If you only have 2 days in El Calafate, this itinerary will help you make the most of your trip!
So you’re travelling around Patagonia and you have 2 days in El Calafate in Santa Cruz Province. Where should you go and what should you do?
Two days isn’t a whole lot of time to do it all, but it is enough to enjoy the main attractions. Namely, visit Los Glaciares National Park, see the Perito Moreno Glacier, and perhaps even visit an estancia.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Patagonia and more time in El Calafate than the average traveller. That means I’ve done a lot of the tours, gone on different day trips and visited the various attractions, so I know which ones are worth doing and which ones can be skipped.
With this in mind, I’ve created a 2 day itinerary for El Calafate, that I think includes the best this destination has to offer.
Here’s my 2-day El Calafate itinerary for those who are short on time but want to experience the highlights!
How to spend 2 Days in El Calafate
For starters, if you only have 2 days in El Calafate, you’ll want to make the most of your time there! You’ll probably be flying in from Buenos Aires and I recommend arriving the night before and going straight to your hotel to get a good night’s sleep.
We’re going to spend the first day exploring Los Glaciares National Park and seeing the glaciers up close, but it’s important to note that almost all tours to the glaciers depart early in the morning. You must arrive the day before if you want to join a tour!
In this itinerary, I’ll also provide you with a few different options when it comes to activities so you can choose according to your interests and your budget.
Day 1 in El Calafate
Depart for Los Glaciares National Park
Today is all about the glaciers and that means spending the day in Los Glaciares National Park!
Los Glaciares National Park is the largest national park in Argentina covering an area of 7,296 square kilometers. This national park is one of Patagonia’s gems with ice fields, glaciers, jagged mountain peaks, glacial lakes, crystalline rivers and lush forests.
While Los Glaciares National Park is home to numerous glaciers, none is more famous than the Perito Moreno Glacier. This is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world and it reaches a height of up to 60 meters above the water level of Lago Argentino. It’s a bucket list destination in South America and truly a sight to behold!
There are a few different ways to experience Los Glaciares National Park so I’m going to share 3 different options.
Option 1: Glaciers Boat Tour
The first option is to join a full-day glacier boat tour to visit all the different glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park.
We did this tour aboard Maria Turquesa and it was hands down our favourite experience of the entire trip to El Calafate.
We spent the day cruising the milky turquoise waters of Lago Argentino and we so many different glaciers along the way: Seco Glacier, Heim Glacier, Spegazzini Glacier, Upsala Glacier, Bertacchi Glacier, and the one and only Perito Moreno Glacier!
We saw icebergs and even fished some pieces out of the water to eat, we went on a guided hike through Puesto de Las Vacas, but we mostly spent the day out on the deck giddy with excitement each time we approached a new glacier. It was an epic day to say the least!
This tour was our big splurge in El Calafate. We booked through MarPatag after visiting a few different travel agencies in town. It’s always cheaper to book in town, but this one also books up fast, so don’t leave it until the very last minute if you’re there during high season.
This full-day boat tour to the glaciers runs around 10-12 hours. It includes lunch, visits all the different glaciers, and there’s a guided walk halfway through the tour.
Option 2: Glacier Ice Trekking Tour
If you’re looking for something a bit more adventurous, another way to experience Los Glaciares National Park is by joining an ice trekking excursion, where you’ll be walking on top of the Perito Moreno Glacier!
To do this ice trek, you first need to reach the glacier and that involves taking a small boat to Bajo de las Sombras and crossing over the Rico Arm. Once you reach the glacier, you get all geared up with crampons and ice axes, plus you’ll get a lesson on ice trekking from your trusty guide.
This trek is done in a single file following your guide in front. There is absolutely no deviating or venturing off on your own because there are crevasses and seracs.
Doing a glacier trek on your trip to El Calafate is a splurge. These tours typically cost quite a bit considering the logistics involved, expert guides, required equipment, and the limited number of participants, plus there’s only one glacier trekking operator and that’s Hielo y Aventura.
You can typically get these Perito Moreno glacier tours cheaper once you arrive in El Calafate if you’re willing to do the legwork, but you’ll want to book your spot a few days in advance since this tour completely sells out.
This Perito Moreno Glacier trek includes transportation to and from the park, a professional guide, and required ice trekking equipment. It has a maximum of 10 participants per guide.
Option 3: Walk the Boardwalks
If you want to explore Los Glaciares National Park at your own leisure, then walking the boardwalks and stopping at the balconies is the way to do it. This is also the most budget-friendly option of seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier.
You can easily reach the national park by bus. For example, Caltur offers daily bus departures from the El Calafate Bus Terminal to Los Glaciares National Park with a morning departure and an afternoon departure. It’s a 1.5-hour journey there and they give you about 6 hours in the national park. If you prefer a guided tour, they have another option that includes hotel pick-up and drop-off.
