El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier are two places in southern Argentina that you will really want to see. Easily combined with a trip to Chile’s Torres del Paine national park, the whole journey is a Patagonian wonderland. It’s probably best to start or finish your visit in Chile here, as it’s distance from anywhere else makes it a potentially very expensive side-trip.
The town survives on tourism, and as a result, there’s a lot of tourist-directed shops. There’s a distinctly ski-and-chalet-chic vibe to the place, reminiscent of New Zealand’s Queenstown, if you’ve ever been there. It’s not a distinctly unique place, and it’s really just a base for wider tours, but it is very pretty.
Things to Do
- Glaciarium museum
- Los Glaciares National Park
- Perito Moreno Glacier (inside the Los Glaciares National Park). Visiting the glacier usually includes an hour or so on a boat, which takes you right up close. It also includes a trip to the boardwalks near the northern face of the Perito Moreno Glacier. This is a spectacular place to see the glacier from.
- Boat tours to other branches of the lake are available.
Booking tours: as with a few places in South America, you might find it difficult to find tour information. Check the Internet and/ or speak to a travel agent. We booked in advance with Ryans Travel, a local service provider of Adventure World and they were great. If you get stuck, there are tour company offices in the town that you can go to. As always, I recommend speaking with the staff at your accommodation for advice and information.
Accommodation is generally expensive, but unless you are a slave to your budget you should be able to find something quite nice that won’t drain your holiday fund. Try Expedia and Booking.com. We stayed at Mirador del Lago, which I was very impressed with: great rooms, food and service at a very reasonable price.
Where to Eat
There are many many options, but personally, I can recommend:
- La Luchuzita has decent food at decent prices. It also has a playground!
- El Librobar – as you might be able to ascertain, this is a bar in a bookshop. Or a bookshop in a bar. Either way, it’s fantastic. Be sure to visit.
How to Get There
You can fly from Santiago to Punta Arenas (with LAN), get a bus to Puerto Natales and then another to El Calafate (try this company). You can also fly via Buenos Aires with LAN and Aerolineas Argentinas. I don’t know of any (commercial) direct flights. It can be a long journey but in my opinion, it’s worth it.
If you’re driving, you will need to find a decent roadmap before arriving in Patagonia, as the ones on offer are not very detailed. My friend ended up buying one from Amazon before the trip. You will also need to be aware of your options regarding petrol stations, as there are only several: these are in Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, Esperanza, El Calafate and sometimes (I do not know when) Cerro Castillo.
If you are coming from Chile, you will definitely need your passport. You may need to pay a reciprocity fee, currently required of US, Australian and Canadian citizens, but confirm in case it changes! If required, you must pay online and print out a copy of your payment receipt before you arrive at the border, there is no physical location to pay at the borders and they require proof of receipt every time you enter Argentina. If you lose your receipt e-mail your nearest Argentine Embassy, they may be able to resend you a copy, to avoid this issue, save the receipt as a pdf when you pay it, and e-mail it to yourself in case you need to print out extra hard copies during your trip. Any cars will need to have permission to enter Argentina (you can organise this through your car rental company when you book).
Things to See Nearby
Been to Chile? Visit Torres del Paine, and the Chilean Patagonia. It’s beautiful. It’s a good 6 hour drive to Punta Arenas though, so plan accordingly.
Further south in Argentina is the lands’ end town of Ushuaia. While the town itself is quite basic, it’s a departure point for boat tours to Tierra del Fuego surrounds, and Antarctica.
Note: This story was accurate when published. Please be sure to confirm all details directly with the sites in question before planning your trip.