25 Epic Things To Do in El Calafate, Argentina

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Welcome to El Calafate, Argentina — home to one of the most famous glaciers on the planet! There are plenty of fun things to do in El Calafate, and with an airport in town, it’s one of the most easily accessible places to visit in Argentine Patagonia.

El Calafate is the southern gateway to Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina, and boasts some stunningly beautiful landscapes.

Planning your trip to El Calafate last minute?

El Calafate gets extremely busy in high season (December to March) and the most popular tours and hotels book up fast. Book ahead to avoid disappointment!

🏔️ Top Experiences and Tours in El Calafate:

  1. Minitrekking Excursion on Perito Moreno Glacier (WORTH EVERY PENNY!)
  2. Full Day Glacier Cruise (Great less-active option)
  3. Estancia Sailing Trip (Cowboy ranch + cruise!)

🛌  Top-Rated Hotels in El Calafate:

  1. Hotel Kosten Aike (I stayed here and loved it!)
  2. Mirador del Lago Hotel (Nice luxe spot)
  3. Lago Argentino Hostel (Great budget option)

đźš— Renting a car from El Calafate Airport? Find deals on car rental rates here.

El Calafate was the second place my husband and I visited in Patagonia, after staying at Ecocamp Patagonia in Torres del Paine, Chile, and we had one major priority: Perito Moreno Glacier. This magnificent glacier is one of Patagonia’s top natural wonders, and you can even go trekking on the ice!

While Perito Moreno Glacier is far and away the top sight, don’t mistake El Calafate as a one-attraction town. There are lots of spots for kayaking, biking, and hiking surrounding El Calafate.

Beyond the outdoors, there are so many things to do in El Calafate itself. I was surprised that it felt more like a small city. You can shop for all kinds of cool souvenirs, visit the local breweries, taste some delicious Argentine specialties, and explore more of Los Glaciares National Park (which is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site). 

I really loved my time in El Calafate, and I hope you love your time there, too. Here’s a guide to the best things to do in El Calafate, Argentina!

This post was published in February 2024 and was co-written by Adventurous Kate and Riana Ang-Canning.

An enormous blue and white glacier surrounded by snow-capped mountains, and in the foreground, a walkway covered with dozens of people posing for photos.

Best Things To Do in El Calafate, Argentina

Visit Perito Moreno Glacier

The number one thing to do in El Calafate is to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. This is one of the largest glaciers in Patagonia, starting high in the Andes Mountains from the Southern Patagonian Icefield and flowing down to Lago Argentino. It’s famous for its dramatic icefalls, and if you’re lucky, you might get to see a calving!

There is a visitors’ center at the glacier, with a cafe and tons of viewing platforms and walkways where you can appreciate its beauty from every angle. These walkways are free to visit, and parts of them are wheelchair accessible. 

Perito Moreno Glacier is about an hour’s drive from El Calafate; if you rent a car, you can drive yourself, but most people visit on a tour.

This Perito Moreno Glacier tour includes pick-up and drop-off from El Calafate, ample free time to enjoy the walkways, and a short navigation cruise out to the glacier.

A group of tiny people clustered in a small corner of a massive blue and white glacier, showing you how enormous the glacier is.
You can really see how huge the glacier is from this angle!

Go Glacier Trekking

I went on a glacier mini-trekking tour and had a blast — if it’s in your budget, it’s easily one of the best things to do in El Calafate. From town, we drove out to Perito Moreno Glacier and enjoyed the views from the walkways.

Up next, we took a bus to Brazo Rico, where we sailed up close to the glacier — the perfect place for photos! We landed on the other side of the lake, and from there it was a 15-minute hike to the glacier arrival site, where we were fitted for crampons.

And then it was time for trekking! Using our crampons to dig into the ice, we hiked up and down the ridges of the massive glacier, gazing into bright blue holes of ice, finishing with some whiskey served with fresh glacier ice.

I’ve done glacier trekking before — in Iceland and on the Greenland Ice Sheet — but I think Perito Moreno takes the cake for being the most visually impressive slab of ice of all.

