Exploring El Calafate with Kids – New For 2024

El Calafate is a popular first stop for families venturing into Patagonia, and for good reason! With its ramshackle charm, this sprawling town is the gateway to some of Patagonia’s most breathtaking natural wonders, including the sublime Los Glaciares National Park. While it may lack some of the quaintness found in other local towns, it offers all the essentials for a comfortable family stay. If you are visiting El Calafate with kids, the town is an ideal base for exploring the majestic sites and discovering the splendour of the natural world nearby.

El Calafate has the feel of a Colorado ski town, with its vibrant main street, Av. del Libertador, boasting excellent dining and shopping options. The town is quite accommodating language-wise, with many locals speaking excellent English, lowering the language barrier for non-Spanish speakers. With its diverse offerings for children, El Calafate ranks alongside Bariloche as one of Patagonia’s most family-friendly destinations.

Depending on how long you have to spend in the town, there are some “must-see” attractions like the iconic Perito Moreno Glacier and nearby Glaciarium. Other family-friendly highlights include visiting Laguna Nimez Reserve, taking a boat trip on the spectacular Lago Argentino, and seeing the 4,500-year-old cave paintings in the Walichu Reserves. 

Perito Moreno Glacier – Officially a “must visit”

We visited with our eight- and nine-year-old daughters and had a great four days exploring the natural and historical richness of the area; with hindsight, we wish we had stayed a day or two more! If you are exploring El Calafate with kids you are sure to have an incredible experience you will never forget.

Our Map For Exploring El Calafate with Kids

Getting To And Around El Calafate with Kids

As you would expect for such an important hub, El Calafate is well-connected by road and air from within Argentina.

Most visitors arrive in the city by plane, typically from Buenos Aires or Bariloche, and the airport is a half-hour drive from the town centre. For transportation to town from the airport, you can take a taxi, which costs around ARG$ 4000/£4/USD 5, or a shuttle bus that runs into town priced at ARG$ 1500/£1.50/USD 2 per person.

Due to what we assume are political reasons, it is needlessly complicated and costly to fly to El Calfate from Chile. Flying the short distance from Puerto Natales takes 20 hours and has three connections, including one in Buenos Aires.

Wildlife and natural beauty abound.

Once you are in town, there are plenty of taxis, but no Ubers were operating when we visited. 

If you’re considering hiring a car in El Calafate, several rental agencies are available at the airport and in town. You will need to pre-book a hire car if visiting in peak season. The main roads around El Calafate and towards El Chaltén are well-paved and easy to drive by Patagonian standards. Don’t feel like you need to hire a 4×4 unless you have something especially wild planned! A family saloon is fine.

We would strongly recommend hiring a car when visiting El Calafate with Kids. Not only does it give you maximum flexibility, but it can actually save you a lot of money. As a family of four, we found that every time we booked a transfer, the fees really racked up. For example, for four of us to get the public bus to Moreno Glacier, it was nearly ARG$100,000/£100/USD120 return. That is the cost of a two-day car hire! 

If you are arriving by bus, the Terminal de Omnibus is a little way out on the east side of town. The chances are you will not be staying close by so you may need a taxi to get you all to your accommodation.  El Calafate is well-connected by bus with direct services to Barlichoche (28 hours) and El Chaltén (3 hours) and Puerto Natales (5 hours including a border crossing).

While we are discussing the Terminal de Omnibus, if you are nearby, be sure to pop into Calafate Brownies right next door for some of the best cookies you will ever taste! 

A taste sensation!

If you drive to El Calafate, heading south from El Chalten is an easy, tarmacked road through the Patagonian steppe. If you are driving North from Puerto Natales, Route 40 is also an easy road. However, there is a point where Google Maps suggests you take a “shortcut” by turning onto the rough gravel of Route 7. We strongly recommend you don’t do this as the surface is some of the worst we have seen in the thousands of kilometres we have covered on our road trip, and it took us far longer than sticking to the easy-driving Route 40!

Even in the wing mirror, Cerro Fitz Roy looks incredible.

Where To Stay In El Calafate With Kids

No matter how you travel, you can find somewhere great to stay in El Calafate. There is no shortage of everything from luxury hotels to hostels, and plenty of Airbnb’s if you want your own space.

If you have a hire car, then you can pretty much stay anywhere in town as it is a short drive to most places you want to go. We hired an apartment near Laguna Nimez Reserve, which was a quiet, friendly neighbourhood.

If you do not have a hired car, we would stay close to Av. del Libertador as this is where the best restaurants and shops are. 

If you want to get some washing done, we used Lavadero de Ropa, who were quick and did a great job. 

