Which Town in Patagonia is Better?


Adventurous Kate contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!

El Calafate vs. El Chaltén. Which town is better? And if you only have time to visit one town in Argentine Patagonia, which town should you visit?

I was lucky to visit both El Calafate and El Chaltén on my trip to Patagonia, and I was struck by the fact that both towns look similar on paper, but they feel quite different in real life.

And so I know I had to write this post for all of you planning trips to Patagonia. Visiting Patagonia is a time-consuming endeavor, and many people don’t have time to visit both El Calafate and El Chaltén.

Should you go to both? OF COURSE you should go to both if you have the time and money! But if you have limited time on your trip, this post will help you figure out whether you should prioritize El Calafate or El Chaltén.

This post was published in February 2024.

A huge white glacier in the distance, surrounded by navy blue mountains topped with streaky snow.
Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina

El Calafate vs. El Chaltén: The Basics

El Calafate and El Chaltén are two of the most popular towns to visit in Argentine Patagonia. Each town is placed on the edge of Los Glaciares National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site: El Calafate to the south, and El Chaltén to the north.

Both El Calafate and El Chaltén offer plenty of options for lovers of the outdoors; both towns have lots of guided tours available; both towns have accommodation for travelers of all budgets.

Both towns are very busy during high season in Patagonia, from December through March. And both towns have a lot of craft breweries!

Rows of colorful houses surrounded by trees, perched on the edge of a big lake in Patagonia.
El Calafate at sunset, via Shutterstock

El Calafate in a nutshell

El Calafate has a population of 6,000 and feels like a large town, or even a small city.

The main attraction in El Calafate is Perito Moreno Glacier, located about one hour’s drive from the town. You can admire the glacier from extensive viewing platforms, or book a navigational cruise or go trekking on the glacier itself.

Nearby activities in El Calafate include rafting, kayaking, hiking, estancia visits with horseback riding, and some museum-type sights. You can also do plenty of dining, shopping, and brewery-hopping in town.

You can read my full guide to El Calafate here.

A small town filled with houses, surrounded by mountains on each side.
El Chaltén is surrounded by mountains!

El Chaltén in a nutshell

El Chaltén has a population of about 1,600 and feels like a very small town.

The main attraction in El Chaltén is hiking: the Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre hikes are lauded for their incredible beauty, and El Chaltén is unique in that nearly all hikes begin directly from in the town!

Nearby activities in El Chaltén include glacier trekking, boat cruises, estancia visits with horseback riding, and plenty more day hikes. The town is quiet at night, but there are some fun breweries.

You can read my full guide to El Chaltén here.

A group of hikers clustered around a small cabin where guides are tying crampons on their boots.
You don’t have to hike across ice to get to El Calafate!

Which town is easier to get to, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

El Calafate is home to an airport, which makes it one of the easiest and most accessible destinations in Argentine Patagonia. El Calafate Airport (FTE) has direct flights to Buenos Aires and other Patagonian destinations like Bariloche in the Lake District and Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego.

El Calafate also has a bus terminal with onward bus journeys to further destinations in Argentine and Chilean Patagonia. If you’re coming from Torres del Paine, Chile, there is one bus per day in the early morning from Torres del Paine National Park, and there are more buses from the city of Puerto Natales, Chile, the gateway to Torres del Paine.

El Calafate Airport is about a 30-minute drive from El Calafate town, and El Calafate’s bus terminal is juuuust far enough from town for you to want a taxi, especially if you have bags.

By contrast, El Chaltén is about a 2.5-hour drive or bus ride from El Calafate airport. There are also bus journeys further north and south in Patagonia.

The bus terminal is on the edge of town, and El Chaltén is so small that you can walk everywhere in town easily.

As for getting between El Calafate and El Chaltén, it’s about a three-hour drive or bus journey between the two towns.

Conclusion: El Calafate is easier to get to than El Chaltén. Having an airport 30 minutes away makes it convenient for arriving from Buenos Aires.

Several people standing on a rock overlooking the jagged Mountain View of Fitz Roy.
Hikers posing at the Mount Fitz Roy Viewpoint, just outside El Chaltén, Argentina.

Which town is better for hiking, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

El Calafate has hiking options in the general vicinity — but not directly from the town, with the possible exception of Reserva Laguna Nimez, a short flat hike.

In contrast, El Chaltén is absolute paradise for hikers. Not only are some of the best and most beautiful hikes in Patagonia located in El Chaltén, but the town serves as a trailhead. It’s amazing that you can wake up, put on your gear, and just start hiking, no matter where in town you’re staying. No transportation necessary!

While some of the hikes in El Chaltén are challenging, especially Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre, there are also some easier hikes. Laguna Azul and Chorrillo del Salto are two easy, low-key hikes that are even good for elementary-aged kids.

