The city of El Calafate, located on the shores of Lake Argentino, attracts tourists from all over the world because of its proximity to the Perito Moreno Glacier and other glaciers. Spoiler alert: along with Ushuaia, it is one of the most expensive destinations to visit in Argentina. But, don't let this discourage you, it is really worth visiting the land of glaciers.
How to get to El Calafate?
The best way to get to Calafate is by plane. There are regular flights from Ushuaia and Buenos Aires. In high season, there are also flights from Bariloche, Trelew and Córdoba.
Another way is by bus and, of course, by car. Depending on where you come from these options may be more convenient.
Best time to travel to El Calafate?
It is a destination that can be visited during all seasons. Its main attraction, the Perito Moreno Glacier, is open all year round.
The recommended visiting season is between September and April . We went in March, just when the autumn colors begin to appear. If you go in the middle of summer, there are usually strong winds. From May to October, temperatures are low and there is usually a lot of snow, which makes it difficult to access some activities and trails.
What to see and do in El Calafate?
Although the main attraction is Los Glaciares National Park, where the Perito Moreno Glacier is located, there are also many other excursions to do in the surroundings of the city. And, as we told you before, they have high prices...
Perito Moreno Glacier
It is located in Los Glaciares National Park, 75 km from the city of El Calafate.
Park hours are:
- Summer (September 1 to April 30) 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., with permanence until 8 p.m.
- Winter (May 1 to August 31) 9 to 16hs, with permanence until 18hs.
There are 3 ways to go from the city:
- Own car
- Tourist agency (in March 2021 it was $3000 pesos per person).
- Hire a cab or remis (in March 2021 $4500 round trip for up to 4 people).
The Perito Moreno Glacier is the star of the Glacier National Park, but it is not the only attraction. There are also other impressive glaciers such as the Upsala, Spegazzini, Seco, Onelli, Torre and Piedras Blancas, which can be enjoyed.
To enter Los Glaciares National Park you must pay an entrance fee of ARS$1200 for Argentine residents and ARS$4000 (2021 prices, approximately USD $15) for foreigners. Inside the park there are picnic areas and daytime recreational areas. In the past, camping was possible, but is no longer allowed. There are also grills, fire pits and restrooms available for visitors.
Perito Moreno Glacier Walkways
The parking lot is located at the entrance to the walkways of the Perito Moreno Glacier and it is not necessary to hire a tour to walk along them. On the walkways you will find several viewpoints that allow you to appreciate the glacier from different angles and perspectives, it is an amazing experience! Access to the walkways is included in the park entrance fee.
In addition, the walkways are wheelchair accessible and offer information in Braille for the blind, as well as the possibility of enjoying audio at some points along the trail. You will also find a cafeteria and a restaurant in the area.
Did you know that it is possible to walk on the Perito Moreno Glacier, an unforgettable experience! The agency Hielo y Aventura is the only authorized agency for trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier. It offers two options:
- Mini Trekking: a walk of approximately 2 hours on the glacier. Available from July 1 to May 31, with an approximate cost of 100 USD.
- Big Ice: a longer hike of about 4 hours over the glacier and 3 hours through the forest. It is necessary to be in good physical condition as it has a high difficulty. It takes place from September 15 to April 30, with an approximate cost of 240 USD.
The agency provides you with the necessary crampons to walk on the ice and a safety helmet, so don't miss the opportunity to live this once in a lifetime experience!
Navigation in front of the Glacier
It is also possible to navigate in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier. This navigation departs from Puerto Bajo Las Sombras, located a few minutes before the parking of the footbridges. It is a one-hour navigation that sails up to the north wall of the glacier. Approximate price 15 USD
There are different navigation options that allow you to sail in front of the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers. The most famous is:
All Glaciers ExcursionThe excursion takes you along the northern arm of Lake Argentina until you reach the Upsala Glacier, where you will have a panoramic view of the glacier. Then you navigate to the front of the Spegazzini Glacier, the highest in the national park with walls of 140m (twice as high as the Perito Moreno Glacier). The excursion disembarks at the Spegazzini Base where you will take a short tour overlooking the Bay of Glaciers. Approximate price 100 USD
3.Laguna Niñez Reserve
If you have half a day off and feel like taking a walk in the middle of nature, we recommend you to visit the Laguna Niñez Reserve. This protected area is an important bird refuge and is home to a great diversity of species. In addition, it is very close to the main avenue of El Calafate, just 800 meters away, and reaches the shores of Lake Argentino. The reserve has a 3 km trail that is very easy to follow.
The entrance fee is ARS $500 for Argentine residents and ARS $1000 (2021 price, about 3 USD) for foreign visitors. Undoubtedly, this is an excellent option to enjoy nature and learn about the richness of the local fauna.
4.La Leona Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest is located halfway between El Chaltén and El Calafate, so the excursion can be done from either place. From El Calafate it is approximately 100 km to "Los Hornos" hill where the trail begins.
The hike lasts approximately 3 hours, during which you can see petrified trunks that date back 70 million years and lie on the surface, the excursion costs approximately 30 USD.
It is an archaeological site where you can appreciate the traces of the first inhabitants who lived in these lands. In the place, the various cave paintings have a great clarity in their colors. These caves are located only 7 km from the city of El Calafate.
One of the most interesting excursions that takes you to know this incredible place is the "Nativo Experience: Lakes and cavern", which has the possibility to be done at sunset. After touring the cliffs over Lake Argentino, you end up in the caves with dinner included. The price of this excursion is approximately 45 USD.
6.Visit to Estancias
Another famous excursion in El Calafate is the visit to different ranches. Some of them include horseback riding, lunch and navigation.
The prices of these excursions are between 100 and 150 USD per person.
Tour to Chaltén
There are many agencies that offer day tours to the Chaltén, our recommendation is that if you have time to go on your own and at least 2 days. In this guide about El Chaltén we tell you everything you need to know to go on your own.
8. Other Excursions
In El Calafate the agencies offer many other excursions such as wine tours, 4x4 excursions to the balconies, to Cerro Frias, to Torres del Paine. Definitely El Calafate is not a place where you can get bored.
How many days to go to El Calafate?
We believe that the answer to this question depends largely on your budget, since, as we have been telling you, the excursions have high prices. In addition, it varies according to what each person likes to do.
We were only there for two days and it was enough to do the trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier, walk along the walkways and navigate the glaciers.
However, if you want to do any of the other excursions mentioned above, we recommend that you add a few extra days.
In addition, we recommend that you book the excursions at least three days in advance to secure your place.