21 Awesome Things to do in El Calafate, Argentina
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El Calafate, Argentina is one of my favorite Patagonian towns. It’s small, vibrant, filled with tasty treats, and of course, there’s a huge range of things to do in El Calafate.
But after my first visit, I barely scraped the surface and not because I didn’t have time, but because I didn’t know where to look!
I mean, there are many obvious choices of things to do in El Calafate such as tours in and around the Perito Moreno Glacier, but other than that, it can be hard to know what to do in El Calafate when you’re not out on the glacier.
So, on my second visit, I looked a little closer and finally fell in love with El Calafate, Argentina. I found a huge range of things to do including some off-the-beaten-path activities as well as easy-to-do things right in El Calafate town.
Here are the 21 best things to do in El Calafate, Argentina that every visitor will love!
21 BEST Things to do in El Calafate, Argentina
1. Walk the Perito Moreno Boardwalk
One of the best and most popular things to do in El Calafate is to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier boardwalk. Besides the entrance fee to Los Glaciares National Park (800 pesos), the boardwalk is completely free!
In total, there is over 4 kilometers of boardwalk to enjoy and you could honestly spend hours here.
One of the best things about Perito Moreno Glacier is that it’s so alive. Every 10 to 20 minutes huge chunks of ice fall from its face. I can guarantee you’ll see a chunk of ice fall if you’re patient enough.
Getting there: You can either take a large bus from El Calafate to the boardwalk (around $22 USD return) or join a tour. You can book this glacier tour directly with Daytours4u which is a great value especially if you have kids as they pay less (on the bus you’ll pay the same). Alternatively, you can check out these tours for more options.
We booked our tours in El Calafate with Daytours4u and can highly personally them based on our own experience.
The best time to visit is early in the morning or late afternoon. If you want more information you can check out our Perito Moreno Glacier visitor guide. It includes everything you need to know about visiting Perito Moreno in detail!
2. Drink Locally Brewed Craft Beer
When I said there’s plenty of things to do in El Calafate after long days filled with adventure, I meant it! And what could be better than finishing off the day with a few locally brewed and delicious craft beers?!
El Calafate is the town of Artisanal foods and drinks in Patagonia and the beer here is amazing! There are plenty of places to go where you can try many different beers with my personal favorites being Bravas Calafate and La Zorra Taproom (amazing food).
Both places serve good, cold, craft beer at really cheap prices. In fact, at La Zorra during happy hour a beer is only 100 pesos, that’s less than 2 USD!
3. Go Glacier Trekking
One thing I always regretted on my first visit to El Calafate was not going glacier trekking. To me, trekking on the Perito Moreno glacier was high on my bucket list as it’s the most impressive glacier I’ve ever seen.
This time though I didn’t make the same mistake as last time, and I joined a Mini Trekking tour from El Calafate and it was amazing.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I can’t recommend it enough. It is also easily one of the best things to do in all of Patagonia!
On our chosen tour we started at Puerto Bajo las Sombras (the port) in the national park (we drove because we had a car but they offer transfers from El Calafate) where we took a ferry to the start of the trekking. The ferry (although only a means of transport) is a short scenic cruise in itself.
We then got briefed on the tour and geared up before trekking on the glacier for 1.5 hours drinking pure glacier water, looking into crevasses and glacier waterfalls. We finished off the tour with a scotch on the rocks made with ice from the glacier and chocolate for a snack.
Overall, it’s a great tour and if you book the transport to and from El Calafate you also get 1.5 hours of free time to explore the Perito Moreno Glacier boardwalk before returning to El Calafate.
The company we chose to book through was Daytours4u and they were great! They offer both the Mini Trekking and Big Ice trekking tours. You can book the exact same tour we did directly here!
For more information, be sure to read our blog that is all about what to expect from Mini Trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier!
4. Visit Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
This is a very quick and enjoyable thing to do in El Calafate. The Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares has lots of historical information on Perito Moreno (the explorer) as well as beautiful gardens to enjoy.
