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- 23 Apr 2021, 3 nights
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El Calafate in Patagonia, southern Argentina, is the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park – home to one of the world’s few advancing glaciers. The town is named after the local calafate berry – the legend goes that once you’ve eaten one, you're guaranteed to return to Patagonia. But with trekking across ice fields, horse riding over vast plains and the formidable Glaciar Perito Moreno just 80km away, you probably won’t need a berry to ensure another visit.
El Calafate's lake and mountain scenery is breathtaking, so you'll want to choose an El Calafate hostel that makes the most of it, with views from on-site bars, restaurants or bedroom windows. Try local specialities like Patagonian lamb grilled in a traditional asado (a kind of Argentinian barbecue) way as you warm yourself by a cosy fireplace. Some El Calafate hostels have rooms with underfloor heating and en-suite bathrooms, though you could even splash out on a bungalow with your own private kitchen.
The main road in El Calafate, Avenida del Libertador San Martín, is lined with craft beer bars, ice cream shops and artisan chocolatiers. Pioneer-style buildings made of bricks and adobe can be found in the older parts of town, while the wooden chalets with gable roofs and large windows elsewhere in the town are reminiscent of a Swiss ski resort. Wander along the shores of Lago Argentino and you’ll reach Reserva Laguna Nimez, an eco-reserve that's home to flamingos, black-necked swans and hawks.
You can see Glaciar Perito Moreno from the panoramic Curva de los Suspiros (Curve of Sighs) viewpoint – listen for the sound of large shards of ice crashing into the water. Jump on a boat trip for a closer look at the advancing glacier wall. Guided ice trekking tours are also available, where you'll strap on a pair of crampons before traversing the glacier itself to see blue lagoons, sinkholes and crevasses. Hike, horse ride or drive a 4x4 up Cerro Frías for 360-degree views across Lago Argentino, Torres del Paine and Mount Fitz Roy.
If your feet are tired from trekking, you can hire a bike to get around El Calafate. Aeropuerto Lago Argentino is 23km from the town, with a direct bus connection. You can travel by bus to neighbouring Argentinetowns El Chaltén in 3 hours and Rio Gallegos in 4 hours, or across the border to Puerto Natales in Chile. The bus terminal in El Calafate is located on Julio A. Roca, just off Avenida del Libertador San Martín.
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