Activities in El Calafate
Including the Perito Moreno, there are plenty for the outdoor minded here
The nearby El Chalten is, arguably, better known for its outdoor pursuits, El Calafate, none-the-less, also offers a few different options for those heading to the area and it is certainly more than just heading to see the glaciers. Combining some of the most beautiful, glacial scenery, with some of the country's most archetypal Patagonian plains, there are quite a few tours in the region that will make you feel as if you have discovered the place for the first time!
Cerro Frias - horse riding, 4x4, trekking, mountain biking
Cerro Frias (Frias Hill) stands out in the vast Patagonian Steppe only 22 kms away from downtown El Calafate. Frias is not part of a mountain range which, on clear days, makes its summit a 360 degree viewpoint affording breathtaking views of Lago Argentina, the Torres del Paine (in Chile) and Mount Fitz Roy, as well as condors and other birdlife.
This programme can be enjoyed in 4 different ways; on board 4WD vehicles, on horseback, trekking or cycling. Horseback riders, trekkers and cyclers need to drive from El Calafate to the Estancia from where their tour to Cerro Frias begins. Those choosing 4WD are picked up from their hotel to start the excursion from there.
The activity begins by crossing lowlands and climbing up to the mountains’ slop. Half and hour later guests will be able to intake a completely different landscape, the Centinela Valley and the Torres del Paine. The trip continues up to the highest point in Cerro Frias where cattle can be seen grazing freely alongside “guanacos”, hares and wild horses. From here the Argentino and Roca Lakes, the Rico Arm, the Centinela valley and the Torres del Paine seem never ending.
All four alternatives finish at the restaurant of the Estancia so that guests will always join their friends and companions for lunch of dinner (traditional “parilla” barbeque including grilled beef, chicken and vegetables) regardless of the activity chosen.
Recommendations – Don’t forget your camera! Wind is often a constant companion to the tour and guests are recommended to wear warm jackets and wind breakers. Horseback riders should wear flat shoes with the slight heel to stirrup and comfortable trousers with no inner seams. We suggest wearing sun protection.
The Balcony Tour
This 3 hour tour begins at El Calafate on board 4WD vehicle. An uphill winding road leads guests 1050 meters above sea level to a balcony offering fabulous vistas of El Calafate town and the eastern side of Lago Argentina. On clear days, even the Fitz Roy and Torres del Paine Mounts can be seen in the distance. Condors are often part of the scenery as they fly, wings extended, gliding in the thermal wind currents that rise between the mountains.
Vehicles continue uphill to reach the “Stone Labyrinth”. A formation from the Cretaceous Period, 85 million years ago. Here visitors can observe an extraordinary variety of rock formations. Several stops allow guests to take unique photographs of the breathtaking views and the extraordinary mountain landscape.
The descent follows, reaching the “Stone of Hats” where the tour stops for refreshments before heading home. The downhill drive, along a 30 degree slope, provides a quota of funs and vertigo to the journey!
Vehicles: There are vehicles with capacity for 6 or 25 guests
Duration: 3 Hours
Departures: 3 daily
Seasons: September to May
Perito Moreno and minitrekking
The tour to the Perito Moreno Glacier through the National Park is a beautiful two and a half hour drive with stops to enjoy the views. At the Corner of Sighs a special stop gives guests their first impressive full view of the glacier. For those that have come to El Calafate to see the monumental Perito glacier and also to have a rare opportunity to be able to walk on flowing ice, this full day trip will certainly provide everything that you might be after.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the world’s largest reserves of iced fresh water, measuring 96.52 square miles. It is one of the few glaciers that is advancing instead of retreating. It is thirty kilometers long, and imposing wall of ice towers some 70 meters above the walkways that offer different views from promontory of Peninsula de Magallanes that juts out into Lago Argentino. As we stand below, gazing up at the massive rugged face, we become aware that the glacier is very much a living, evolving thing that creaks and cracks like rifle shots preface the permanent ice block detachments that fall in slow motion into the water. They hit the surface with an almighty crash, submerging and rising up again to bob away as icebergs into the centre of the lake.
The biggest and most spectacular detachment occurs once the glacier has grown to form a bridge across to the promontory, cutting off the water flow between Brazo Rico and the Canal de los Tempanos. The natural dam that forms supports increasing pressure as water and ice accumulate on the Brazo Rico side and the water soaks into the ground at the point at which the ice touches the land, gradually creating a tunnel. The tunnel becomes wider and wider until the pressure of the glacier moving forward fractures the bridge dramatically. This rupture cycle is not regular and naturally recurs at any frequency between once a year to less than once a decade. The phenomenon brings photographers, film crews and glkacier enthusiasts from all over the world to wait for weeks on end for that special moment. The glacier first ruptured in 1917.
Minitrekking – this excursion is one of the most interesting and adventurous ways of getting to know the Argentine glaciers. The minitrekking does a tour of around two hours across the glacier ice to see natural variations such as crevasses, seracs, cesspits and small pools. The trekking is a moderate level walk and it is mandatory to use special trekking shoes with spikes that are provided by tour guides. AT the end of the walk, trekkers return to the shelter through the exuberant Magellan woods.
