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Visitors on a Perito Moreno Glacier tour or hiking in El Chalten will find themselves in the Argentina town of El Calafate, first. Follow this travel guide for the best El Calafate hotels for you and what to do while you’re here.
Why should you come to El Calafate?
El Calafate, Argentina, is a quaint town on the edge of Argentina’s largest lake, Lago Argentino, in the Patagonia region of South America. You’ll find plenty of hotels, hostels, restaurants, souvenir shops, and day tours catering to the plethora of adventure and beauty seekers who come to El Calafate.
Visitors spend an average of 4 days in El Calafate as they use it for a home base to tour the glaciers of Los Glaciares National Park and the Patagonia hiking trails of neighboring town El Chalten.
El Calafate’s main draw is it’s proximity to Los Glaciares National Park and the Perito Moreno Glacier, heralded as a modern environmental marvel as one of the few stable glaciers in the world. No visit to Argentina or the Patagonia region would be complete without a Perito Moreno Glacier tour, which means that adventurous travelres will inevitably find themselves in El Calafate.
Los Glaciares National Park isn’t all El Calafate caters to, however: it’s also the nearest town for El Chalten tours! A 3-hour bus ride away from El Calafate is the much smaller town of El Chalten, where an epic 8-day Patagonia hike begins and even day hikers can find beautiful Patagonia trails to fill their time.
Though El Calafate is close to the border of Chile and Argentina, getting here is much easier on the Argentine side. Daily flights to El Calafate from Buenos Aires arrive throughout the day, giving you plenty of time to adjust to the town before setting off on your glacier minitrekking or hiking adventure.
El Calafate hotels: Where to stay
There’s an interesting mix of people who come to El Calafate.
You’ll find weathly Argentines, adventurous retirees from around the world, and gap year backpackers. El Calafate hotels and hostels cater to these different clientelle, and you want to choose the right one for your family’s needs.
High-End El Calafate Hotels: $100-150/ night
Perfect for travelers willing to spend a little extra money for some added peace and quiet on their Patagonia adventure. If you value a night of comfort at the end of a long day, or are traveling with children who need a good night’s sleep, these hotels are for you.
1. Hotel Posada Los Alamos
This El Calafate hotel offers beautiful, comfortable rooms, a diverse breakfast and free wifi, an indoor pool and spa, parking, and is close to the heart of El Calafate. Hotel Posada Los Alamos is perfect for families who want the freedom to walk in and out of town!
2. Hotel Kapenke
Hotel Kapenke is a clean, comfortable hotel which features free wifi around the property, breakfast buffet, parking, and private bathrooms. Guests love that it’s within walking distance to downtown, as well, and even offers it’s own delicious restaurant!
El Calafate Mid-range hotels:
El Calafate mid-range hotels are the perfect combination of affordable comfort and quiet. Set farther away from the action of downtown El Calafate, you trade a good night’s sleep for taking a car into town. Perfect for those who need to relax somewhere beautiful at the end of the day but are conscious of their finances.
1. Hosteria Meulen
We carefully chose to stay at Hosteria Meulen during our family vacation in El Calafate. We loved the large, comfortable triple rooms, free wifi and parking, diverse breakfast (including gluten free options!), and location. Though far from the city center, Hosteria Meulen is right beside Lago Argentino offering you incredible views and a quiet place away from the party hostels in town.
2. Hotel Koi Mahik
The Hotel Koi Maheke has a great customer rating based on it’s beautiful views of Lago Argentino and spacious rooms. Rooms feature comfortable beds, a quiet atmosphere, private bathrooms with bathtub, and wifi. The downside of Hotel Koi Mahik is that it’s father away from town, so guests will need to hire a taxi to go back and forth.
Budget El Calafate Hostels:
El Calafate hostels are perfect for adventurous traveler who can put up with noise and a shared kitchen in favor of saving some money. Not only are these hostels a cheaper option than family hotels, they are also closer to town and considered very comfortable!
Staying in El Calafate can get expensive, so I don’t judge anyone looking to save some money on their hotel! If that matches your description, consider booking Pinito’s Hostel. This hostel has a 7.9 rating on Booking.com. Guests love that the basic hostel offer a variety of private rooms with bathroom, a shared kitchen, and is close enough to the heart of El Calafate to easily walk in and out of town for groceries.
What you need to know before your trip to El Calafate
These El Calafate travel tips will help you make the most of your time in this beautiful town!
1. It’s expensive
This small town can be very expensive. A 20-minute taxi ride to town runs around $1200 ARS, restaurants are an average of $600 ARS/ meal, and souvenir shops are costly. Be prepared for the trip with lots of extra cash!
2. Don’t expect much cell service
You’ll most likely need to rely on the free wifi of your hotel or hostel to download travel guides and maps and connect to the outside world.
3. Downtown is very walkable
Downtown El Calafate is very walkable! Only a few main roads make up the town, and it doesn’t take long to wander around looking for the best guanacho burger. You may have to hire a taxi for $200-400 ARS to get downtown from your hotel, however, if you’re staying closer to Lago Argentino.
4. Prepare for cold, windy weather
Even in summer, El Calafate gets cold! Route 40, which takes you to El Chalten, is known for it’s extreme wind, which adds to the chill even during sun shine. Pack sunscreen, a fleece jacket, a wind jacket, and warm hat and gloves.
Best El Calafate Tours While You’re in Town:
El Calafate is full of incredible things to do and sights to see. Take an El Calafate tour to see the most of this beautiful region.
1. Perito Moreno Glacier Tour
There’s a reason a visit to Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park is the #1 thing to do in El Calafate! The 250 sq. km. glacier rises majestically through the mountain valley and ends at the turquoise Lago Argentino. It’s not only an incredibly beautiful sight, it’s also a thrilling adventure!
Follow this Perito Moreno Tour Guide to see which tour is right for you. Minitrekking across the glacier? Kayaking up to the glacier from the lake? Walking around the 4km boardwalk? There are tons of options for an incredible day!
2. Hiking tours in El Chalten
El Chalten is a small town 3 hours away from El Calafate. An El Chalten tour will pick you up from your El Calafate hotel, take you to the mountain town, and bring you to the foot of one of many El Chalten day hikes. It’s a great opportunity to see the gorgeous view of the Patagonia mountains without commiting to an epic 8-day camping trek!
See our recommended El Chalten hiking tour here. They provide roundtrip transportation to El Chalten, offer you three different hiking options, provide a bilingual guide to help you learn about the area before you arrive, a boxed lunch, and arrange for extra stops along the way for snacks and bathrooms. Perfect!
3. See Patagonia by 4×4
Take a 4×4 drive across the snow fields and mountains of Patagonia in a 4WD tour around El Chalten. This 3-hour adventure tour takes you around the beautiful landscape while filling your need for an adrenaline rush. This tour has a 4-star rating based on the fun found on the hills 35 km outside of town!
4. Visit the Glaciarium and Ice Bar
The best way to learn about the incredible Patagonia ice fields and the Perito Moreno Glacier is a visit to the Glaciarium upon arrival to El Calafate. This ice museum teaches about the formation of glaciers and other frozen phenomenon around the world. It’s a beautiful museum which includes displays, interractive elements, and a complimentary 3D movie!
Best of all, the Glaciarium is home to one of El Calafate’s ice bars. An additional fee gains you 25 minutes in the underground bar made entirely of ice. Don’t worry, it includes cold weather gear and an open bar of alcohol and sodas!