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El Calafate, Argentina

El Calafate is a small town with a population of just over twenty thousand inhabitants, located on the shores of Lake Argentino, in the province of Santa Cruz. Away from the main metropolises of the country, the city is about 2,750km (1,710mi) away of the national capital, Buenos Aires, and over 1,400km (870mi) south of Bariloche, in the Argentine Patagonia.

The city of El Calafate itself has no major attractions and only serves as an essential services base to explore the area. Its surroundings, however, make visitors from all around the world flock here. Without a doubt, the main attraction of the area is the Los Glaciares National Park, which features the Perito Moreno glacier, located 76km (47mi) west of the city.

Lago Argentino y Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina
Lago Argentino y Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina

The initial stretch of road between El Calafate and the National Park runs along the Argentino Lake, the third largest in South America, with an area of 1,400km² (540 sq mi). The vast majority of tourists is happy to just head straight to the observation deck located in front of the Perito Moreno and spend some time contemplating the immensity of this ice body. From there it is possible to look at the enormous glacier from just a few meters away (the exact distance is continuously variable) and see small pieces of ice breaking off and plunging into the lake - with a little luck those will not only be small pieces. In addition to the observation deck, this section of the park has a few short paths around the visitors’ center that can be easily trekked.

Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina
Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina

To enjoy the true extent of the glacier from a different perspective it is possible to join a more specific tour, usually booked before even leaving El Calafate. An interesting option is to do a boat trip going as near as safely possible to the glacier and then hike a guided trail to the glacier itself. It is even possible, always following an experienced guide, to wear crampons and walk over the ice body of the glacier.

Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina
Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Calafate, Argentina

If time is not an issue and you feel like getting deeper into learning about the dynamics of glaciers, a visit to the Glaciarium Ice Museum, on the outskirts of El Calafate, could be recommended. If this is not your cup of tea, or after you pay it a visit, continue your journey northward for 210km (130mi), towards El Chaltén. A paradise for nature lovers, El Chalén is a great base from where to hike the beautiful Mount Fitz Roy. Heading to the opposite direction, the Chilean city of Puerto Natales, gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park, is about 270km (165mi) southwest.

El Calafate has a small but nice airport located 20km (12mi) away from the city center, offering connections to the capital and some other Argentinean cities. From there it is possible to take a flight to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Argentina (and, according to some metrics, the southernmost city in the world).

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