This programme takes us to the heart of “los Glaciares” National Park, 56 kms from El Calafate, where the century old Extanciaa Nibepo Aike is located. This working sheep and cattle ranch overlooks the southern arm of the Lago Argentino in a bucolic valley backed by snow capped mountain peaks. This itinerary is perfect for those that are looking to experience a bit of the “old” Argentina of gauchos and Patagonian vistas.
We depart El Calafate and after a 45 minute drive at 630, we arrive at Estancia Nibepo Aike. We are greeted with the traditional mate, tea and coffee with homemade pastries as we enjoy the majestic view of the Andes Mountain range.
We then commence our hike along the southern arm of the Lago Argentino as we observe different rocks springing from the ground that have been eroded by glacial action and changes in the level of water of the lake. We will clearly appreciate different folds on the earth crust which differ from each other according to the variety of sediments that have formed. These formations give shape to natural amphitheaters which, ion turn, protect beaches, making them tranquil spots to relax and take it all in.
The trail then loops back around to the estancia through an indigenous forest of beech and nires trees before arriving back to the lodge in time for the demonstration of traditional Gaucho skills. After which we will then be shown the traditional method for sheering sheep, including classification and storage.
After all of this activity it will then be possible to have a traditional Parilla barbeque with a full rack of lamb and accompanying side dishes of potatoes and salad.
This is probably the most exhilarating way to see the glacier, allowing you to explore every corner of the Perito Moreno Glacier with over three hours spent walking on the ice's surface. The tour is guided by experts along the paths on the southern moraine of Perito Moreno Glacier before reaching the ice cap. After being provided with ice crampons you will head out onto the glacier to explore its blue lakes, deep cracks, huge sinks and caves. Then there will be time to explore the walkways before heading back to El Calafate.
Le Leona Petrified Forest
This is an adventurous full day tour out on the Patagonian steppe. Heading north towards El Chaltén on the famous Ruta 40 you travel along the banks of Lago Argentino to la Leona River Valley, with its panoramic views of the Andes and the emblematic Mount Fitz Roy. The trek begins at Cerro Los Hornos; where there is a huge natural depression in the landscape and you can find the petrified trunks of ancient trees, some up to 1.2 metres in diameter. These and the dinosaur fossils that are often found in the area, are testament to ancient times when the climate here was very different.
El Chaltén trekking adventure
A guided trekking programme to the village of El Chaltén, which is around a 3-hour drive from El Calafate and well-known for being the trekking capital of Argentina. On arrival in Chaltén you continue straight through to Lago del Desierto, crossing the Valle del Río de las Vueltas until arriving at Hosteria El Pilar. Here you begin a guided trek passing the Piedras Blancas Glacier Camp, Mount Poincenot and, Mount Fitz Roy, until you arrive at Baguales Base Camp at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy. Here you will find a sit down three course lunch waiting for you before you continue back down to El Chaltén for the transfer back to El Calafate.
Upsala Kayak Experience
This is a unique kayaking trip including a boat trip across Lago Argentino and a paddle in double kayaks on the Upsala Canal. Paddling amongst icebergs of all sizes is a belittling and awe-inspiring experience. After a couple of hours
paddling in the canal, you re-board the boat for the return trip to El Calafate.
Rios de Hielo Boat Trip
This is one of the best ways to sail across Lago Argentino and see the Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers. The boat first heads northwest along the northern arm of Lago Argentino towards the Upsala Canal, where you will see a spectacular wall of ice and fantastic panoramic views of the Upsala Glacier. The boat then turns south down the Spegazzini Canal, from where the Seco Glacier can be seen en route to the Spegazzini Glacier, the highest in the National Park Los Glaciares.
Estancia Cristina occupies one of the most unique spots in Los Glaciares National Park, on the northwestern shore of Lago Argentino. The Upsala glacier, located a few kilometers from the Estancia, is one of the most important assets of the park. Originally founded in 1941 by Joseph P. Masters and his wife, this stunning place tells the story of their perseverance which made this lonely and inhospitable place into a home. The classic tour visits the museum and old shearing shed, where you will be introduced to the history of the Estancia. This is followed by a small guided walk up to Caterina River and the chapel, where you will also walk through the historical part of the estancia. Later on there is an optional and easy two hour trek through a lovely ñires wood to Los Perros Waterfall.
Torres del Paine
A long but fantastic trip in specially designed overland trucks. After crossing the Patagonian steppe south of Calafate, you will arrive at the border post of Cancha Carrera before continuing through Southern Chile until arriving at the Torres del Paine National Park. Once in the park, you see the main sights from the comfort of the overland truck, but there are also opportunities to get out and stretch your legs on some excellent short walks. The itinerary and walks are
adapted to the group (by default, the level of difficulty of the activities in the program is low). You will stop off at strategic points to get the most beautiful views of the park - Sarmiento de Gamboa Lake viewpoint, Azul Lagoon, a panoramic view
of Las Torres, the Saltos del Río, Cerro Almirante Nieto and Cuernos del Paine, Laguna Amarga, Salto Grande viewpoint, Nordenskjold Lake, Pehoe Lake, and the Interpretation Centre.