El Calafate, Argentina | Gringo’s Travel Guide
El Calafate, Argentina was the third stop on my whirlwind tour of Patagonia.
After enjoying lovely lake views in Bariloche and some of the best hiking in the world around El Chalten, I wasn’t sure what to expect from El Calafate.
But I knew one thing…
I was ready for a little more amenities and faster Internet speeds than El Chalten had to offer. Just a gringo looking for a few modern conveniences while being in the middle of nowhere in Patagonia.
Luckily, El Calafate didn’t disappoint in this regard. While the wifi isn’t great, there’s enough Internet speed to get some remote work done here too — which is different than El Chalten.
Plus, there’s some damn cool thing to do here, including Perito Moreno in all her glory!
Best Hotel in El Calafate, Argentina: Click Here!
Best Hostel in El Calafate, Argentina: Click Here!
While there’s no denying Perito Moreno draws the tourists in, there’s much more to El Calafate than that stunning glacier. The small town/city in Argentinian Patagonia offers the perfect balance of wild nature and some modern amenities.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week here exploring the nature all around the city during the day and eating at the damn good restaurants by night.
Enough of my fluff, though. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about El Calafate, Argentina…
Table of Contents
How to Get to El Calafate, Argentina
El Calafate, Argentina is truly in the middle of nowhere.
This isn’t a ‘hop, skip, or jump away’ type of place. This is a small mountain town in the heart of Patagonia. You’ll be forced to fly into here from an airport in Argentina — unless you have a car.
Or you want to take an awful bus trip through the mountains. Not recommended, but I’ll detail it for you anyway.
The bus from Bariloche that travels to it takes nearly 25+ hours on a bus. Not my cup of tea, and of course, the bus seems to be seasonal.
If for some reason you want to ride in a bus for 25+ hours, click here for more information about Bariloche-El Calafate. You’ll need to understand some Spanish to book here, but the gist of it is you’ll be spending a full day and night on the bus.
For the rest of us, taking a flight to El Calafate is far more preferable — as the flight is only one-hour and 45 minutes from Bariloche.
From Buenos Aires, you’re looking at a three-hour flight. Usually these flights cost about $150-200 one-way. You’ll can also find direct flights to El Calafate from these airports in Argentina:
- AEP (Aeroparque Jorge Newbery, Buenos Aires)
- EZE (Ezeiza, Buenos Aires)
- BRC (Bariloche, Río Negro)
- COR (Córdoba, Córdoba)
- REL (Trelew, Chubut)
- USH (Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego)
- RGA (Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego)
- RGL (Río Gallegos, Santa Cruz)
Most of these flights cost $75-200 USD one-way and take anywhere from 1-3 hours in the air. With bus tickets costing $75-125 per person between major cities in Patagonia, you’re almost always better off booking the flight. You’ll save so much time, energy, and hassle.
Driving is also an option. You can get to Calafate by car from any city in Argentina, but again, you’ll be spending at least a half day driving in doing so. Not cool!
Understanding El Calafate Weather & Seasons
Since El Calafate is in the heart of Argentinian Patagonia, it would behoove you to look at some weather data before booking any flights. Why? Because winter will be brutal here.
I came during the tail-end of the summer months and the town certainly wasn’t warm. plus, one of my tours almost got rained out, but we were able to hide in a tent for 30 minutes until the rain stopped.
So make sure you check the weather before booking any tours too.
The absolute best months to visit El Calafate, Argentina are December through March.
This is because the temperatures will be the warmest, there’s no chance of snow, and you’ll have more things to do. Honestly, this is the ONLY time to come to El Calafate in the opinion of your humble author.
It should also be noted that El Calafate is not a winter sports destination like Bariloche and Ushuaia — so there’s really no reason to visit in the dead of winter.
Oh, and November is the windiest month from what I heard, and the wind is no joke in Patagonia. So I’d recommend avoiding coming before December.
You can avoid some of the crowds by visiting during March and April, but it could be a little colder starting in April. Here’s a detailed climate graphic to help you understand more about El Calafate weather (Source):
Where to Stay in El Calafate
The town of El Calafate is larger than you may think.