Where To Eat In El Calafate With Kids

Even the pickiest eaters will find something they like in El Calafate! 

As mentioned above, most restaurants are located on Av. del Libertador. Highlights here for us were Pietro’s Cafe, which was perfect for a cake and a milkshake. El Gaita Pizza Bar offers a great range of delicious pizzas and also does incredible empanadas that you can either eat in or take away. If you want a great beer, we were delighted to find another Patagonia Brewery Bar and had to pop in for a few drinks! We first discovered their beer in Puerto Iguazu and have taken the opportunity to sample it where and when we can. 

Eva continues her adventure in food.

Another great option close to where we were staying was La Cantina Piadineria. This bar had great food, local gins, and beers.

If you want to prepare some meals yourself, there is a large supermarket at the eastern end of Av. del Libertador called La Anónima with everything you could need.

Things To Do In El Calafate With Kids

El Calafate stands out as one of South America’s most child-friendly destinations, rivalling Bariloche for its array of activities and only surpassed by major cities like Rio and Buenos Aires.

Our family’s experience in El Calafate was filled with incredible adventures, and for those visiting with children, rest assured, this location offers a wealth of remarkable experiences for all ages.

Perito Moreno Glacier

The highlight of a visit to Los Glaciares National Park and a must-see of any trip! In fact, Perito Moreno Glacier is such a big deal it has its own article on how best to visit. For all you need to know about visiting Perito Moreno Glacier with kids, click here.

It really is incredible.

Glaciarium – Patagonian Ice Museum

Perched on a rather windy hill, the Glaciarium, or Patagonian Ice Museum, is an excellent educational stop located conveniently on the drive back from the Moreno Glacier. It’s an ideal place to underpin the awe-inspiring experience of visiting the glaciers with an understanding of how they form and move.

The Glaciarium presents the science behind glaciers in an interactive way that kids find easy to engage with. The museum also explores the history of the exploration glacial exploration, and does not shy away from the impact of climate change.

Eva “climbing” a glacier.

The Glaciarium took us about an hour and a half to explore fully, with us all taking something from the experience. A small cafe and toilets are on-site and the usual tat shop. If you are worried about leaving anything in your car, lockers are available for bags. Hilariously, the lockers work with a one peso coin (about 0.09p at current exchange rates!), but you can ask behind the counter, where they will gladly provide one. They do request that you return it as you leave. 

Utterly bizarrely, the Glaciarium also has an ice bar downstairs. If you are unfamiliar with ice bars, these are places with ice sculptures and igloos where you can drink in a room cooled to about −5 °C. They were all the rage for a night out in the UK about 15 years ago. Before you enter, you are given a warm cloak and gloves, and we would also recommend putting your coat on. As part of the cost of entry, you get a drink served in a glass made of ice.

The girls thought it was very cool!

After visiting the museum, we enjoyed the experience, but it seemed like a total non-sequitur. Perhaps the Natural History Museum should open a cocktail lounge? Plus, the girls only lasted long enough in the cold air to finish their drinks before we left! 

The All Glaciers Boat Tour

If you want to get deep into Los Glaciares National Park Park, the All Glaciers Boat Tour takes you far along Lake Argentino, the largest lake in Argentina. It gets you to areas that are impossible to reach by car or even on foot.

Depending on the weather conditions, this boat ride gives stunning views of the Upsala, Seco, Spegazzini, Heim Sur and Peineta glaciers. As a real treat, the boat also stops at what we are willing to bet is the most beautiful lunch spot in the world, the Spegazzini Shelter.

Not a bad place to drop anchor.

Although slightly misnamed (to us, the word “shelter” implies a wooden shack on the side of a hill), the Spegazzini Shelter is a newly built, glass-fronted, fully-kitted restaurant and shop. Only accessible by boat, it overlooks the Spegazzini glacier, and you stop here for about an hour and a half as part of the tour.

You are welcome to enjoy any food you bring to the restaurant, or you can pre-order hot food while on the boat. As you would expect, they take advantage of the captive audience, and it is a pricy place to eat or buy anything. We took the opportunity to try the guanaco stew while we were there, and it was delicious! Surprisingly close to lamb in flavour and texture.

You can buy this boat trip from almost any tour company in town, but Solo Patagonia runs the service, and you can book directly with them here. As far as we can tell, Solo Patagonia are the only company licenced to operate boats on the lake; we did not see any vessels apart from theirs on the water,

The tour cost us ARG$ 89,000/£89/USD 110 per adult and ARG$ 71,200/£71/USD 85 per child. The ticket does not include any refreshments, but you are welcome to bring any you want with you on the trip, and there is a small cafe that sells rather excellent hot chocolate and snacks available on the boat. 

