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El Calafate & Chalten Travel Guide


Plan for El Calafate & Chalten with Local Expertise

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El Calafate & Chalten at a glance

Welcome to one of the most incredible and beautiful regions in all of Patagonia. El Calafate and El Chalten are the haunt of hikers, adventurers and explorers that come from all corners of the globe to experience the towering peaks and stunning natural landscapes that abound in this southern part of Argentine Patagonia. El Calafate is a charming Alpine-esque town which many travelers in the region use as a base to explore the Patagonian wilderness, and to venture to Glacier National Park, where the world famous Perito Moreno glacier is located. El Calafate takes its name from a local berry, which can be seen in the bushes and brambles that cover much of the area and the national park. 

El Calafate & Chalten Bucket List - What not to miss!

  • Lookout over Perito Moreno Glacier
  • Glacier Minitrekking Excursion
  • Big Ice - Full day hike into the glaciers
  • All Glaciers Tour to the most well known glaciers
  • Horseback or Hiking at Estancia Cristina
  • Explore & hike the trails around El Chalten
  • Hiking the trails with views of Torres del Paine
  • Patagonian Gaucho Experience at Estancia Nibepo Aike
  • Cerro Frias Flying Fox Zip Line or Horseback Riding
  • Explore Desert Lake or Laguna de los Tres

Experiences around El Calafate & Chalten

What not to miss

Glaciers National Park is located 80km away from El Calafate, and on the approach to the park, you will encounter the vast plains interrupted with imposing mountain ranges that have given Patagonia its fame. The Perito Moreno glacier is fed by the world’s third largest ice field, and is one of the only advancing glaciers on earth. You will be wowed by the epic blue of its core, topped by jagged white marks that have been cut into the glacier as it makes its way down from the mountain. Spend a while on the network of walkways that zig zag in front of the glacier and you will be sure to see and hear the rumble of a calving iceberg as is crashes in slow motion into Lago Argentino below. Take a boat trip past the sheer wall of Perito Moreno, or do an excursion which will take you over the top of the ice sheet itself.  El Chalten is a quaint village located about three hours away from El Calafate, and is one of the most popular destinations for hiking, trekking and walking in Argentina. This tiny town is dwarfed by the immensity of the Patagonian peaks that enclose it, and there is no end to the number of forest trails, mountain hikes and multi-day treks to be challenged by. The town provides quick and easy access for outdoor enthusiasts directly to the mountains, and adventurers can do short walks to lookout points, undertake two or three-day overnight hikes where you camp beside glacial lakes at the base of Mount Fitz Roy or Cerro Torre, or complete five day odysseys that will bring you deep into the Patagonian wilderness, crossing few people as you make your way up and down the incredible mountain passes that can only be experienced by seasoned hikers. The town is cosy and fun, and is the perfect place to recharge the batteries after a few tough days battling the elements in the great outdoors.

Perito Moreno Glacier

No visit to Argentina is complete without a trip to Los Glaciares National Park and the Perito Moreno Glacier, the iconic highlight of wild, beautiful Patagonia. The glacier originates at the Continental Ice Field and descends through the colossal mountains before reaching the waters of Lago Argentino. It’s a jaw-dropping landscape that you won’t find anywhere else on earth. The glacier is framed by deep green forests and bright blooming flowers, making it all the more surreal and stunning. During this full-day group tour, you’ll travel from El Calafate to the eastern side of the Magellan Peninsula, scattered with gorgeous viewpoints of Perito Moreno. You’ll then follow the scenic walking tracks skirting the glacier, stopping for photos and watching huge ice blocks crash into the lake, creating a thunderous sound and huge waves. There’s really nowhere quite like it.

Perito Moreno Glacier with Minitrekking

The full-day group tour is a trip to remember, taking you mini-trekking across the jaw-dropping Perito Moreno Glacier. You’ll have plenty of time to explore the glacier at your own pace and soak up the breathtaking surroundings. First, you’ll travel from El Calafate to the eastern side of the Magellan Peninsula, scattered with gorgeous viewpoints of Perito Moreno. You’ll then follow the scenic walking tracks skirting the glacier, stopping for photos and watching huge ice blocks crash into the lake, creating a thunderous sound and huge waves. Next, you’ll hop in a boat to cross the Rico Branch, sailing past the huge glacier for a twenty minutes. When you reach the other side, you’ll take a walk through the deep green forest on the opposite shore, right along the edge of the Perito Moreno. Along the way, you’ll find caves at the base of the glacier, complete with small internal deep lagoons. Next comes the real highlight – a two hour trek on top of the glacier with an expert guide. It’s the experience of a lifetime. Afterwards, you’ll return through the forest and stop for lunch (not included) before heading back towards El Calafate.

