El Calafate - Puerto Natales
A lot of travellers will visit both El Calafate and Torres del Paine (Puerto Natales) during their vacation. The best way for your travel from/to Chile between El Calafate and Puerto Natales is by bus. There are a couple of companies running services between these cities. We took Cootra to cross the border between Argentina and Chile. The ride takes between 4 and 5 hours, depending the time at the two customs offices in Villa Dorotea (we needed about 1 hour to cross).
Be aware: Chile is very strict about food (fruit, veggies) crossing the border. Be sure and consume or throw away your food before the customs office.
In El Calafate buses leave from a central bus station at Avenida Julia a Roca (1 block from Avenida del Libertador); in Puerto Natales the buses leave from their own local offices (Cootra: Baquedano).
There are three options for travelling by bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales. The three companies do all have their own schedules; see:
There is another possibility for travellers between El Calafate and Torres del Paine NP by El Chalten Turismo (didn't use it myself, but did read a lot about it). They organise excursions to the park, but you can also take the (direct) bus service (see for more info: http://www.chaltentravel.com/transporte.asp?trans_id=7)
Some websites with more information about bus transportation.
- Road Trip
Even if you pay airport taxes with your ticket, you have to pay more taxes here and in Ushuaia, I think it is a Patagonian airport tax. It is 38 pesos in Calafate, not so much but you have to pay cash, no credit card.
taxi from airport
From the airport to the city centre you have two options: bus and taxi.
I chosed taxi as there was no bus waiting outside when I was there, the rate is 140 pesos going from the airport to the city and 100 pesos on the way back. Different prices because at the airport taxis need to pay the parking.
- Road Trip
Aerolineas Argentinas/Austral and LAN
Argentina is a huge country and the distances between the main tourist sights are big. The most convenient and fast way of travelling is by airplane. Most of the domestic flights within Argentina are operated by Aerolineas Argentinas or Austral and LAN Argentina.
The airport of El Calafate is situated 18 km's from the town. For transport to your accommodation you can use a shuttle bus, taxi/remises or a pick up service from your hotel/hostel.
Aerolineas had 'on again off again labour problems'.
LAN is a very good alternative for flying in Argentina.
Both companies have 'airpasses':
LAN has a 'South America Airpass' for travellers reaching South America with LAN or an other OneWorld airline: http://www.lan.com/en_ue/promociones/data/europa/todo_europa/saairpass.html
There is also a One World South American Air Pass, sometimes with better deals than LAN:
Aerolineas has 'Visite Argentina' fares for foreigners arriving with an international ticket to Argentina. This ‘airpass’ can be affordable if you intend to make more flights within the country: http://www.aerolineas.com.ar/arg/main.asp?idSitio=EU&idPagina=49&idIdioma=en&id=170
Some remarks while flying in Argentina
- If you have a domestic flight after your international arrival in Bs As, be aware all domestic flights do leave from the airport Aeroparque, about 40 km’s from the international airport Ezeiza. By taxi or remise it will take 45 to 60 minutes travel time !!
- Travelling by plane is 3 à 4 times more expensive than by bus, but it is 10 times faster !!
- If you can not get affordable tickets, try a package deal; mostly they offer great value for the money.
- The luggage franchise on domestic flights of Aerolineas is officially 15 kg’s !!
(although we always carried 20 kg’s and never had any problem). LAN has a franchise of 20 kg's.
El Calafate airport
There is a small airport in El Calafate, 23 km east of the town. Given how far El Calafate is from the rest of Argentina, it's not surprising they've built an airport here, as otherwise only people with the time to do the long road trip would make their way down here. The easiest way to get to the airport is via a shuttle bus. Any hotel in El Calafate can arrange this - just give them of your flight and they'll arrange a pick up with the shuttle company beforehand.
There are flights to Buenos Aires, Bariloche, Ushuaia with Aerolineas Argentinas, Argentina's main carrier. I think LAN Chile also have a flight to Punta Arenas.
We had travelled down to El Calafate overland, but for the next section of our trip we had to fly as we had a deadline in Ushuaia with a ship heading to Antarctica. The flight over Tierra del Fuego offered occasional spectacular views - at least when the clouds cleared. Flights in Argentina are expensive relative to the general cost of living here and this one was no different, costing 493 pesos each.
El Chalten to El Calafate
The journey from El Chalten to El Calafate was a fast, efficient service along a good road - a nice change from the slow 30 hour trip down Ruta 40 which we'd been on the week before. We travelled with a company called Cal-Tur and the trip took about 3.5 hours including a quick break at a shop/restaurant along the way.
The scenery at the start of the journey was spectacular, especially the peaks of Fitz Roy and Torre, and the views of the huge Viedma glacier as it flowed into Lago Viedma. As we approached El Calafate, the impressive and large Lago Argentino came into view.
Book your trip early
I was very lucky to find a cheap flight ($80) from Ushuaia to El Calafate. I was fortunate and many others who plan late are forced to take the monotonous bus ride. There is nothing interesting about traveling through the heart of Patagonia, so plan ahead and fly.