My buddy and I booked a nice two-bedroom Airbnb on what we thought was the outskirts of town — within walking distance to restaurants and bars. The place turned out to be a 25-minute walk to the city center, and there was a group of rapid dogs barking outside the place when we arrived.
We didn’t even get out of the taxi…
Those dogs looked aggressive! Instead, we cancelled the reservation and found something in the city center. I recommend you do the same. Stay as close to the city center of El Calafate as possible. I’m talking right around here:
This is the area you want to stay in, as close to Av. del Libertador as possible. You’ll have access to ATMs, restaurants, bars, shops, and tour guides all close by. Which makes life in Patagonia so much better.
If you can find a decent Airbnb with solid wifi in the area, I suggest booking it — as options are more than slim here. If you’re coming in high-season, that may be unlikely. But it’s worth a look.
Best El Calafate Hotels
I certainly found hotels to be preferable to Airbnbs throughout Patagonia. If you need decent Internet and some semblance of customer service, you’ll probably feel the same way.
Patagonian Airbnb hosts are some of the worst in the world.
Luckily, there’s a number of great hotels found in every city in Argentinian Patagonia. There’s dozens of options available in the city center of El Calafate, but most are older and a bit rundown.
Luckily, I found a few great options for travelers:
Hotel Posada Los Alamos
This is a stunning hotel with all the amenities you could want — locate just a 1-2 minute walk from the center, Av. del Libertador. Aka this might be the nicest hotel in the center of the city.
At Hotel Posada Los Alamos, you’ll find an amazing indoor pool with floor-to-ceiling windows, full spa services, a golf course, and breakfast is included. You’ll also find two bars and a wonderful restaurant right inside the hotel.
If you’re looking to maximize your time in El Calafate, while traveling in luxury, this is the place you want to be. You will not find better amenities combined with a better location.
Hotel Posada Los Alamos isn’t cheap, but it’s worth it.
Madre Tierra Patagonia
The funny thing is this boutique hotel looks way better in person than the photos show!
If you’re looking for a wonderful boutique hotel inside the city center, Madre Tierra Patagonia is your best bet in El Calafate, Argentina. This is where I stayed during my time in the city and I was more than pleasantly surprised with how awesome the place was.
While not a cheap spot, this boutique hotel features modern, Patagonian decor, some of the best Internet I found in the region, and is next door to an amazing bakery.
Oh, and you’re just a minute walk from the center of the city and dozens of great restaurants.
Lastly, the best thing about Madre Tierra Patagonia was that everything just worked. The Internet, the hot water, the cable, the heaters, and the maids did a wonderful job keeping the rooms spotless — even if I came back dirty as could be after a day of outdoor exploration.
Again, highly recommended.
La Loma Suites
Patagonia on a budget is tough! I know because I tried to keep things as tight as possible while traveling around Argentina. You legit won’t find a solid hotel for under $50 bucks a night in El Calafate in high season. Just not gonna happen.
La Loma Suites is an ok option and prices range from $60-80 bucks a night. The rooms are acceptable, the included breakfast good, and the location is absolutely ideal. You’re only a two minute walk from dozens of restaurants in the center.
But that’s not why I listed this hotel…
No, I believe La Loma Suites is a solid budget El Calafate hotel because of the great indoor swimming pool. The pool here is absolutely ideal for relaxing after a long day of trekking and exploring. This type of luxury is rare at this price range in Patagonia — so make sure to take advantage.
Best Hostels in El Calafate, Argentina
While I certainly recommend hotels for travelers in Patagonia, I understand they can be quite expensive in the region. For this reason, I wanted to give some good recommendations for hostels in El Calafate, Argentina.
Here’s the best hostel in El Calafate I could find:
Far and away the best hostel in El Calafate, I couldn’t recommend Calafate Hostel enough. Here you’ll find wonderful rooms for every budget. From 6-bed dorms to full apartments. The private rooms looks especially nice here too.
