• Home
  • Learn
  • Kayaking In El Calafate and El Chalten: Exploring Argentinian Patagonia With A Paddle

Kayaking In El Calafate and El Chalten: Exploring Argentinian Patagonia With A Paddle

View of the vast Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate. Photo by: Tom Gaffey.

Patagonia is a wild and unfathomably beautiful part of the world. Even as tourism grows in this South American region, much of this vast expanse of land and water remains elusive to visitors. More popular destinations in Patagonia, including El Chalten and El Calafate, famous for hiking and glacier trekking, are actually relatively quiet and uncharted when you leave the busy trekking routes and explore these destinations on a paddling vessel.

El Chalten and El Calafate are fantastic destinations in Argentinian Patagonia to experience the stunning and vast Perito Moreno glacier, as well as Mount Fitz Roy and other iconic Andean Mountain peaks. While trekking is by far the most popular activity in these two adventure capitals, those who opt for a paddling excursion are destined to experience these natural wonderlands from a unique perspective, and with far fewer tourists.

Regardless of how you decide to visit this destination, you should consider embarking on at least one paddling excursion in each of these quintessential Patagonian towns. Whether you whitewater raft with the Andes all around you, or bob and weave around icebergs in your kayak on Lago Argentino, this area has a once-in-a-lifetime adventure perfect for all paddling desires.

Where Are El Chalten And El Calafate?

El Chalten and El Calafate are both located in southern Argentina, along the Andes mountain range in Patagonia. El Calafate has an international airport, making it easy to get to this otherwise remote location, and the flight is just three from Buenos Aires.

You can reach El Chalten from El Calafate by private transfer or shared public bus in three and a half hours. Since these two incredible destinations are so close together (especially when you consider the scope and magnitude of Patagonia as a whole), it’s a good idea to visit and paddle in both locations on your Patagonian paddling holiday.

Both El Calafate and El Chalten have diverse appeal. They are perfect spots for those seeking rugged wilderness, and also a great ornate honeymoon destination for those who want a romantic holiday that is slightly outside the box.

El Calafate is located a short drive from Los Glaciares National Park, which is home to a vast ice field and many glaciers. The most famous of these is Perito Moreno, a giant glacier that visitors can get very close to, trek on top of, and kayak alongside.

El Chalten is known for the iconic Fitz Roy Mountain (which inspired the Patagonia clothing brand logo), several bodies of water, and countless incredible hikes that start and finish in this quaint mountaineering village.

Six Reasons Why You Need To Paddle In This Patagonia Region

1. Enjoy Incredible Views And Photos Of Iconic Landmarks

Rafting in El Chalten with Mount Fitz Roy in view (photo courtesy of Comarka Expeditions)

One of the top reasons to take a paddling trip while visiting El Calafate and El Chalten is for the amazing views and photo opportunities this activity provides. This area has some incredible views, from towers of ice to giant limestone cliffs.

Sure, if you hike in either of these areas you are bound to see some incredible views as well. The benefit of paddling, however, is the open water and serpentine rivers allow you unspoiled views without trees and other people in the way.

Furthermore, the water of Lago Argentino is an unreal milky turquoise, and the glacier rivers are often crystal clear (and drinkable), making the bodies of water here very photogenic. When you explore the waters of Lago Argentino and the rivers in this region, you can see areas that most hiking trails can’t take you.

2. A Perfect Way To Escape Crowds Of Tourists

Both of these Patagonia towns are packed with incredible activities, which also means they are loaded with tourists. This is especially true during the high season of late November through March. Many hikers wake up before dawn to avoid packed trails, but you can also opt for a guided paddling experience to avoid crowds and lines.

Most kayaking excursions, including kayaking the well-organized and memorable guided tour with Mil Outdoor at Perito Moreno Glacier, only allow small groups to venture out into the iceberg-filled waters of Lago Argentina for safety reasons. While you pay a premium for this experience, it is a great way to escape the masses and get a close-up view of the natural marvel that is Perito Moreno Glacier.

3. Intimate Wildlife Viewing Opportunities

Guanaco are a popular site in El Chalten and El Calafate (Photo courtesy of Comarka Expeditions)

Another great reason to paddle in this Argentinian Patagonia region is for its special wildlife viewing opportunities. Most notably, this area has a plethora of Andean Condors. These mammoth birds have a wingspan of nine feet and are a sight to behold as they soar above or rest by the shore. I had the pleasure of seeing several condors along the shore of the Las Vueltas River while white water rafting with Comarka Expeditions, which is the southernmost white water rafting experience in Argentinian Patagonia.

There is also the famous guanaco (a relative of the llama), that inhabits this region. You can often find large groups of them near lakes and streams. El Calafate is also home to many incredible bird species, including flamingos, whose pink color is a wondrous sight in this often-stark region.

4. One Of The Best Places To Paddle Among Icebergs

Kayaking near ice formations with Mil Outdoors, Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo by: Tom Gaffey.

If paddling among icebergs is on your bucket list then you should take a trip to Perito Moreno Glacier. This glacier is known for its consistent ice shedding, especially in the peak summer months. This means there are lots of icebergs floating in Lago Argentino.

Furthermore, many other places where you can paddle among icebergs, like Alaska, Greenland, and Antarctica, are in the ocean and are considerably more dangerous. This Argentinian region offers much more controlled freshwater paddling among these giant floating islands of ice.

5. It’s A Good Rest For Your Lower Body

If you are taking a trip to Patagonia, then the odds are you are going to embark on several challenging hikes. After a few of these 10 or even 20-kilometer hikes, your lower body is going to need a rest. This is where paddling comes in handy.

