The third biggest ice reserve in the world, Los Glaciares National Park in Southern Argentina, is a festival of nature with colors, shapes, and sounds that are a feast to the eye. Huge glaciers, such as Perito Moreno, Upsala, and Spegazzini, move constantly between the mountains and end in beautiful lakes. The thunder that can be heard is from ice breaking. You can see massive chunks of ice floating on the water. Above all: a deep blue sky. Though it is easily accessible by boat, car, and bus from el Calafate in South Patagonia, it remains somewhat unexplored. Thus, choosing well where to stay in Calafate is essential, so you can enjoy a perfect visit to the park.
Los Glaciares National Park in South Argentina
- 1 Los Glaciares National Park in South Argentina
- 2 El Calafate Town
- 3 El Chaltén Village
- 4 Where to Stay in El Calafate
- 5 How to Get to Perito Moreno Glacier
- 6 Los Glaciares National Park – the Best Tours
- 7 Things to Do in El Calafate
- 8 Trip to El Chaltén
- 9 Where to Stay in El Chaltén
- 10 How to Get to Calafate and Move Around
- 11 El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park Weather
- 12 Visiting Patagonia is a Planetary Experience
Established in 1937, Los Glaciares National Park is Argentina’s largest national park. Ice covers more than 30% of its area. However, there is more than just famous glaciers. The park is within the hilly landscape of the Patagonian Andes. You can spend hours wandering around the lakes, and trekking about the woods. To us, the park is without a doubt a world wonder. UNESCO believes so too, and included the park in its List of World Heritage Sites in 1981. Since we are talking about an area of over 700,000 hectares (three times Luxemburg), organizing properly your visit to the park is key.
El Calafate Town
El Calafate is the main base for exploring the park. With just over 6000 inhabitants, El Calafate is barely a town. Its name comes from a type of bush typical in Southern Patagonia. The town is mostly flat, with the Argentino Lake to the north and the mountains to the south. The main street, Libertador Avenue, crosses the city from east to west. The area left of the Calafate Creek is the small and compact center. This is where most of the hotels, shops, restaurants, and tour operators are. The majority of tourists leave for the day on excursions, so the atmosphere in the town is quite relaxed.
El Chaltén Village
Some 200 km north of Calafate lies El Chaltén, Argentina’s hiking capital. Surrounded by mountains, El Chaltén is the perfect base for some of the best hikes in South America. We were enjoying the beautiful scenery over Lake Viedma and Mount Fitz Roy, when we saw condors and eagles dancing up in the sky, performing just for us. On the hills, inside the forest you’ll find a couple of waterfalls, and if you are lucky you might even meet a deer. The village itself is pretty nice, with decent tourist infrastructure. If you have the time, you won’t regret spending a couple of days in El Chaltén.
Where to Stay in El Calafate
Hotels in the City Center
Most visitors to El Calafate stay in hotels around the city center. It’s a logical option since most shops, restaurants, and tour operators are downtown. That said, in high season the center can get crowded, so we believe it’s better to stay a bit off the fuss. If you want to stay right in the center, yet surrounded by nature, the legendary Hotel Posada Los Alamos is your best choice. Another great place to stay, a bit away from the center, is the Kau Yatún Hotel Boutique. A garden with aspen and pine trees surrounds the lovely ranch. Of course, having a great view is a must, and you can get one at the Mirador del Lago Hotel, a couple of blocks from the center.
Best Hotels in El Calafate: in Front of Lake Argentino
We went for our honeymoon to El Calafate, so we wanted a nice accommodation with views. Thus we chose the Design Suites Calafate. Set in a privileged location in front of Argentino Lake, it’s one of the best hotels in El Calafate. The hotel has top-class amenities, including a fabulous spa, and a swimming pool. We loved the views from our tastefully decorated room. On top of that, the restaurant offers delicious food. Another area of El Calafate where you can find nice hotels with great views is to the east of the Bahia Redonda. The lovely Edenia Punta Soberana Hotel offers comfortable rooms, great views, and free shuttle service to the center.
Hotels Near or Inside the National Park Los Glaciares
To experience an Argentinean small town, you have to stay in the town. On the other hand, if you rather stay in the middle of nature, away from el Calafate, you have few hotels. The Hosteria El Galpon Del Glaciar offers country-style accommodation in front of the Argentino Lake. Conveniently located between El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier, you won’t be too isolated. To stay closer to the national park, book a room at Estancia La Usina. Located close to the entrance of the park, it’s perfect for hiking, cycling, and fishing. Finally, the Hosteria Helsingfors Hotel is completely isolated, far from both El Calafate and El Chaltén. You guessed it: inside the Los Glaciares National Park, perfect for adventures!
How to Get to Perito Moreno Glacier
There is a road that takes you from el Calafate to Perito Moreno Glacier in los Glaciares National Park. From there, you can see the glacier in all its glory. You can drive there too. However, from June 1st to July 31st roads close to private cars, so only small vans can access the area. Likewise, due to the snow, your car may need chains. For hikes around the area, you must hire a tour. We went with a tour from El Calafate that took us to the observation platforms. We walked in silence, completely taken by the sheer beauty of nature. Since the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers are deep into the lake, you must go on an organized boat tour.
