El Calafate, or commonly called “Calafate”, a city located on the southern shore of Lake Argentino, mainly on the shores of Redonda Bay, in the region of Patagonia, in the Province of Santa Cruz, Argentina. The growth of this city has been exponential since the first time I went in 2004 to date.
El Calafate is located 80 km from the Perito Moreno Glacier and it is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, where you can find, among others, the Perito Moreno, Spegazzini, Upsala and Cerro Fitz Roy glaciers.
I was lucky enough to go there several times, at different times of the year, which allowed me to do different activities. Although it is one of the most expensive destinations within Argentina, you can not leave Argentina without visiting the glaciers.
There are numerous activities to be enjoyed here, it would depend on the time of the year you visit, what kind of activity you can do
Here are 6 recommended activities:
1- Skate in Bahía Redonda
Bahía Redonda is bordering the city of Calafate and Lake Argentino, as a distinctive feature, it is almost enclosed, as you can see on the 3rd map, so the lake freezes in the winter, giving way to different winter activities such as The Ice Festival (July), skating exhibitions, and skating on the lake.
2-Hiking on Glaciers
You can hike on the glaciers from August to the first days of June. Therefore, check the availability and remember that the seasons in the southern hemisphere are the opposite to the northern hemisphere. You can only hike the Glaciers hiring a tour. For a trip to Perito Moreno, you can choose from a mini-trekking tour, or what they call the Big Ice Tour. The mini-trekking tour involves about 2 hours of hiking on the glacier, an easy hike. For the Big Ice tour, you must be in better shape since the walk is more than 4 hours on the ice. Keep in mind that the surface is uneven and slippery. Both tours end up being an all day excursion, due to the trip from the hotel to the port, the boat trip to the glacier, the hike, the view of the Glacier Park, lunch (not included) and return. For more details, Lolo tells you her experience http://www.lololali.com/index.php/2017/05/25/ice-hiking-on-glaciers-patagonia/
3-Tour the National Park Los Glaciares
The National Park Los Glaciares (designated in 1937 as a natural reserve, and in 1945 as a national park) is in the province of Santa Cruz. Its surface is of 726,927 hectares (2,806 sq miles), being the biggest one of Argentina. In 1981, UNESCO declared it UNESCO “Patrimony of Humanity” due to its beauty, glaciological and geomorphological interest and part of its endangered fauna.
You can arrive from El Calafate by car driving the Provincial Route 11 (RP 11) to the Perito Moreno Glacier (80 km paved road).
The National Park area comprises a variety of mountains, lakes and forests, including a large portion of the Andes almost covered with ice and snow to the west, and the arid Patagonian steppe to the east. Its name is due to the large number of glaciers that form in the great Patagonian ice field (the largest ice sheet known in the world after Antarctica).
In the park there are paths to walk around and enjoy what this area has to offer. There is also a walkway that allows you to get very close to the Perito Moreno Glacier. This glacier originates in the ice field and on its descent reaches the southern arm of Lake Argentino. It has a front of 5 km long, and a wall of about 60 m above water.
Just in case, I want to say that I was not drunk before filming the video! 🙂
The Perito Moreno glacier advances (it is one of the few glaciers that moves forward in the world) continuously at an average speed of 2 m per day (measured at about 4 km from the front). It moves in the waters of the Rich Arm of Lake Argentino, so the water level 30 m above the rest of the lake, putting pressure on the ice. As a consequence of this, the water finds its way to the other side of the lake, by creating a tunnel. There is a vault of more than 50 m, through which the waters of the Rich arm moves towards the other side of the Argentine Lake. After a while and due to erosion, the vault collapses. Witnessing this nature show, has become of the most popular touristic attraction. It usually collapses once around every 4 years.
4-Take a boat tour to visit glaciers
I was able to get even closer by means of a boat tour, which I highly recommend since it is not possible to get that close any other way.
5- Balconies of El Calafate
At the beginning, I had left a day off to tour the city of El Calafate, but the truth is that it is only a few blocks long, and there is not much to see. So I decided to hire another tour. In this case, the one called the Balconies of El Calafate (Balcones de El Calafate). It is a half day excursion, which can be done in the morning or in the afternoon.
A bus picks you up from the hotel, or they can give you a meeting place in a central point of the city. From a mini-bus, they take you to another place where you get on a 4×4 bus, very fun and a unique one.
You will travel by bus for approximately 35 km (21 mi) going into the hills behind the town. The truck climbs up the hill Huyliche. During the tour, you can see the Andes Mountains and the areas of accumulation of glaciers. If you are lucky, you will see a condor in flight.
At the top of Huyliche, you will enjoy an incredible panoramic view of El Calafate and the central part of Lake Argentino.
Depending on the excursion you have hired, they will offer you a lunch or a snack in the cafe on the hill. If you chose the tour with a quad (ATV), a guide will take you to beautiful places accessible only with the quad, so it is worth doing.
I recommend the tour with the quad.
If you have not hired the ATV, you can tour the area of the Labyrinth of Stones (Laberinto de Piedras), which is a formation of the Cretaceous period of more than 85 million years old. This high zone was once the bed of a river, and there you can find fossil remains that allow us a glimpse of the millennial past.
After a snack, the descent begins on the north side of the hill until arriving at the Stone of the Hats (Piedra de los Sombreros). These “hats” are curious concretions formed by iron oxide, that can only be seen in four places in the world! Quite a treat!
From there, the tour start the return to El Calafate, enjoying the nature and the landscapes of the area.
6- Walichu (caves with cave paintings)
This archaeological site is located 8 km from Calafate, where you can see the large caves of rocks eroded by the wind. You can go through a guided tour of places where there are original rock paintings.
On the earth that thousands of years ago was submerged under the ice mantle of the Ice Age. The guided visit to see original cave paintings and also find a path with reproductions of paintings made using the same techniques used by the pre-tehuelches groups that inhabited the site, so that each visitor can interpret this ancient world. In addition to its archaeological value, the caves on the shores of Lake Argentino, surprise by the beauty of the landscape.
Tips for the trip
1. On all outdoor activities, bring sunscreen (despite the low temperatures the sun is very strong) and several layers of clothing, a lot more for Winter.
2. The prices are higher than the average in the rest of Argentina, so if you go with a budget bound, do your cost research.
3. It is a very safe city to travel alone or with family.
4. It is an area where women can travel alone without any inconveniences.
Visa and vaccines
1. Most European and Latin American countries do not require a visa for more details. Http://www.migraciones.gov.ar/accesible/indexP.php?visas
2. Some countries such as Canada and Australia require a reciprocity rate to be paid.
3. In order to cross this zone, no particular vaccine is obligatory. For vaccination recommendations see https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/
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