From serene blue waters to sweeping mountain views, Patagonia is a destination of a lifetime.
Adventure seekers flock to the region that spans both Argentina and Chile for the opportunity to hike through cavernous glaciers, kayak within crystal clear lakes, explore volcanoes, and horseback ride along the arid pampas. With so much to do and see, it can feel overwhelming to know where to begin.
There’s Ushuaia, Argentina—the southernmost city before Antarctica, nicknamed “the end of the world,” where you can witness penguin colonies in real life, visit the Ushuaia lighthouse, or hike the Vinciguerra Glacier. Then there’s Punta Arenas—home to grand ornate houses, a coastal road, a penguin island, and a moderate drive to Torres del Paine National Park.
And then there’s El Calafate, Argentina, a lakeside mountain town, with flamingos, glacier hikes, horseback riding, and a quaint downtown strip. While you can spend weeks exploring the region, if you only have several days to discover this charming town, read on for the perfect three-day itinerary below.
Things To Know Before You Go
While El Calafate is very accommodating to both English and Spanish speakers, there are several things to know before you go:
- Water is not free and comes in bottled form. Don’t expect to get complimentary water while dining out at any restaurant. To save money (and plastic) we bought a jug of water for our time there and brought our own water bottles to restaurants.
- Most restaurants are very meat and dairy heavy. For vegan/vegetarian options, visit Pura Vida, Kau Kaleshen, Mirador del Lago, and Zorra Taproom.
- Many hotels offer packed lunches for excursions. These are an easy way to make sure you have food on your excursions.
- Most dinner places do not open until 7 p.m. or later. Plan your meals accordingly for later dinners in the evenings.
Where We Stayed
There are many great accommodations, from budget hostels to luxury accommodations. We spent our time in El Calafate at Mirador del Lago and could not recommend it enough.
The staff was incredibly friendly, helpful, and able to book last minute-excursions right at the front desk. Mirador del Lago also includes a free continental breakfast that felt like fine dining. They offer everything from fresh fruits, local jams, croissants, home-brewed kombucha, breads, and more. Their in-house restaurant also offers a great variety of vegan, vegetarian, and meat to accommodate for all dietary preferences, with happy hours in the afternoon.
It’s a short walk away from downtown, and a close descent to the lakefront where you can go watch the flamingos in the mornings.
Peaceful Dumpling’s 3-Day Itinerary
Day One: Explore Downtown El Calafate
Chances are, the first day you’ll be fairly exhausted after extensive travel to get to El Calafate, Argentina. To recover from multiple hours of traveling and airplane napping, we recommend taking your first day slow by exploring downtown El Calafate. All shops are laid out on the downtown strip—la Avenida del Libertador—and it’s only about a mile in length. Visit the local shops, especially la Aldea de los Gnomos (a marketplace with local vendors), el Paseo de Los Artesanos (open daily from 10–5 p.m.), and Arte Indio for local souvenirs.
During your time, pick up some jams made from the calafate berry and mate gourds for tea. Legend has it that if you eat a calafate berry during your stay, you’re destined to return again.
Settle in during the afternoon at Zorra Taproom for some fries and beer. For those without data plans, Zorra Taproom is also a great spot to check your ‘gram or email, since they have public WiFi available for tourists and travelers.
Finish your evening with watching the sunset at the lakeside, and dine at Pura Vida for a fresh and healthy meal.
Day Two: Hike the Perito Moreno
You can’t (and shouldn’t) visit El Calafate without a visit to it’s stunning glacier, El Perito Moreno, located in Los Glaciares National Park.
We booked our minitrekking tour through Howlanders, which included a picturesque bus ride, two photo stops, a ferry to the glacier, and a hike in and through the glacial caverns. At the end of the glacier trek, you’ll be rewarded with a secret surprise for a perfect way to end the day.
The Perito Moreno was honestly one of the highlights of our trip given the picturesque views and the opportunity to experience a glacier close up and in real life.
You’ll return from your trek in the evening, when you can go out to dine after and turn in early after a long day.
Day Three: Horseback Ride in Cerro Frias
Horseback riding in Cerro Frias, known as cold hills, is the perfect recovery activity after the busyness of the glacier trek. Located just 25 kilometers from El Calafate, Cerro Frias offers the ability to experience Argentina’s ranchero culture with horses, large estates, and pampas (or the grasslands/plains of Argentina). We booked an afternoon ride so we could sleep in after our glacier trek, and boarded a bus that took us to Estancia Alice. There, we hopped on horses and enjoyed a gentle ride alongside the mountains for sweeping lakeside views. This was our first time ever on a horse, and we found the horses to be gentle, easy to ride, and well-paced.
At the end of the ride, we received a traditional Argentinian merienda with tea/coffee/hot chocolate and a dessert.
All in all, El Calafate is an excellent way to taste a portion of all that Patagonia has to offer. Pair this three-day itinerary with time in Buenos Aires, Ushuaia or el Chalten, and experience the trip of a lifetime.
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Photo: Dana Drosdick