Perito Moreno Glacier - El Calafate

Is El Calafate Worth Visiting? 10 Reasons You Can’t Miss It

El Calafate is more than just a starting point for your Patagonian adventure – it's a must-visit destination that will leave you with one of your best travel memories. The breathtaking Perito Moreno Glacier is why people come to El Calafate, but the town still has a lot to offer backpackers. Here’s 8 reasons why El Calafate is well worth visiting.

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Is El Calafate Worth Visiting?

Is El Calafate worth the visit? Absolutely.

 

Firstly, it’s the gateway to Patagonia and you have to fly here if you want to explore the rest of the region. From El Calafate you can easily reach El Chalten or cross the border into Chile for even more incredible adventures.

 

Secondly, it’s where you can see one of the largest glaciers in the world –  Perito Moreno Glacier. This is a bucketlist experience and many is well worth the journey!

 

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker, a nature lover, or someone in search of an escape, El Calafate and the Argentinian side of Patagonia has something for everyone.

Perito Moreno Glacier - El Calafate

10 Great Reasons To Visit El Calafate

1. It's The Gateway To Argentinian Patagonia

Your journey to Patagonia begins in El Calafate!

 

For those dreaming of the vast mountain expanses and wild rugged beauty of Argentinian Patagonia, this quaint town is your first stop.

 

Is it worth visiting isn’t the right question – you have to visit it if you want to get to Patagonia.

 

El Calafate has the nearest airport, making it an inevitable destination for anyone travelling to this region.

 

From here, you can embark on a scenic bus ride to El Chaltén, another Patagonian gem awaiting exploration. Most people will spend longer here as this is where the most iconic treks are such as Laguna De Los Tres and Laguna Torre are.

For more on why El Chalten can’t be missed, head to the post below:

 

 

The Spires of Mt. Fitzroy, El Chalten

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2. It's A Short Hop Away From Chilean Patagonia Too

El Calafate isn’t just a portal to Argentinian Patagonia; it’s a gateway to a multi-country adventure!

 

Many travellers choose to combine the best of both worlds by seamlessly transitioning from Argentinian to Chilean Patagonia. After immersing yourself in the wonders of El Calafate and El Chaltén, embark on a quick border crossing and a picturesque 4-5 hour bus journey to Puerto Natales in Chile.

 

This charming town is your entry point to the iconic Torres Del Paine National Park, another must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts looking to see the best of Patagonia.

 

El Chalten and Torres Del Paine are the top sights in Patagonia and once you’ve experienced both, there isn’t much else that will top it in South America.

 The three itineraries in the post below can help you cross the borders a 3 different points in Argentina to see Chile:

 

 

 

Or check out this tour that will take you across the border and back, all in a day, perfect for those of you on a tight schedule:

3. The Epic Perito Moreno Glacier

Whilst you need to fly to El Calafate to get to Patagonia, the town still has one of the biggest attractions in Argentina – Perito Moreno Glacier.

 

An UNESCO heritage site and one of the largest glaciers in the world. This glacier stands as a testament to the raw beauty and power of nature.

 

Seeing it from the boardwalks is a popular choice. You can catch huge chunks of ice falling into the turquoise waters of the pristine Lake Argentino and the glacier’s thunderous roars will leave you speechless.

 

This is the main reason why people visit the town, and you’ll need a full day to visit it. How you decide to do that, is up to you which leads me to my next point.

TOP TIP: If you're visiting El Calafate in the summer, make sure to book your bus tickets to Perito Moreno well in advanced. The Argentinian school holidays run from the mid December to February, so the majority of the country will be travelling during this time. Accommodation and tours will get booked up quickly!

Joe from Shall We Go Home Travel on the boardwalks behind Perito Moreno Glacier

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Joe from Shall We Go Home Travel on the boardwalks behind Perito Moreno Glacier

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4. You Can See The Glacier In 4 Different Ways

Exploring the Perito Moreno Glacier offers a variety of thrilling experiences tailored to different tastes.

 

You have 4 options to see the Glacier:

 

  • Bus/Boardwalk – Stroll along the boardwalk for the best panoramic views and photo opportunities.
  • Kayak Tour – an active option that gets you up close and personal with the glacier along 
  • Boat Tour – the easiest way to get as close to the glacier as possible. This can be combined with the boardwalks too.
  • Glacier Hike – a full day expedition that includes a boat tour, walking along the boardwalks and then hiking on top of the glacier. This is the best option if you want to do it all! For those with a thirst for adventure and a love for exploration, I highly recommend the ice hiking tour as it offers a hands-on encounter.

