I am having major regret that I didn’t spend enough time in Patagonia and am already scheming to come back next April (I liked being here in the shoulder season when there aren’t as many people on the trails). El Calafate is home to one of the few growing glaciers in Argentina’s Patagonia, the Perito Moreno glacier in the Los Glaciares National Park. If you are flying to Patagonia it is also an entry way on the way to El Chalten. I visited the glacier in May with two friends (the end of fall for Patagonia) and even though it was cold the lack of tourists, low wind and clear skies made it a great time to visit.
I flew in from Buenos Aires to El Calafate on a domestic Aerolineas Argentinas flight (part of the Skyteam Alliance). Because the weather was so nice our pilot did a sight-seeing flyover the glacier which was pretty spectacular from the sky.
TAXI TO/FROM AIRPORT
Airport to Hotel: 360 pesos. The driver gave us a coupon for a 240 peso return ride.
Bus station Taxi Stand to Airport: 250 pesos.
You can also reach El Calafate by bus. The bus station sits up the hill above the main street of town. There is a staircase down the hill to the main road or you can walk around. From the bus station you can take a taxi or walk to your hotel if it’s closeby. There are signs for different hostels if you are looking for a place to stay on arrival.
We stayed at the Sierra Nevada (reservation through booking.com). It was walking distance from the town center and bus station. Since it was the off season the rate was less than half their busy season.
Most places will accept pesos or USD and some accept credit cards but make sure you check beforehand. There are several ATMs in town but they sometimes run out of money so you might have to try a few.
EL CALAFATE TOWN
The town is essentially one main road. It is good to know some basic Spanish as many people don’t speak English. There are tons of shops and restaurants and you can buy any gear (hiking boots, coats, sweaters, socks, etc.) you need in town. There are signs for The North Face and Columbia gear everywhere. Also a note, plastic bags are not allowed in Patagonia so make sure you bring a reusable bag with you to the shops or grocery store.
Many restaurants and shops are closed for the season but there are still some great options that stay open into May.
MAKO fuegos y vinos: This place gets such great reviews but it was all reservations even in the off season when we tried to go for dinner.
Pura Vida: We ended up here for dinner and loved it. The portions are huge.
La Lechuza: Low key place we stopped by for lunch when we first arrived for pizza and a beer.
Chocolate Caliente & Mate
Mendoza is the famous wine region in Argentina if you are looking at the wine list for something local.
El Calafate sits along the edge of the Lago Argentino. There is a nice boardwalk path you can bike or walk around. We went at sunset and it was gorgeous.
PERITO MORENO GLACIER
We arranged a tour to bus to the glacier at the bus station the night before with Chalten Travel (450 pesos plus 10 pesos tax). There is also an additional park fee of 330 pesos that is collected on the bus at the park entry. The bus picked us up at our hotel around 9/9:30am and we were dropped back off at 5:30pm. Make sure to pack a lunch. There is a restaurant at the end of the glacier viewing walkways but we didn’t end up there until 3ish.
After making a few viewing stops for photos the bus took us to the boat dock where you could take a boat to get closer to the glacier (boat ticket is an additional cost). They kind of make you do this, otherwise you have to sit on the bus or at the dock waiting. It was pretty cool though to get up close to see and hear the glacier pieces falling into the water. The sound is pretty incredible.
The bus then takes you to the top of the walkway balconies to view the glacier. There are several paths of different difficulties down to the bottom. During the summer it’s pretty windy and very crowded but there was no wind and it was so clear you could see over the entire glacier.
*You could also rent a car/motorbike and go to the park without a tour as well, the roads are very clear.
*I didn’t have time to do this but you can also trek out onto the glacier. I will definitely do this next time! You can arrange this with the many tour companies in town.