We spent about an hour trekking on the glacier before sailing and busing back to El Calafate. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

People in kayaks in a small lake in front of a massive blue and white glacier.
Kayaking Perito Moreno, via ymgerman on Shutterstock.

Explore Perito Moreno Glacier by Kayak

Ever gone kayaking in a cold area? As someone who has kayaked in Antarctica and Greenland, I highly recommend it!

You don’t need to be an expert kayaker, though of course experience helps — the waters around Perito Moreno are glassy and calm, and you’ll be bundled up in dry suits and cold-weather kayaking gear.

This top-rated Perito Moreno kayaking tour includes 90 minutes of kayaking on the lake, plus ample time to enjoy the walkways by the glacier.

A large boat cruising in front of a massive blue and white glacier, snow-capped mountains behind it.
See Perito Moreno and more on a glacier cruise!

Go on a Full Day Glacier Cruise on Lake Argentina

Many of the tours to Perito Moreno Glacier include a short navigational boat tour. But if you’re looking to spend more time on Lake Argentina, you’ll want to join a full day glacier cruise. This is a great option if you’re looking to be less active.

Besides Perito Moreno, this full day cruise includes views of many other Patagonian glaciers such as Upsala, Seco, Heim and Spegazzini. You’ll sail through the Upsala Canal, Canal de los TĂ©mpanos, and Escuadra Bay. 

When you’re not checking out the spectacular views from the ship, you’ll have the opportunity to go on a guided walk at Puesto Las Vacas and enjoy lunch and drinks on board.  

People walking down a busy street in El Calafate at night, the sky deep blue and string lights illuminating everything.
El Calafate has so much to offer!

Explore El Calafate and Avenida del Libertador

Avenida del Libertador is the main street running through El Calafate, where you’ll find lots of fun shops, restaurants and bars. I was surprised at what a lovely town El Calafate is! Torres del Paine and El ChaltĂ©n feel like they’re at the end of the world (in a very lovely way), but El Calafate has a lot of bustling activity going on.

So yes. Here is a great spot to try out interesting restaurants, brewery and coffeeshop-hop, and do some serious shopping.

And here’s a big tip: Avenida del Liberator is the best place to pick up a souvenir from Patagonia, as there are many more stores here than in smaller El ChaltĂ©n.

The counter at a brewery in Argentina, the specials written on a chalkboard.
Don’t miss my favorite brewery — La Zorro Taproom!

Visit the local breweries

I was surprised to learn that El Calafate has so many brewery options! Is it a mountain thing? Mountain towns love their craft beers!

So, where should you go? Don’t miss my favorite brewery in El Calafate, La Zorra Taproom, with excellent beers, food, and a fun, convivial atmosphere. They also have an outpost in El ChaltĂ©n, but if you want to buy any merch, you’ll only find it at their El Calafate location. 

Nativa Restaurante & CervecerĂ­a Artesanal was another brewery my husband and I really enjoyed. Our bartender was the best! He poured us samples of everything and talked us through all of the different options on tap. It’s not on Avenida del Liberatador so it’s not as busy.

Still thirsty? Sip your way around town at some other great breweries like Cerveza Patagonia and La Fábrica CervecerĂ­a (both spots have great outdoor seating). I enjoyed all of the breweries, but La Zorro was something special.

A small park with a statue of a man leading a horse in front of a small cabin.
This small park is in the heart of El Calafate.

Visit Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares

Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is not what it sounds like — it’s actually a small park in the middle of downtown El Calafate. (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the large national park where Perito Moreno Glacier and Mount Fitz Roy are located, is a different place.) 

This lovely park was built in 1946 and showcases the history of the Los Glaciares National Park. It’s a good spot to visit during your exploration of El Calafate town.

Follow the interpretive trail to see depictions of different moments in the park’s history, such as the first machinery used or fossils found, and learn more about the local flora and fauna. 

A bicycle parked by the side of the road in a flat part of Patagonia, a sign showing a tree being blown wildly to one side.
The “Patagonia flat” countryside near El Calafate, via Guaxinim on Shutterstock.

