Reasons to go to El Calafate

  • Gasp in awe at the extraordinary ice cliffs of Perito Moreno glacier, which can be explored by boat, kayak or with crampons to walk on the glacier itself
  • Hike the world famous trails of Los Glaciares National Park’s Fitz Roy mountain range, or trek to the heart of the Patagonian Ice Field itself
  • Make like a gaucho to experience Patagonia’s culture and history, horseback riding from one of the region’s many estancias
  • Feel truly insignificant in the vast empty landscapes around Upsala Glacier, only accessible by a remote boat trip
  • Connect with Patagonia’s other great national park at Torres del Paine, just a day’s travel from El Calafate

What can I do around El Calafate?

Illustrated Guide

When to go to El Calafate

What to see and do around El Calafate

Perito Moreno Glacier

Tourist at the viewpoint overlooking Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares

A true wonder of the natural world, Perito Moreno glacier is one of Patagonia’s genuinely unmissable sites, and is easily accessible from El Calafate.

Flowing unstoppably down from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, Perito Moreno’s 70 metre high cliffs ceaselessly calve into the fjords of Lago Argentina, sending icebergs the size of tower blocks crashing into the water. Snowfall in the high Andes means that the glacier is being constantly refreshed at its source: despite losing two metres from its face every day it is actually one of the few glaciers in the region that is not in retreat.

Perito Moreno is also one of the few glaciers that you can right up close to. It can be experienced in a host of different ways: from walkways that snake around the woods facing the glacier in a series of viewpoints, by boat or paddling in a kayak, and even by strapping on your crampons to crunch across its surface on an ice hike.

Hiking in Los Glaciares

Waterfall near Laguna de los Tres in Los Glaciares

El Calafate is just three hours from the hiking hub of El Chaltén, a tiny mountain town nestled beneath the Fitz Roy Massif. From here, you can walk straight out onto the trail on any number of truly world class day and overnight hikes, or push yourself with longer camping adventures such as the Humuel Circuit. This is one of Los Glaciares National Park's great treks, offering some of the most epic vistas (and dramatic mountain passes) in the region. 

If you’re a hardcore trekker, the South Patagonian Ice Field Expedition offers a truly remote week in which to test yourself, with crampons and ropes taking you across part of the great ice cap itself.

The sweeping landscape closer to El Calafate also offers some brilliant wild hiking. The Los Glaciares Wilderness Trek spends six nights wild camping on the rough trails between Estancias Helsingfors and Cristina, along rivers and valleys and up windswept mountain passes to glaciers that few people have ever visited.

If you’re still looking for hiking options amid all these wonders, it’s worth noting that El Calafate is also just a day’s overland travel from Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, allowing the keen trekker to easily explore Patagonia’s mightiest mountains from both sides of the border.

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Chloe says

If you’ve been in Patagonia for any time, El Calafate can feel the first ‘real’ town you’ve seen, after the vastness of its mountains and endless pampa dotted with estancias. I love its lakeside location, where you can watch the sun come up and spot flamingoes and black-necked swans on the water.

Chloe Mazille Patagonia Specialist


Gaucho guides from Estancia Cristina in Los Glaciares

Los Glaciares is more than just a hiking destination, and El Calafate offers plenty of options for exploring the wilderness by other means. Estancias are great places to base yourself to really experience wild Patagonia.

Estancias offer a host of ways to discover the region. Foremost of course is to saddle up and ride like a gaucho. Horseback riding is embedded deep in the culture here: there are few better places to be than out under a wide horizon with nothing but your horse and your guide to teach about the ways of the gaucho. Invariably, you’ll return from the day to enjoy a hearty asado, or Patagonian barbeque. If horses aren’t your thing, explore the trails by mountain bike instead.

Alternatively, take to the water to really get away from it all. Boat trips up the long finger of Lago Argentina can take you to the sparking Upsala glacier – a real icy giant that nevertheless still manages to be dwarfed by its surroundings. It's an epically remote and humbling sight in equal measure.