TOP TIP:  If you are in a group of 3 people or more then it will cost you the same to book a private transfer.

I was with 3 friends so we booked a private transfer with Trayecto Patagonico. It cost us around $20 each which is roughly the same price as a return bus. 

Hiking on Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate (Argentina)

5. You Only Need 2 Days In El Calafate

The best part about visiting El Calafate is you can do it in two days.

 

 

The key highlight is, undeniably, the Perito Moreno Glacier, but apart from that there are only one or two other attractions I would recommend.

 

Flights from Buenos Aires take around 3 hours so you’re first day will be spent on the move.

 

Unfortunately, buses to the glacier leave in the morning and take an hour to get there so you won’t be able to see it on your first day.

 

Your second day in El Calafate is spent at the glacier and you’ll need a full day. Buses return in the evening at around 4PM.

Use the guide below to help you plan out your time in Patagonia:

 

 

6. Indulge In Patagonian Cuisine And Craft Beer

El Calafate isn’t just a feast for the eyes; it’s a delight for the taste buds as well.

 

This is the perfect place to try Patagonian cuisine, known for its hearty lamb-based dishes.

 

 

  • Make sure to try Cordero al Palo – simply a lamb slow roasted over a fire. The lamb is roasted vertically on a wood fire allowing it to cook evenly, making the meat juicy and tender.

 

  • Seafood is also big down here and you’ll be eating the freshest catches from the waters of the Tierra Del Fuego. Trucha Patagonica is trout and Centolla Patagonica is king crab. I recommend trying both whilst you’re here.

 

  • Make sure to visit La Zorra Taproom, a haven for beer enthusiasts, offering some of the finest craft beers from the region. For such a sparsely populated region, Patagonia has a quality craft beer scene.

To see how to combine a few days in Buenos Aires alongside a trip to El Calafate, check out the selection of itineraries in the post below:

 

 

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate (Argentina)

7. Visit The Glaciarium & Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary

The two other activities I would recommend doing whilst in El Calafate are the glacier museum and the bird sanctuary.

 

The Glaciarium is an interactive museum that will provide a detailed history of the glacier and park, helping to improve your experience the next day when you go and see it close up.

 

For a nice nature walk, try the Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary. This protected area is home to 80 species of bird and you can even see flamingos. The 1.5 mile loop around the lagoon should take around an hour.

 

These two activities will give you a deeper understanding of the region and hopefully leave you with a greater appreciation of the wild, rugged beauty of Patagonia.

If you are thinking of planning a long stay in Argentina and South America, then seeing an extended backpacking itinerary is essential to help you plan your trip. Check out the post below to help you plan your next trip:

 

 

8. Stay At The Cosy America Del Sur Hostel

America Del Sur Hostel is the ideal set up for adventurers visiting Patagonia. The rooms are always warm, and the beds are comfy which is a must after a long day at the glacier.

 

The common area is a decent size, and it will always be busy in the evenings as people return from their adventures. 

 

The best part however is the terrace. I loved sitting out here in the morning, watching the sunrise over the lake with a coffee.

America Del Sur is one of my 19 favourite hostels in South America. For the other 18, check out the post below:

 

 

America Del Sur Hostel, El Calafate
America Del Sur Hostel (Outside), El Calafate

9. Kayaking And Dinosaur Fossils On La Leona River

If you did want to stay an extra day or two in El Calafate, this tour was recommended to me by a close friend.

 

You can explore outside of El Calafate along La Leona River  on this full-day kayaking and hiking tour.

 

You’ll kayak down the river for an hour, then pull in to land and hike for a few hours among the petrified forest, where you can stop to see dinosaur bones.

 

Along the way, learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of the Patagonian steppe from your nature guide. 

10. Experience Patagonia's Indigenous Culture On A 4x4 Adventure

Enjoy a slighty different Patagonian adventure Native Cultures 4×4 Experience.

 

On this tour you’ll journey back in time to hear stories of the first expeditions and indigenous inhabitants of the area.

 

Admire rock paintings, caves, and incredible landscapes as you learn more about the indigenous cultures of Patagonia.

Why Should You Skip El Calafate?

There are several reasons why El Calafate might not be worth it for you. Here are some reasons why you might want to give it a miss:

 

  • It’s an expensive trip and won’t be for budget backpackers. Firstly, you need to get to Argentina, then book return flights to Patagonia. Accommodation and food will be more expensive compared to the rest of Argentina, especially during the summer (peak season).

