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El Calafate and El Chalten

Probably the most famous ice flow on earth...

El Chalten
El Chalten

Possibly the most famous area of Argentina, El Calafate, and the neighbouring El Chalten, sit right on the edge of the Southern Ice Field, the second largest body of ice on the planet. Recently the area has seen a huge surge in interest (due, in part, to the presidential legacy of the Kirchners) with new hotels and facilities springing up all over the place. For most, the reason to come is to see the stunning glaciers that lie just outside El Calafate, but we also highly recommend spending a couple of nights in the sleepier El Chalten to take in mount Fitz Roy and walk in the pristine wilderness that surrounds.

Just a stone’s throw from the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (and the infamous Perito Moreno Glacier), El Calafate is the larger of the two towns, having recently boomed from a population of around 6,000 in 2000 to around 27,000 today. This meteoric rise in fortune has been prompted by a couple of deciding factors. While its location close to the stunning ice flows that run of the Southern Ice Shelf has certainly helped, it has been more the fact that the president, Cristina Kirchner and her husband, the former president, are from the region that has prompted an international airport and increased infrastructure.

Today the town is a relaxed and interesting place, if, at times showing the makeshift manner in which it has grown (the old runway has now been consumed and is used as one of the main roads in the centre of town!) The central focus is on the main road that runs east to west and has the feeling of an Alpine resort, lined with good restaurants and bars that come alive in the evenings.

As mentioned, with this surge in interest and investment has come a range of hotels to choose from, some out of town, in the wide Patagonian expanses, and some located right in the heart of the bustle. For us, we are fans of the sweeping expanses that are typical of this area and of Patagonia as a whole and so tend to recommend the hotels that are more rustic and wild, but there are plenty of options to suit all tastes.

Click here to view some video footage of the El Calafate area.

Click here to view some video footage of the El Chalten area.

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    At a glance…Western Patagonia

  • Size: 250,000 sq kms
  • Location: Southern Argentina
  • Recommended time: 3 to 5 nights
  • Time to visit: September to April
  • Go here for: Walking, the southern ice shelf, The Perito Moreno glacier
  • Further reading...

  • › Nature and wildlife
  • › Walking
  • › El Chalten
  • › What to do in El Calafate
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