Even though we did the glaciers boat cruise, we enjoyed the landscapes of Los Glaciares National Park so much, that we took the bus to the park and spent the day marvelling at the Perito Moreno Glacier…again!
The boardwalks are known as pasarelas and you have 5 different routes to choose from ranging from 30-minute to 1.5-hour loops. You also have balconies or balcones along the way with benches where you can stop and enjoy the views. One of the loops is even wheelchair accessible.
- Central Circuit – 600 metres – 1:00 hs – Easy
- Lower Circuit – 1100 metres – 1:15 hs – Challenging
- Forest Trail – 570 metres – 0:45 hs – Moderate
- Shoreline Trail – 1117 metres – 1:30 hs – Moderate
- Accessible Circuit – 565 metres – 0.30 hs – Very easy
Aside from walking these loops, you can also visit Laguna de los Témpanos or the Iceberg Lagoon. The chunks of ice that break off the Perito Moreno Glacier end up in this channel and it’s a cool spot to check out.
There’s also a restaurant inside Los Glaciares National Park called Restó del Glaciar Perito Moreno. We grabbed some sandwiches, drinks and brownies here. It was a good spot to warm up, plus we couldn’t believe that we had glacier views from the restaurant.
If you’re looking for a relaxed way of exploring the park and seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier at your own pace, this is the way to do it.
Dinner at Restaurante Morrison
Whichever option you choose for exploring Los Glaciares National Park and the Perito Moreno Glacier, it’ll be a full day activity and you’ll be arriving back in El Calafate in the late afternoon or evening. This brings us to dinner!
One place we enjoyed was Restaurante Morrison. Everything on their menu sounded delicious: Patagonian lamb roulade with rustic potatoes, rib eye with vegetable terrine, lemon pork with sweet potatoes. Plus, they had pastas, stews and risottos.
Don’t even get me started on desserts! The pears in red wine with calafate berries were simply divine.
Day 2 in El Calafate
Breakfast in town
Start the morning off with breakfast at Olivia Coffee Shop. If you’re craving something beyond the classic café con leche y medialunas (coffee with milk and croissants), you’ll enjoy the variety at this cafe.
You can get waffles with caramelized apples and cinnamon, smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, avocado on toast with a poached egg, and so much more.
Their coffees are really good and their pastries are simply tempting.
Flamingoes in Laguna Nimez
Laguna Nimez Reserve is situated on the shores of Lago Argentino, within walking distance from the center of El Calafate and it’s a really nice place for a morning stroll.
The reserve encompasses a range of habitats, such as wetlands, lagoons, and Patagonian steppe, making it a unique ecological area.
It is home to various bird species, including flamingoes, black-necked swans, and many types of ducks and geese. The best times for bird-watching are early morning or late afternoon when the birds are most active. There are even bird-watching huts along the way, so you can observe the birds without disturbing them.
There are well-marked trails that wind through the reserve, allowing visitors to explore the area. These trails are relatively easy and suitable for all ages and fitness levels.
You can explore on your own (that’s what we did!) but there’s also an option to join a guided tour if you’d prefer a more in-depth look at the local ecosystem.
The reserve can be visited year-round, but the best time is during the spring and summer months when the majority of birds are nesting and the weather is more pleasant.
The entire walk through Laguna Nimez Reserve is 3 kilometres long and takes about 1 hour and 30 minutes to complete.
Have lunch at Isabel Cocina al Disco
One restaurant we enjoyed and visited time and again is Isabel Cocina al Disco. They have locations across Patagonia and we ate at the ones in El Calafate and Ushuaia multiple times!
This restaurant specializes in comida al disco, meaning food cooked on a plow disk. Yes, I’m talking about the plow disk from farming equipment! This is an old style of cooking that was widely used in the countryside and especially in Patagonia.
You can get all sorts of things cooked al disco: lamb, pork, trout, chicken and beef. Plus you can choose between different types of sauces for your base.
It’s a really fun experience and the dishes are very filling. If you’re looking to sample some traditional Argentine cuisine, this is a must-try dish.
I’m going to present you with two different options for your second afternoon in El Calafate: one for nature lovers and one for museum lovers.
These two options also work well depending on whether you have a sunny day or one of those infamous Patagonian weather days where being outdoors is not an option!
Option 1: Ranch life at Estancia Nibepo Aike
There are so many fun day tours from El Calafate and one that we particularly enjoyed was a ranch day at Estancia Nibepo Aike.
This is one of the more famous estancias in El Calafate and it is located within the boundaries of Los Glaciares National Park as the estancia predates the formation of the park!
This tour is a fun way to get a look at a working ranch, enjoy the beauty of the national park, and have a traditional Patagonian BBQ or asado.
