El Calafate is the closest thing to a city in Argentine Patagonia, but if you’re looking for skyscrapers and skinny lattes, you’re in the wrong place. Although it’s grown a lot in the past decade, El Calafate is still much as it ever was: a small town with an almost village-like atmosphere, sat by the still, cold waters of the glacial lake. That said, as the largest town in the region by some distance, it is well provided with hotels, shops, restaurants and all the other facilities you’re likely to need on your trip to Patagonia.
There is a wide range of hotels and hostels available in El Calafate, from budget beds to 5-star luxury, but across the board you’ll see huge difference between high and low-season prices. In fact, many hotels close completely over the winter months (June-August), while prices from December-February will often be literally double those for the rest of the year.
Hotels are clustered by the lake shore and in the downtown area, while most shops and restaurants are also to be found downtown. Eateries tend to be low-mid range, with only a couple of high-end restaurants, but the quality (as everywhere in Argentina) and value is uniformly good, particularly if you stick to classic Argentine steak and pasta dishes, or some of the local Patagonian specialties: lamb and trout are both generally good choices here.
It’s worth remembering that people eat fairly early in Patagonia compared to the rest of Argentina. In Buenos Aires it’s not unusual to head out for dinner at 11pm, but if you try that in El Calafate you’re likely to be short of options: this is very definitely an early-to-bed, early-to-rise kind of town.
Details provided by Dan Clarke of Argentina and Patagonia holiday specialists, RealWorld.