In the South of Argentina, in the province of Santa Cruz, you will find El Calafate. A small town that forms the base to one of the most beautiful places that Argentina has to offer: the Perito Moreno glacier, located in the Los Glaciares National Park. Thousands of people travel to this desolate area every year to admire the beauty of the mighty glacier. And that is for a good reason. But El Calafate has more to offer. In this article you will find information about visiting the Perito Moreno glacier but I will also give you tips about what other interesting things to do in and around El Calafate in Argentina, including restaurants, hotels, tours, activities, best time to visit and how to get there.
- Discover the best things to do in El Calafate Argentina
- Admire the Perito Moreno glacier – top things to do in El Calafate Argentina
- Take a boat trip along the Perito Moreno glacier
- Minitrekking on the Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate
- Drink a whiskey with ice cubes from the glacier
- Experience the Balcones of El Calafate – Unique things to do in El Calafate Argentina
- Look for birds in the Laguna Nimez Natural Reserve
- Stroll along the boulevard in El Calafate
- Taste the local delicacies
- Zipline through the El Calafate area – adventurous things to do in Argentina
- Things to do around El Calafate in Argentina
- Mini travel guide El Calafate
- Argentina travel itineraries
- More about Argentina
- Pin "Things to do in El Calafate" for later
Discover the best things to do in El Calafate Argentina
El Calafate is a place I visited many times to make television reports, and as a tour guide, to guide visitors around in the area. And still, after all those years, I’m amazed by the beauty of the Perito Moreno glacier when I am in El Calafate. But I also discovered other things to do: More off the beaten track tours in case you have more time to spend in the area. Discover my tips for visiting El Calafate Argentina. I hope you will enjoy them.
Admire the Perito Moreno glacier – top things to do in El Calafate Argentina
The absolute highlight of El Calafate is obviously the Perito Moreno glacier. This ice mass of up to five kilometers wide and seventy meters high, with its blue glow and shimmers, is a view that you will never forget. The Perito Moreno glacier is part of the Los Glaciares National Park and is Argentina’s most famous glacier. What is special is that you can get all the way to the glacier front without too much effort. Footbridges have been constructed and ensure that you can observe the glacier from different sides. There are several short and easy trails and they all are worth exploring.
The ice mass consists of 250 km2 and moves forward every day. Pieces of ice regularly break off at the front, which causes a deafening sound combining waves. You only have to pay close attention, because when you hear the sound, the ice block is already in the water and you are too late.
The Perito Moreno glacier is about a 1.5-hour drive from El Calafate. There are several ways to visit the glacier. You can book a tour to the Perito Moreno glacier, go by taxi or rent a car and drive yourself. In any case, it is one of the best things to do in El Calafate Argentina that you should not miss for the world.
Take a boat trip along the Perito Moreno glacier
If you are at the Perito Moreno glacier, be sure to take a boat trip. You really don’t want to save money on this. It is one of the top things to do when you are around the glacier in El Calafate Argentina. You sail along the glacier for about an hour, along the North or South side and experience the glacier in a completely different way. This trip will make you realize how high the glacier actually is. In some places up to 70 meters high. It is also possible to experience the Perito Moreno glacier by kayak.
Want to book your tour to the Perito Moreno glacier in advance and secure your spot? Check out prices and availability here.
Minitrekking on the Perito Moreno glacier in El Calafate
Always wanted to hike on a glacier? Then you should definitely not miss the trekking at the Perito Moreno glacier when you are in El Calafate. You can choose from a Minitrekking, where you are on the glacier for about 1 hour, or a Big Ice Trek, where you walk on the Perito Moreno glacier for 3 hours. With crampons, a helmet and armor you move over the glacier and marvel at the colors blue, turquoise ponds, deep cracks and caves. At times you are completely surrounded by ice. An unforgettable experience. Of course you also learn a lot more about the formation of glaciers and the future of these wonders of nature, wich makes your visit even more interesting.
Want to book your tour in advance and secure your spot? Check out prices and availability here. Tours are very populair and often sold out weeks in advance.
