El Calafate is a small but swanky town near Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina.
Getting to El Calafate was not too difficult but it did take two bus rides from Punta Arenas, Chile so total bus time was about nine hours. We overnighted in Puerto Natales since the bus to El Calafate leaves at 7:45 AM. There was no other way to work it out.
Arriving in Argentina we had sticker shock of course. We new it would be more spendy but oh man sometimes it’s hard to adjust. Chile has been okay as far as affordability goes but certainly much more expensive than Ecuador. Visiting Argentina was like visiting Carmel, California. Fancy beers and pricey pizza!
The best thing we did was visit Perito Marreno Glacier. We paid for a tour which picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the park. Entrance into the park was about $21.00 each day. We elected to take a boat ride to see the glacier up close plus we walked on the “balconies” which sounds like a big deck but is actually raised walkways. The boat ride was fine, but not as good as Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine. I mention this because if you have to choose I would pick Grey Glacier it was just superior.
We also did a ferry on the Rio de Heilo or “River of Ice”. That was definitely a disappointment because we expected to see the Upsala Glacier up close but we didn’t get anywhere near it. The Upsala Glacier is the largest glacier in the area and the ferry ride is sold relying heavily on this fact. It did have a very exciting ride through a channel which had really huge swells. It was quite alarming initially. I think the icebergs were a lot bigger than the icebergs near Grey Glacier so that was pretty neat.
We did see calving at Perito Marreno which was outstanding. Calving is when the ice breaks off the glacier and splashes into the water. We also were amazed but the exceptionally loud sound of the ice cracking and moving. When on the balconies it is really loud and quite impressive.
In El Calafate there are only five automated teller machines. We had some trouble on a Sunday when all the machines in town ran out of money. Of course many places accept credit cards but they tack on a sizable increase (10-30%) so it’s best to pay with cash. The ATMs would only give very small amounts like $1000.00 Argentinian Pesos which is about $65.00 US, so we were in a bind trying to pay for our visit to the park where they only take cash. Fortunately we were able to use some US dollars plus some Chilean Pesos to get in and pay for our boat tour.
On our return to Chile the Chilean border patrol was having a strike so there was a delay at the border. This also impacted the Argentina side since Chile was only processing border crossings four times per day. This made a big pile up in Chile which then piled up in Argentina. It was not a huge big deal and since we left at 5:00 AM and had not enjoyed any coffee before we left, I just ended up sleeping quite a bit on the bus.
Fortunately we were able to catch a bus from Puerto Natales back to Punta Arenas the same day which mad for a 12 hour travel day by bus but it was nice to get it over with.
I feel like the visit to El Calafate was worth it. It’s a cute town and the glacier trip was fun but I would say bring cash and change it if you go because the ATM situation was stressful and also kinda annoying.