It’s a hostel, so you’ll find fair prices here — but a lack of luxurious amenities. That being said, the staff here speaks English and is incredibly helpful setting up tours around the town. The hostel offers an included breakfast, along with a bar to have some beers after a long day exploring.
This is also the best place to meet other travelers, if you’re traveling around Patagonia solo.
Overall, Calafate Hostel is a great spot.
Restaurants in El Calafate, Argentina
I’m no foodie. Far from it in fact. So take this advice with a grain of salt. However, I did eat out almost every meal while I was in El Calafate.
So here’s a few of my favorite spots:
- MAKO Fuegos y Vinos: Some of the best lamb I’ve ever had, and the steaks are damn good too. This is a nicer and more expensive spot in El Calafate — but well worth it. Highly recommended.
- WANACO Bar: The food is pretty good here. I even enjoyed the guanaco burger — aka “llama” burger here. Definitely worth the experience. However, expect the service to be bad and there’s often a 10-20 minute wait because this spot is on the main tourist drag.
- Don Luis Cafeteria: The best value empanadas I’ve ever had in my life. For a little over $1.50 USD, you’d get a chicken to beef empanada filled to the brim with meat and seasoning. They were damn good. Two of them would more than fill me up for breakfast or lunch. Highly recommended grabbing a couple empanadas here before heading out for a day exploring. Just check these bad boys out…
Things to Do in El Calafate, Argentina | Summer Edition
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. The reasons you even want to come to El Calafate, Argentina in the first place. Because there’s a bunch of cool sh*t to do and see here. Te lo juro.
But there’s tons of information online about what you can do in El Calafate. Dozens of activities. So instead of putting together a massive list, I’m going to give you my top three. Absolute MUSTs while in the city/town.
So, here are three amazing things to do in El Calafate, Argentina:
Perito Moreno BIG Ice Trek
This tour ranks right up there as one of my favorite things I did in my month in Argentinian Patagonia. Easily the #1 thing to do in El Calafate. Do NOT come to the town and not do the Perito Moreno BIG Ice Trek. That’d be a waste of a trip!
So, what is it?
First, you take a boat across the lake that houses the Perito Moreno glacier. Then you hike up and around a mountain, until you come to one side of the glacier. From here, you strap on ice shoes and trek across the glacier for hours on end.
It’s windy, cold, and hard to stay on balance. You have to wear special gloves to ensure you don’t cute your hands if you fall.
But it’s worth it.
You’ll see a new side of the glacier, search for underground tunnels and streams of water, and more. It’s a truly stunning site to behold. You won’t forget it.
The trek takes 9-10+ hours overall. So it’s an all day thing. It’s also exhausting, so you need to have a decent physical fitness level to complete it. There’s a shorter one, but you don’t get nearly the views the longer trek gets to see.
Visit the “Balconies”
You’ll get amazing views of Perito Moreno during your ice trek and I believe you can go to the balconies after the trek too. However, you want to go right when they open. NOT when there’s hundreds of other people.
Aka you need to get to the Perito Moreno balcony viewing area before 8 am in the morning.
Since it takes over an hour to get from El Calafate to the balconies, you’ll want to leave by 6:30 am. While that’s early, I promise you it’s well worth it.
My tour guide highly recommended doing this before we did the ice trek, as he said it’s magical to look at Perito Moreno without having to deal with hundreds of other tourists.
He was right! Either rent a car or hire a private driver to ensure you get out here early enough.
Glaciar Sur Pioneers Tour
One of the more expensive tours I’ve ever been on in my life, the Glaciar Sur Adventura tour was well worth it. Te lo juro.
On this tour, you drive about one-hour outside of El Calafate to a lake. I think the lake is Lago Frias. You board a nice boat for about 20-minutes and get to the other side of the lake. From here, you hike into the Patagonian wilderness for an hour or so — before getting on a tiny boat to cross another lake.
Once on the other side of the second lake, you hike through a ravine for about an hour until you end up at a glacier viewpoint. This glacier is unique because there’s a small lake filled with “ice islands” in it. Pretty unique site. You eat lunch here and then do everything in reverse — finally making it back to El Calafate. This is a full 12-hour day.
