The Top Things to Do and See in El Calafate, Argentina

Los Glaciares National Park draws in visitors to this region of Argentina year after year
Los Glaciares National Park draws in visitors to this region of Argentina year after year | © Michele Falzone / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Bethany Currie
19 August 2021

On the southern shore of Argentina’s biggest lake, Lago Argentino, El Calafate serves as a gateway for Patagonian adventure. Namely Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, where you can join hiking excursions or ride by boat to see the astonishing Perito Moreno Glacier up-close. Meanwhile, the town itself offers a chance to learn about the geology of the region – and have a drink in its own glacier-built ice bar.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Natural Feature
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Perito Moreno glacier ice bridge, Patagonia, Argentina
© dbimages / Alamy Stock Photo
One of the world’s most spectacular glaciers, Perito Moreno towers 60m above the glacial waters of Los Glaciares National Park. Almost 5,000m long, it’s still growing – despite this, huge chunks constantly break off and tumble down the glacier face with a thundering sound. This awe-inspiring phenomenon is best experienced by boat, which you can book up until the previous day. Located around 50 miles from El Calafate, buses run to and from the national park daily.

Hiking a Glacier

Park, Natural Feature
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If you’re feeling adventurous, another way to experience the National Park’s glaciers and mountain peaks is to tackle them on foot. These treks can be quite an undertaking, lasting for at least a full day and with the opportunity to camp – but worth the effort for the once-in-a-lifetime experience of walking across a moving glacier. There are plenty of tour companies on El Calafate’s main street who can arrange these excursions, as well as receptions at hostels and hotels.

El Chaltén

Natural Feature
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Welcome to El Chalten village sign. Fitz Roy mountain range in the background, Argentina.
© Maciej Bledowski / Alamy Stock Photo

Take a trip to El Chaltén, a village located within Glacier National Park that’s used as a base for Mount Fitz Roy, a mountain with popular trekking and hiking routes. The views of Fitz Roy are incredible, especially on clear days when its jagged 1,951m (6,401ft) peak comes into view. If you’re inspired to head up there yourself there are several options, from a day-hike in the foothills to guided, multi-day expedition tours.

Lago Argentino

Natural Feature
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Join the full-day Lago Argentino boat trip from El Calafate to experience gliding across the water of Lago Argentino, the largest lake in Argentina – which is where all the melted glacier ice ends up. You’re picked up from your hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle, and then spend four to six hours on the boat, taking in the dream-like views of Upsala, Spegazzini and Onelli glaciers and icebergs floating past.

Laguna Nimez

Natural Feature
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A group of Chilean flamingos (Phoenicopterus chilensis) are feeding in the water of the Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary in El Calafate, Argentina.
© Wolfgang Kaehler / Alamy Stock Photo
The ecological reserve of Lake Nimez is a 15-minute walk from the center of El Calafate. A haven for birdwatchers, the species for which the reserve is best known is the Chilean flamingo. It’s also a microcosm of the Patagonian landscape, encompassing wetlands, desert steppe and the shores of Lake Argentino. You can see it all by following the boardwalk, which loops around the whole reserve, taking a couple of hours – depending on how much to stop to flamingo-watch.

Centro de Interpretación Histórica

Museum
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This museum in El Calafate town covers the evolution of Patagonia since the Ice Age. Models, photos and real-life archaeological discoveries fill the rooms, with explanations in both Spanish and English. With information on glaciers, dinosaurs and other extinct animals, indigenous peoples, and the formation of various landscapes, it’s a great way to get to know the remarkable environment before you set off into the wild.

Glaciarium

Museum
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El Calafate, Argentina. 31st Aug, 2015. People visit the Ice Museum "Glaciarium" in El Calafate city, Santa Cruz province, Argentina, on Aug. 31, 2015. The Glaciarium is one of the glaciological interpretation centers in the world. © Martin Zabala/Xinhua/
© Xinhua / Alamy Stock Photo
It may be a bit touristy, but El Calafate’s Glaciarium ice bar nonetheless provides a fun experience. It begins with a small museum, containing displays and videos explaining the geology of the area, climate change issues and how glaciers are formed. At the end of the tour is an all-you-can-drink bar constructed from glacial ice, where you have an allocated 20 minutes to enjoy some ice-cold beverages. The building itself is also pretty cool – it’s designed to look like a glacier.

La Leona Petrified Forest

Forest, Natural Feature
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Enter a world of 70 million-year-old dinosaur fossils and trees at the petrified forest of La Leona. A far cry from Glacier National Park, this dry and rocky landscape looks more like the surface of the moon. Uninhabited and featureless, the atmosphere is eerie – although you might be able to spot some signs of life, such as guanacos (a llama-like creature) and Andean birds of prey. As it’s private land, you can only visit La Leona by guided tour.

These recommendations were updated on August 19, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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