INFORMATION OF INTEREST
El Calafate is a small and picturesque tourist town, located at the base of the homonymous hill and on the shore of the Argentino Lake, in the southwest end of the Argentine Patagonia in the Province of Santa Cruz.
With a stable population of 20,000 inhabitants, it provides a perfect tourist infrastructure, accompanied by an outstanding natural environment with all the necessary amenities for a confortable stay.
Due to its proximity to the awesome Los Glaciares National Park, at 80 kilometers (50 miles), it is known as the National Capital City of the glaciers. It is the closest city to visit the National Park and its famous Perito Moreno Glacier, both recognized as Natural Heritage by UNESCO in 1981.
How to get there
The city has the International Airport of El Calafate. The airlines Aerolíneas Argentinas, Austral, LAN, and LADE have a daily connection between the city of El Calafate and the city of Buenos Aires. The airport also offers flights between El Calafate and the most important destinations of the Patagonia, such as San Carlos de Bariloche, Trelew and Ushuaia.
El Calafate is located at 315 km (195 miles) from the city of Río Gallegos, capital of the Province of Santa Cruz. From Río Gallegos you may access by land lines, with daily frequencies throughout the year. There are also land tours and services connecting the city of El Calafate with the main cities of the country and Patagonia.
By private car:
You can arrive to El Calafate by private vehicle, traveling across the whole Argentine Patagonia, allowing you to leave a memorable experience.
The Argentine Patagonia is crossed by two important National Routes traversing it from north to south, National Routes No. 3 and No. 40.
The National Route No. 3 connects the Federal District with the City of Ushuaia, crossing the province of Buenos Aires and then the Patagonia along the Atlantic shore. This trip, totally made on paved roads, crosses the cities of Puerto Madryn, Trelew, Comodoro Rivadavia, Puerto San Julián and Río Gallegos. From the last city you have to take National Route No. 5 towards El Calafate.
Throughout its 5.100 km (3168 miles) of extension, National Route No.40 crosses all the continental Argentine Republic, bordering the Andes Mountain Range. From Cape Vírgenes in the province of Santa Cruz up to La Quiaca in the province of Jujuy, National Route No. 40 connects 5 sites identified as Natural Heritage by UNESCO, the Perito Moreno Glacier among them. This National Route allows visitors to arrive from the north end, living a truly Patagonian adventure, and it connects El Calafate with the Patagonian tourist attractions of El Chaltén, Esquel, San Carlos de Bariloche, Villa La Angostura and San Martín de los Andes. You should better check the route state in the Bureau of Public Roads, as this route has some surfaces with gravel.
The proximity of El Calafate to the large body of water of Argentino Lake, its decline northwards and the protection of the grove benefit the place with a more gentle microclimate compared with the surrounding plateaus.
The weather is predominantly dry and its marked thermal variations do not prevent visitors from enjoying the different options of journeys throughout the year.
The annual mean temperature is 7.2 ºC (45 °F), while the mean temperature during July is approximately 2 ºC (35 °C) and the mean temperature during January is 18.6 ºC (65 °F).
Tourist attractions of El Calafate
The majestic landscape of the place offers a huge variety of activities, breathtaking views and sites to visit, enjoying fresh air.
Los Glaciares National Park - Perito Moreno Glacier
This Park is located at 80 km (50 miles) from El Calafate town. The travel from the city to the park allows you to appreciate the different types of topography as part of the countryside bordering the road, enjoying the view of lakes, streams, forests and snow-capped mountains. You can arrive to the glacier viewpoint and its walkways by private car, remise (a hired carriage), regular transport services, or by services offered by tourist companies.
Inside the Park you can stroll through the walkways and viewpoints circuit to get a better view of the Perito Moreno Glacier and the Península de Magallanes. This outstanding stroll will offer you the most wonderful panoramic views, and the possibility to observe unpredictable ice detachments from the glacier front wall in all its magnitude. This is a perfect tour to explore the Perito Moreno Glacier without any physical demand and with a lot of time to peacefully walk the balconies calm at each person’s pace.
For those who want to enjoy the glacier in a more adventurous way, there are diverse alternative walks on the glacier. Some of these options are: mini trekking and Big Ice. Both options offer walking in crampons on the glacier, with different lengths of time and complexities, the surface to be crossed is irregular and allows you to contemplate diverse topographies of ice, such as cracks, seracs, crevasses and small lagoons.
Otherwise, if you prefer to navigate by different rivers and channels converging in the glacier, you may choose among different options, such as navigating on a catamaran up to its highest walls, until a stop where you can fully appreciate the glacier and you can observe ice floes detached from the walls.
Ice rivers, Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers
This lake tour starts at Punta Banderas, at the Argentino Lake, continuing the navigation in modern vessels along the north arm of the lake up to the Upsala Channel, where you can contemplate the stunning ice floe barrier, with a panoramic view to the Upsala Glacier. Then, the vessel heads to the Spegazzini Glacier, the highest of the National Park, to finally end at the Perito Moreno Glacier, navigating the north wall.
El Chaltén (Argentine Trekking Capital)
At 220 km (136 miles) from El Calafate, traveling some kilometers on National Route No. 40, and after bordering Argentino and Viedma lakes, you arrive to El Chaltén. This Patagonian paradise is located at the base of the Fitz Roy and Torre hills, at the shore of Las Vueltas River; there you can take a full day tour, returning in the evening.