The visit here only takes around 20 minutes and is located right in town on the main street. It’s completely free to enter.
5. Take a Scenic Glacier Cruise
El Calafate’s many nearby glaciers that run into Largo Argentino (a very uniquely shaped lake) make it the perfect place to join a cruise. From the comfort of the cruise, you can truly enjoy this spectacular national park.
There are a few different cruise options available with the biggest difference between them being the duration.
For those wanting a short but sweet experience then the short cruises that only visit the Perito Moreno Glacier are a great option. These cruises only run for an hour and explore the face of the Perito Moreno Glacier. On these cruises, it’s very common to witness huge chunks of ice break off at a close (but safe) distance.
If you want a longer cruise that explores much more of the park and visits mulitple glaciers then you can choose a cruise such as this amazing 10-hour cruise that visits 3 glaciers and travels to the far north side of Glacier National Park near El Chalten!
If that seems a little too long, then check out all the different cruises available here to pick the right one for you!
6. Eat Traditional Patagonian Food
Patagonia is home to its own unique dishes that are very hearty and meat-based. From the slow-roasted lamb to massive burgers and stews, there’s so much to try in El Calafate! The one dish you can’t leave without trying is the Lamb al Asador.
This unique way of cooking involves slow roasting lamb over coals and then serving it in pieces that are usually served with potatoes. It’s a hearty meal and it’s delicious! Of course, this meal isn’t usually cheap especially at a top-rated restaurant.
If you want a cheaper option, then try the lamb stew or burgers. From La Zorra, you can get the stew for 400 pesos or around $7 USD and it’s really amazing! As for the burgers, there are so many places you can get a lamb burger around town for less than $5 USD!
7. Join a Perito Moreno Kayaking Tour
From the comfort of a cruise, seeing the glacier is impressive but from a tiny kayak the experience is breathtaking! Imagine being inches from the freezing water and mere meters from icebergs. It’s an experience I really want to do at least once in my life!
From El Calafate, tours run to the park and include 1.5 hours of kayaking as well as free time to explore the boardwalk, lunch, and all safety equipment.
We never had time to do the kayaking tour but we heard from others that it’s an amazing experience! One thing to note is that for safety reasons and the fact the Perito Moreno Glacier is so active, you don’t get that close to the glacier, but you do get to paddle up to icebergs in the lake.
8. Try Artisanal Chocolate
El Calafate is oddly a really good place to try a huge selection of artisanal chocolate that’s locally made and super cheap. Throughout the town, there are plenty of different chocolatiers that serve small blocks of chocolate in a huge range of flavors.
These are priced per 100g but you can buy as little or as much as you want from one piece to a 1 kg box. My favorite chocolatier in El Calafate was Laguna Negra Café. It was one of the cheapest and served great coffee that was cheaper if you said “please” and “thank you!”
9. Learn all about Glaciers at the Glaciarium
On my first visit to El Calafate, I remember hearing about the Glaciarium but thinking, ahh it’s just another museum. However, this time I decided to check it out just to see what it was like.
Wow, I couldn’t have been more wrong! This museum is amazing and is easily one of the best things to do in El Calafate.
For one, the museum is huge and filled with lots of interactive displays as well as two movie rooms that play informative videos in Spanish with English subtitles.
In my opinion, the museum is best visited before you go to Perito Moreno Glacier. This way, you’ll be armed with heaps of facts and know more about what you’re looking at.
Entrance to the museum is 600 pesos and it’s located around a 10-minute drive from town. There are free shuttles to the museum that leave from the El Calafate Tourism Bureau. These buses run every hour.
10. Taste El Calafate Berry Products
The El Calafate Berry is a berry native to southern Patagonia. The berry itself is named after the town El Calafate (and not the other way around as I first thought.) It’s a delicious berry that is visually similar to a blueberry. In Patagonia, the El Calafate Berry is used to make a huge range of products including beer, wine, ice cream, syrup, and jam.
