El Calafate would have very little charm, or tourist appeal, if it weren’t for its proximity to the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier and Los Glacieres National Park. That being said, the town does serve as the perfect gateway to the region. Although there isn’t a whole lot to do in El Calafate itself, you’ll likely to find yourself in awe of the nearby landscapes and the absolute wonder that is Perito Moreno Glacier. You’ll likely want to check yourself into El Calafate for a little bit longer than expected as the outlying area has much more to offer than many expect.
Things to do in El Calafate
Perito Moreno Glacier: Obviously the biggest draw to town is the nearby Perito Moreno Glacier. There are a couple of different options available for those who want to visit the site. The first option is to join a guided tour. The cost of a guided tour will run around 30US$ but will not include the 25US$ entry fee for the national park. The downside to the tour is that most of them do not leave until 8am and they all arrive at the same time. The set up of the park’s viewing areas, however, are good enough that it doesn’t matter all to much if it’s busy. Personally, I rented a car to go. This allowed me to arrive at 7am as soon as it opened and I had the park all to myself. The cost of the car rental was 50US$ for 24hours. You can also hire a taxi to take you there early in the morning, but the price will likely be the same as renting a car.
- Bird Watching: Patagonia is filled with a wide variety of bird species, and the marshland near the city of El Calafate is a great place to spot them in action. On the way to the lake front there is a reserved bird park which is fenced off and circled by a nature trail. It is a nice way to spend the afternoon or early morning.
Hiking and Camping: Many forget that Los Glacieres National Park actually encompasses a much larger area than just Perito Moreno Glacier. It is possible to head into the region for a number of different hikes. Most of those who are interested in hiking the region spend three or four days staying at refugios or campsites in the northern section of the park. Camping gear is available in El Calafate.
Where to Eat in El Calafate
Because of the number of tourists in the area there are a couple decent places to eat in El Calafate. Most of these restaurants are strung out along the main street, Avenida Liberador General San Martin, and some of them turn into bars in the later hours. Personally, I found the prices of most places to be quite expensive. The one inexpensive spot that I enjoyed was called Cambalache, which is on Moyano, where I could eat very well for about 8US$. If you’re just looking for a drink and some conversation check out the Librobar (the book bar), which is on the main drag.
Where to Stay in El Calafate
Like everywhere in Patagonia there are countless numbers of accommodation options. I stayed at the Marco Polo Inn which was the quality of a very nice hotel. The only issue was that it was a bit of a hike from down town. The cheapest option in town, which has a great location as well, is the America del Sur Hostel.
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