El Calafate – the perfect place to stay in Patagonia

Reading time: 4 min.

February 2018, El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province – Argentina

 

If you’re planning a trip to Patagonia and have doubts about where to set your camp, worry no more. El Calafate is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina.

Here are just a few reasons we found El Calafate the best place to stay in Patagonia (at least best for our needs 🙂 ).

el_calafate_30

el_calafate_14

el_calafate_24

 

Second home in South America

From the moment we land in El Calafate, we know we want to stay.

The name of the mountain village is derived from a little bush with yellow flowers that is very common in Patagonia: the calafate. Its fruit is an appetizing dark blue berry used for making jam. According to the tradition, whoever eats calafate will return for more.

We find shelter at Los Gnomos, at the edge of the village. It’s a cozy inn with a laid-back feeling and huge lavender bushes spreading around the yard. The host welcomes us with the most important instructions: “If you’re hot, open the window. If you’re cold, close the window. “

At breakfast we face Argentinian eating habits: plain “dulce de leche” (a kind of liquid caramel) or cakes with “dulce de leche” to eat, “mate” (a very strong, concentrated and unsweetened herbal infusion) to drink.

el_calafate_27

el_calafate_26

el_calafate_15

 

 

Things to do in El Calafate

Let us show you around! There are plenty of day trips you can start from El Calafate.

el_calafate_23

In the first day we start small and head to the Nimez Lagoon, a birds’ sanctuary hidden a few kilometers away from town. We move slowly and stop almost every minute to spot wildlife in its natural habitat. Local birds are perfectly mingled with the wide variety of flora that populates the reserve.

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_3

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_4

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_5

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_7

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_9

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_10

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_11

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_12

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_6

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_13

The days pass, as if we are out of space and time here. Actually, that’s Patagonia: a piece of another planet with a climate, flora, fauna of its own. Glaciers descend from the mountains in Lake Argentino, some of them still expanding. Explanation? Scientist can’t tell for sure why.

See? I told you this is another universe. 🙂

The day we reach Perito Moreno glacier, part of the World’s third ice cap after Antarctica and Greenland, feels like the best of our traveller lives. From time to time, huge chunks of ice break off with a ‘crack’ and fall into Lago Argentino, making us all freeze with excitement. As we keep surrounding the glacier on the iron bridges, at some point we face the frozen blue colossus right at its maximum height above the water. Wow moment!

el_calafate_perito_19

el_calafate_perito_20

el_calafate_perito_21

el_calafate_perito_22

Beginner level checked. Now it’s time for a full day of trekking in the northern part of Los Glaciares National Park, El Chalten. The area is a Mecca of mountain lovers. We pick up a moderate trail and start climbing. Soon we realize the mountain has its own rules. All the people who are descending, cheer us or at least salute. I find myself saying “Ola“(hello) a few times per minute.

The route is tough. But as we reach Capri Lagoon at the end of 2 hours of exhaustion, nothing else matters but the surreal view. The Fitz Roy peak rises to the clouds, reminding us why we are here.

el_calafate_chalten_15

el_calafate_chalten_16

el_calafate_chalten_18

el_calafate_chalten_17

It’s time for some history next! Do not miss the Historical Interpretation Center, we found so many interesting facts about Patagonia.

The first people arrived in Patagonia 14 000 years ago. They migrated from Asia through the Bering Strait (covered with ice back then), reached North America and kept hunting the bid mammals until they reached South America. As already suspected from what we heard so far, the arrival of conquistadors has meant genocide for the locals. In 1520 Magellan finds the local tribes and calls them “patagons” (giants).

el_calafate_history_23

If you have more time and money, you can make your way to Torres del Paine National Park. Here’s a guide of how to get there.

Ok…if we keep staying in El Calafate, I can put down roots, that’s how beautiful life is. In the evenings we are exhausted, but one of the guys in charge of the inn, Esteban, welcomes us with beer and hot “empanadas”.

We’re leaving El Calafate with the feeling that it wasn’t enough. The room is already home, the yard has become our safe place.

el_calafate_28

el_calafate_25

el_calafate_laguna_nimez_8

Fortunately, we’re not entirely done with Patagonia. Bariloche, here we come!

el_calafate_29

 

How to get to El Calafate

Flight Buenos Aires – El Calafate 3.5 h + Shuttle FTE Airport to town 20 min

Google Maps El Calafate day trips

 

Best weather in El Calafate

Weather in Patagonia varies greatly. One moment there is sunshine and clear sky, the other windy and pouring rain.If you’re looking for the warmest time to visit El Calafate, the hottest months are December, January, February.

We had ~15-20°C during the day, and no less than 8 °C at night in February. Bring trekking boots&pants and some clothes that can be worn in layers (T-shirts, warm polar jacket, thin waterproof jacket).

 

Where to stay in El Calafate

El Calafate is a tourist hub, and although 5* luxury hotels are few, there are some comfortable, boutique gems to be found in the centre on the main street. However, prices can be quite high for a budget traveler’s pockets.

If you’re like us and look for a medium-range place, there are plenty of backpacker hostels and B&Bs around with private rooms, close to restaurants and bars. Free Wi-fi is everywhere.

We can’t recommend enough Hosteria Los Gnomos, located 5 min away from the bus station/terminal. If you want to do day-trips to El Chalten, Perito Moreno glacier, or reach San Carlos de Bariloche by bus, this is the place to stay.

 

Where to eat in El Calafate

La Lechuzita – for local delicacies

el_calafate_food_1

Viva la Pepa – for pancakes

el_calafate_food_2

Don Luis – for sandwiches and all kinds of local sweets

 

Budget

  • Flight

170 USD/pers/one way, Buenos Aires Aeroparque AEP – El Calafate FTE, LATAM airlines

We only had one-way tickets to El Calafate, but if you need a roundtrip, you can find connections with Buenos Aires at ~200-250 USD/pers.

  • Airport transfer

9 USD/pers shuttle to town

  • Accomodation

75 USD/night/double room, breakfast included

  • Food

20 USD/pers/day

  • Tours

Nimez Lagoon: 10 USD/pers – ticket valid for 1 week, no restrictions on number of entries

Perito Moreno glacier: 30 USD/pers bus ticket + 25 USD/pers entrance

El Chalten bus transportation: 48 USD/pers/roundtrip

Historical Interpretation Center: 9.5 USD/pers

 

 

In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word! 🙂

South America in 2.5 months – all you have to know to do it yourself

www.facebook.com/haihuistory

www.instagram.com/haihuistory_blog

Happy travels and stay safe!
Anita & Geo, World travellers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s