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El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Patagonia, Argentina

El Calafate is a small town on the shores of Lago Argentino, and it would seem its existence, certainly these days, is due to it being an ideal base for visitors to Parque National Los Glaciares. It has gone through a tremendous growth in the past few years and as a result the infrastructure of the town is struggling to keep up. Be prepared to walk part of your way through the town on dusty tracks, as there is a distinct lack of sealed roads in the town at the moment.

Our guide book was printed in September 2008 and we are visiting in March 2009 and already the prices quoted in the guide book are incorrect due to inflation. Quoted as $30 to enter the Parque, it is now $60. This is paid each time you enter the Parque, so if you do a trip/excursion each day into the Parque expect to pay this fee.


There are many companies offering excursions, we ended up bookin two  excursions through Rumbo Sur (9 de Julio, 81, El Calafate, Santa Cruz) whom we found to be the friendliest and most helpful of the tour operators.

Our first excursion was the Todos los Glaciares, a bus picking us up from our hotel then taking us to Puerto Bandera where we got on a catamaran for a day trip over the waters of Lago Argentino and the Brazo Sur, with a stop – weather and icebergs permitting, which it did for us – in order to walk through to Onielli bay to see more glaciers and icebergs and have lunch. It seems that the company Fernadez Campbell has the monopoly on these boat trips and maybe it’s better to book direct with them although we were perfectly happy with Rumbo Sur and their service.



This was a great day, we got up close to Spegazzini Glacier which is the highest of the glaciers, then we saw Upsala which is the largest – it is MASSIVE! In between that we saw the most wonderful icebergs, showing off all colours of ice blue possible. This excursion cost $355 each for the day, excluding lunch which I recommend you bring with you as the only food available is that served on the boat and it really is only snack food.

Perito Moreno - crampon station

Perito Moreno - crampon station

The second trip we did was to Perito Moreno, the most accessible of the glaciers and therefore the most popular. We went for the mini-trekking trip, run by Hielo y Aventura, and were collected from our hotel – this being the tedious part as we spent about an hour on the bus collecting people before actually hitting the road. The trip alone is impressive, as you travel through this vast valley with amazing mountain ranges, beautiful lake, then after entering into the park you start to get glimpses of Perito Moreno, and a handsome glacier he is too! We parked up and headed for the boat which took us across the lake to meet our guides. We were then given a loo break – much needed after all that time on the pesky bus and then boat! We then sent off through the forest to a bay where the guide explained why there are glaciers here and how they were formed, that the glaciers mimic the base that they lie on providing the shapes they form and that Perito Moreno is roughly 1 km deep, 5 km wide and 30 km long.

We then headed off to the area where we would put on our crampons and get instruction on how to use them. We ended up in the “fast group” and 15 of us were cramponed up and set off with Christian and Luciana having been told to keep our feet apart so we don’t catch our feet on the crampons, to place our feet flat on the ice and to put our feet out when going up but put our feet parallel when going down and also shown how to traverse, and then we were on the glacier! I have never had an interest in ice climbing, but what a fantastic experience to be on the glacier and make some headway into it to see it’s shapes and forms up close! We saw rain holes, a windmill – a rotating hole – and were given information on the glacier. Luciana had worked in New Zealand at the Fox Glacier for 6 months and chatted away to us about the differences. We had a glorious day for it, clear blue skies – the day before had been snow and rain, but the trekking runs regardless!



After a good hour, we were told we were going to see some yellow ice – now, I was always told never eat yellow snow…so I didn’t think this was too good…. We turned a corner of ice to find a table, glasses and a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky!! THIS yellow ice I can eat! They scooped some ice from the glacier and bunged it in the tumblers and then free poured the whisky in! I was most amused – a Scots Lass in Argentina, on a glacier drinking her national drink!! I got a photo taken with the bottle, and after that I was deemed to be the world’s authority on Whisky with being asked if Famous Grouse is actually famous in Scotland or is it just imported drink for foreigners, should you really drink whisky with ice, how do you make it, etc!! After the fantastic trek, we had an hour to eat our lunch and take photos from the shores of the bays then we set sail across the lake.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

This time we were taken to the balconies which offer fabulous views right up the glacier. As Perito Moreno is an advancing glacier it makes the most amazing noises and parts of the ice fall off which make spectacular noises! Sometimes it sounds like a shot, then thunder, sometimes ripping… it’s extraordinary. From the balconies we saw some ice fall – amazing. This fabulous trip cost $355, and was certainly worth it. I am not sure if hiring a car for the day and joining a trekking tour would be more cost effective… if you have time, check it out. Remember you still have $60 each for the park entrance fee.

(N.B Prices quoted are Argentinian Pesos – they use $ sign, prices in US dollars will be quoted as “USD$”)

In El Calfate places to eat hit and misses –

Mirabile, Av Libertador Gen San Martin – Miss. Offers homemade pastas, but really tasted of very little and rather a disappointment.

La Tablita, Cnel Rosales – Hit. More pricey but the number of locals in the place is comforting. Good food, if service a little snippy.

Don Luis, 9 de Julio, 265 – Hit. Panaderia with a nice cafe and Wi-fi! Good for a chilled out afternoon with a coffee and cake or fresh orange juice.

El Cucharon, 9 de Julio – Hit. Nice atmosphere and lovely food – lamb stew with spinach balls (can’t remember what they are called!) delicious, as was the risotto and good prices.

Banks – It seems that there is a limit of $320 withdrawals from the ATM’s, which is a pain when credit cards incur such large fees (up to 8% to pay with Credit card). Confusion reigned when tourists are using the ATM’s – it seems that you should chose Cirrus when making a withdrawal (a member of bank staff helped American’s in front of us), and select the type of account you are withdrawing from before proceeding. NOTE some of the ATM’s scan your card and ask you to remove it before carrying on with your transaction.. Please make sure you wait for the question asking if you wish to carry out another transaction and make sure you press NO, otherwise there is potention for someone at the back of you to make a withdrawal by pressing SI! There seems to be a moment’s delay in this question coming up… it’s worth waiting to check all is done before leaving!

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  1. Rob & Max says

    are you still there? It’s 11 days since your last communication. How is it going and where are you now?