Even though Calafate is not inside the National Park, it’s indeed the perfect hub to connect all its sections. It has also a vast infrastructure with different kinds of hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and facilities, and an airport that operates daily flights to and from different parts of Argentina.
On the other hand, the most popular sections inside the National Park are the Perito Moreno Glacier and El Chalten (Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre). Last but not least, an uncountable chain of glaciers, forests, lakes and rivers descend from the mountains in a unique and beautiful way.
There are many things to do and to see in the area, but the most popular sights are:
Perito Moreno Glacier: the pearl of Patagonia Argentina
The Glacier is located 70 km north of El Calafate, and is surrounded by mountains and the Lago Argentino. The reason why this glacier is so famous is not for its size (even though it’s huge!), but for its accessibility, beauty, and regular breakings.
The Glacier moves cyclically back and forth, retreating and advancing towards a Peninsula called Magallanes. Every couple of years, the Perito Moreno reaches the Peninsula, creating a natural dam that blocks the southern and northern arms of the lake. At a certain point, the pressure of the water breaks the lower part of the dam, and the bridge that is left falls into the water with an explosion.
There are different ways to approach the Perito Moreno Glacier, from traditional excursions to more adventurous experiences, such as the mini trekking over the glacier or the very well known “big ice”. It’s also possible to navigate both sides of the lake, with views on the northern and southern walls of the Glacier.
Most of these excursions are full-day excursions. It’s important to highlight that it takes around 1.5 hours to reach the Glacier, and visiting all of the walkways takes around 3 hours. That is basically how the traditional experiences approach the tour. The “mini trekking” is pretty similar, but before going to the walkways, the visitors cross to one of the sides of the glacier (through a short navigation), and there they walk for around 2 hours. The “big ice” is like the mini trekking but with a longer and more difficult circuit.
Navigation on Lago Argentino: Glaciers Upsala, Spegazzini, and many more!
This is another experience that you shouldn´t miss in Los Glaciares National Park. There are two main circuits, usually full day, and both navigate the northern arm of the Lake. Depending on the order established for visiting the attractions, you usually follow this route: first you approach the Upsala Glacier, which can be seen from the distance, since there is an iceberg barrier that blocks the pass. The ship navigates right next to the icebergs, and it’s incredible to see how many colors can be reflected on the ice! Then, you head to the Spegazzini Glacier, which is the highest in Patagonia Argentina: it literally hangs from the mountain with its humongous front.
The boat tour can be done either on a catamaran or on a yacht. The yacht is very special because it includes a gourmet lunch and gastronomic treats in front of the glaciers.
Estancias of Patagonia Argentina
The local ranches or “Estancias” show how the Argentinean gauchos used to live during the last hundred years: horseback ridings, Patagonian lamb, cattle, local life, surrounded by a spectacular atmosphere. Two of the most iconic ones are the Estancia Nibepo Aike and the Estancia Cristina.
Estancia Cristina is very popular because it includes a visit to the Glacier Upsala, since to reach it, it is necessary to navigate the northern arm of Lake Argentino. Hence, it’s common to replace one of the full navigations for this experience (even though you can’t see Glacier Spegazzini from here).
Estancia Nibepo Aike is between the Steppe and the Mountain, at the shore of Lake Roca, and one of the main highlights of this place is the chance of having an unforgettable horseback ride experience!
El Chalten: Fitz Roy Trek and Cerro Torre
El Chalten is a village located 220 km away from El Calafate (about 3 hours). It’s known to be the trekking capital of Argentina, and it hosts two of the most spectacular mounts in the world: the Mount Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torre. There are several circuits to do, most of them self guided, and the suggested stay to have an overview of the main attractions is 3 nights. The best Fitz Roy Trek is called “Laguna de los Tres”. It takes around 10 hours return from El Chalten, and it passes by Laguna Capri. The best Cerro Torre trek is called “Lago Torre”, and the return trip from and to El Chalten takes around 8 hours. There are also other attractions such as Lago & Glaciar Viedma, or Lago del Desierto.
Of course, you can have the chance to visit El Chalten during a full-day excursion from El Calafate, but you will only have time to do a six hour trek (usually to some panoramic points such as Laguna Capri).
Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine National Park is in the Chilean Patagonia, about 5 hours away from El Calafate. You can either visit it in a full-day excursion (also from Puerto Natales, which is actually closer) or spend a few days in the Park. The latter allows you to explore the Park in a more relaxing way, since it´s a huge area.
There are basically three ways to visit the park:
A scenic excursion visiting the highlights, such as Lagos Sarmiento, Pehoe, Grey and Nordenskjöld; with views to the Towers and the Horns.
Going on a full day hike to the base of the Towers, or doing some trek circuits such as the “W”, which takes about 3 days.
Going on a boat trip to Glacier Gray or doing some of the non conventional excursions, for instance: horseback riding, kayaking, wildlife safaris, etc.