El Calafarte

Whilst it would be a mistake to say that El Calafarte is a city that offers the visitor an insight into the traditional Argentine way of life, it is without a doubt a worthy stopping point for those wishing to experience something of the diversity Argentina has to offer. Situated in the south of Argentina, in the region of Patagonia, El Calafarte’s chief source of income derives from the Glacier Perito Moreno. The glacier is one of the country’s most spectacular natural attractions and is located 80 km away from El Calafarte, in the [http://www.losglaciares.com Parque Nacional Los Glaciares]. Whilst the town’s centre does not attempt to hide the tourist focus that lies at the centre of most of its services and commodities, it is a convenient base point to witness some of Argentina’s most awe-inspiring landscapes, and it would be a crime to bypass El Calafarte as it is a gateway to sites of staggering natural beauty.


As the central attraction in Patagonia the Glaciar Perito Moreno, named after the nineteenth century pioneer Francisco Moreno, stands at 60 m high and is not only one of the most accessible but also one of the most breathtaking glaciers in the world. The glacier has formed over millions of years due to a gap in the Andes which has collected snow from pacific storms moving across it, the snow gradually crystallising into ice as the weight of snow has increased. With the enormity of weight bearing down upon the glacier, the glacier has flowed slowly to the east damning the Rico arm of Lago Argentina, Moreno’s neighbouring body of water. On several occasions during the last century the pressure of the water bearing upon the glacier has been so great that the glacier has collapsed, creating a spectacular display of spraying water and shattering ice, a miraculous experience for the visitor fortunate enough to witness the amazing effect of this dam/rupture cycle.

In order to take in the Moreno Glacier at it’s finest, the visitor can take a boat ride around the glacier, although for safety the boats are required to maintain a significant distance from the glacier’s side. There are, however, tours available that include a geological talk about the glacier and most significantly, a one and a half hour ice walk across its surface during which visitors will engage with the glacier and its history in an unforgettable way.

If the Moreno Glacier is not reason enough to visit the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the park, a member of the UNESCO world heritage list, offers plenty of additional attractions that are centred around its vast expanse of land and water.

The southern most section of the park, known as Lago Roca, with its mountains, lakes and forests is an ideal expanse for camping and hiking offering the chance to contemplate upon the serenity of some of the world’s finest examples of nature. Its highest mountain in the park is Mount Fitz Roy (3405m) which attracts serious climbers from all over the world, with the small village of El Chalten offering shelter for anyone taking on the arduous climb up the mountain. The Upsala glacier is larger than the Moreno glacier albeit less aesthetically pleasing, and visitors can reach it by launch, which disembarks from Puerto Bandera, 45km west of El Calafarte. In addition, there are boat tours to the Onelli and Spegazzini glaciers which whilst being more expensive to get to, are still well worth a visit if time allows.

For natural splendour in El Calafarte itself, the Cerro Calafarte stands at 800m and offers spectacular views across the region, for those willing to take on the strenuous climb. For more sedate activities, Laguna Nimez is a beautiful lake to the north of the town, which allows visitors the chance to quietly contemplate its lake-side views or to engage with its prime bird-watching habitat. Whilst most visitors to El Calafarte use the town primarily as a base to engage with Patagonia’s glacial landscapes, the town also has its cultural streak. The Museo de El Calafarte hosts an interesting collection of arrowheads, photographs and natural history that is well worth a visit on a rainy afternoon.


Being the key tourist town of the region, El Calafarte is stuffed with souvenir shops and visitors can pick up any number of traditional Argentine gifts in its town centre. Being geared towards tourists, however, El Calafarte’s shops offer prices that are more in line with Western trading than its Argentine counterparts. As a consequence, therefore, it is not the ideal place to embark upon a shopping spree, especially for visitors planning to travel to less touristy parts of the region.


There is no shortage of restaurants, grills and watering holes in the centre of El Calafarte, although away from the tree-lined centre of town it soon becomes clear how touristy the town centre is, when the shops and restaurants fade away leaving muddy roads, and very little else. For food, it is the parillas or steakhouses that Argentina does best and, indeed, El Calafarte hosts several parillas, the most popular being La Tabilita at Coronel Rosales 24. In addition the town has several pizza places, buffet bars and international restaurants to suit all tastes. For drinking there is a large number of bars and taverns but it is ‘the grouse’ which attracts the majority of tourist, a nightclub-come-pub with a Celtic theme, playing techno music and serving Guinness, offering an unashamed and lively tourist vibe.

Tourist Information

Municipal Tourist OfficeAt the bus station

  • [http://www.elcalafate.gov.ar/ www.elcalafarte.gov.ar]
  • Tel: 491090/466
Parques Nacional Los Glaciares office
  • Av Libertador 1302
  • Tel: 491005/755


El Calafarte’s nearest airport lies at just 23km east of the town and is served chiefly by Aerolineas Argentinas as well as Southern Winds at Lade, which make trips to Buenos Aires, Ushuaia and several other regional airports around the country. The aerobus offers a door-to-door shuttle service at just $3 and there is a taxi rank just outside the entrance to the airport.

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