The cool thing here? This tour company is the only people allowed into this area of the national park, so you’ll have the place to yourself!
Speaking Spanish in El Calafate?
You can easily get away with not speaking Spanish in El Calafate.
The city is a tourist town. Almost everyone living in El Calafate in high-season will speak at least broken English, with many people speaking great English. You’ll have no issues just communicating in English here.
That being said, brushing up on your Spanish before visiting is always a great idea. Argentina is still a Spanish-speaking country and you’ll get far better service when speaking Spanish versus English.
You’re also far more likely to get better prices for tours and such by using Spanish. Speaking English ensures you get the “gringo price” 100% of the time.
Here’s the absolute best way to pick up some Spanish quickly:
Click here to learn more about: BaseLang
El Calafate Nightlife
If you’re coming to Patagonia, no matter what city or two, don’t expect rip-roaring nightlife. This just isn’t the place to party, outside of “student break” weeks in Bariloche.
El Calafate is no different. People come here to see Perito Moreno and enjoy nature. Not to wake up at noon the next day with a hangover.
Still, there’s a few spots you can have a beer and maybe enjoy a lil’ nightlife in the town. Here’s a couple recommendations:
- Yeti Ice Bar: If you’ve never been to an ice bar, this one is worth checking out. Mainly for the experience. After I went to the ice bar in Bariloche, I didn’t have the desire to go again. But you may find a decent number of tourists here in high season.
- Don Diego de la Noche: A pub featuring live music that’s only open in the summer high-season months. Worth checking out if you want to tie one on in El Calafate. Should find a decent number of locals here too. Lots of traditional music and there’s even a dance floor here.
- La Tolderia Restobar: This is probably the best place to truly party in El Calafate in high season. But that’s not really saying much. There’s a dancefloor at night and often live music too. Decent overall.
Do You Need to Rent a Car in El Calafate, Argentina?
You certainly could rent a car in El Calafate, Argentina to head out to Perito Moreno early and check out a couple hiking spots on the other days.
I did not during my week here, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
With so many tour operators in the city, there’s really no reason to go to the hassle unless you have a big group of adventurers with you.
If you’re just coming to El Calafate for a few days to check out Perito Moreno and more, then stick with tours or hire a private driver. It’ll make life a lot easier.
Oh, and remember…
Cell service doesn’t always work when you’re in Patagonia. So you’ll be looking at physical maps when driving around outside of El Calafate. Not exactly ideal!
Is El Calafate Safe?
El Calafate, Argentina is incredibly safe and there’s little to no threat of any crime, petty theft, etc. You have nothing to worry about here except overpaying for a tour.
Patagonia is a very safe place overall and El Calafate is no different. You can take photos with expensive camera gear and smartphones without worry.
This isn’t Colombia. Or even Buenos Aires. You won’t have a problem here.
El Calafate for Digital Nomads
Just like El Calafate isn’t known for its nightlife, the town isn’t known for blazing Internet, co-working spaces, and cafes ideal for working online.
You’ll be lucky to find usable internet, especially at night. Once everyone gets back from their treks for the day, the town’s wifi slows down significantly.
However, during the day, you should be able to find decent wifi at nice hotels and certain parts of El Calafate will get 4G LTE service. So there’s still some hope to get work done here.
Your best bet is to always have a backup source of wifi here and then find a nice hotel restaurant to work from. Just remember…
Backup wifi is absolutely essentially while in Patagonia!
El Calafate, Argentina | Gringo’s Travel Guide
That about does it!
Everything you need to know while traveling around El Calafate, Argentina — home to one of the most beautiful sites in all of South America, Perito Morreno.
Sure, Perito Morreno makes the trip to El Calafate more than worth it. But there’s enough to do here to keep most travelers entertained for 4-7+ days. Plus, there’s enough solid restaurants, a gym in town, and some wifi to ensure you can get a little work done.
If you’ve got any questions, sound off in the comments below and I’ll do my best to get back to you with an answer.
Que te vaya bien,