Besides, being the youngest town of the Patagonia, El Chaltén is a fair-tale location, with cultural diversity. A lot of foreigners visit this place due to its perfect natural conditions for those who love life in open air, and specially trekking. Coined by its followers as “the Trekking National Capital”, the place offers several paths starting at the city streets, so you can climb the mountain through these different paths, getting to the impressive hills surrounding it, such as the Fitz Roy, the Poimcenot, or the peculiar Torre Hill. You can also do less difficult trekking tours excellent for beginners.
The surroundings of El Chaltén mix the magic of close glaciers, hidden lagoons, beautiful falls, the blue Viedma Lake and the mystical presence of the Fitz Roy Hill, whose distinctive and impressive summit can be seen from the town.
In El Chaltén it is also possible to make contact with the fauna of the place. Condors, guanacos, pumas, Darwin's rheas and foxes are part of this outstanding Patagonian destination.
This Ranch was founded in 1914, and you arrive here in a modern catamaran navigating among ice floes adrift by the Argentino Lake. Once at the Ranch, there is a menu of activities, such as the visit to the Customs Museum, trekking tours, 4x4 vehicle riding, fishing, and horse riding with awesome views of the glacial forests and the Andes Mountain Range. Besides, the Ranch includes a restaurant where you can eat regional food, including the special dish ‘grilled Patagonian lamb.’
Glaciarium Museum of Patagonian Ice
The new attraction of El Calafate shows us the origin of the Patagonian glaciers, an experience that invites us to wonder about the climate changes and offers us a tour throughout the life of Francisco P. Moreno, among other entertainments. It is located a few kilometers from the town center; it has a 3D cinema and several audiovisual cinemas, besides the Glacio Bar, an “Iced Bar”, where the walls, the bars, the glasses and the couches were made with ice from the glacier.
Torres del Paine (Chile)
Over 300 km (186 miles) from El Calafate, in Chilean territory, you find Torres del Paine National Park. This is a full day tour, starting early in the morning from El Calafate, and retuning in the evening.
An amazing experience in all ways, Torres del Paine is a unique place with stunning landscapes, flora and fauna. The Park includes the famous Torres del Paine and Cuernos del Paine mountains, which raise vertically from the plateau, creating a very peculiar scenery. Scattered among the summits, there are lakes resulting from the glaciers, and you can see a very rich fauna composed of pumas, guanacos, foxes, condors, greylag gooses, rheas and black-necked swans, among other species living in the region. You can also observe lush forests whose trees are renowned by their “beards”, giving a magical suggestion to the scenery.
25 de Mayo Ranch
The 25 de Mayo Ranch includes 17,000 hectares (42000 acres) of field, and its historical center, located a few steps from the center of El Calafate, is a perfect site to rest and enjoy the landscape at the base of the Calafate Hill, breathing the purest Patagonian air. It is a clear proposal to discover the rural style of this destination, in one of the large pioneering ranches.
Balcony of El Calafate
In El Calafate you can visit the Patagonian Steppe through an “off-road” circuit in 4x4 vehicles, accessing astonishing sceneries and totally exclusive sites, and getting a panoramic view of the city, the Argentino Lake and the Andes Mountain Range.
La Leona Stopover
At 110 kilometers (63 miles) from El Calafate, taking the National Route No. 40, on the shore of La Leona River and a few steps far from Viedma Lake – exactly half way from the road between El Calafate and El Chaltén, you find La Leona Parador and Hotel, witness and main character of more than 110 years of legendary history of the Patagonia. Identified as Cultural Heritage of the province, it is perfect to take a coffee with a piece of cake, and enjoy the landscape.
Walichu and Punta Bonita caves are a way of traveling through time. Located at 8 km (5 miles) from town, these caves are an archeological site that displays the footprints of the first men that walked these lands. Here you can observe cave paintings (originals and replicas), and find an exceptional viewpoint of Argentino Lake and Andes Mountain Range.
City Tour around Calafate
In El Calafate you can hire an amusing tour across the city, traveling through the main roads of the historical town center, visiting the first typical buildings of the pioneers, as well as today’s civic center. You can also visit the Regional Museum of El Calafate, which offers a tour through the local history, the flora and fauna from the surroundings of this graceful place and El Calafate Historical Interpretation Center, to learn about the history of this site and all the Argentine Patagonia.
Another possibility is to visit the Casino of El Calafate, with a trendy building, where musical shows are hold at season nights.
Adventure tourism and alternative tours in El Calafate
At the surroundings of El Calafate, adventurous sport lovers have the chance to do numerous activities related to their demands. You can go fly fishing next to the glacier at the Roca Lake and the Rico River, or else use a zip-line at the Frías Hill. In some tours you can also take a 4x4 vehicle drive or trekking circuits.
Another interesting possibility to discover and conquer the sceneries of El Calafate is to go horse riding across the region, enjoying several journeys mounted on a beautiful horse.
Nimez Lagoon Reserve
Just 1 km (0.62 miles) from the commercial center of El Calafate, in a place near to the Argentino Lake, you find the Avifauna Reserve of the Nimez lagoon, where you can enjoy a colorful bird watching.