First off we really enjoyed El Calafate. So many people on the internet said it is not much of a town, and yes it is a small town, but we found it very enjoyable and there were plenty of restaurants and interesting shops. I would not plan a whole day just to spend there, but we arrived in El Calafate in the early afternoon had a nice lunch. We then enjoyed walking around the town before heading back to the inn for a rest. We just spent five nights in Buenos Aries and flew on LAN Airlines to El Calafate, with a quick stopover in Ushuaia. We were not able to get off the plane but could see beautiful views of the mountains and lake from our window. We stayed at a small inn called Miyazato Inn – read my review here.
The main attraction when staying in El Calafate is to see the glaciers. We did both the All Glaciers boat tour and the mini-trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier. We took people’s advice and did the boat tour the first day and the mini-trekking the next. We did the mini ice trekking with Hielo y Aventura (http://www.hieloyaventura.com/), they may actually be the only ones who do this, but there are a lot of agencies you can book them through. Fernandez Campbell, I believe is the only one who does the All Glaciers boat tour, but again, a lot of agencies you can book it through.
ALL GLACIERS BOAT TOUR:
We took the advice of other fodorites and booked seats in the Salon VIP portion of the boat for an additional 110 pesos/person – definitely worth it – more details later. The bus was set to pick us up at 7:15am – keep in mind they generally run late. We ordered the four box lunches, which the Miyazato Inn ordered but did not actually make themselves. We did not think they were all that good and the next morning before our mini-trekking we organized our own lunches at the bakery up the street.
We drove for about an hour to Punta Banderas, paid the 60 pesos/person (kids were free) entrance fee to the National Park and got on the boat. It was a very nice large boat and the Salon/VIP section was at the very front of the boat with the Captain of the ship. There were sixteen very wide and comfortable seats along with an attendant just for us who got us drinks, etc. We were also served alfajores, small sandwiches and bonbons. (Pictures below are to show what our seats look like and in the first picture, if you look behind you can see what the other seats look like.)
The whole boat ride was just amazing. We saw Spegazzini, Upsala and Oneilli Bay.
After Spegazzini you could have a drink with Spegazzini ice.
At Oneilli Bay we got off the boat to eat our lunch at a small shelter and then walked to the other side of the lake. That was an amazing site with all the icebergs on the lake.
It had been pouring rain most of the day. We got lucky that it was not raining when we were walking around but was pretty overcast and mucky. We got back on the boat, and on our return trip an iceberg had just broken off and completely turned over – it was an incredible color blue!!
We arrived back at our hotel by 5:30pm. Due to the weather we decided we wanted proper waterproof hiking boots and rainpaints for the minitrekking the next day. We were able to rent everything at a store in town – four pairs of boots, three rainpaints and one rain jacket for about $70USD.
PERITO MORENO MINITREKKING:
The bus was set to pick us up at 8:30am (did not come until about 8:50am), but this did give us time to get to Don Luis bakery in the morning for some sandwiches for our lunch today– they opened at 7am. The bus took us to the dock in front of the face of the glacier. The boat ride to the other side was about 30 minutes From there we got off and walked up to two shelters like small cabins with bathrooms. Here we used the facilities and dropped off our lunches and anything else we did not not want to carry on the trekking.
Our guides met us and divided us into an English speaking group and a Spanish speaking group. We had about twenty two people in the English speaking group. We walked through a trail in the forest for about fifteen minutes before arriving at the location where we put the crampons on. We sat on wooden benches while they wrapped metal crampons on your shoes.
We got really lucky as it was not raining, but had some light snow – the first of the season!!
From there we trekked for about one and half hours. This was just a truly incredible and amazing experience. It was definitely easier to walk up then down! We had several opportunities to stop and take pictures. Often Michael got to be the first one on the trail and led the group as the guides helped others through the more difficult spots.
At the end of the trek they broke off ice and served glacier water and whiskey along with alfajores.
As we were heading off the ice an entire camera crew was coming on along with a model heading for a camera shoot.
She was having a tough time walking in high heel wedge boots with the crampons on – I don’t know why they did not have her change her shoes until they got to the exact locale!!
We arrived back at the huts and had about an hour and a half to eat lunch and walk around – unfortunately it was cold and windy so most people stayed in the huts. I was REALLY glad we had rented the boots and rainpaints. Even though it did not end up raining the rainpants really cut down on the wind and made our day much more enjoyable.
At 3:15 we got back on the bus. We were all quite tired and I think most everyone on the bus was expecting to head back to El Calafate, but there was one more stop, go out on the balconies and see close to the face of the glacier. As tired as we were – this was truly one of the most spectacular sites I have seen!! This was the best location to really see how massive the glacier is – how far back it goes – as far as the eye could see!
Back on the bus and we were back at our hotel about 6:30pm. Now just the day before I had spoken with a woman who had just done the minitrekking and she did the exact opposite order we did – balconies, lunch then trekking so I guess they do things either way.
EL CALAFATE RESTAURANTS:
Food in El Calafate was quite good, but the better restaurants were more expensive than in Buenos Aires. I guess they figure you are a captured audience in El Calafate.
CASIMIRA PARILLA & GRILL (Avda. Del Libertador 933) – This is right on the main street through town. We had a fabulous dinner here – top three of the trip. We ordered two ojo de bife to share, fried calamari, salsiccia, potato fritas and sweet potato fritas. The food was excellent, but expensive by Argentine standards. It was crowded, I suggest having your hotel make you a reservation.
CASMIRA BIAGI (just half a block down from Dasimira Parilla towards the airport) – we ate lunch here the day we arrived and dinner a few days later. This place was good and had a fairly varied menu. Not as good as it’s sister restaurant Casimira Parilla but still excellent.
EL PUESTO – (Governador Moyano & Ave. 9 deJulio)
A cute little parilla down one of the side streets and close to the Miyazato Inn, before you reach the center of town. Not the best parilla we had, but quite good, though not sure that was actually mozzarella they used in the caprese salad (although it said it was) and the sautéed peaches in the dessert appeared to be canned.
Next up a night in Iguazu Falls. Read about it by clicking here.
Read about our time in Buenos Aires here.