Explore the area by bike

Another great way to explore the small town of El Calafate and the surrounding region is by bike. You can rent a bike in town at several shops including Rent Bikes El Calafate, EB Rent a Bike, and Rental Calafate (or just walk down Avenida del Liberator).

If you’re a more experienced mountain biker, consider joining this exhilarating half-day bike tour. You’ll be driven by 4×4 up through Estancia 25 de Mayo, a nature reserve in El Calafate.

From there you’ll explore the terrain by mountain bike, crossing the Guanacos Valley and taking in views of nearby mountains. Lunch is included, and then you’ll return to town.

Three low buildings with green roofs in the Patagonian countryside, a pointy mountain rising behind them.
Estancia Cristina, a fun El Calafate day trip, via Shutterstock.

Visit a Traditional Estancia

An estancia is a ranch, typically dedicated to rearing sheep or cattle, and while they’re found all over Argentina and Chile, Patagonian estancias are something special. These days, many estancias have opened their doors to tourists to share their traditional practices and the beautiful region they call home.

On this full day estancia and sailing tour, you’ll get to experience Patagonia’s famous estancia culture and iconic glaciers.

You’ll board a boat on Lake Argentina passing by the famous Upsala Glacier. Your boat trip ends at Estancia Cristina, a historic ranch where you’ll enjoy a guided tour and have the option to explore the surroundings by 4×4 or walk to a waterfall. 

The view through a window of several large pieces of lamb roasting on a fire.
Plenty of windows in El Calafate have lamb roasting on the fire!

Enjoy an Argentine Parrilla

A parrilla (pronounced pa-REE-sha in the Argentine accent) is a traditional barbecue where meat, usually lamb or steak, is cooked on the grill. And while beef is what’s for dinner in most of Argentina, Patagonian menus are dominated by cordero (lamb).

Walking around El Calafate, you’ll notice huge barbecued slabs of lamb cooking over the fire, displayed in the windows of several restaurants. Argentines really know how to put away a lot of meat, and portions tend to be generous.

If the smell of grilled meat is making you drool, head to one of these top rated restaurants for an amazing lamb or beef barbecue: Mi Viejo, La Tablita, or Casimiro Biguá. Wash it down with a Patagonian red — or a classic Malbec from Mendoza!

A window of a bakery with shelves covered in luscious-looking cakes.

Devour luscious cakes at Panaderia Don Luis

So you’ve enjoyed a local craft beer, feasted on barbecued lamb and now you’re looking to end your day with something sweet? Say no more. Head down the road to Panaderia Don Luis for dessert!

This bakery and sweet shop is famous in El Calafate for its enormous cakes, and it stopped me in my tracks when I first walked by. Cakes are the specialty here, though they also offer sandwiches, empanadas, chocolates, waffles, and every kind of pastry you can think of.

You can take your desserts to go, or sit in the cafe and indulge in a slice of cake. (Note that Panaderia Don Luis is located on Avenida del Liberator near the intersection of Avenida 17 de Octubre — there are other Don Luis restaurants in different spots.)

A perfectly pretty feathered latte on a wooden board reading Miles Coffee House.
If you miss good coffee, head to Miles Coffee.

Enjoy the best coffee in town at Miles Coffee House

If you’ve been reading this blog for some time, you know that I make an effort to find the best coffee in town. In El Calafate, that honor goes to Miles Coffee House

This little cafe is located in the heart of town and features an excellent selection of espresso-based drinks, along with muffins, cookies, sandwiches, and even mini pies!

It can be hard finding decent coffee in rural Patagonia — but if you’ve gone awhile without a decent coffee, this place will be your new favorite spot in town.

A berry bush filled with calafate berries, which look just like blueberries.
Calafate berries fresh off the bush, via Shutterstock.

Try the Calafate Berry

Did you know that El Calafate is actually named after a berry? Not the other way around!

A calafate is a small round berry, similar to a blueberry, that grows natively in Patagonia. Legend has it that if you eat a calafate berry, you’ll have the good luck to return to Patagonia! 