Even though the mini-trekking across the Perito Moreno glacier is doable. There is a minimum age of 8 and maximum age of 65 years. You are also not allowed to join if you are pregnant or have physical limitations. The Big Ice tour is more challenging but still doable for anyone with a normal level of fitness. You must be between 18 and 50 years old for this tour.
Drink a whiskey with ice cubes from the glacier
Do you like a drink? Then there is nothing better than ordering a glass of whisky. Yes, with ice cubes coming from the glacier. It is sold in the restaurants near the glacier. Definitely a must do!
Experience the Balcones of El Calafate – Unique things to do in El Calafate Argentina
Most people visit El Calafate just for the Perito Moreno glacier. But if you have more time in El Calafate, check out the Balcones del Calafate tour, one of the more unique and off the beaten track things to do in El Calafate. During a 2-hour tour by a four-wheel drive, you will discover the rugged mountainous area of El Calafate. From the balcones, high cliffs of about 1000 meters, you look out over the vast and fascinating landscape. Here you can see how blue the surrounding lakes are and how unique the Patagonian vegetation is. Along the way, the guide explains about the whimsical rock formation that formed here millions of years ago and there is a great chance of finding fossils.
This tour could be a great option for your day of arrival or departure, as it takes about half a day. In the morning there is a delicious lunch with wine included and in the afternoon a merienda, including tea, coffee, sandwiches and sweets.
Want to book your tour in advance and secure your spot? Check out prices and availability here.
Look for birds in the Laguna Nimez Natural Reserve
You can walk around the lagoons through the Patagonian steppe and wetlands for approximately one hour. Along the way you will spot several species of waterbirds, lands birds, birds of prey, passerines and shorebirds. And if you are lucky, you will even see flamingos. 70% of them are mirgratory and 30% resident. Make sure to ask for the leaflet at the entrance with information about the vegetation and an overview of the species living there.
Don’t have time for a full hike? You can often already spot birds from the boulevard around the reserve. The reserve is about a 10-minute walk from the main street in El Calafate.
Stroll along the boulevard in El Calafate
El Calafate is located at the Lago Argentino, the largest lake in Argentina. You can walk large parts along the water and a number of viewpoints. It is one of the nice things to do at the end of the day, before you head out for a drink or dinner in El Calafate town. There are also the life-size letters of El Calafate to take a photo with.
Taste the local delicacies
In the main street San Martín there are many ice cream and delicacies shops. Make sure to taste the Calafate here, a black type of berry used for liqueurs, jams and ice cream. Calafate ice cream is mainly offered in January because the berry is picked in that period. “Whoever has tasted Calafate, will certainly return”, is a saying that you hear a lot in Calafate.
Zipline through the El Calafate area – adventurous things to do in Argentina
Are you up for an afternoon of adventure and adrenaline? In the vicinity of El Calafate you can go ziplining and that is quite a lot of fun. With a 4×4 you drive to Cerro Frias from where you experience a course of 2000 meters, consisting of 5 parts. The views of the desolate surroundings are just beautiful. And on a clear day you can even look out over Torres del Paine and the Fitz Roy mountain ranges. You will certainly feel adrenaline during this tour but it is still about enjoying the view. That is why this tour should not be missed in my tips for best things to do in in El Calafate.
Things to do around El Calafate in Argentina
El Chaltén, Argentina’s hiking paradise, is less than a three-hour drive from El Calafate. El Chaltén is a village at the foot of the Fitz Roy mountains and is the base for the most beautiful hikes. There are different trails, ranging from 2 to 10 hours that you can easily do in one day. You walk straight into the mountains from the town.
If you love to hike, you should not miss the walk to Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Torre. Not easy but so worth it. And since you walk the same way back and forward on all trails, you can easily return halfway if you feel like it.
Interested in reading more about hiking and activities in El Chaltén? You will find a comprehensive guide in the following article.