- Budget Travel
- National/State Park
- Road Trip
Getting to see what you came here for
Patagonia - the word conjures up images of travel to the ends of the earth, and for many, many travellers is a dream destination. The big attraction in El Calafate's corner of the vast province is, undoubtedly, the glaciers, with Perito Merino at the top of the list.
Whether your plans for the glaciers include rugged and strenuous activities or you're content to make your visit a more passive form of sight-seeing, there are any number of agencies who will be more than happy to take your bookings. You can do as we did and arrange most of your visit beforehand - try to leave yourself a little time to fit in some more ad hoc activities though as you will find there is more on offer than you perhaps anticipated.
We had booked both our glacier excursions along with our hotel through Ripio Turismo. They in turn used local agents Tiempo Libre, who were excellent. They were punctual and efficient, and their courier was very pleasant, making suggestions and providing information for alternative activities but not the least bit pushy. I have no doubt the vast majority of other agents are just as satisfactory but always appreciate a personal recommendation myself so am happy to hand this one on.
- National/State Park
Agent or D-I-Y ?
Surfing the net for travel bargains and booking online is quite the normal thing to do these days, usually it works just fine and there are some excellent deals to be found; however, there are no such deals available for domestic fares in Argentina, and given the level of disorganization and misinformation you are likely to encounter on your travels around the country, you may well decide to book through a travel agent - the chances are you'll need their services before you leave . We did - and were very glad of their contact and help given the confusion that could have arisen over Aerolineas Argentinas' seemingly permanent state of chaos.
I'd picked up on BwanaBrown's recommendation of Ripio Turismo on his Mendoza page. A quick email to Glenn came back with a sound endorsement, so I contacted them. Not only were they prompt in answering and extremely helpful, our travel agent here at home could not match their prices and advised us to go with them, which we did, using said local agent as a middleman, giving us the insurance of all our payments being made through our regular agent.
He's happy - he's made a valuable contact in Argentina that he'll use again.
We were happy - generally the arrangements they made for us were excellent, and the small niggles of the hotel in El Calafate were a result of our own decision.
- National/State Park
Thank you, Mr President
The locals in El Calafate will tell you they owe their beautiful new airport to the country's president choosing to acquire a holiday home in the town. They may be cynical about it but they're not complaining. Before the airport opened in 2001, the nearest airport was at Rio Gallegos, 4 hours drive away. The building of the airport has been a huge boost to tourism. Flights arrive and leave daily now for Buenos Aires, Trelew, Bariloche, Puerto Natales, Ushuaia and other cities in Argentina and Chile and they are very heavily booked all through the tourist season.
Aerolineas Argentinas is notoriously unreliable in its timekeeping so be prepared to get to know the airport well but, given the distances and the state of the roads, flying is probably the best option. If you are travelling independently, be aware that flights will be full of pre-booked tour groups, large and small, so make your bookings well in advance.
Their policy of a two-tier fare system means non-Argentinians pay a premium on fares and - to add insult to injury - you'll pay more if you haven't flown into Argentina with AA as well. You really need to do your homework on these fares - or make sure your travel agent does, the difference is hundreds of dollars. I don't know what fares we actually paid as our ticket was all-inclusive BA - El Calafate - Bariloche - Iguazu - BA that, given the prices for the individual sectors, seemed very reasonable. .
Arriving into town from airport
The airport is very, very small and a good 20mins from town in a desert like area. Coming from the airport, your options are taking the shuttle bus to the bus station ($R 15), taxi ($R 40), or renting a car.
From El Cafa to Ushuaia
A one hour flight from El Calafate to Ushuaia. JC took the pictures while i had a conversation with a local lady coming from BsAs.
Here name, Rachel having a boy friend working for Honda Argentina, Power products department - what a coincidance
El Calafate isn’t that big and in town you will not need a taxi/remise. And we didn’t see a ‘normal’ taxi on the roads in El Calafate. On the other hand we used a remise arriving by plane to go to our accommodation.
Be aware the airport is situated about 18 km’s from the city. There is also a shuttle bus, but we booked a remise a the booth in the arrival hall of the airport. During our visit (November 2005) the fare for a ride to our accommodation was 38 pesos. But within 30 minutes we were from our plane in our hostel.
Leaving El Calafate we also had a remise to transport us from the hostel (a little bit outside the city centre) to the bus station. The helpful people from our hostel made a phone call for this remise.
El Calafate has several 'agencias de remisse', so you will never have a problem to get one of these taxi's.
- Road Trip
Renting a car
We intended to make a guided day trip to the 'Bosque Petrificado La Leona', but there were not enough participants for this trip and it was cancelled. So we decided to rent a car and to 'explore' the steppe by ourselves.
We rented our car from Servi Car, a small family owned company with friendly and helpful staff. For an one day rental with 240 km’s we paid all inclusive 188 pesos.
When travelling with more people, renting a car good be a good alternative for visiting Perito Moreno Glacier.
The office of Servi Car is located at Av. Libertador 695, just outside the centre over the bridge on the way to the airport.
- Road Trip
EL CALAFATE TO EL CHALTEN
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BEGINS IN THE BUS STATION OF CALAFATE AND ENDS IN THE HOSTEL RANCHO GRANDE IN CHALTEN
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