You may find calafate shrubs on your hikes throughout Patagonia, and calafate specialties are served up in many local bars and restaurants. You’ll also find calafate juice, syrup, jam, jelly and candy for sale in the shops in town. 

Several breweries in town even serve calafate beers — which I loved as I love a creative, fruity beer on occasion! Or if you prefer a cocktail, try a Calafate Sour, a play on the popular Pisco Sour of Peru and Chile.

An outdoor market with lots of wooden log cabin-like buildings for indoor shops.
Outdoor markets in El Calafate, via lenisecalleja.photography on Shutterstock.

Visit the Artisanal Market

Paseo De Artesanos Jorge Echeverria is El Calafate’s artisan market, located right in the center of town off Avenida del Libertador. Here you’ll find stalls set up with local makers selling paintings, ceramics, leather goods, silverware, fabrics, jewelry and more. It’s the perfect place to shop for Patagonian souvenirs!

I especially recommend taking a look at the textiles. There are some really nice items here that would look good in your home. (And if you want to prank your friends, buy some pan flutes for their kids! I had to convince my husband not to do this!!)

Keep in mind that this market is open from roughly 5:00-10:00 PM daily, with some stalls setting up a bit later than others. Aim to shop in the evening for the best experience and most vendor options.  

The inside of a glacier museum, with a metallic globe casting reflections.
The Glaciarium is a popular site in El Calafate! Via gseg90 on Shutterstock.

Visit the Glaciarium

The Glaciarium (Glaciarium Museo del Hielo PatagĂłnico) is a museum dedicated to the history and exploration of Patagonia’s ice and glaciers, and one of the only glaciological interpretation centers in the world. 

Here you’ll learn how glaciers are formed, read accounts by early Patagonian explorers, see large models of ice fields, and track the behavior of the Perito Moreno Glacier.

The Glaciarium also features an auditorium where you can watch films about Patagonia’s glacier and an ice bar, the Glaciobar, where you can enjoy an ice-cold drink! 

Visit Yeti Ice Bar

If you’re looking for a great place to chill out in El Calafate, Yeti Ice Bar promises an unforgettable time! Don one of the provided ponchos and journey into an ice bar complete with photo ops, shot glasses made out of ice, and an in-house DJ. 

While places like this can be a little cheesy and overpriced, they’re also a lot of fun, especially if you’re with a group of friends. Plus, when was the last time you had a drink with a yeti? 

Keep in mind this place gets busy in the evenings, especially on the weekend.

A lake surrounded by mountains with a flock of pink birds taking off from the surface.
Reserva Laguna Nimez, via Shutterstock.

Hike around Reserva Laguna Nimez

From the center of El Calafate you can easily embark on the 1.7 mile hike around Laguna Nimez. This easy-grade trail is perfect if you want to stretch your legs, check out the local wildlife, or perhaps have a nice recovery day after a tough hike. 

Bird watchers especially should visit Reserva Laguna Nimez, known for its protected species of birds, such as flamingos. Keep in mind that there is a fee to enter the private land; 8000 ARS for adults and kids under 18 are free. 

Calafate Mountain Park

Calafate Mountain Park is a recreational park offering activities that make the most of southern Patagonia’s terrain in every season. Take the chairlift up to the balcony for beautiful views over El Calafate, the lakes and mountains in the distance.

In the summer, enjoy quad rides over the mountains, biking trails and kayaking. And in the winter, try out skiing, snowshoeing, tubing and even motorbiking in the snow. And don’t forget that you’re in the southern hemisphere! Summer is from November to March and winter is from June to September. 

A line of hikers walking through a landscape that looks like the surface of the moon, all brown and rounded rocky surface.
Look out for dinosaur bones! Via Shutterstock.

Visit La Leona Petrified Forest

La Leona Petrified Forest is a lunar-like landscape, home to petrified tree trunks and dinosaur fossils going back over 70 million years. It doesn’t get as much attention as other destinations in Patagonia, but it should!

