Keen to explore more of Patagonia, we hopped on a local bus and made our way across the Andes into Argentina for El Calafate. Most travellers opt to stay in El Calafate due to its proximity to some of Patagonia’s highlights such as Torres Del Paine National Park and El Chalten. In addition to those lovely places, the gorgeous Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is only a hop, skip and jump away from El Calafate.
On our way to El Calafate, our guide spoke of the growing popularity of the city since the creation of the national park in 1937. Visitor numbers have grown at a rate far quicker than the town has been able to develop. Even today, driving into town, you can’t help but notice the massive amounts of construction going on. New hotels, restaurants and outdoor gear shops were opening up everywhere. Like many of the towns in Patagonia, El Calafate is touristy and caters predominately to outdoor enthusiasts. Hopefully the development will continue sustainable and the city can finds its balance.
The plus side of all the developments, El Calafte has accommodations for every type of traveller –not typical of other stops throughout Patagonia. While we were not staying in one of the new luxury hotels in El Calafate, we were quite comfortable during our 2 nights stay at the Hosteria Posta Sur. It is a simple boutique hotel only a short 5-minute walk from the main strip, Avenue del Libertador General San Martín. The under floor heating was certainly a nice treat after our camping on the W Trek (Destinations // W Trek).
No trip to El Calafate is complete without visiting Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, but there are other things you can do there as well. Here is how we spent out time here.
// PERITO MORENO GLACIER
We were picked up by Amayco Turismo y Expediciones and made our 60km journey to this region’s gem – Perito Moreno Glacier. Once we entered the park, we made a quick pit stop at the viewing platform and got our first glimpse of the glacier. From afar it doesn’t actually look that massive. Up close however is a different story – it’s 5km wide and a whopping 60m tall!
We opted to kick off our visit with a 40-minute boat ride on the beautiful Lago Argentina. We headed upstairs to the viewing deck to watch as the captain navigated the waters to get us as close to the glacier as possible. The boat itself has to keep its distance from the wall of the glacier as massive calvins break off regularly causing hefty waves in the lake. We saw quite a few of them but I was too slow to get the massive one on camera. Quite a sight to experience – trust me.
After navigating the length of the glacier a couple times we made our way back to land and walked along the series of land based viewing platforms. The platforms are connected by a series of pathways allowing you to explore from different vantage points – if you can dodge all the tourists. If you find yourself here outside of peak seasons you may just have it all to yourself. Either way, these are a perfect way to get a different perspective of the Perito Moreno.
If you are interested in learning more about the glaciers of Patagonia, then this is the place for you. It is a bit outside of town but gives you an opportunity to see how the glaciers of Patagonia have formed and how they are handling the effects of climate change. The museum is quite modern and the Perito Moreno Glacier inspires its design.
Access to the museum also gives you access to Glaciobar —the first ice bar in Argentina. They will kit you out in all the gear you need to get in the glacial mood and stay warm while you enjoy drinks chilled with ice from Perito Moreno. Everything inside is made of ice – the walls, the bar, the glasses, etc. It is a bit too kitschy for my taste but a fun experience if you have never been to an ice bar (or simply like a cocktail with your museum visit). TIP: They offer a free shuttle from town at the Tourism Bureau of the Province of Santa Cruz.
// NIMEZ LAGOON ECOLOGICAL RESERVE
If you are a bird lover, then El Calafate has a treat for you. A short stroll from downtown El Calafate, the Nimez Lagoon Ecological Reserve is home to many species of birds including pink flamingos, black-necked swans and lapwings.
The information center has brochures, which break down the particulars of each species and their relationship to the ecosystem. The reserve has easily accessible footpaths and while it isn’t adrenaline fuelled, it is a nice way to round out a glacier-filled day of adventure.
El Calafate is named after the Calafate, a native bush to southern Patagonia. In the spring the Calafate blooms with yellow flowers and in the summer it bears dark blue berries. Lore states that those who east the Calafate berries are destined to return to Patagonia. Having enjoyed a few of the berries myself (in a Calafte Sour – yum!) – I am already looking forward to my next trip.