A nice touristy village, with a little over ten thousand inhabitants who live and work around the tourist industry. It is nestled at the base of the cliff on the shore of the vast Lake Argentino. It is surrounded by small farms that grow vegetables and fruit trees, forming a belt around the small urban centre. The village is crossed by El Calafate creek, which divides the village in two. It is a colorful place, located at the foot of the hill that has the same name at 185 meters above the sea level.
El Calafate is located 200 miles away from Ro Gallegos, capital city of the province of Santa Cruz and 1750 miles away from Buenos Aires. El Calafate was founded on December 7th, 1927.
Its climate is dry. In summer, the average temperature is 18.6°C in winter, the average temperature is -1.8°. The daylight hours vary according to the season of the year, in summer the longest day is December 21st with the sun showing up at 5:30 am and the sunset is approx at 11 pm. In winter the shortest day is June 21st, with 8 hours daylight (9:30 am to 5:30 pm).
It has a modern airport, renovated in 2000, connecting Calafate with the many cities in Patagonia, and Buenos Aires' local and international airports. There is an airport tax estimated at USD $3 to be paid upon check-in, in local or foreign currency.
There are several sightseeing tours in the Calafate area. A few meters from the center of the city, a gravel road leads to Nimes Lagoon, near the lake shore, a small bird reserve which hosts an important community of black neck swans, flamingoes and geese, surrounded by a dark sand beach. About 5 miles from El Calafate is the Punta Walichu Cave, which gathers some replicas of paintings made by the local pre-Hispanic native cultures over 4000 years ago.
However, the highlight of El Calafate, and what tourists come for, is the visit to the National Park, 35 miles away from the village.
The National Park and Reserve Los Glaciares, declared by UNESCO a "Site of World’s Heritage," protects an area of 365 glaciers coming down from the Campo de Hielo (Southern Patagonia Ice Cap), and remains one of the last glaciations in the quaternary period. The field adopts a longitudinal shape running from north to south with an extension of 220 miles. 47 major glaciers descend from this ice field such as Viedma, Moyano, Upsala, Bolados, Onelli, Agassiz, Spegazzini, Ameghino, Heims, Frias, and the most popular one, Perito Moreno. All these spill over lakes Argentino and Viedma, and determine the particular turquoise hue of their waters, due to the sediments and minerals dragged from the rocky beds of these ice rivers on the mountain slopes.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is easily reached 50 miles from El Calafate. It offers a 2 mile-wide ice river and a 300 foot-high front wall, with a 5 km descent of a glacial tongue onto the lake, creating a unique phenomena when, after periods of 4 to 8 years, the tongue of the glacier advances down enough to block the lake and reaches the opposite margin. After resisting the pressure of the lake’s currents, it breaks and falls, offering a spectacular natural phenomena that travelers from all over the world gather to witness.
There are several ways of enjoying the park and experiencing these phenomena, from trekking to boat cruises, on 4WD or horseback riding.
Our standard full-day tour to the Perito Moreno glacier includes an hour navigation. After walking the paths across the glacier, depart from the Moreno pier and Sail along the Canal de los Tempanos to observe the north wall of the glacier.
Sail from Bajo la Sombras pier, located on the road that goes to the Perito Moreno Glacier. A few miles before the trails, the Rico arm of the lake is crossed towards the southern margin of the lake. A short walk through a virgin forest up to the lateral Morenas Glaciarias (glacial sediments) allows visitors to reach the glacier. Here, the expertise of the guides assists the hiker to put on the crampons in order to enjoy an expedition on millenary ice. An unforgettable experience that does not require any special training, but good hiking boots!
Depart from Punta Banderas pier. Sail across the “Devil’s Mouth” and the north branch of the lake towards the Spegazzini Glacier.
Continue onto Onelli canal and disembark at Juan Piñeiro pier. The group walks half a mile though a dense woodsy Patagonian forest that ends at Lake Onelli, with a beautiful panoramic view of the confluence of glaciers Onelli, Bolado and Agassiz.
Have a leisurely lunch (not included) and continue sailing towards Glacier Upsala, the largest continental glacier in the southern hemisphere with a surface of 595 km2. The vessel approaches to the glacier front as much as it is permitted by the mass of drifting icebergs. Return to Puerto Banderas, sailing for another couple of hours.
Depart from Punta Banderas pier on a magnificent sail, between icebergs and mountain landscapes in the background. We navigate on the north branch of the Lake Argentino over the lake’s deepest point, 1000 meters deep, and afterwards, through the Upsala Canal, reaching the Western wall of the glacier Upsala.
We disembark on the east bank of Peninsula Herminita at Estancia Cristina, a privileged location with the only land access to the Upsala Glacier, for a Patagonian barbeque (included).
The second part of the day includes a variety of activities such as trekking to the Cascada de los Perros (Dog’s Fall) or horseback riding, and 4WD rides to the top of the glacier. After Patagonian tea, we sail back to Punta Banderas pier.