Head out on this day trip to La Leona Petrified Forest from El Calafate where you’ll go on a guided trek in the forest, as well as visit other historic landmarks and viewpoints along the way. 

La Leona Petrified Forest is halfway between El Calafate and El ChaltĂ©n, so if you’ve rented a car and are planning to drive between these two towns, I recommend stopping here in between. Know that the bus between El Calafate and El ChaltĂ©n does not stop here, so it’s better to join a tour if you don’t have your own wheels.

A lone kayaker in a yellow kayak on a blue-green lake in Patagonia.
La Leona River is nice alternative to kayaking by the glaciers.

Kayak down La Leona River

Up for kayaking, but maybe not at a glacier? La Leona River flows through Los Glaciares National Park and between the major lakes, Lake Viedma and Lake Argentino. A great way to explore this winding waterway is by kayak! 

On this full-day kayak and hiking tour from El Calafate, you’ll spend one hour paddling down La Leona River followed by a hike through La Leona Petrified Forest.

On the hike, a nature guide will tell you more about the region, you’ll keep an eye out for dinosaur fossils, and you’ll get to enjoy a picnic lunch before heading back to El Calafate. 

Kate posing with two peace signs in front of the Fitz Roy mountain range, jagged gray mountains surrounded by clouds.
The Fitz Roy viewpoint is so worth it!

Take a day trip to El Chaltén

The hiking mecca of El Chaltén is about a three-hour drive from El Calafate and one of the best places to visit Argentinian Patagonia. El Chaltén is worth a few days of your time, and I highly recommend making it a priority on your Patagonia trip.

But if you’re short on time, you can absolutely visit El ChaltĂ©n on a day trip from El Calafate. If you do so, I highly recommend visiting on a tour like this one so you don’t have to deal with buses.

Your bus will drive along Lake Argentino and out towards El ChaltĂ©n where a guide will meet you and advise you on the best hiking trails for your personal experience. You’ll get to enjoy a boxed lunch before heading back to El Calafate in the afternoon.

Keep in mind that if you’re interested in hiking the popular Laguna de los Tres trail in El ChaltĂ©n, you can’t do this on a day trip from El Calafate — the trail is too long. BUT you can hike that trail to the Fitz Roy viewpoint, which I did, and is about a three-hour round-trip hike from the trailhead.

A large waterfall flowing over a huge rock, purple-gray mountains and the three jagged towers behind it.
Cascada Paine in Torres del Paine National Park

Take a day trip to Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. How does it compare to El Calafate? The mountains are taller and more jagged; the lakes are bluer and more plentiful; and there are so many guanacos!

I recommend visiting Torres del Paine for at least a few days, ideally staying at Ecocamp Patagonia if you can swing it. But if you don’t have time for that, you can visit Torres del Paine on a day trip from El Calafate.

On this day trip you’ll drive out from El Calafate to Torres del Paine in an overland truck. Once you’ve reached the park, you’ll explore by truck and on foot, taking in the beautiful scenery and enjoying a packed lunch. 

The tour visits Lago Sarmiento, Laguna Amarga, and lots of waterfalls, including my favorite, Cascada Paine.

A line of about 20 people hiking on a glacier, everyone wearing helmets.
You need at least one full day in El Calafate for Perito Moreno Glacier.

How Much Time to Spend in El Calafate

At a minimum, you want to spend one full day in El Calafate, and that day should be devoted to Perito Moreno Glacier. If you have the time and it’s in your budget, I strongly recommend a glacier trekking tour, which was a highlight of my time in Patagonia.

After a day at the glacier, there’s enough to do in El Calafate to enjoy another day or two in town. But I would also recommend visiting nearby El ChaltĂ©n, just a three-hour bus ride or drive from El Calafate, especially if you’re interested in hiking or trekking. 

As fun as El Calafate is, I would make visiting El ChaltĂ©n the higher priority on your Patagonia bucket list. 

Big Perito Moreno Glacier resting on a lake, with a large, pointy gray mountain behind it.
It’s surprisingly easy to get to El Calafate.