Los Glaciares National Park – the Best Tours
Perito Moreno Glacier Boat Tour and Hike
Hiring a hiking tour around and over Perito Moreno is a must. That way, you will see the glacier from a distance and walk directly over it. The main tour operator Hielo y Aventura offers three different tours around Perito Moreno: Mini Trekking from early August to late May, Big Ice from mid September to the end of April, and Safari Naútico all year round. The first two include a visit to the platforms in front of the glacier and treks over its top. Big Ice takes longer and is more physically demanding. Safari Naútico includes a one hour boat ride in front of Perito Moreno’s south facade. It’s brilliant if you have enough time.
Upsala and Spegazzini Tour
You simply cannot skip a boat tour to the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers. Though we don’t normally like group tours, this one is a must. Company Solo Patagonia offers the Rios de Hielo half-day boat tour to both glaciers. The boat is fairly large and comfortable, but packed with people. That said, the views from the boat are spectacular and you won’t have any trouble enjoying them. Another option offered by the same company is the Glaciers Gourmet Experience. It’s a tour to the Upsala and Bertracchi glaciers with lunch included.
El Calafate – Other Tours
The Perito Moreno, Upsala, and Spegazzini glaciers are the three main attractions within the Los Glaciares National Park. However, there are several fascinating tours beyond the park. You can go on a full-day tour from El Calafate to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. This very long tour (some 14 hours) takes you to unbelievable places in both countries. El Calafate Balconies Experience is a shorter tour focused around views. You get to climb the Andes Mountains and enjoy views of El Calafate and Lake Argentino. There is a tour to experience culture too. It’s called Native Cultures and gives you an insight into the life of the indigenous Tehuelche people.
Things to Do in El Calafate
For such a small town, there are quite a few things to do in El Calafate. To begin with, you can go on super easy, but impressive walks around town. Walk on the Paseo Kirchner along Bahia Redonda. Begin your walk at the roundabout where Av. Libertador meets Paseo Kirchner, the lake to your left, and end by the Laguna Nimez, a natural reserve full of native birds. Besides, you have two parks to explore downtown, the Manuel Belgrano and the Paseo del Bosque, next to the Amphitheater. The city’s main drag is lined with restaurants, travel agencies, and coffee houses. However, we liked better the eateries and coffee houses tucked in small streets, in particular around 9 de Julio and Los Gauchos streets.
Trip to El Chaltén
In our opinion every trip to Patagonia should include at least 2-3 days in El Chaltén. Though El Calafate is a great base to explore the glaciers, El Chaltén is best for hiking around los Glaciares National Park. There are treks for all physical levels, so don’t worry. In fact, just walking about the town is a lovely experience. Besides, by staying overnight you get spectacular sunsets, sunrises, and an insight into the village’s life. Nevertheless, if you are short of time, you can take a Full-Day Tour to El Chaltén. The tour leaves early in the morning from El Calafate and comes back late, giving you enough time to enjoy the town and the views without rushing.
Where to Stay in El Chaltén
El Chaltén is much smaller than El Calafate but equally impressive. Actually, El Chaltén is home to quite a few wonderful hotels. If you are into views and nice architecture, stay in the Hosteria Senderos. Located right in the village center, it offers elegance and the best views of Fitz Roy Mountain. For luxury, stay at the Los Cerros Boutique Hotel & Spa by DON, the best hotel in El Chaltén. This top-class hotel is just a step away from the center and offers incredible views. To be one with nature, stay at the Laguna Condor – Refugio de Montaña. It’s a comfortable unpretentious hotel.
How to Get to Calafate and Move Around
Los Glaciares National Park is a major tourist destination in the far south of Argentina. Take into consideration that we are talking about the 8th largest country in the world. Distances are long, so you probably won’t arrive from Buenos Aires to El Calafate by land. Instead, you will most likely take a plane. The Comandante Armando Tola International Airport is 21 kilometers northeast of El Calafate. Flights from Buenos Aires and other national destinations arrive there. From the airport, you have to take a bus or a taxi to El Calafate or El Chaltén. To travel between El Calafate and El Chaltén, take any of several daily buses. That’s what we did. The journey was pretty cool. We even saw wild vicunas!
El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park Weather
If you believe Australia is down under, then Patagonia is further down under. It’s as far as you can get before touching Antarctica. Let’s not forget the massive chunks of never-ending glaciers that inhabit the region. Therefore, Los Glaciares National Park has quite unpredictable weather. Regardless of when you visit, do not forget a thick jacket, a light windbreaker, a hat both for the sun and the cold, sunscreen, and proper shoes. Though in El Calafate the weather is not that unpredictable, you will need the same stuff. Don’t worry if you are missing something. There are tones of shops in El Calafate selling all the necessary gear.
Visiting Patagonia is a Planetary Experience
There are few places in the world that impress as much as the Glaciers of El Calafate. Standing in front of Perito Moreno you feel small. Overwhelmed, you disconnect and communicate with nature. The place literally expresses the power of nature, and to our surprise it’s easily accessible from the city (an hour away) and the tours are quite well organized. To make our stay perfect we booked a room with views over the beautiful Argentina Lake in the Design Suites Calafate and spent our afternoons watching the lake and breathing the fresh Patagonian air. Nights we spent staring at a star covered sky.
For further info, please check out this post about the Southern Lights in Patagonia.