Things to do in El Calafate Patagonia
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Patagonia Cruises

Things to do in El Calafate Patagonia

7 min read

Jun 30, 2016


By Michelle Beetham

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Last updated on December 28th, 2020 at 03:47 pm

Patagonia’s remarkable beauty and expansive wilderness attract adventure seekers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world. If you have found yourself drawn to this remote region, chances are you will spend a few days exploring El Calafate. El Calafate is an excellent starting point for any of our Patagonia tours, especially if you’re thinking about a trip to Torres Del Paine, El Chaltén, or Los Glaciares National Park. The town of El Calafate is most famous for its close proximity to Perito Moreno Glacier, which happens to be one of only three advancing glaciers left in the world. Read on for our recommendations on how best to spend your time in El Calafate.

1. Tour the Perito Moreno Glacier

woman standing at viewpoint for Perito Moreno Glacier

A trip to Patagonia would not be complete without a visit to El Calafate to see the world-famous Perito Moreno Glacier.  Perito Moreno is the most impressive glacier in the region with a front stretching 5 km long and 60 meters above the water, this is larger than the city of Buenos Aires and five times the size of Manhattan! Since 1970, Perito Moreno has been what they call a “stable glacier,” meaning that it is neither advancing nor retreating.  On average, it moves roughly 2 meters a day.

Because it is a moving glacier, every 4-5 years it reaches the opposing Magellan Peninsula, forming a dam that prevents the arm of the Brazo Rico from draining into the Brazo Sur to Lago Argentino. When this happens, water continues to seep under the glacier putting a tremendous amount of pressure on the base and eventually forms a little passage (as pictured to the right). As the glacier continues to advance, the passageway ultimately fractures. This spectacular natural phenomenon recently occurred in March of 2016.

Perito Moreno Glacier Itineraries

Patagonia Cruise driving by glacier

There are plenty of different tours to see Perito Moreno Glacier including; a walking tour, a glacier trekking excursion, or even a boat tour that takes you to the face of the glacier. Regardless of what you decide to do, Perito Moreno Glacier is sure to leave you speechless. Most tours depart from El Calafate around 8 AM and last between 8-12 hours.  Typically tour companies pick you up from your hotel in the morning and drop you off in the evening. That means you’ll need at least two nights in El Calafate.

Nautical Safari

I went on the Nautical Safari during my visit to Perito Moreno Glacier. I recommend leaving from Bajo de las Sombras Pier, located about 6 km from the glacier lookout point. This route takes you to the other side of the glacier. The boat ride lasts about 1-hour and provides plenty of opportunities to capture the perfect photo. Each photo gets better and better as you move closer to the glacier.

Mini Trekking

If you are an adventure seeker, it’s hard to beat walking on Perito Moreno Glacier. The mini trekking combines the Nautical Safari experience with glacier trekking. First, you will take a short boat ride towards the glacier. From there, you’ll have a short 30-minute walk to the glacier.

The guides will explain how to walk on the glacier, how to use your crampons, the glacier’s origin, and the flora and fauna of the region. You spend about 2-hours trekking on the glacier, frequently stopping to take photos of the rivers and deep crevasses on the glacier. The spectacular blue colors you see are a mere reflection of the sun, in reality, the glacier is, in fact, white. Make sure to bring sunglasses and wear extra sunscreen to protect yourself from the intense sun rays reflecting off the glacier.

Walk along the catwalks

Typically people combine the Nautical Safari and the Catwalks into one tour.  The Catwalks provide endless photo opportunities to see the front of the glacier.  Here you will have the opportunity to enjoy lunch at the cafeteria, but I recommend eating outside where you can enjoy a good view of the glacier. Sit on one of the benches and look for ice chunks calving from the glacier.

2. Visit the Glaciarium Ice Museum

The Glaciarium is a beautiful museum right outside of town. If you haven’t visited Perito Moreno Glacier, you might not realize, the structure was designed to look like the face of a glacier.  Visit the different exhibits and learn about the environmental impact we have seen on the glaciers. Go into the screening room for a short 10-minute documentary to learn about the glaciers in Patagonia. The museum is open from 9 am–8 pm during the tourist season and 11 am-8 pm during the winter months from May to August. To get to the Ice Museum, you can take a free shuttle from the Provincial Tourism office in town. Buses depart about every hour.

3. Have a drink at the Yeti Ice Bar or Glacio Bar

There are two ice bars in El Calafate, one at the Ice Museum and the other in town. Here you can enjoy a drink in a glass made entirely of ice from Perito Moreno Glacier. The signature cocktail is the “Calafate” – go figure – which is Fernet Branca, amaretto, pineapple juice, and Calafate berry liquor. The bar is -10° C (14° F), so they give you a special coat before entering, but you cannot spend more than 20-minutes in the bar due to the cold temperature. The bar is open from 11 am–8 pm every day and has a maximum capacity of 25 people, so there may be a wait.

Where to Eat in El Calafate

La Tablita restaurant exterior

La Tablita

No visit to El Calafate would be complete without trying the local specialty, the Patagonian lamb.  La Tablita is one of the best restaurants in town and has glowing reviews. I highly recommend ordering the Patagonian Lamb for the table as the main course and sharing a few side dishes. You can get the parrilla, a grilled assortment of meat and chicken, but we recommend the lamb. Ask your hotel to make a reservation in advance.

Ovejitas de la Patagonia

For dessert, stop by any local ice cream shop and try the special El Calafate berry ice cream. Rumor has it, if you eat the Calafate berries you will return to El Calafate one day.

Hotels in El Calafate

Eolo Lodge scenery and views

Eolo Lodge

Enjoy a private and unique experience at this 5-star lodge that embodies the spirit of Patagonia.

Mirador del Lago

Overlooking the beautiful Redonda Bay, this 4-star lodge is within walking distance of El Calafate downtown.

Hotel Kau Yatun

This 3-star hotel is in the foothills of the Patagonia steppe. It offers outdoor adventures and accommodations that are perfect for outdoor enthusiasts.

Recommended El Calafate Tours

Horses grazing in front of torres del paine towers

El Calafate & El Chalten Patagonia Eco Tour

Completely immerse yourself in Patagonia on this 7-day tour. Stay at a traditional estancia where you can and feel the solitude of Patagonia while reconnecting with nature.

Very Best of Argentina

This tour combines the best in Argentina, not only do you see the mountains of Patagonia, but you visit the capital city of Buenos Aires, Iguassu Falls, and Argentina’s Lake District.

Torres del Paine & Calafate Tour

Combine the two best highlights of Chile and Argentina’s Patagonia region on the ultimate adventure to Torres del Paine National Park and Los Glaciares National Park.

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Last updated on December 28th, 2020 at 03:47 pm

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