You can also simply hike to the Fitz Roy viewpoint or Laguna Capri on the Laguna de los Tres hike, which I did and was still absolutely worth it.

Conclusion: El Chaltén is significantly better for hiking than El Calafate, and is in fact one of the best bases for hiking in Patagonia. Speaking personally, it’s one of the best hiking-oriented towns I’ve ever visited.

A sign reading El Chalten: Capital Nacional del Trekking. Bienvenido's.
Welcome to El Chaltén!

Which town is cheaper, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

This question is a bit more complicated. Each town is cheaper and more expensive in different ways.

Let’s start with accommodation. I searched for accommodation in both towns for two people in one room for two nights in late March, Tuesday through Thursday.

El Calafate Accommodation Prices:

El Chaltén Accommodation Prices:

Overall, accommodation in El Chaltén tends to cost 50-100% more than what a similar property costs in El Calafate.

This certainly matches what my husband and I experienced for our own trip to Patagonia in December 2023. We booked a top-rated, mid-range, well-located hotel in each town, and paid about double in El Chaltén what we paid in El Calafate.

Now, let’s look at the costs of five of the most popular activities in town. I based this on dates in late March 2024:

El Calafate Activity Prices:

El Chaltén Activity Prices:

Overall, El Calafate’s activities tend to be much more expensive, and many of El Chaltén’s best activities are free hikes. Your cost of activities in El Chaltén would probably be significantly lower than in El Calafate.

Next up, restaurants: I found restaurants in El Calafate and El Chaltén to have fairly similar pricing; if anything, El Chaltén was a bit more expensive for comparable food and drink. If you self-cater, prices at the supermarket are similar in each town.

Conclusion: El Calafate has cheaper accommodation than El Chaltén, but tours to Perito Moreno Glacier can be expensive. El Chaltén has more expensive accommodation, but lots of free hiking opportunities.

I recommend listing out the prices of accommodation per night and activities you want to do, and compare the overall cost.

A small town of colorful small houses, surrounded by tall mountains on all sides.
El Chaltén: Imagine if you lived in a place like this!

Which town is more beautiful, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

Let’s be honest — we’re talking about something entirely subjective here. Who’s the authority on beauty, anyway?

There isn’t much beauty in El Calafate town, but the glacier itself is lovely. By contrast, El Chaltén is located in an incredibly scenic spot, with mountains on all sides and views of Fitz Roy from right in town. It’s pretty hard to compete with being surrounded by nature at its best, 24/7.

Conclusion: I think El Chaltén is more visually stunning than the area surrounding El Calafate.

A walkway of stairs leading down to an enormous blue and white glacier surrounded by mountains.
Perito Moreno Glacier brings the unique factor to El Calafate.

Which town is more unique, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

I know, I know, “more unique” is technically an impossible term. For this question, it comes down to which town has a more significant unique factor.

For El Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier is the unique factor. I’ve been privileged to see many cool glaciers around the world, from Antarctica to the Greenland Ice Sheet and stunning Eqi Glacier in Greenland, as well as other glaciers in Patagonia, like Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine, Chile. I’ve also gone glacier trekking and ice climbing on Sólheimajökull Glacier in Iceland.

So how does Perito Moreno stack up to those? It’s one of the absolute most stunning glaciers I’ve ever seen. The colors and dimensions are dramatic and enthralling. I love the setup of the many platforms and walkways in front of the glacier, especially that they’re technically free to visit if you have your own car.

As for the glacier mini-trekking experience at Perito Moreno, I found it extremely well done, and it felt special. If ice climbing had been involved here too, it would have blown my Iceland experience out of the water.

For El Chaltén, the ridiculously easy access of the hiking is the unique factor. The landscapes are stunning — perhaps the best you’ve seen in Argentina, or perhaps you lucked out and saw some even better landscapes elsewhere in the region! (I mean, Southern Chile does have some great spots…)

Is it unique to be able to hike out from a town? Not really. Special, yes, but that isn’t enough of a factor to tell people, “You absolutely need to come to this place once in your life.”

Conclusion: I think Perito Moreno Glacier provides some of the more unique glacier experiences available around the world, though I also think El Chaltén is a special outlier as far as small hiking towns go.

A bartender holding a sampler platter filled with seven different taster samples of beer.
Sampler time at Nativa Restaurante & Cervecería Artesanal in El Calafate!

Which town has better breweries, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

If you’re a craft beer fan, you’re going to love your time in Argentine Patagonia! Both El Calafate and El Chaltén have plenty of craft breweries in town.

Many of the breweries in El Calafate are on Avenida del Liberatador, the main street in town. I really enjoyed La Zorra Taproom, which had an outdoor patio, and delicious beers and eats. Cerveza Patagonia and La Fábrica Cervecería were two more fun places with outdoor seating on the main road.