Big Ice - Full Day Hike onto the Glacier

The expedition to the heart of Perito Moreno Glacier is an experience not-to-be-missed. You will depart early in the morning towards Bajo de las Sombras pier, located approximately 4 miles away from the glacier inside National Park los Glaciares. You will cross the Rico Branch on a boat (Nautical safari), and navigate for 20 minutes in front of the glacier. After this you will start a walk through the exuberant Magellanic forest on the other side of the shore. This mini trek is particularly attractive because of the close proximity to the glacier. There is a breathtaking view of the plateau of ice and there are also caves that allow you to reach the very base of the glacier, as well as small internal deep blue lagoons, big drains, magic caves and huge moulins. Expert mountain guides will lead you every step of the way and will teach you the ways of the ice. You will hike for about 3 hrs and spend some time having lunch somewhere on the ice. Back on the moraine you will start the descent to catch the boat around 15:00.

Safari Nautico

This incredible boat trip is a unique chance to see the face of Perito Moreno glacier from an entirely different perspective. It’s an indescribable feeling that is guaranteed to give you goosebumps. Sailing across the rippling waters of Lake Rico, where the glacier dazzles against the bright blue sky, you’ll watch as huge chunks of ice break off and thunder into the water below, creating huge waves and a deafening roar. There’s nothing quite like it. Reaching the iceberg channel, your boat will stop at a safe distance from the glacier, continuing to sail in front of it and allowing you a spectacular view of the high wall of ice. After the cruise, you can spent some following the walking trails through the forest surrounding Perito Moreno or admire the spectacular views. It’s a day out that you’ll never forget.

Full Day All Glaciers Tour

This full-day group tour will take you to two stunning glaciers in the heart of Patagonia. You’ll be picked up from El Calafate early in the morning and transferred to Punta Bandera on the shore of Lago Argentino where you’ll board your boat and set off to explore the Santa Cruz province. You’ll sail through the scenic Northern Arm of the lake towards the Upsala Canal, soaking up the natural beauty of your surroundings. You’ll drift past the tallest and largest glaciers in the region, with plenty of time to take buckets of breathtaking photos. On the way, you’ll see both the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers, towering blocks of glistening ice that will leave you speechless. Around midday, you’ll travel north of Lake Argentino and enjoy lunch aboard the cruise. It’s something that will stick with you forever. Afterwards, you’ll return to Puerto Bandera, where you’ll meet the transfer back to your hotel in El Calafate.

Estancia Cristina Classic

Our transfer starts to pick up passengers from 7:00 am in the lobby of the hotel in El Calafate. The presentation schedule in Puerto Bandera ( National Parks Dock ) is at 08:15 AM. Boarding at Puerto Punta Bandera and 8:30 a.m. out in our boats. Sail through the Argentino Lake to the Upsala channel among icebergs and stunning scenery. If weather permits, we can admire the main front of the glacier. Arrival at Estancia Cristina around 11:30 am. Stay at the Estancia 6 hours. Departure, arrival at Puerto Punta Bandera 07:30 pm, approximately. The services are accompanied by bilingual National Parks guides: Spanish – English. The tour includes a visit to Costumbrista Museum , old shearing shed , where passengers will be introduced to the Estancia´s history. A guided walk is then performed to Caterina River and Chapel and runs the historic old Estancia. Then a small hike takes two hours and a half to Cascada de los Perros , a waterfall that surprises visitors with its beauty, surrounded by groves of ñires and topped by an aerial view of Valle del Rio Caterina and Estancia Cristina . Passengers will have free time between one activity and another for lunch.

El Chalten - Full day

Lace up your hiking boots for this full-day group tour to El Chalten, a classic Patagonia experience that will get you out into the great outdoors. A magnet for hikers and mountain lovers, the village of El Chalten is flanked by the snowcapped peaks of the mighty Fitz Roy mountain range. Mountaineers flock here from all over the globe to scale the challenging 3,443m Fitz Roy peaks, while hikers stick to the scenic trails that lead through the foothills to high glassy lakes. Leaving from El Calafate, you’ll follow the legendary Route 40 along the edge of Lago Argentino up to La Leona River, passing by the Canyon La Leona en route. After a quick pitstop for coffee and cake, you’ll continue to Lake Viedma, with magical views of the surrounding glaciers, hidden lakes and mountains. You’ll swing by the interpretation centre before setting off on your own self-guided trek to some of the many miradores (viewpoints) scattered along the clearly-marked trails. We’ll provide a map and packed lunch to send you on your way. Around 6pm, you’ll return to the starting point to meet the group and make the journey back to El Calafate, after a spectacular and exhilarating day. The trip runs in group service from September to April, departing every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Otherwise, it must be done in private service.

