Two Days in El Calafate
El Calafate was our entry point into Patagonia and the beginning of our 13 day tour of Patagonia to the End of the World.
We arrived early in the afternoon after a three and a half hour flight from Buenos Aires. As we were transported by bus to our hosteria, I couldn’t help but be in awe of the vast, dry desert landscape. In all my research of Patagonia, I had come across lakes, mountains, and glaciers, yet somehow I managed to overlook the fact that Patagonia, Argentina is mostly desert. The desert landscape did not disappoint though, and in fact created the perfect canvas for the wild landscape to show off its dramatic colors.
Huge valleys carved by glaciers spread out endlessly before blending into the base of the looming Andes on the horizon. Most astounding is the bright, turquoise contrast of the glacial lake, Lago Argentino, against the dry, brown landscape.
Despite the initial feeling of being in the middle of nowhere, when we arrived in El Calafate we found a very busy little town. The stretch of Avenida del Libertador General San Martin defines the center of town and teems with restaurants, bakeries, high-end outdoor gear, and artisan souvenir shops. The street bustles with outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds, coming and going from their Patagonian adventures.
El Calafate is a lively town. In the summer months (December – February) the days are long and the sun sets around 10:00 PM. The extra hours of sunlight are a necessity to enjoy longer explorations out at the glacier and mountains. It is not uncommon to set out for the day at 7:30 AM only to return at 7:30 PM or later. Good thing Argentinian restaurants and bars stay open late allowing some time between excursion and dinner to rest and refresh.
This cozy little town proved to be a great place to start our Patagonia journey.
What to see in El Calafate
Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier is an absolute MUST when in El Calafate. And more than likely the main reason you’re in El Calafate is to see this dynamic beauty. We made the 80 KM bus ride to the glacier both days we were in El Calafate to take it all in.
Spend the day walking on the platforms inside the park to admire the glacier and Lago Argentino from different vantage points. Find a bench on the platforms near the rupture zone to enjoy lunch outside while the calving of Perito Moreno puts on a show. Watch in awe as huge sections of ice, some as large as a car, break off the face of the glacier and crash into the lake with a dynamic boom.
Consider taking things a step further and get a different view of the ice. Trek onto the glacier with the Mini Trekking or Big Ice excursions offered by Hielo & Aventura.
Read more about Perito Moreno Glacier and trekking on the glacier!
Paseo de la Costanera
Walk, bike, run or skate around this gentle path bordering the town of El Calafate and the waterfront of Lago Argentino. It’s a great way to acquaint yourself with the area on your first day. Look for flamingoes and black neck swans in the Laguna Nimez Reserve and watch as gauchos herd horses across the plains.
Local eats in El Calafate
Isabel Cocina al Disco
Isabel restaurant came as a personal recommendation from one of our tour guides and it was one of the best meals we had in Patagonia. A small family restaurant a few blocks from the main street where locals and travelers alike fill the tables to savor traditional Patagonian family recipes.
Get started by choosing a bottle of Malbec from the “wine list,” quite literally a wooden armoire lined with bottles with hand-written price tags around their necks. The menu offers a large variety of family recipes that feature some combination of meat, potatoes and vegetables served in a plow disc.
The plow disc itself is a large, cast iron dish in which all the ingredients of the meal are cooked. The outcome of this typical Patagonian dish is a delicious cross between a stir-fry and a stew. We shared the Patagonian lamb with potatoes and vegetables in red wine sauce. Mouthwatering! The flavors melded together delectably, and the heartiness was perfect after a long day out on the ice.
AnandA Resto Bar
In search of lunch and refreshments after arriving in El Calafate, we were pointed in the direction of this little bright yellow pub two blocks away from the Hosteria Cauquenes de Nimez. Small and unassuming, AnandA Resto Bar is the perfect place to enjoy a burger with an ice-cold beer on the deck outside while soaking in the sun and the views. Try a pint of the local microbrew, La Zorra IPA.
Hosteria Cauquenes de Nimez
Rustic, quaint, and comfortable the Hosteria Cauquenes de Nimez was a lovely stay in El Calafate. The friendly staff helped field all of our questions from booking our Mini Trekking excursion on the glacier to understanding attractions around the area and giving us recommendations.
The small inn has just 12 simple rooms. Each room is adorned with a petite bouquet of dried flowers from the Patagonian steppe sitting atop antique Singer sewing machine tables. Sunlight streams through the little white curtains, and outside the wind howls across the plains. We loved the novelty of waking up to the rooster crowing nearby in the mornings.
The hosteria is seven blocks and an easy 15 minute walk from the center of town. We found the location of Hosteria Cauquenes de Nimez preferred because it was peaceful and quiet being near the coastal path and away from the busy shops and restaurants.
The hosteria also offers a complimentary breakfast, boxed lunches for excursions, and a three course dinner in the evenings. We are disappointed that we didn’t take the opportunity to have dinner at the hosteria, because it always smelled so good when we returned from our evenings.