And Nativa Restaurante & Cervecería Artesanal was a lovely surprise — the bartender heard we enjoyed craft beer and prepared us a giant sampler of their brews, without us even asking!

El Chaltén also has their outpost of La Zorra Taproom (though if you want brewery merch, buy it in El Calafate!). I also really enjoyed La Cervecería Chaltén, which makes a great spot for a pasta lunch, and La Birre del Rancho and Fresco Bar are two more terrific options.

Wherever you go, I recommend trying a calafate beer, made with the calafate berry — there’s nowhere else in the world where you can have one of those! (And don’t forget the calafate legend — if you try the berry, you’re destined to return to Patagonia someday.)

Conclusion: Both towns have great breweries, but El Calafate has a more extensive selection overall.

The jagged gray mountain range of Fitz Roy and a still gray lake in front of it.
Laguna Capri near El Chaltén.

Which town is better for outdoors enthusiasts, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

I find that there are two kinds of visitors to Patagonia: people who enjoy the outdoors, and people who LIVE AND BREATHE for the outdoors. For this question, I’m talking about the latter: people who travel around the world to hike, ski, and rock climb; people who travel around the world working at wilderness resorts; people who would sooner die than live in a big city.

My guides at Ecocamp Patagonia in Torres del Paine were those kinds of people. Nature is their life — and that’s fantastic.

Interestingly, when I had a conversation with them about where Charlie and I were going next, their reactions spoke volumes.

“We’re heading to El Calafate next,” I’d tell them, and they’d nod. “And then El Chaltén.”

“OHHHHH!” they’d say each time, sighing with happiness. “I LOVE Chaltén.”

For my guides, El Calafate was a place to visit once — but El Chaltén was paradise. A place you’d visit again and again, just soaking up the gorgeous vibes.

If you see yourself as a hardcore outdoors enthusiast, I think you’ll prefer the town of El Chaltén to El Calafate.

Conclusion: El Chaltén is much more beloved by outdoors enthusiasts.

Two men on a glacier cruise photographing Perito Moreno Glacier in the distance.
A boat ride option on Lake Argentina makes El Calafate a great option for the less-mobile.

Which town is better for less-mobile people, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

Speaking generally, Patagonia is not a destination I recommend for people with mobility challenges. Even if you’re sticking to “gentle” excursions, there is still a fair amount of hiking and walking.

That being said, I think the town of El Calafate is the better choice for either people with mobility challenges, or for people who are older, less in shape, or not up for extensive hiking every day.

Why is that the case? El Calafate is a fairly flat town; you can get taxis to destinations in and around El Calafate; and some of the viewing platforms at Perito Moreno Glacier are accessible to wheelchairs.

I think the full day boat tour on Lake Argentino is an excellent activity choice for people who don’t want to be super-active and athletic.

By contrast, El Chaltén is not a very accessible town, and it’s a small enough town that there are no taxis to get you around if you need it — walking is your only option. The main activity in town is hiking, and while there are some easier, low-key hikes, most of the long hikes require a decent level of fitness.

Conclusion: El Calafate is a much better choice for less-active or less-mobile people.

A group of people hiking uphill, gray mountain peaks in the distance.
I swear I saw a six-year-old on this hike in El Chaltén! He did well!

Which town is better for families, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

Honestly, I didn’t see very many families with young kids in Patagonia. But the kids that I did see were loving their time in the great outdoors!

If your kids are experienced hikers, or teenagers or older, you can be happy with either El Calafate or El Chaltén — though, of course, every kid is different, and it depends entirely on their interests.

If you have younger kids, or less experienced hikers, I think El Calafate would be an easier destination overall. Similar to how it’s suited to lower-mobility people, El Calafate can be experienced in less-active doses, and the town gives you a lot of comfortable options.

But if your kids enjoy hiking, bring them to El Chaltén. They’ll have an absolute ball. (Don’t tell your teens about the lack of good wifi until you get there, LOL.)

Conclusion: If your kids are hikers, they’ll be happy in either place. If they’re not experienced hikers, El Calafate is probably the better of the two towns.

A restaurant with a big open wooden roof underneath an evening sky in El Calafate, Argentina.
Come on in and get work done in El Calafate.

Which town is better for digital nomads, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

This blog has been my full-time job since 2010, and my husband has been working remotely full-time since 2001 (yes, he was a VERY early remote worker). Both of us work throughout our travels, which was how we were able to take a monthlong honeymoon in South America!

And we’re far from alone. More and more people become remote workers each year, and some use this as an opportunity to take extended vacations and work on and off, or to travel and work full-time.