Torres del Paine

Cross the border into Southern Chile during this full-day group tour of Torres del Paine, a jaw-dropping maze of mountains, glaciers, lakes and forests. Often dubbed as South America’s most beautiful national park, it’s an unforgettable trip with scenic hiking trails that will take your breath away. You’ll wake up for your pick up at 5:30am and leave El Calafate for Torres del Paine, a trip that lasts around 5 hours. After crossing the desolate Argentinean steppe, you’ll stop at the border post to go through immigration before continuing your journey into the national park. Along the way, you’ll be treated to mind-blowing views around every bend. From here, you’ll drive further into Torres del Paine (meaning Blue Towers in the local Tehuelche language), stopping to hike the most scenic sections of the trails and heading for a handful of spectacular viewpoints. Around noon, we´ll stop for lunch at Hosteria Pehoe. If you’re lucky, you might spot guanacos (a type of llama), foxes and deer as you dine. Afterwards, you’ll start back towards El Calafate, exhausted and elated at the very same time. The exact route of the trip will depend on weather conditions, the physical condition of the group and the available time, but it’s always guaranteed to be gorgeous.

Estancia Nibepo Aike

During this full-day group tour, you’ll get a taste of gaucho life on a real estancia, just outside El Calafate. Setting off around 9am, you’ll follow the ‘road to the estancias’, keeping your eyes peeled for condors, foxes and hares along the way. The majestic Cerro Frías dominates the backdrop, making for a jaw-dropping journey. After crossing the Río Rico, the landscape will change from steppes to mountains, and you’ll arrive at the estancia after entering Los Glaciares National Park, skirting the edge of Lake Roca. First, you’ll grab some tea and homemade cake in the quincho (rustic dining room) before exploring the traditional Patagonian estancia, now devoted to rearing sheep. For an extra fee, you can take a horse-ride to explore the local surroundings. Alternatively, you can stick to the footpaths, following a panoramic trail along the Southern Arm of Lago Argentino. During the hike, you’ll pass rock amphitheatres that form natural beaches and pass through native woodland packed with caranchos, Austral parakeets, woodpeckers and eagles. Next, you’ll get a glimpse into the shearing shed and watch a horse-handling demonstration before being treated to a traditional Patagonian lunch – an entire lamb roasted on a stake. At the same time, you’ll listen to anecdotes and stories from the early settlers in these parts. In the afternoon, you’ll lend a hand yourself, milking the cows or getting stuck into some manual farm work before heading back to El Calafate. The order of activities might change depending on the season and weather conditions, but the experience will always be eye-opening and authentic.

Cerro Frias Flying Fox Zip Line

The Frias Mount, 1095 meters high, is located in the middle of a valley, offering unique views of the Argentino Lake and Andes Mountains: to the South, the “Cordón de los Cristales” and “Torres del Paine” (Chile’s National Park); to the West, Magallanes and Avellaneda peninsulas, and to the North, Fitz Roy Mount. Also, potential wildlife viewing. Located in “Estancia Alice” (ranch), 23 km West of El Calafate, heading to the same direction as the Perito Moreno Glacier, the Mount Frias is a great opportunity to enjoy regional wild fauna and flora, as well as typical estancia animals. Besides the characteristic shrub of Patagonian steppe, a lenga forest in the East slope of the mount can be appreciated. Once we have arrived in the Ranch we will provide you the necessary gear to be ready to enjoy an amazing adventure under the highest security conditions. The Zip Line consists of a pulley suspended on two cables mounted on an incline. It is designed to enable a user propelled by gravity to traverse from the top to the bottom of the inclined cable by holding on harnesses through pulleys. The users are physically attached to the cable by wearing a harness which it is hooked to a removable trolley. A Helmet is required among other security devices such as harness. After an instructive explanation, we depart in direction to the Southern slope of Frias mount where the launch pad is placed, at 1680 feet altitude (part of a trail is done by 4×4 and the rest it is done on foot). We check out again all the equipment and we get ready to cross the 1410 feet of cable. During the cross you will be able to enjoy an amazing view of the Payne Towers, the CENTINELA Valley, ROCA Lake, Southern arm of Argentino Lake. After crossing, we reach a last platform from where we start walking the way back to the ranch.