How to Get to El Calafate

Lo and behold, El Calafate has its own airport! This makes it one of the most easily accessible destinations in Patagonia (and easier to get to than Torres del Paine and El Chaltén). From El Calafate you can fly direct to Buenos Aires and other domestic destinations in Argentina, like Bariloche and Ushuaia.

El Calafate is connected to other Patagonian towns by bus. The bus from El Calafate to El Chaltén takes about three hours. You can also take a bus from El Calafate across the Chilean border to Puerto Natales, the closest city to Torres del Paine National Park, which takes about 5-6 hours. (Additionally, Puerto Natales is a two-hour drive from the heart of Torres del Paine.)

Keep in mind that there are only a few buses to Torres del Paine from El Calafate each day. I highly recommend looking up the schedule and booking your travel in advance. Charlie and I did this trip in the opposite direction — from Torres del Paine to El Calafate — and ended up booking a private transfer because the only bus that day left very early in the morning. 

Should you rent a car in El Calafate? I think it’s smart to rent a car if you’re visiting both El Calafate and El ChaltĂ©n. You’ll have flexibility to travel as you please without relying on buses — and can visit places like La Leona Petrified Forest.

But if you’re only spending a day or two in El Calafate and no time in El ChaltĂ©n, I don’t think you need to rent a car. Just book tours and they’ll pick you up from your accommodation.

A hotel room with a big bed covered with a gold and black patterned bedspread.
My room at Hotel Kosten Aike in El Calafate.

Where to Stay in El Calafate

As one of the main tourist towns in this part of Patagonia, El Calafate has accommodation options to suit every style and budget. 

I recommend staying within walking distance of Intendencia Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which is pretty close to the center of the action, right on busy Avenida del Libertador. The following hotels are the top-rated options in this geographic area.

Top-Rated El Calafate Hotels

Top Rated Luxury Hotel in El CalafateMirador del Lago Hotel is set in a charming building overlooking Lake Argentino with a delicious buffet breakfast and free parking, right in the heart of town.

Top Rated Mid-range Hotel in El Calafate — I stayed at Hotel Kosten Aike and would recommend it as a solid, comfortable hotel in El Calafate. The location is perfect, just off the main road; the internet works great, and the rooms are surprisingly spacious.  

Top Rated Budget Hotel in El Calafate — Lago Argentino Hostel is a colorful, budget stay in the center of El Calafate. This guesthouse features both shared dorms and private rooms, a common kitchen and lounge, and a lovely garden out back. 

Find deals on places to stay in El Calafate here.

An outdoor patio at a brewery, with lots of people sitting outside, a sunset in the background, a dog napping, and bushes with yellow flowers surrounding the space.
Come in the Patagonian summer to enjoy El Calafate’s outdoor patios.

Best Time to Visit El Calafate

Patagonia’s high season runs from December to March, which is when you can expect the longest, warmest, and sunniest days in South America. I recommend avoiding the busiest months of peak season — January and February — and instead visit in early December or mid-to-late March.

This way, the crowds aren’t as large, prices aren’t as high, and the weather should be good for the most part. Though, one variable to keep in mind is that Patagonia weather can be literally anything — fierce wind, surprisingly strong sun, four seasons in a day. Be sure to pack appropriately.

I visited El Calafate in early December and it felt like the perfect time to visit Patagonia. You can see from my photos in this post and especially in my Torres del Paine post that the weather was lovely — a mix of blue skies and clouds, no heavy precipitation, and nice temperatures for hiking. I’d recommend this time of year to everyone.

Kate standing on a glacier and holding an ice pick in her hand like she's about to hack her way out!

Is El Calafate Worth It?

Yes, El Calafate is worth it! I really loved my time here, more than I expected. I found Perito Moreno Glacier to be one of my favorite natural wonders in Patagonia, and the town was so much fun, too.

Additionally, El Calafate was the nice little urban escape I needed between the natural environments of Torres del Paine and El ChaltĂ©n. It couldn’t have been timed better.

I hope you have an amazing time in El Calafate — and Argentina!

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