A December 2006 trip
to El Calafate by Robert Raymond Ingledew
Quote: I visited this city when it was a village of 3,000 inhabitants. Today it has seven times that population. However, it still conserves its village atmosphere, and a walk through the town is really enjoyable. Today it is full of modern shops, with all sorts of products, including marble handcrafts…
If we compare Ushuaia with Calafate, Ushuaia has a far larger variety of products for two reasons: 1) It is a larger city (40,000 inhabitants compared with 20,000) and it is a free port (El Calafate is not). However, price differences are not so substantial if you learn to look around and compare prices. While one shop at El Calafate asked for 17 pesos (nearly 6 dollars) for a 36-photo Kodak film, another shop asked for 12 pesos and I finally made a deal of 10 pesos (3.33 dollars) each for five 36 photo films. In Ushuaia I had paid 9 pesos for the same film, so the difference is not so important. As I said in the overview, supermarket prices in El Calafate are quite reasonable. You can buy half a dozen of small croissants at a bakery for a dollar and twenty cents, while you will pay 3 dollars for a cup of coffee with 2 croissants at a cafeteria, or twelve dollars for the "Patagonian Tea". If you don't want to waste too much time, the "La Anónima" supermarket on the main avenue has a fast lane for people who buy less than 5 products, so keep this in mind. I saw more handcraft in El Calafate than at Ushuaia. I observed some beautiful onix (green marble), pink marble and yellow marble products, that I imagine must be costly, but that were real art pieces. I am posting more of these photos below.
There is a small artisans fair just below the bus station. It is not very large, it has some 20 shops, but prices should be lower there than in the expensive downtown shops. And in any case, the entrance to the fair faces the main avenue, so you are very near to the other shops. There are some leather shops in El Calafate, but keep an eye on the prices. Quality should be good. In small towns prestige and image must be taken care of… or you go out of business very soon. There are some beautiful DVD and VHS films of the glacier, featuring when it collapsed two years ago. I am sure you will want to keep one of those as a souvenir. And there are some beautiful photo books of the whole area. These products could cost some twenty dollars, but that is only another drop of water in the bucket. There is also a large variety of postcards. If you can buy your films before you arrive at El Calafate you may get them at lower prices. The cheapest good quality film you can buy is Kodak ProImage of 100 or 200 ASA. I see no need in buying 200 ASA, since luminosity is excellent in the whole area. If you buy the 5-film pack, some photo shops will give you a 15 or 20 percent discount, but you have to ask for it before you close the purchase. Keep this in mind. I took 17 films for my trip to Ushuaia and El Calafate and ended up buying another 10 films down there. Scenery is so beautiful and varied (especially in Ushuaia), so take as many films as you can, remembering that each film will cost you between 3 and 5 dollars, depending on where you buy them. Enjoy your stay in the land of the glaciers.
There is no way of calling a taxi with your cell phone, because there are no roads, nor even trails, fit for vehicles. And winds can be very strong. Five years ago I ruined my camcorder over there with a strong wind that filled the camcorder with sand, so remember to protect your camcorder and photo cameras adequately. But the experience is just fantastic. And a few miles before arriving at El Chaltén, you will have a distant view of the Viedma Glacier, five times larger than the Perito Moreno, and actually the largest glacier in all Argentina. You can also visit the glacier from El Chaltén. The transfer to the motorboat costs 40 pesos and the shorter navigation tour another 75 pesos, that is less than 40 dollars per person for the whole package. Have a look at this link: http://www.patagonia-aventura.com/esp/tarifas/tarifas.html You can click on "mapa" to see a map of the area., There are a number of tours you can carry out at El Chaltén, most of them trekking. Here are some: Full day tour to Lago del Desierto (border with Chile). Viedma Glacier Ice Trek. Viedma light (two hours and a half) Cerro Torre viewpoint (half-day trekking), Laguna Capri and Fitz Roy Mount viewpoint (half-day trekking). Trekking to the Torre Glacier Full day trekking to Torre Laggon and some others. If you go to El Calafate and do not go on to El Chaltén (4 hours on the bus) you are missing probably the nicest part of the whole picture.
There are a number of hostels over there (some 14), you will find the list if you click here: www.elchalten.com. You will also find a beautiful photo gallery of the whole area. I stayed at the Rancho Grande Hostel, one of the few budget alternatives you have at this paradise. By way of example the hour of Internet costs 4 dollars, twelve times more expensive than in Cordoba or Mar del Plata. There is one traffic van tour to Laguna del Desierto, from where you can climb up to a glacier in the mountainside. It is not an expensive tour. Travel agencies at El Chalten, offer the navigation in front of the Viedma glacier, the largest glacier in all Argentina. The tour includes some trekking, and is sold in two different versions, of which the cheapest one is "Viedma Light". Fitz Roy Expediciones offers alternatives for experienced trekkers you might want to consider: www.fitzroyexpediciones.com.ar. But your real trekking experience will start when you go towards Laguna Capri. It takes about 3 hours in each direction, but you will live experiences that you never will forget. And if you are an experienced trekker, take the expedition to the Torre Glacier. Have a look also at this page. They have some fantastic alternatives: www.loscerrosdelchalten.com. Buses from El Calafate to El Chaltén run twice a day, the trip takes 4 hours, they will make a stop to look at the Viedma Glacier and Fitz Roy mount (a good zoom will allow you to take fantastic photos), and the round trip costs 90 pesos (30 dollars). This service is offered by El Chalten Travel, that also offers every other day a direct bus service from El Chaltén (or from El Calafate) to Bariloche. Enjoy your visit to El Chaltén. I am sure you will. This will be the most fascinating experience in your lifetime.
Attraction | "The Glaciers in the Area"
Perito Moreno Glacier
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
El Calafate, Argentina
Hotel | "Cape Virgenes, a lot of history, thousands of penguins and much more."
Cabo Virgenes Penguin Colony
Santa Cruz, Argentina
Robert Raymond Ingledew
Villa Carlos Paz (Cordoba), Argentina