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Welcome to El Calafate

On the southern shore of the vast Lago Argentino, silhouetted against snow-capped peaks, El Calafate exemplifies Patagonia’s beauty. Thanks to its strategic location and regular flights to Buenos Aires (roughly three hours away), the town serves as a gateway to some of South America’s natural wonders and a starting point for many a Patagonian adventure. Encircled by mountains, glaciers, and water, El Calafate is considered the hiking capital of Argentina. The star of the show is El Perito Moreno Glacier, the third-largest freshwater reserve in the world and the centerpiece of Los Glaciares National Park, from which huge hunks of ice rupture off and crash into the water below with regularity. The UNESCO World Heritage–listed park is an icy wonderland where visitors can trek across Viedma Glacier, enjoy a boat ride or kayak around the glacial lagoons of Upsala Glacier, visit the frontier town of El Chaltén, or tackle the soaring peak of Mount Fitz Roy. Eager adventurers can see more of the park via an off-road 4x4 tour, by visiting a local ranch (estancia), or on a mountain bike ride down Mt. Huyliche. Just over the Chilean border, the Torres del Paine National Park is close enough to discover on a day trip, while Laguna Nimez Reserve, Walichu Caves, and La Leona petrified forest are right on El Calafate’s doorstep.

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Top 10 attractions in El Calafate

Argentino Lake (Lago Argentino)
#1

Argentino Lake (Lago Argentino)

If you’re visiting El Calafate, there’s no way to miss the vast Lago Argentino. The city sits on the shore of this massive lake, the largest freshwater source in Argentina. It covers 566 square miles and is a result of glacial meltwater, which causes its milky blue color. The lake is part of Argentina’s Glacier National Park and is home to one of the area’s only advancing glaciers, Perito Moreno, which calves into Lago Argentino. But Perito Moreno is not the only thing to see at Lago Argentino, and many visitors choose a full day of sightseeing on the lake, starting from El Calafate. Visits up the north arm to Upsala usually give visitors a chance to see calving glaciers up close, and the Spegazzini Glacier is the tallest one in the area, at almost 450 feet. Most visits also include the Onelli Glacier, and visitors are sometimes allowed to disembark along the shores and hike among native beech forest and red-blooming firebush....
Los Glaciares National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)
#2

Los Glaciares National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares protects Argentina’s wild Patagonian expanses of icy glaciers and mountain lakes. With a massive 47 glaciers, the Andean ice cap is the largest expanse of ice outside Antarctica and Greenland. Created by millennia of ice flows from the Andean snowfields, the ice feeds huge Lake Argentino, Lake Viedma and the Rio Santa Cruz. The national park’s most famous glacier is the Perito Moreno Glacier, safely viewed via lookout platforms and renowned for its dynamic movement and dramatic ice falls. Climbers target Mt Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, and fly-fishers praise the trout fishing on Lake Argentino. Wildlife spotters might see condor, guanaco and pumas in the park. El Calafate is the national park’s main hub, the base for sailing cruises to spot icebergs on the lakes, hiking expeditions and mountain climbing....
Upsala Glacier
#3

Upsala Glacier

The Upsala Glacier upstages even Perito Moreno in scale. South America’s largest glacier, Upsala measures 50km long and 10km wide (31 miles long, 6 miles wide). It’s only from the water of Lake Argentino that you can really appreciate the glacier’s magnitude and crystalline beauty. Forests surround the glacier and lake, and icebergs that have tumbled from the glacier’s peaks fill the water. From the glacier, you can hike to the iceberg-dotted waters of Lago Onelli and take in vistas of blue-white ice floes, jagged mountains and pristine waterways stretching to the horizon. Travel here by horseback, boat, hiking or 4WD, before taking the boat to the glacier’s towering walls fronting the lake....
El Calafate Historical Interpretation Center
#4

El Calafate Historical Interpretation Center

El Calafate Historical Interpretation Center, a small museum in El Calafate, covers a big chunk of history — 100 million years of history. Recently renovated, the museum provides an excellent introduction to the natural and human history of southern Patagonia from the time it was formed through to today. The collection, divided into five rooms, includes fossilized skeletons of dinosaurs and mega mammals found in the area, as well as recreations of prehistoric cave paintings and collections of objects, tools and relics from the native Aonikenk culture and colonizers who showed up later....
La Leona Petrified Forest
#5

La Leona Petrified Forest

Before Patagonia was peppered with glaciers and jagged, snow-capped peaks, it was a vast plain of lush forests where dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Granted, that was 100 million years ago, and Patagonia today is vastly different from those early days of its founding. At La Leona Petrified Forest, however, visitors have the chance to literally walk through prehistoric Patagonia. This 2,000-acre depression in the Earth is amazingly frozen in time, where massive trees and dinosaur bones still lie on the dusty Earth. There’s an enveloping silence in the desert plains, and only the wind and crunch of your boots seem to break the eerie silence. Nearby, at La Leona Hotel, even more mystique is added to the visit by viewing a place where legendary outlaws hid to escape the law. The towering peak of Mt. Fitzroy can often be seen in the distance, and from walking past fossilized dinosaur dung to hiking in a lunar landscape, this easy daytrip from El Calafate can seem like another world....
Onelli Glacier
#6

Onelli Glacier

Visits to the Onelli Glacier are usually part of a longer cruise of Lago Argentino that includes the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers as well. The Onelli Glacier is currently receding, like all others in the area, other than Perito Moreno, and visitors witness the extraordinary glacier by boat, navigating the milky-blue waters of Lago Argentino. The glacier in particular does not feed into Lago Argentino proper, but instead drains into Onelli Lake, which is accessible via a walk through a native beech forest from Onelli Bay. The lake offers views of three glaciers: Bolados, Agassiz and Onelli, which is eight miles long, covering 32 square miles. Upsala glacier is famous for its activity and the Spegazzini for its towering height (nearly 45 feet), but Onelli has its own charm. Because visitors approach the glacier by foot (via a mile-long walk), there is a different sense of Patagonia here....
Nimez Lagoon Nature Reserve (Laguna Nimez Reserve)
#9

Nimez Lagoon Nature Reserve (Laguna Nimez Reserve)

The Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve is an important conservation spot and stopover for many migrating bird species. It’s also home to dozens of Patagonian bird types, and in all, there are about 80 species that can be seen here. Most notable are the flamingoes and black-necked swans, but visitors are also likely to see geese, silvery grebes, ibis and hawks, among others. The reserve has a walking path of about a mile and a half that runs in and out of vegetation with full vantage of the two lagoons in the middle. There are two shelters from which you can observe the birds in relative secrecy, and the reed-filled areas of the lagoons are almost always bustling with activity. The best time to visit this area is very early in the morning or later in the evening around sunset, when birds return to rest for the evening....
Lago Roca
#10

Lago Roca

The alpine lake of Lago Roca is in the southern stretches of Los Glaciares National Park, overlooked by the icy peak of lofty Cerro Cristal. The camping, trekking, fishing and climbing in these parts are legendary, including climbs to Cerro Cristal and the Moreno Glacier, and treks along the banks of Lake Roca. The November to April fly-fishing season draws anglers to fish for rainbow trout and to watch the October spawning. Lakeside estancias offer horseback riding tours and traditional asado barbecues, and birdwatchers come here to spot migrating waterbirds on the lake....

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