Mini travel guide El Calafate
Restaurants in El Calafate
El Calafate has numerous facilities and restaurants, especially on and around the main street, Av del Libertador General San Martín. And there is nothing better than enjoying a drink and great meal after exploring the many things to do in El Calafate. Here are some of my favorite places that I’ve been visiting in El Calafate for years.
- For the most delicious dishes (meat, fish, vegetarian) in a cozy authentic setting, you want to go to Mi Rancho.
- For a culinary experience head to Mako, located on the main street.
- My favorite place for coffee, tea, cake and other goodies is Olivia’s coffee shop
- For the very best meat, you want to go to Casimiro Bigue, in the main street.
- For a drink on a terrace, sit down at Pietro’s Café.
- Delicious ice cream, chocolate and other regional products can be found at Abuela Goye.
Where to stay in El Calafate Argentina | Hotel tips
There are so many different hotels and bed & breakfasts in El Calafate and I stayed at many different places over the years. Are you looking for a mid-range hotel in El Calafate? Then I can recommend Lar Aike. This hotel is located in front of the Argentino lake and within walking distance of the main street. Simple but clean. Try to get a room at the front for lake views. Do you want to have more luxury? Design Suites is one of the top picks in El Calafate. It is slightly outside the center but offers beautiful views.
Are you looking for a luxurious place and experience ultimate privacy? On the way to the glacier you will find Eolo Patagonia, an amazing and luxurious boutique hotel, located in the middle of nature. In the area you can go horse riding, hiking and bird watching. Not cheap but a place to remember.
Best time to visit El Calafate
The best time to visit El Calafate and the Perito Moreno glacier is between November and April, the Argentinian spring, summer and autumn. Then there is a high chance of having sunny weather. But the weather is still changeable, so be prepared for different weather conditions.
Keep in mind that January is one of the busiest months with Argentine visitors, due to the Argentinian holiday season. You want to avoid this month as much as possible.
How to reach El Calafate in Argentina
El Calafate is a 3 hour and 15-minute flight from Buenos Aires, Bariloche (1 hour and 45 minutes) and Ushuaia ( 1 hour and 20 minutes). Aerolineas Argentinas, JetSmart and FlyBondi offer several flights within Patagonia.
Need a rental car for your trip to El Calafate? Use Rental Cars to search and compare your car rental options. A quick and easy tool and no need to have up multiple tabs trying to figure out which company is the most affordable. They also have great discounts and cancellation policies.
Best El Calafate tours
- Perito Moreno Glacier tour
- El Calafate: Minitrekking Perito Moreno Glacier
- El Calafate: Big Ice Trek Perito Moreno Glacier
- Balconies Experience El Calafate
- El Chalten full-day tour
- Torres del Paine full-day tour
- Kayak experience at the Perito Moreno Glaciar
Other El Calafate Tours:
I didn’t participate in these tours myself yet, but others did and they are well-reviewed and therefore on my to do list for next time:
- Todo Glaciares boat trip to the Uppsala and Spegazzini glaciers
- Looking for more tours in El Calafate? This is an overview of tours in El Calafate.
Argentina travel itineraries
Argentina is such a beautiful and diverse country that you can explore it for months. But what if you a limited amount of time and still want to get the most out of your travels? What should you see and do? Have a look in my Argentina itineraries, I will give you tips for destinations, hikes, national parks, tours, things to do and restaurants to include in your trip. Enjoy and get inspired to visit Argentina!
More about Argentina
Did you enjoy reading this article with best things to do in El Calafate Argentina? Do you want to learn more about Argentina? With Passport the World I am taking you on a journey to discover this beautiful country. Make sure to check out my other travel guides about Argentina such as:
- Things to do in Argentina
- Things to do in Ushuaia | tips for your stay
- Discover whales, penguins and sea lions in my Puerto Madryn travel guide
- El Chaltén Argentina – a comprehensive guide with hikes and tips for your stay
- Things to do in Bariloche Argentina – tips, hikes and tours
- National Parks of Argentina
- Iguazu falls – everything you want to know
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