Throughout El Calafate town, you can buy these products to drink or eat while you’re there or take home as a souvenir for friends and family to try!
But the interesting part?
The legend says that anyone who eats an El Calafate Berry will return to Patagonia – which must be true because I came back a second time!
Be sure to shop around at different stores and avoid the typical souvenir shops as these are hugely overpriced. The Laguna Negra Café has a small selection of liqueurs and jams that is very reasonably priced.
11. Explore La Leona Petrified Forest
One of the most unique things to do in El Calafate is to visit La Leona Petrified forest.
For those who don’t know, a petrified forest is a fossilized forest where the trees that once lived here have turned to stone. The process is very complex and on the tours to the La Leona forest, you’ll learn all about it. Among the petrified wood are also fossils of dinosaurs.
Tours to the forest are guided only as the forest is actually on private land. Tours run from El Calafate and include a visit to the La Leona Roadhouse, another interesting and historical place to visit.
If you haven’t seen a fossilized forest before, then this tour from El Calafate might be for you!
12. Walk Around Laguna Nimez
Located right in El Calafate is a beautiful nature reserve called Laguna Nimez. For birds, this place is a paradise for breeding and a safe haven from threats. At the reserve, you can view up to 100 different bird species including Pink Flamingos.
To walk the boardwalk around the reserve the entrance fee is 500 pesos and is self-guided. The entrance fee goes right back to research and protecting the birds. The boardwalk is around 3km long and is an easy walk with lots of information boards along the way.
Overall, Laguna Nimez a nice relaxing activity for the whole family – just be sure to go on a day that’s not windy!
13. Get Tipsy in an Ice Bar
Ice bars are bars made entirely of ice, including the glasses you drink from. If you’ve never been to an ice bar (or want to drink cheap alcohol) then this is the perfect activity in El Calafate!
In El Calafate, there are 3 different ice bars with two in town (Yeti Ice Bar and Polar Bar) and one at the Glaciarium. The Glaciarium Ice Bar is actually made with ice from the Perito Moreno Glacier too!
For 400 pesos (around $7 USD) you get 25 minutes entry to the bar and can drink as much as you want while you’re in there. I really enjoyed the experience and thought it was very good value, although I was ready to leave at the end as it’s very cold!
14. Shop at the Artisanal Market
The large souvenir shops are great, but if you really want to bring a part of Patagonia home with you then you simply must visit the El Calafate Artisanal Market.
Located right on the main street in town, this local market features amazing works by local artists that are all hand made. The work here is very impressive and even if you’re not in a shopping mood it’s well worth a look.
The market begins to open late in the afternoon so I recommend arriving after 6 pm if you want all the stalls to be open.
15. Eat Amazing Ice Cream
Artisanal chocolate, beer, souvenirs and… ice cream! It’s the last ingredient to an empty wallet and a slightly bigger waist, but if you’ve come all this way you simply must give the ice cream in El Calafate a try!
Along the main street of town, there are a few ice cream places (and I had ice cream at many of them) but my all-time favorite was Acuarela. If you love chocolate ice cream be sure to get the Patagonian Chocolate flavor. It’s very rich so a small serving is more than enough!
16. Take a Day Trip to El Chalten
This thing to do is not at all my favorite on this list. The reason?
Well, I honestly believe you should visit El Chalten for much longer than a day. But, I do understand those with limited time may see a day trip as their only option, so I’ve included it!
El Chalten is a magical place surrounded by stunning landscapes and unique mountain peaks that rival those in Torres del Paine National Park. It’s a place that just has to be seen!
One of the most amazing parts is the drive to El Chalten and on your tour, they’ll make plenty of stops to take in the views.
The tours are around 12 hours long with the option to hike to Lago de los Tres at the base of Mt Fitzroy. This is arguably the most beautiful hike in Patagonia and in my opinion, more beautiful than Las Torres in the Torres del Paine National Park.
