
- Loca Marimba Backpacker's Bar, Av. Libertador 1315, (Galeria El Establo). A small beautiful place run by its owners, in the center of the Calafate, to eat homemade food and listening excellent music.
- Mi Rancho. A great restaurant in El Calafate, possibly the best. It is a cozy place that is normally packed. Making a reservation is advisable. Try the bife de lomo or the risotto, you won't regret it. For dessert, try the apple or chocolate tart.
- Rústico Asador y Parrilla. Huge portions. A nice view on the lake.
- Loca Marimba Backpacker´s Bar, Av. Libertador 1315 (Galeria El Establo). A small beautiful place in the center of the Calafate to have good drinks, sandwichs and pizzas while listening to excellent music. The best parties in the city take place there.
- 1 [dead link] La Tienda de Vinos. 10AM-10PM M-Sa but unreliable. Wine shop with a bar allowing you to taste a variety of interesting wines in various sizes, with staff eager to tell you about them.
- Hostería Meulen Calafate, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Calle 202 N°608 frente a Laguna Nimez. The hotel has a free shuttle to the Dawntown, Bar, Restaurant, WiFi, Internet, DDI, DDN and Laundry.
- America del Sur, ☏ . Puerto Desador (near La Bamba). Welcomed by a sign urging to take off your shoes. The helpful staff will help you with planning everything from your visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier till the remainder of your travel. With internet facilities, shared kitchen, floor heating and a panoramic view of the sunset over El Calafate. Dorm bed AR$80. Double room available, AR$180.
- [dead link] Cerro Cristal Hotel, Gregores 989, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is totally in Spanish. Hotel is very clean, warm, well-located (one block off the main drag), walking distance to the tourism office, and costs AR$210 for 2 single beds, per night. With Internet facilities, a kitchen (breakfast provided at no charge), hot water, and comfortable beds. Day tours arranged to Perito Moreno (or the entire glacier national park, Monte Fitz Roy, etc).
- El Galpon del Glaciar Lodge, ☏ . Ruta 11 km 22.
- Fuerte Calafate Hotel, 605 street n°1164, ☏ , , ✉ email@example.com. A good view of calafate, and warm attention. It costs 75 USD for a double room and includes breakfast. The hotel has a restaurant for dining. Internet facilities, comfortable beds and hot water.
- [formerly dead link] Los Notros, ☏ . Facing the Perito Moreno Glacier.
- Mirador del Lago, Av Libertador, 2047. Great staff (one traveler reports they took care of sending their postcards for them), gorgeous rooms, delicious breakfast (don't miss the hot chocolate!) and overlooking the Lago Argentino, where you can go ice-skating in the winter. They have computers with free Internet access, a good restaurant and it's located only meters from the downtown area.
- AMSA Camping (Near the police and fire station). Hot water, electricity, Wifi near entrance only AR$180 pp.
- Hostel De Las Manos, Egidio Feruglio. One of the cheapest hostels in Calafate, AR$50 for a dorm bed in 6 person dorm. About 15 min walk from the center/bus station. Relaxed and clean, in terms of atmosphere more like a guesthouse than a hostel.
- Rochester Hotel Calafate, Av. Libertador 3614, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Has a view of the Lake Argentino on Bahia Redonda. Rooms are equipped with king size beds, business desks, mini bar, LED cable TV, climate control, and safe deposit box.
- Nearby El Chalten provides excellent hiking possibilities.
- Puerto Natales and Torres del Paine National Park are located 5 driving hours from El Calafate and can reached by car or bus. If going by car, be aware that in order to cross the border to Chile, you have to ask the car rental company to arrange you some documents.