Cerro Frias Horseback Riding

Whatever your age or level of riding is, you’ll enjoy this excursion. Beginners can experience a leisurely walk with our experienced guides. You will be picked up from your hotel and transferred to the ranch, where you will meet your guide, who will explain some basic trail riding guidelines. The wide, well – sheltered trail leads you along the valley to the Frias. And is considered easy to moderate for trekking enthusiasts. You start the trekking or horseback riding going up to the Frias Mount, taking different trails with your guides. After 30 minutes you can enjoy the valley of Centinela River and the Torres del Paine (Chile National Park ). There is potential wildlife viewing (guanacos, hares, foxes-, armadillos and skunks), and cattle hill. Following the trail, it is possible to admire fantastic landscapes of Argentino Lake and the valley of Estancia Anita. After that, the group will return to the main house of Estancia (Quincho) before being transferred to your hotel.

Explore Desert Lake

A day in the history of this corner of Patagonia, contemplating unique natural scenery and enjoying lunch in an exclusive Creole. The proposal includes a visit to Lake Desert in the morning, hike to the viewpoint of Huemul. From both places, you can admire stunning views of the valley of the Rio de las Vueltas, Lake Desert and the northern face of Mount Fitz Roy. At noon, after a Creole lunch, various activities in the exclusive Eco Adventure Camp Fitz Roy (EcoCamp), set in idyllic scenery and situated on the western shore of the Rio de las Vueltas, 17 km north of El Chalten.

Laguna de los Tres

You will depart El Chaltén on the Fitz Roy footpath. After about 20 minutes of ascent you arrive at the Valley of the Vueltas River viewpoint, a perfect example of the “U” shape valley carved by the glaciations in Patagonia. After some more gentle climbing you will arrive at the viewpoint of the Fitz Roy massif where you will be able to appreciate in all their splendour the peaks of the Saint Exupéry, Poincenot, Fitz Roy, Mermoz and Guillaumet. You will continue for 2 hours on the flat, walking through beautiful lenga forests inhabited by countless varieties of birds that will accompany you with their song until you reach the campground Río Blanco. This is the base camp for the most adventurous climbers who will attempt to conquer these granite masses. You will then climb 400m in about an hour until you arrive at Laguna de los Tres. On arriving at the highest point on the path, you will be rewarded by the majestic views of Fitz Roy, the glacier de los Tres and its lagoon. The grandeur of this location makes you feel very insignificant. From here you will circle Laguna de los Tres and head towards the viewpoint of the Laguna Sucia and its glacier. Again, the breathtaking views are unforgettable. After a rest and a bite for lunch, you will start the descent and walk back to El Chaltén and pass by Laguna Capri (a favourite spot for photographers). This program starts and ends in El Chaltén.

Fast Facts on El Calafate & Chalten

USEFUL TRAVELER INFORMATION

This section is a quick overview to help in planning your trip to El Calafate & Chalten.

When to go

The weather in Patagonia is not to be underestimated, and it can be unpredictable at the best of times. Winter in Patagonia runs from June to August, and given the treacherous conditions it can create, most activities shut down during this low season, with most visitors deciding to visit the region in either spring, summer or autumn. However, it is incredibly beautiful in winter, but expect few other travelers and only a handful of locals. The best time to visit is late spring, summer and early fall, from October to May. Summer holidays between late January and early March means that El Chalten and El Calafate are busier with families and kids, so it is best to travel before or after this period for fewer crowds. April is a beautiful month to visit, as the leaves start to change colour in fall, and the natural scenes and landscapes are perfect for photography.

How to get there

El Calafate is a regional hub for those wishing to visit El Chalten, Torres del Paine and many other sites in the area. It is strategically located between El Chaltén and Torres del Paine in Chile, making it an inevitable stop for those traveling in the area. Daily flights from Buenos Aires arrive at El Calafate Airport, located 14 miles (23km) away from the city, and we can arrange domestic flights for you as part of your itinerary. El Chalten is located around three hours away by bus, and transfers will be organised for you if you plan on visiting both destinations. El Calafate is situated on the southern shore of Lago Argentino, and Glaciers National Park can be accessed with a group tour, excursion or private transfer, which we can include in your itinerary.

Infrastructure

El Calafate has developed into something of a tourist centre, and as such its tourism infrastructure has developed rapidly and efficiently. There are lots of different places to stay, from affordable hotels to luxurious spa resorts, and there are numerous restaurants, bars and cafes to choose from. If you want to experience the real Patagonian wilderness, stay at one of the rural estancias typical of this area. El Chalten also has a host of different accommodations that vary in price and luxury, just ask one of our travel advisors and they can assist you on where best to stay. We will also tell you what to pack for your Patagonian adventure, as the weather can vary and it is important to be prepared. Patagonian cuisine is hearty and unique, so make sure and try some Patagonian cordero a la cruz, or lamb cooked in an open fire, and a disco de pollo, or a classic chicken casserole.  

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