If you’re not up for the challenge of hiking to the Lago de los Tres (it’s a tough hike) there are other shorter trails you can enjoy and your guide will help you decide.
There are also two-day tours available that give you much more time to enjoy El Chalten. I definitely recommend these over the 1 day tours.
For more info on how to spend your time in El Chalten, check out our blog about all of the amazing things to do in El Chalten!
17. Stay at Estancia La Estela
You will see “estancias” all around Patagonia. These are farms or stations. Some of them are also actually hotels and offer a unique place to stay away from all of the hustle and bustle.
If you have a night to spare and want to break up the journey between El Calafate and El Chalten then I highly recommend spending a night at Estancia La Estela hotel.
This place overlooks the mountains of El Chalten and Glacier National Park. It’s remote and arguably in the most breathtaking location. From the hotel, you can explore the landscape on horseback and just enjoy being in Patagonia away from the busy tourist towns.
The hotel serves amazing Patagonian food and breakfast is included in the room rates.
18. Eat Delicious Pastries at PANtagonia German Bakery
Just in case you hadn’t eaten enough, I have one last indulgence to tell you about and that’s the German Bakery in El Calafate. I stumbled upon this place on my first morning in El Calafate in search of a delicious breakfast.
I ended up eating several empanadas and about 3 different pastry desserts – even the lady who worked there was impressed! But honestly, this place is really nice and if you haven’t already, it’s a great place to try empanadas and enjoy a morning coffee.
19. Join a Kayak Tour in La Leona River
One of the most breathtaking ways to enjoy some of the lower shrub land scenery near El Calafate is on this awesome kayaking tour. The scenery out here isn’t about the mountains, but it’s really beautiful and unique.
On this tour, you’ll learn about the history and landscape from your guide in a small intimate group setting. You’ll also get to visit the La Leona Petrified forest!
This tour isn’t a beginner’s tour in my opinion and I recommend having at least kayaked once before (although they are two-person kayaks so as long as one of you has the experience, you should be fine.) The total distance paddled is about 14km and takes around 2.5 hours to complete.
20. Explore Lago Argentina
Lago Argentino is arguably the bluest lake I have ever seen! It’s El Calafate’s crown jewel and on my trip I found myself just simply staring at its beauty. From town, you can easily walk to the edge of the lake and go for a stroll.
Along the shore, there are a few viewpoints and on a calm day, it’s really beautiful. This activity isn’t a must-do (especially if you make it for sunset!)
21. Hike El Calafate Mountain
To be honest I wasn’t sure whether to include hiking El Calafate Mountain on this list or not. One of the reasons was that after reading about it on other blogs (and then going for myself) I realized those bloggers hadn’t actually done the hike.
The reason I knew this was because there is no clear path, no signs to the hike, and you essentially just find your own way up – and none of this is mentioned in their blogs!
With that said, it is doable and it’s a completely free activity that has you hiking through a unique landscape with amazing views. If you’re lucky you might also see condors flying above!
How to hike the mountain: Get yourself to the point below on the map either by driving yourself, taxi, or walking. Then walk into the field along the gravel road and start making your way to the far side of El Calafate Mountain (away from town) and begin walking up.
You can find some very faint paths but for the most part, you’re on your own. We didn’t reach the top but enjoyed nice views from around halfway up. If you can, ask your hostel for more info.
Please be aware this isn’t a great activity for children nor those with any injuries, it’s very back-country!
Things to Consider Giving “a miss” in El Calafate
In every place, there are some activities that didn’t live up to the hype or just don’t make sense.
Of course, this depends on your personal preference and time on your trip. But to me, these are a few things to do in El Calafate mentioned in other blogs that I found not to be that great nor would I personally recommend.