 

  • It can get busy. This is one of the top tourist destinations in the world and if you are visiting between Dec-Feb in the summer, the trails will be packed with tourists. The better times to visit to avoid the crowds are during the spring and autumn shoulder seasons. Visit between Sep-Nov or March-April to avoid the crowds but still have warmer weather.

 

  • Most people will include El Calafate with a trip to El Chalten to hike in Los Glaciares National Park. If you aren’t that in to hiking, then this might be a long way to come just to see the Perito Moreno Glacier.

How Many Days Do You Need In El Calafate?

You only need 2 days in El Calafate.

 

Everyone’s visiting to see Perito Moreno Glacier and this can easily be done in a day.

 

There isn’t much else going on in town so I’d only recommend staying for 3 days if you have the time and prefer a more relaxed schedule.

 

Here’s how I would spend 2 days in El Calafate:

 

  • Day 1 – Arrival / Visit the Glaciarium / Walk around Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary
  • Day 2 – Visit Perito Moreno Glacier

Visiting El Calafate is one of the highlights of a trip to Argentina. But there’s so much more to see in this incredible country.

 

To see how to combine Patagonia into a three-week or one-month itinerary that covers the entire country, head to the posts below:

 

 

Joe from Shall We Go Home Travel at a viewpoint for Perito Moreno Glacier

When Is The Best Time To Visit El Calafate?

Argentina is blessed with sunny days and ideal temperatures most of the year, especially from November-April.

 

However, in Patagonia the weather is unpredictable. Ideally, visiting El Calafate year-round is do-able but the summer months (Dec-Feb) are most popular due to the hotter weather.

 

However, the shoulder seasons (September-November and March-April) are also great to avoid the big crowds.

 

Avoid the winter months from June-August if you can as it will be cold and wet. 

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How To Get To El Calafate

How To Get To El Calafate From Buenos Aires

The best way to get to El Calafate from Buenos Aires is to fly. 

 

Flights take around 3 hours and can cost between $100-300 return depending on when you book. 

 

I’ve been using Way Away Plus to book all my flights in Argentina. They find you the cheapest flights and give you cashback with each booking!

How To Get To El Chalten From El Calafate

Most people will be visiting El Chalten after stopping in El Calafate.

 

The easiest and cheapest way to get to El Chalten from El Calafate is with a 3 hour bus. 

 

Returns start from $30. 

a boat in the lake of the El Calafate glacier

What Should I Pack For El Calafate?

El Calafate is so far south that it still gets cold in the summer.

 

You’ll also be doing a lot of outdoor activities so you’ll need the correct gear.

 

For the cold, you need base layers, hiking boots, a thermal mid-layer and a waterproof windbreaker.

 

It can rain at any moment, even in summer, and gets very windy in El Calafate too. You’ll want to be wrapped up warm if you’re on a boat tour for example.

 

Here’s my Patagonia gear loadout that ticks all these boxes:

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  • Hiking boots – fully waterproof and ankle high are essential for trekking in the Andes. I went into my local Mountain Warehouse and picked up a pair of these and they haven’t let me down since. 
Best Hiking Boots For South America: Mountain Warehouse Hiking Boots
  • Mid-layer fleece – a fleece is lightweight but warm, perfect for whipping on and off when trekking to regulate your temperature. Great in the evenings as well when it’s much colder. I go with R1 Zip-Neck from Patagonia. Mens | Womens
Best Mid-layer Fleece For South America: Patagonia R1 Fleece Pullover
  • Waterproof windbreaker – much needed when trekking in the Andes to deal with the biting winds and rapidly changing weather. I like to use the Patagonia TorrentShell 3L. Its lightweight, warm and packable. The jacket self-stuffs into one of the handwarmer pockets with carabiner clip-in loop. Mens | Womens
Best Waterproof for South America: Patagonia 3L Torrentshell Waterproof
  • Hiking Socks – a few pairs of sturdy merino wool socks that don’t rub. There’s nothing worse than getting a blister whilst hiking. If you are from the UK, try these on Amazon.
Best Hiking Socks For South America
  • Hydroflask Trail Series Water Bottle – I always take this water bottle with me when I travel to South America. It’s 20% lighter than their other bottles and my back appreciates it when I’m on a long hike! It’s also durable, easy to clean and keeps drinks cold for 24 hours!
Best Water Bottle For South America: Hydroflask Trail Series

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