After driving about 6 hours, we reached the small town of El Calafate. This town truly reminded us of a South American Whistler Village. There was lots of wood and log structures, it was quite touristy, and there were little shops all along the main street. Bennett and I actually picked up some ceramic shot glasses in town, as the souvenirs were endless.
We were only in El Calafate for one night and we stayed at the Mirador del Lago Hotel. I will say that the room we chose was a little small, however the hotel itself was quite nice and it was located within walking distance to all the shops and restaurants. We weren’t at the hotel for any meals (except one limited-selection buffet breakfast). We did order packed lunches through them however for our full-day excursion, but I think there were better packed lunch options in town for a better price.
We had one full day in El Calafate and originally planned to do a half-day excursion to leave room for some exploration in town. However, we booked late and ended up doing the Big Ice Trek on Perito Moreno Glacier, which was a FULL day. We were picked up at our hotel around 6:45am and drove for about an hour to the Perito Moreno National Park. We stopped at their main building and walked the glacier lookout trails for a half hour before going back to the bus and driving down to the boat dock. The lookouts were very interesting because you could see the glacier in full, and from further away. Once at the boat dock we boarded our own boat, there were about 12 people in our group including us and 2 guides. We cruised along the side of the glacier and docked at the other side. There we were fitted with helmets, hiking poles, and harnesses before heading off on a 1 hour hike to the edge of the glacier. When I tell you this hike was no joke, I mean it. It was very physically demanding with a lot of inclines and technical areas, such as scaling a cliff edge in loose dirt and rocks. After the hard part was over, we arrived at an area with an outhouse where we stopped for water and to get fitted with crampons. We carried our crampons another 15 minutes through rough terrain onto the glacier, where our guides put them on for us. Once on the glacier, we followed our guides for an hour and a half before stopping for lunch ON the glacier. All in all, we were on the glacier for about 2-3 hours before trekking back down. It was an incredible experience and I would absolutely recommend the Big Ice over the half day excursion if you can manage it. You were able to see more of the glacier, such as blue ponds, caves, deep cracks, and got to fill your water bottles with cold glacial water. Once back at the boat, we were served scotch with glacial ice and enjoyed that while crossing the lake back to our bus.
** There is a Western Union in town if you want to switch USD to ARS. There’s something called the Blue Dollar in Argentina where the currency exchange rate is double what the official rate is – therefore if you exchange somewhere that offers the blue dollar, you will double your spending money. Make sure you bring USD with you from home! You don’t want to convert twice here. Also, we noticed BMO and Neo Financial MasterCards offered this Blue Rate, but our Visas and Amex didn’t. **
** Sit on the RIGHT hand side of the boat on the Big Ice Trek in order to see the glacier well, and wear lots of sunscreen! The UV rays are amplified with the snow and ice. **