Updated April, 2023
El Calafate is a small city in Argentinian Patagonia that is most known among tourists as a gateway to the beautiful Los Glaciares National Park. While many travelers come here to explore the stunning surrounding natural areas, there are also quite a few things to do in El Calafate to fill your time.
1. Visit Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier is perhaps the most popular attraction that draws people to El Calafate. The glacier is absolutely huge and the mountainous landscape and lake around it are truly beautiful. Activities range from an easy walk to a series of viewpoints to boat rides and glacier trekking tours, making this a great day trip for any traveler. It is also fairly easy to reach despite being a ways out of town.
For more information on visiting Perito Moreno Glacier, check out our post!
2. Experience Rural Life at an Estancia
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 is a popular one among travelers, offering traditional meals, jaw dropping scenery, and a variety of excursions like trekking, horseback riding, and fishing.
Some other nice Estancias in the area include Estancia Nibepo Aike, Estancia 25 de Mayo, and Hosteria Helsingfors. Estancias offer a many different activities, such as the outdoor excursions mentioned above, plus shows, informative presentations, and more. With all the options, you’ll definitely be able to fill your time with memorable experiences!
3. Walk the Shoreline of Lago Argentino
El Calafate sits on the shore of Lago Argentino, where you’ll see distant peaks and abundant wildlife. The shores are popular among birders, but even if you aren’t a bird fanatic, taking in the views from the shore is quite enjoyable.
There are some miradors with sidewalks connecting them along P.˚ Kirchner and Reserva Laguna Nimez on the north end of town. Walking along most of the shoreline is free, but the reserve costs a few USD. As you look over the lake, keep an eye out for flamingos, various water birds, hawks, and more.
4. Visit the Centro de Interpretación Histórica
To learn a little more about the history of the area, visit the Centro de Interpretación Histórica. This little museum sits in town, making it great for a quick stop while exploring El Calafate. It is open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. daily; however check the website for holiday hours and updates.
The exhibits cover a wide range of the area’s history, from the time of the dinosaurs to early indigenous life here and the struggles native communities faced upon European settlement. If you don’t speak Spanish, information in English can be provided.
5. Have a Drink at the Ice Bar
We debated putting this one on the list of things to do in El Calafate because it is seemed to be a little bit of a tourist trap to us. There are plenty of other great bars in El Calafate, but if you are looking for something unique to do in town, you can decide for yourself if the Yeti Ice Bar is worth checking out!
When you arrive, you’ll pay a cover fee. It’s best to check the entry price when you arrive as the Argentine peso fluctuates drastically, but it was between $25 and $30 USD when we went. There is often a line to get in since the space inside is limited. When you enter, they have warm parkas and gloves available. You’ll have about 25 minutes to take photos and have a drink or two – unlimited drinks are included in your entry price.
6. Grab Some Local Bites and Drinks
If the Ice Bar doesn’t seem to be your thing, there are plenty of other places to grab a drink in El Calafate. La Zorra Taproom, Bravas, and Cervecería Artesanal Chopen all serve beers local to the area. A cold beer definitely hits the spot after a day of exploring!
El Calafate is also a great place to try local delicacies, like lamb. You’ll find lamb cooked in many ways, including roasted lamb, stews, burgers, and steaks. Rustico Asador, La Zorra, and many other restaurants serve lamb dishes.
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.
7. Take a Tour to La Leona Petrified Forest
La Leona Petrified Forest sits north of El Calafate just over an hour outside of town. Hiking through the petrified forest offers quite the change in scenery from the surrounding lakes, glacier-covered peaks, and Patagonian grasslands. Here, you’ll find otherworldly badlands where dinosaur fossils have been discovered and the remains of old petrified trees lie on the eroded ground. Legend has it that the famous Butch Cassidy also made a stop here in the early 1900s.
La Leona Petrified Forest sits on a private estancia, so the only way to reach it is by tour. There are some tours that you can book online, or you can search for a tour by visiting some agencies when you arrive in El Calafate.
8. Shop for Local Goods
Whether you’re looking for little trinkets, souvenirs, clothing, art, or other home décor, there are quite a few shops in town to wander through. There are many individual shops and boutiques along Avenida del Libertador along with courtyards off the street that have many quaint little souvenir shops tucked just off the main street.
We also recommend walking the Paseo de los Artesanos where you’ll find many stalls set up by local artisans. Here you can find a variety of stone and wooden carved goods, woven items, jewelry, and more.
9. Visit the Glaciarium
The Glaciarium is a museum that sits a few miles outside of El Calafate on the way to Perito Moreno Glacier. The museum provides information on the glaciers and explorers in the area and glaciers in general through a variety of interesting exhibits.
You can reach the Glaciarium by free shuttle from the street behind the Yeti Ice Bar between 1˚ de Mayo and Valentín Fielberg. It costs around $14 USD per adult. Here, there is also an ice bar that you can visit for an extra fee. Check their website for hours, updates, and more information.