So, by this question, I’m asking which of the towns are better equipped for people who need to work.

Honestly, Patagonia is in general not a wise place to work remotely, as internet speeds are slow, but El Calafate is actually not that bad as far as Patagonia goes. The town has good phone signal, hotels tend to have decent wifi (perhaps not video call speed-friendly though), and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can work for part of the day.

By contrast, El Chaltén does not have decent phone signal at all (we had, at best, E signal), and many of the hotels and restaurants only have wifi as slow as molasses.

If you need good wifi in El Chaltén, though, I recommend PAISA High Mountain Coffee, a wonderful cafe with nice wifi and the best flat white I had in all of Argentina.

Conclusion: While Patagonia is not an ideal destination for working remotely, El Calafate is better for digital nomads than El Chaltén. I would recommend saving El Chaltén for a time when you can be entirely offline.

An outdoor patio at a brewery, with lots of people sitting outside, a sunset in the background, and bushes with yellow flowers surrounding the space.
Both towns have a La Zorra, but only the one in El Calafate has a nightlife feel.

Which town has better restaurants and nightlife, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

Most people don’t come to Patagonia for the food. Well, maybe for the lamb. But the food tends to rank far behind all the outdoor activities.

That being said, food is a big priority when you’re expending so many calories while out on your adventures all day. There are plenty of good restaurants in both El Calafate and El Chaltén that are full of delicious dishes.

Lamb is a specialty in this part of the world, and you’ll see lots of windows in El Calafate filled with lambs roasting over the fire. And because Argentina loves its beef as well, you can find plenty of delicious steaks, served with red wine.

You can find good restaurants in both El Calafate and El Chaltén, many of them serving big, hearty dishes.

But as far as nightlife goes, El Calafate has actual nightlife, with spots like Yeti Ice Bar, where you dress up and do shots out of ice glasses, and people who stay out until late.

In comparison, El Chaltén shuts down on the early side (though it’s still Argentina, so people eat out late). After all, there are mountains to climb the next morning.

Conclusion: El Calafate has much better restaurants and nightlife than El Chaltén — though you can certainly eat well in both places.

An outdoor market with lots of wooden log cabin-like buildings for indoor shops.
The artisanal market in El Calafate, via Shutterstock.

Which town has better shopping for souvenirs, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

I’m going to be brief on this one: El Calafate is one of the best places to shop for souvenirs in all of Patagonia. And if you’re doing the typical triangle of El Chaltén-El Calafate-Torres del Paine, El Calafate is the ONLY place for souvenir shopping in Patagonia.

I especially recommend checking out El Calafate’s Artisanal Market, which has all kinds of unique and special Patagonian crafts and textiles. They make fabulous gifts. (You could also buy your niblings a Patagonian panflute if you want to prank their parents!)

Aside from that, many of the shops in town sell calafate berry products, like candies, jams, and other sweets. Those are something you won’t find anywhere else.

As for El Chaltén, there are a few shops, but there isn’t a huge selection of souvenirs available here.

Conclusion: Buy all your Patagonia souvenirs in El Calafate. You’ll be glad you did.

Colorful buildings in a small town, with a few mountains peeking out in the distance.
El Chaltén, Fitz Roy, and the unusual clouds of Patagonia!

Which town is best overall, El Calafate or El Chaltén?

My top suggestion is to VISIT BOTH TOWNS if at all possible. I would schedule your time so you have at least one full day in El Calafate, and at least two full days in El Chaltén. That would give you enough time to get to know the essence of each town, and enjoy the best experiences that each place has to offer.

But what if you only have the time, desire, or finances for one town?

Well. I hope this post has helped you narrow down your choices, because now the responsibility is in your hands.

Can you do a day trip from one place to the other? I would only day trip from El Calafate to El Chaltén, and only if you have a rental car. If you don’t, don’t bother — the bus schedules make it impossible.

Know that it’s still a three-hour drive in each direction. That’s a LONG day, and you still won’t have enough time to hike to Laguna de los Tres. (And I don’t recommend day tripping from El Chaltén to El Calafate because you’ll need to drive an additional hour each way to Perito Moreno Glacier.)

At the end of the day, if I had to choose one town to blow someone’s mind…I would probably send them to El Chaltén.

But that’s just me. You do you.

More on Patagonia:

More on South America:

Have you been to El Calafate and El Chaltén? Any suggestions? Share away!

Autor: Adventurous Kate
Fuente de contenido

¿De cuánta utilidad te ha parecido este contenido?

¡Haz clic en una estrella para puntuarlo!

Promedio de puntuación 0 / 5. Recuento de votos: 0

Hasta ahora, ¡no hay votos!. Sé el primero en puntuar este contenido.

Deja un comentario

Scroll al inicio