El Calafate, Argentina: A City Guide

A stop in El Calafate opens up endless opportunities to explore some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. Perito Moreno Glacier is definitely the most popular attraction that brings travelers to the area, but there are many other many great things to do, and El Calafate is a wonderful hub to explore the great outdoors, take unique tours, and try some tasty Argentinian food. Here’s a quick guide to help you plan your visit!

Getting to and From El Calafate

There is a small airport located just outside El Calafate. Aeropuerto Internacional Cte. Armando Tola serves a few regional flights. If you’re coming from outside Chile or Argentina, you’ll most likely fly through Buenos Aires first.

More commonly, El Calafate is reached by road. Many people choose to rent cars to explore the vast expanse of Chile and Argentina. If you don’t rent a car, buses are a popular option and the option we opted for. The El Calafate bus terminal is located within walking distance of town and you can book tickets to many hotspots, including El Chaltén, Perito Moreno Glacier, Puerto Natales, and more.

One of the smaller local buses we took from El Calafate
One of the smaller local buses we took from El Calafate

Getting Around El Calafate

The town of El Calafate itself is pretty small, making it very walkable. Many of the restaurants, hotels, and shops are located in the heart of town around Avenida del Libertador.

However, many of the hikes, stunning vistas, estancias, and other attractions may be located a ways outside of town. In this case, check with the bus station to see if they run the route. If not, or if you are looking for more flexibility, there are rental car agencies or taxis that can be found in the city. Some places may also be conveniently reached by tour, and there are quite a few agencies in town.

You can catch a taxi along this main road (Av. del Libertador) or have your accommodation call one for you
You can catch a taxi along this main road (Av. del Libertador) or have your accommodation call one for you

When to Visit

In our opinion, there isn’t really a bad time to visit El Calafate. But with cold winters and mildly warm summers, your experience will vary depending on the time of year. Summer runs from December through February and the weather is warmest during this time. However, there are more crowds and prices are higher.

During the winter, temperatures are much colder and snow isn’t uncommon in the surrounding mountains. The most precipitation occurs from fall into early winter, but isn’t too excessive. Be aware that there may be some extra challenges to visiting in the winter, such as trail and road closures, fewer bus options, and shortened hours at some businesses. Like much of Patagonia, it is fairly windy year-round. We visited late May to early June. Overall, we loved visiting in the fall/winter when there were fewer crowds.

We were glad to have some sun between the sleet at Perito Moreno Glacier
We were glad to have some sun between the sleet at Perito Moreno Glacier

Where to Stay in El Calafate

El Calafate is a popular hub for those wanting to explore Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and there are plenty of accommodation options for any traveler.

Estancias, or ranches, are pretty common across Argentina. Many of them will let visitors stay on the property to get a true taste of life in the countryside. Estancia Cristina, Estancia Nibepo Aike, Estancia 25 de Mayo, and Hosteria Helsingfors  are some common options in the area. Estancias offer a many different activities, such as trekking excursions, horseback riding, traditional meals, informative presentations, and more.

If staying on an Estancia doesn’t suit budget, timeline, or needs, here are a few hotel options.

Budget:

Trastienda B&B – Bed in dormitory with shared bathroom

Calafate Hostel – Bunk rooms with shared bathroom or double rooms with a private bathroom and included breakfast

America del Sur Calafate Hostel – Dorms, bunk rooms, and double rooms with shared or private bathrooms and included breakfast

Mid-Range:

South Apartments – Private apartment with equipped kitchen

Nau Bed & Breakfast – Double rooms with private bathrooms and included breakfast

High-End:

MadreTierraDouble room with a private bathroom

Mirador del Lago Hotel – Double and family rooms with private bathrooms and included breakfast

A pretty stroll through El Calafate
A pretty stroll through El Calafate

Where to Eat in El Calafate

El Calafate is a great place to try some of the local cuisine of Patagonia. One of the popular foods is lamb. You’ll find it cooked in many ways, such as roasted lamb, stews, burgers, and steaks. La Zaina, Rustico Asador, La Zorra Taproom, and many other restaurants serve lamb and other local dishes.

Try restaurant Mora for a variety of seafood dishes and an elegant atmosphere. La Posta is also more of a fine dining place that serves seafood, lamb, and pasta dishes. Pura Vida has a variety of warm casseroles, salads, soups, and tasty desserts and is a great place to go if you’re vegetarian. While Buenos Cruces has the grilled meat dishes typical of the area, it also has some good vegan/vegetarian options and homemade bread and pasta dishes.

For quick bites and breakfast, visit Panadería y Confitería Don Luis for delicious pasteries, bread, desserts, sandwiches, and coffee. C’est La Vie and Alfonsina also offer simple eats, such as salads, sandwiches, desserts, and more.

The Yeti Ice Bar is a popular bar spot to stop among travelers. For a fee, you can enter the bar for half an hour, have a few drinks included in your entry fee, and enjoy the icy ambiance. Other great (and less touristy) drink spots include La Zorra Taproom, Bravas, La Trinchera, and Cervecería Artesanal Chopen, which all serve a variety of beer and wines. A cold beer definitely hits the spot after a day of exploring!

If you have a sweet tooth, you’ll be delighted by all of the chocolate shops in El Calafate. Walk down Avenida del Libertador where there are many shops serving different types of chocolate bars, fudge, chocolate cake, and other sweets.

Tasty lamb burgers and local wine
Tasty lamb burgers and local wine

Groceries

There are a few grocery stores in El Calafate. There are a couple La Anónimas here, which we visited a few times during our time in Argentina.  We picked up food items here frequently to cook at our hotel or pack snacks and lunches for hikes. La Anónima also has cleaning/household goods and basic toiletry items, like sunscreen and soap.

Tours

If you aren’t renting a car, a tour can be a convenient way to experience the absolutely stunning landscape that surrounds El Calafate. There are many different tour options, from glacier treks and kayaking to wine tours and trips to the La Leona Petrified Forest. Even if you do have a car, taking a tour may be a good idea if gear such as kayaks, crampons, fishing poles, etc are required.

There are many tour operators around town. If you visit during busier times of year (summer), we recommend booking tours in advance if possible.

Most tour companies in El Calafate offer a variety of tour activities
Most tour companies in El Calafate offer a variety of tour activities

Money

There are a couple ATMs in El Calafate at the banks along Avenida del Libertador. While we were in Argentina, many of the ATMs frequently ran out of cash, so we brought cash from Buenos Aires. Being a pretty touristy spot, we found that many places accept card. However, it is always good to carry some cash as some smaller establishments and souvenir stalls may not accept card. Furthermore, if you plan to visit Perito Moreno Glacier, cash is the only accepted payment.

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