El Calafate vs. El Chaltén: Which Town in Patagonia is Better?

Patagonia, a region of stunning natural beauty and rugged landscapes, is home to two of Argentina’s most renowned towns: El Calafate and El Chaltén. Both destinations serve as gateways to some of the most iconic sights in South America, attracting adventurers, nature lovers, and photographers alike. However, each town offers unique experiences and caters to different types of travelers. This article aims to compare El Calafate and El Chaltén to help you decide which town is better suited for your Patagonian adventure.

El Calafate: The Glacier Gateway

Introduction El Calafate, located on the southern shore of Lake Argentino, is often referred to as the “Gateway to the Glaciers.” It is the main hub for visitors heading to the Los Glaciares National Park, particularly the famous Perito Moreno Glacier.


  1. Perito Moreno Glacier
    • One of the most accessible glaciers in the world, Perito Moreno is the star attraction. Visitors can witness the awe-inspiring spectacle of massive ice chunks calving into the lake from viewing platforms or on boat tours.
  2. Los Glaciares National Park
    • A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park boasts other glaciers like Upsala and Spegazzini. It offers a range of activities including hiking, ice trekking, and kayaking.
  3. Lago Argentino
    • The largest freshwater lake in Argentina provides opportunities for boating, fishing, and bird watching. The turquoise waters are framed by stunning mountain vistas.
  4. Laguna Nimez Reserve
    • A birdwatcher’s paradise, this ecological reserve near the town center is home to flamingos, black-necked swans, and numerous other bird species.

Accommodation and Dining El Calafate offers a wide range of accommodations, from budget hostels to luxury hotels. The town has numerous restaurants serving Patagonian cuisine, including the famous Argentine barbecue (asado) and lamb dishes.

Accessibility El Calafate has its own airport with regular flights from Buenos Aires and other major cities, making it easily accessible for international and domestic travelers.

El Chaltén: The Trekking Capital

Introduction El Chaltén, a small village nestled in the Andes, is known as Argentina’s trekking capital. It is situated within Los Glaciares National Park and offers some of the best hiking opportunities in Patagonia.


  1. Mount Fitz Roy
    • The iconic peak of Mount Fitz Roy (Cerro Fitz Roy) is a magnet for trekkers and climbers. The challenging Laguna de los Tres hike provides breathtaking views of the mountain and its surrounding glaciers.
  2. Cerro Torre
    • Another striking peak, Cerro Torre is famous for its sharp, needle-like summit. The Laguna Torre hike is a popular trail that leads to a glacial lake with stunning views of the peak.
  3. Hiking Trails
    • El Chaltén boasts a variety of trails suitable for all levels, from short walks to multi-day treks. Popular routes include the Laguna Capri, Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, and the Viedma Glacier hike.
  4. Viedma Glacier
    • Located near El Chaltén, this glacier offers unique opportunities for ice trekking and exploring ice caves.

Accommodation and Dining While smaller than El Calafate, El Chaltén has a good selection of hostels, guesthouses, and lodges. The dining options are diverse, with many restaurants offering hearty meals to refuel after a long day of trekking.

Accessibility El Chaltén does not have its own airport. Visitors typically fly into El Calafate and then take a scenic 3-hour drive to the village. While less convenient, the journey offers spectacular views of the Patagonian landscape.

Comparing the Experiences

Natural Attractions

  • El Calafate: Ideal for those who want to experience glaciers up close. The Perito Moreno Glacier is a must-see, and the boat tours on Lago Argentino offer unique perspectives of the ice formations.
  • El Chaltén: Perfect for trekking enthusiasts and mountaineers. The village provides access to some of the best hiking trails in Patagonia, with incredible views of Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.


  • El Calafate: Offers a mix of activities including glacier tours, ice trekking, boating, and bird watching.
  • El Chaltén: Primarily focused on hiking and trekking. It is the go-to destination for those looking to explore Patagonia on foot.

Accommodation and Dining

  • El Calafate: More developed with a wider range of accommodation and dining options. Suitable for travelers looking for comfort and convenience.
  • El Chaltén: More rustic and geared towards outdoor enthusiasts. Accommodations are comfortable but less luxurious compared to El Calafate.


  • El Calafate: Easily accessible with its own airport. Convenient for travelers on tight schedules.
  • El Chaltén: Requires a bit more effort to reach, involving a drive from El Calafate. Best suited for those with more time to explore.

Making Your Choice

When to Visit Both towns are best visited during the Patagonian summer, from November to March, when the weather is milder and the days are longer.

Travel Goals

  • Choose El Calafate if you:
    • Want to see glaciers up close and enjoy a variety of activities.
    • Prefer more developed tourist infrastructure.
    • Have limited time and need easy access.
  • Choose El Chaltén if you:
    • Are an avid hiker or mountaineer looking for challenging trails.
    • Enjoy more remote and less commercialized destinations.
    • Have ample time to explore and don’t mind a longer journey.

Combining Both Destinations For the ultimate Patagonian adventure, consider visiting both El Calafate and El Chaltén. Spend a few days in El Calafate to explore the glaciers, then head to El Chaltén for some unforgettable trekking experiences. This way, you can enjoy the best of both worlds and fully immerse yourself in the natural splendor of Patagonia.


El Calafate and El Chaltén each offer unique experiences that showcase the diverse beauty of Patagonia. Whether you are drawn to the majestic glaciers of El Calafate or the rugged peaks and trails of El Chaltén, both towns promise unforgettable adventures. Your choice ultimately depends on your interests and travel preferences, but either way, a trip to Patagonia is sure to be a journey of a lifetime.