Explore El Calafate

Sunset view of El Calafate and Lago Argentina

Most visitors to El Calafate breeze through on their way to Perito Moreno or to get deep into Los Glaciares National Park, but the city itself has several attractions worth a closer look.

The aptly named Glaciarium, on the edge of El Calafate on the road to Perito Moreno, is an extraordinary museum and interpretive centre that gives visitors a fascinating deep dive into history and science of the Patagonian Ice Field and its glaciers through state of the art displays. It’s brilliantly presented and you can even get a drink in an ice bar at the end of your visit.

The Centro de Intrepretacion Historico is a small but perfectly formed museum that’s worth an hour of your time, with information about the region’s history and culture, plus a great velociraptor-esque dinosaur skeleton that was excavated locally (exhibits have English translations).

If you’re after fresh air, head to the Reserva Natural Laguna Nimez – a wetlands reserve on the north shore of the lake with self-guided interpretive walks. Up to 100 bird species can be seen here, including Chilean flamingoes.

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What our travellers think of El Calafate

El Calafate trips scored 4.4/5 from 221 reviews

Both El Calafate and El Chalten were fun to spend time in. Great shopping and food, showers too! Read the full review

Travelled: February 2019

Brian McIntyre - United States Of America

We really enjoyed walking and exploring El Calafate. We ate at some great local places, La Zaina and Buenos Cruces where we talked with other locals and learned more about El Calafate.

Travelled: November 2017

Tracy - Buenos Aires


Where to stay in El Calafate

Long shot of Eolo lodge set in the landscape of Los glaciares

As befits the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate and its surrounds have plenty of great accommodation options Within El Calafate itself, there is a wide variety of simple guesthouses (hosterías), friendly B&Bs and upmarket hotels – all within easy reach of restaurants and bars. There are also some great boutique hotels. Some of the best are on the edge of the city with stunning views across Lago Argentina.

If you're after something a little more special, head out of the city to find a great selection of luxury lodges where you can connect in comfort to the great wilderness. The lodges are destinations in themselves and have their own private guides who can take you horseback riding, hiking, wildlife watching or exploring by mountain bike. These include a number of estancias where you can truly embrace your inner gaucho.

How to get to to El Calafate

Aerial view from plane flying over Santa Cruz into El Calafate in Argentina

El Calafate Airport (code FTE) is 13 miles (21km) east of the city and has excellent daily connections to Buenos Aires (three hours). In high season there are up to six flights a day to the capital as well as daily flights to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego (75 minutes). Other connections include up to three flights a week to Bariloche, the gateway to Argentina's Lake District (1hr45), Trelew (for Peninsula Valdes, 1hr35) and Cordoba (three hours).

By road, El Calafate is about 135 miles (215km) south of El Chaltén, Los Glaciares National Park's trekking capital. Transfers take around three hours. The final approach to El Chaltén, where the massed peaks of Fitz Roy range loom up before you is jaw-droppingly spectacular.

For long distance buses, it takes roughly 27 hours to get to Bariloche, or 18 hours to get to Ushuaia.

Travel to Chile El Calafate is geographically close to Torres del Paine National Park, but there are no direct flights. Cross-border buses run between El Calafate and Puerto Natales in Chile, taking between 5–7 hours depending on border control. From Puerto Natales it's a further 2½ hours by road to Torres del Paine. Some all-inclusive Torres del Paine hotels may include a complimentary transfer from El Calafate when booking.

Travel to Aysen in Chile is a great adventure as it involves lake crossing and trek via Lago O'Higgins/San Martin: you'll really feel off the tourist trail.

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Los Glaciares National Park

The massive South Patagonian Ice Cap feeds the many glaciers that give Argentina's most famous national park its name. Hikers and climbers flock to the hub towns of El Calafate and El Chalten to explore the famous Fitz Roy massif, Perito Moreno glacier or the giant ice sheet itself on day hikes, long treks or boat trips.


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