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.
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.
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.
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.
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.