Merino Glacier Walk

Our one regret of the visit – we left it too late to book on to this tour!

Our uncertain travel schedule from Bariloche and deciding where to spend Christmas delayed our booking. By the time our plans were set, the tour was fully booked weeks in advance. In fact, at the time of writing, this popular tour requires booking at least four weeks ahead of your visit.

The walk was high on our hit list of experiences as, unlike many of the activities in El Chalten, the minimum age is eight, so both our girls could have done it. It is one of the pricier excursions in Patagonia – ARG$ 200,000/£200/USD 240 each with no discounts for kids – but given how popular it is, it is not surprising.

Dan and Bailey over at Destinationless Travel have written an excellent blog post covering what to expect on the Merino Glacier Walk. If you manage to do this with your kids we would love to hear about it! Let us know in the comments below.

Sadly this was as close as we got to walking on a glacier.

Punta Walichu – Reserva Natural y Arqueológica

If you don’t have a chance to visit Cueva de las Manos near Los Antiguos, then the Walichu Caves are a much closer option. These caves have examples of art that are almost 4,500 years old and also explore the history of the native Tehuelche people. Alongside the original art, there are reproductions to show what they would have looked like and some great views over Lago Argentino.

The trip takes around an hour, and an audio tour is available in English, Spanish, and French. There is a cafe on site, and the staff offered free guanaco jerky samples with our delicious coffees! Adults cost ARG$ 11,000/£11/USD 13 each and children under 10 are free.

Laguna Nimez Reserve

This small nature reserve is a great way to get up close to some of the wonderful birdlife that Patagonia has to offer. Just on the edge of town, the nature reserve has a short path which circumnavigates several ponds where you can see flamingos, harriers, and other birds.

Georgia and Eva excited to see some ‘mingos!

The route takes about an hour and an hour and a half to complete, and there is a small shop and bathroom facilities available at the main entrance. It cost us ARG$ 7000/£7/USD 10 per adult and kids under 12 were free. 

Mission Successful!

The other bonus of this place is that you get 7 days of entry with your tickets.  We popped back for half an hour another couple of evenings and walked straight to the lake where the flamingos gather in quite large numbers.

Plaza de los Niños

Just a short walk up the road from Laguna Nimez Reserve is a large playpark that Georgia and Eva loved. A little windswept but with incredible views over the bay, this is a great place to finish an afternoon before heading to La Cantina to try their excellent food and local beers.

‘El Calafate’ Sign & Play Park

On the western edge of the town, on the road towards Los Glaciers National Park, you will find the obligatory 3D letter place sign at a great viewpoint.  The ‘El Calafate’ cartel overlooks another nature reserve, where we also witnessed flamingoes chilling a couple of times.

There is a small play park here, too, which offers kids a great distraction while parents read through the informative signs about the area.

Torres del Paine National Park Day Trip

image credit: visitpeakdistrict.com

This excursion is available, but, to be honest, that is a lot of ground to cover on a single-day trip, especially with younger kids. In theory, you could drive to Torres del Paine National Park and back in one day, but you will spend at least 7 hours on the road and have to cross the national border twice. The official tours leave at 6 am and return at 10 pm, which is optimistic and does not leave much time to see the park.

We suggest spending a few days in Puerto Natales instead and exploring the park from there. You can see our complete guide to this incredible place here. 

If you do decide to make the drive, ignore Google Maps and do not take Route 7; when we drove it, the road surface was terrible, and it was much slower than sticking to the longer but tarmacked Route 40.

Have We Missed Anything To Do In El Calafate With Kids?

We had an incredible time in El Calfate with our children and we hope you do to. If you think we have missed anything or that any info here is outdated, please let us know in the comments below.

The Spencer Family

This post may contain affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a commission at no cost to you. Thanks.

About the authors

Our lives have been intertwined with a passion for exploration and a shared love for travel. Our adventures began long before we met, as we individually embarked on daring expeditions across the globe. Our paths finally converged, and we soon realized that our adventures were much more meaningful when shared!

After a brief hiatus to start a family, we eagerly embarked on a new chapter of our travel saga. Determined to instil in Georgia and Eva the values of discovery and open-mindedness, our goal is to embark on exciting escapades and explore breathtaking landscapes, bustling cities, and remote corners of the world. From hiking through mist-laden forests to snorkelling in turquoise seas, every adventure is an opportunity to create lasting memories as a family.

We hate intrusive adverts as much as you do, so we keep our site ad-free. If you enjoy the blog or have found something helpful, you can say "thanks" by buying us a coffee! Just click the button below.

Leave a comment