Just like the Emerald City provided a gateway to the magical Land of Oz, El Calafate guards the stoic land of Los Glaciares National Park. Most adventure travelers and nature enthusiasts can agree that Los Glaciares is Patagonia’s premier National Park for communing with glaciers. And how can you make it all the way to breathtaking Patagonia without your glacier close-up?
And if this weren’t enough, you can find countless other unique activities and enthralling excursions to add to your private travel experience in El Calafate. In this article, we first dive into why you should visit El Calafate in the first place, and then detail the top eight things to do while there!
Why Visit El Calafate?
As we learn more about the pressing need for eco-tourism in these unprecedented times, natural destinations like El Calafate are becoming more and more important. As a UNESCO world heritage site, Los Glaciares covers a breathtaking 600,000 hectares. And the park welcomes in both visitors hoping to marvel at its majesty and scientists looking for answers on how to solve climate change.
Purposeful travel here supports continued protection for this area comprised of a whopping 47 glaciers. It’s true that with more tourism comes more contamination in general. But in a place like El Calafate, where nature comes first, more foot traffic actually drives a growing motivation to build sustainable tourism into the framework of the city.
What to do in El Calafate?
– Visit Perito Moreno
Let’s start with El Calafate’s main attraction: El Perito Moreno glacier! This ice Goliath is the world’s third-largest reserve of freshwater and spans 97 square miles. It is much more than your average glacier, and more technically can be described as an “ice field.” Perito Moreno is also one of just three glaciers in the world that grows as well as retreats, holding its mass in equilibrium.
You don’t need to be an expert ice hiker to take a private journey to Perito Moreno, exploring every nook and cranny of its icy expanse for a full-day tour like no other. There are also many ways to experience Perito Moreno, either by taking an ice hike, a boat, and then a hike, marveling from stationary balconies, kayaking, or a combination of these four.
– Stay in a local estancia
You may have already heard about Las Pampas of Argentina and the sprawling rustic estancias (ranches) dotting these legendary plains. But did you know you can also visit and experience the unique estancia way of life in El Calafate?! Picture home on the range, but in the middle of an ice forest!
The Estancia Cristina for example sits within Los Glaciares National Park and offers guests an exciting window into Patagonia through their carefully curated excursions. Staying at Cristina also makes for a luxury travel experience, because of on-site amenities, like their massage room and fabulous restaurant featuring Argentina’s best wine.
– Take a quick trip to El Chaltén
At this point, for those in the know, El Chaltén is the premier mountaineering village in this part of Patagonia; and if you weren’t, now you are also in the know! Although it is possible to take a day trip from El Calafate to El Chaltén for a quick hike, we highly recommend staying at least two nights to capitalize on all the activities this exciting spot has to offer.
One of the main highlights here is Mount Chaltén, because climbing to its summit typically covered by clouds, gives the illusion you have reached the clouds themselves. You can also visit quite a few spectacular lagoons, such as the Capri or Torre Lagoon, and if hiking isn’t your thing, you can opt for horseback riding, biking, or fishing!
– Fish in Lago Roca
Speaking of fishing, for any true fishing enthusiasts, consider a trip to Lago Roca. Lago Roca is a lesser-known, and off-the-beaten-path lake south of Brazo Rico, where Perito Moreno meets the larger Lago Argentino. Fishing in Lago Roca provides an immersive experience in El Calafate because it is also a coveted spot for local residents to cast a line and savor a picnic.
– Commune with flamingos on Laguna Nimez
Laguna Nimez is but an easy .6-mile hike away from El Calafate and is known for some of the best sunrise and sunset vantage points in all of Patagonia! Laguna Nimez also provides an ideal spot for bird watchers hoping to spy over 80 bird species that have made this lake their home.
One species worth mentioning in particular are the flamingos. As these large flamingo colonies go about their business, you can observe them from the many fixed lookout points. They are quite used to curious onlookers, but make sure you keep a respectful distance and never feed them.
– Kayak on Lago Argentino to the Upsala Glacier
Alongside Perito Moreno, Upsala Glacier remains one of the most impressive glaciers in all of Patagonia. Years ago, it was possible to get a closer look at Upsala Glacier by boat navigation. However, icebergs blocked those channels in more recent years. But this obstacle only made way for innovation. Now, you can kayak to the Upsala Glacier and feel its power much more directly.
There are different routes to accommodate all levels of kayak, and you will start off in the impressive Lago Argentino, bordering the Perito Moreno glacier. Your guide will give you a safety briefing while still in Lago Argentino before winding your way through the Upsala Channel towards Upsala Glacier.
– Take a mini-cruise
When we say “mini” we mean much shorter than your standard month-long cruise along an entire continental coast. But how long you mini your Calafate cruise lasts depends on how much time you have and what you want to see, because there are a couple different options at your disposal, from 1-2 hours just to Perito Moreno, or to a full day 10-hour glacier-filled cruise!
– Go horseback riding
It may go without saying that Patagonia is known as a hikers’ paradise, but even those who aren’t interested in testing their hard-earned callouses can enjoy Patagonia and El Calafate to the fullest. You can choose to horseback ride instead of hike for a majority of these routes in El Calafate, and the sweeping views are sure to stay with you forever.
Benefits of Traveling to El Calafate with Kuoda
As South America travel specialists, we instantly know which activities to recommend or include based on your specific interests, expectations, and fitness level. This, in addition to the fact that we work with only the most passionate, patient, and knowledgeable local guides, ensures a deeply meaningful experience.
We hold ourselves to this high standard of excellence with every custom-designed journey we create. So, choosing to travel with us to El Calafate guarantees this special attention to detail, and also a truly unique experience tailored to you. Contact us today to learn more about adding El Calafate to your private Patagonia adventure!