We did the half-day tour to Estancia Nibepo Aike and we watched the gauchos herd sheep, attended a sheep shearing demonstration, hiked around the property to the shores of Lago Argentino, and enjoyed a feast of a meal! If you opt for the full-day option, you can tack on a 3-hour horse trek.
It’s a 1.5-hour journey from El Calafate to the estancia down dirt roads, so you’ll get to enjoy the scenery. We got lucky and even spotted some guanacos along the way!
This day trip to Estancia Nibepo Aike can be booked as a half-day or full-day excursion. The full-day option includes horseback riding in Los Glaciares National Park with a guide.
Option 2: Glaciarium and Ice Bar
The Glaciarium Patagonian Ice Museum is a modern and informative museum dedicated to the glaciers, particularly focusing on the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. It’s a really cool building that is designed to look like a glacier from the exterior.
Glaciarium features extensive information about the formation of glaciers, their impact on the global ecosystem, and the unique features of the Patagonian glaciers. It’s designed to educate visitors about the importance of these natural wonders, with a significant emphasis on the effects of climate change.
Perhaps one of the main draws to the Glaciarium is GlacioBar, an ice bar where everything, including the glasses, is made of ice!
It’s a fun experience where you can enjoy a drink in a sub-zero environment. They have ice sculptures, including an igloo, and colourful lights, so it makes for some fun photo ops.
You are given a poncho with a hoodie to stay warm. We were only there for 15-20 minutes, but we enjoyed the novelty of it. It’s probably more fun if you visit with a group of friends, though we befriended a solo traveller and took turns snapping fun photos.
The museum is located about 6 kilometres from the center of El Calafate. However, there’s a free shuttle bus service that runs between the town and the museum, making it easily accessible for tourists.
Glaciarium is open daily from 12:00 to 8:00 pm, but as always, check the website for the most up-to-date schedule as these things can change.
Dinner at Mi Rancho Restaurant Patagónico
You won’t be hungry for dinner if you go with the estancia visit since that includes an afternoon welcome snack and a massive BBQ, however, if you opt for the museum visit to Glaciarium, then you’ll definitely want some food afterwards.
Mi Rancho is a great restaurant that serves lots of different Patagonian dishes. You can order barbecued lamb with oven-roasted potatoes, guanaco stew in tomato sauce, and braised ossobuco with risotto.
For dessert, you can choose between creme brulee with rosehip, flan with dulce the leche, and a calafate berry parfait. As you can see, lots of local ingredients on the menu!
Stroll along Avenida del Libertador
Last but not least, use your last evening in El Calafate to stroll the main street, Avenida de Libertador. You’ll find lots of souvenir shops here, especially around Aldea de los Gnomos, where you can pick up some Argentine souvenirs to take back home.
If you’re in the mood for a nightcap, you’ll find plenty of bars and breweries with outdoor terraces, where you can cheer the end of a fantastic trip to Patagonia.
That’s it for our action-packed 2 day El Calafate travel itinerary. If you have a bit more time, you can check out our list of things to do in El Calafate for even more ideas.
If you’re continuing on to Argentina’s trekking capital, here’s how to get to El Chalten from El Calafate. You can also check out this fun 3-day itinerary for El Chaltén or read our complete travel guide to El Chalten.
Travel Tips for 2 Days in El Calafate
- Weather: When you travel in Patagonia, you need to be prepared for the ever-changing weather conditions. Bring warm and waterproof clothing and dress in layers. Remember it’s cooler in Los Glaciares National Park when you’re standing in front of a glacier than it is in the town of El Calafate.
- Transportation: I would recommend booking private transfers or joining guided tours. The travel time to the national park is 1.5 hours each way. I don’t think it’s worth renting a car if you only have 2 days in El Calafate.
- Tours: If you’re visiting El Calafate during high season, you’ll want to make sure you book your tours in advance. The most popular experiences (like ice trekking and glacier boat tours) can fill up days ahead.
- Accommodations: The same thing goes for booking your hotel in El Calafate. If you want to stay at a particular place, book well in advance. This is one of the more popular destinations in Patagonia and most hotels will be operating at full capacity during the summer months.
GROUP TOURS – If you’d rather join a group tour to travel in Argentina, check out Gadventures.
CAR RENTAL – To explore Argentina beyond the cities, the best way to do so is by renting a car. Discover Cars offers rentals across the country.
BUS TICKETS – Bus travel is a great way to see Argentina. BusBud offers numerous routes.
TRAVEL INSURANCE – Don’t leave on your trip without booking travel insurance. You can get a quote on SafetyWing.
HOTELS – Booking.com offers accommodations to suit all budgets and travel styles.
TOURS – For a variety of tours and activities, have a look at Viator.