1. Day trip to Torres del Pain National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is a MUST visit! However, this is a super long day. To make the journey all the way from El Calafate just to the front gate is a mission that takes a good 3.5 to 4 hours. And then to hike all the way to the Las Torres Viewpoint and drive back to El Calafate turns this into a huge day.
Important info: On Google Maps the directions tell you to follow Ruta 40 the entire way. Although shorter, 60km of this road is unpaved and must be traveled slow. This adds more time to your trip. Instead, the bus route follows the 40 to the 5 and then onto the 7 to Torres del Paine.
2. Visit the Casino
A very average casino that consists almost entirely of slot machines. Unless you’re a chronic gambler probably give it a miss.
3. Walichu Caves
These caves would be interesting to those who are really interested in old rock paintings from our past. Although I usually find this stuff interesting, I found this site to be a little boring and overpriced at 800 pesos per person.
If you don’t have your own car it is also hard to get out there as you’d need a taxi and it’s a good 20-minute drive from town (on a mostly gravel road.)
4. Visit El Calafate Mountain Park
The El Calafate Mountain Park seems to be on everyone’s “things to do in El Calafate” blogs, so I decided to check it out. However, aside from being a decent viewpoint, there’s not much to the park and during my visit, it appeared closed or even shut down.
The road there isn’t paved and is very rough so it may not be wise to drive on in a nice rental car.
Where to Stay in El Calafate, Argentina
Hostel Lago Argentino – A really good budget option that I have stayed at before. These guys include a nice breakfast, a good kitchen, and very friendly staff. The location is also perfect!
Red House Hostel – a very highly rated hostel at a very good price. The hostel is very modern, clean, and has a great social vibe.
Folk Hostel – This is arguably the best budget hostel in El Calafate. It’s a great option (if it’s available.) The staff are amazing, facilities are modern and clean, and the location is good!
Hotel Amado – This beautiful hotel is located as close as you can get to the center of town. It’s clean, modern, and a great place to stay for those looking for a quiet room.
Todos Los Glaciares – A nice modern hotel with amazing reviews about the staff who go out of their way for guests including picking people up from the bus station. The breakfast is also highly reviewed and they bake their own bread!
Del Glaciar Libertador Hotel – Simple hotel located only 5 minutes from town. Includes a good breakfast. They also have a social bar and restaurant.
Aparts Calafate Suites – This place specializes in self-contained apartments for optimal privacy. The apartments are modern, well furnished, and perfect for those wanting more comfort and quality in El Calafate.
Boutique Hotel La Cantera – If you really want a slice of luxury then this hotel is perfect. The building itself is stunning and the location and views are amazing. They serve a buffet breakfast and have an onsite restaurant and bar.
Plan your trip to El Calafate, Argentina
Daytours4u was a very easy company to book with and we and found their glacier tours very well priced and customer service to be excellent.
Viator and Get Your Guide are also two very reputable companies. They are large booking sites that act as a middle man to tour companies. They’re great because you can check reviews on the exact tour you’re looking at (so you know what to expect!)
When traveling, travel insurance is without a doubt one of the most important things to have.
We have two companies we recommend (one we are currently using). They are SafteyWing and World Nomads. SafetyWing is great for basic cover and their plans are around $40 USD per month which is a really competitive price.
World Nomads are slightly more expensive but covers most adventure activities as well as can cover your belongings, trip cancellations, etc.
Renting a car
We had a rental car in Patagonia and this was honestly a lifesaver. In the end, it saved us money between buses and taxis. The best place to look for a rental car is by far Airport Car Rentals or RentalCars.com.
We find they consistently have the cheapest prices online and we got our rental car for only $40 USD a day during peak season in Patagonia! (We booked well in advance though to secure this deal).
Before you go…
Thanks so much for reading things to do in El Calafate blog! We really hope you found it helpful and are well and truly excited about your trip to El Calafate.
If you have any questions or comments please do leave them below and we will get back to you!
If not, enjoy and safe travels!
January 16, 2020