Kayaking and rafting in El Chalten and El Calafate offer wonderful outdoor adventure and exercise while also giving your legs a break. Patagonia can be exhausting, but mixing hiking with other natural activities is a great way to keep your body rested and strong throughout your holiday.

6. The Prices Are Better In Argentina Than Chile (And So Is The Food)

Lastly, it’s important to note that there are other stunning Patagonian destinations on the other side of the Andes in Chile. Torres Del Paine National Park is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and also one of the top destinations in all of Patagonia. It is possible to combine a visit to Puerto Natales and Torres Del Paine National Park with your Argentinian Patagonia itinerary.
Still, it is worth noting that Argentina (and El Calafate and El Chalten specifically) is a much more attractive home base for a Patagonia paddling vacation. Not only are there epic kayaking excursions, but the prices are much lower. This is mostly due to the current exchange rate in Argentina versus the rate in Chile. Furthermore, while you can get delicious food in both countries, Argentina is known for its incredible meats, with Patagonian lamb being a must-try specialty when visiting El Calafate.

Is It Safe To Kayak In Patagonia?

Kayaking near the face of Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo by: Tom Gaffey.

When you hear the word “Patagonia” it likely conjures up images of untamed wilderness. So when you think about paddling in this region you might wonder if it is safe. Generally, kayaking in Patagonia is safe as long as you take proper precautions and follow general safety guidelines.

One important factor to consider about Patagonia is its safety varies significantly based on the season. The summer features warmer temperatures and many sunny days. This is great for lake kayaking, but it also means fast-moving rivers due to ice melt.

The winter months are much colder, and there is a lot of snow. Wind can be severe and unpredictable throughout the year.

Regardless of the season it is important you are extra careful and follow the additional safety tips for paddling in these icy conditions. This is especially true if you plan to kayak near a glacier or in a body of water with floating ice.

Read our guide to Kayaking Near Glaciers: Safety Tips And Essential Gear if you are considering this type of adventure.

El Chalten Versus El Calafate: Which Is Better For Paddling

Reasons To Visit El Chalten For A Paddling Holiday

The iconic Mount Fitz Roy, El Chalten. Photo by: Tom Gaffey.
  • A Great Mix Of Paddling And Hiking: El Chalten is a natural amusement park for wilderness and adventure lovers. There are dozens of hikes that leave from this small town, as well as access to rivers, and nearby lakes. It’s a great place for those who love trekking as much as they love paddling.

  • Fewer Mainstream Tourists: El Chalten isn’t exactly a secret, but it isn’t nearly as crowded as El Calafate. Instead, El Chalten maintains a quaint mountaineering vibe, making it the better choice for those looking for a less-mainstream Patagonia vacation.

  • Better Option For River Kayaking And Rafting Lovers: Where El Chalten shines is in its rapids and river kayaking. For those who prefer the adrenaline rush of rapids to longer lake paddles, El Chalten is the place to visit, with Comarka Expeditions being a great company to kayak with or join in on a rafting tour.

  • Incredible Mountain Views: It’s hard to visit Patagonia without stumbling upon some stunning scenery, but El Chalten is next level. The mountain ranges, winding rivers, waterfalls, and glacial lakes make this a truly picturesque paddling location.

Reasons To Visit El Calafate For A Paddling Holiday

View of the vast Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate. Photo by: Tom Gaffey.
  • One Of The Best Places To Paddle Near A Glacier On The Planet: The biggest draw to paddling in El Calafate is the safe and easy access to glacier and iceberg paddling. You can paddle among large towers of ice just minutes from shore and in an often-tranquil lake setting.

  • Family-Friendly Paddling In Multiple Locations: Thanks to Lago Argentino, El Calafate is one of the more family-friendly paddling locations. As long as the weather is agreeable, it’s easy to find a paddling activity the whole family can enjoy.

  • More Amenities Available For Visitors: El Calafate has a lot more going on in its town, making it a better option for those seeking amenities. From luxury resorts and fine dining restaurants to grocery stores and clothing boutiques, El Calafate has everything you might desire while on holiday.

The Best Time To Visit Argentina’s Patagonia For A Paddling Trip

El Chalthen and El Calafate are located nearly 3,500 miles south of the equator, which means there is a lot of variation from season to season. While each season has its benefits and downsides, the summer months lend themselves more favorably to paddling.

The best time to visit El Chalten and El Calafate for a paddling vacation is between November and March. The weather during these months is warmer, with more sunshine. The chance of snow also diminishes. Warmer temperatures also make for more exciting river kayaking and rafting in El Chalten in particular. Summer also sees more falling ice from the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is a wondrous sight to behold.

Patagonia is, however, known for rapidly changing and unpredictable weather. A warm and sunny morning can turn into a ferociously windy afternoon with little warning. When paddling in this region it is crucial you diligently check weather forecasts and keep your plans as flexible as possible.

Final Notes On Paddling In El Chalten and El Calafate

Stunning views kayaking in Lago Argentino near Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo by: Tom Gaffey.

Patagonia is a bucket-list paddling destination for anyone who has a thirst for adventure and a love of the outdoors. Its great expanse of untouched land and pristine waterways help make it one of the most naturally beautiful places on the planet. Both El Calafate and El Chalten offer unique and incredible paddling opportunities in this southern Argentinian region.

El Chalten, known for Mount Fitz Roy and its world-class hiking, offers challenging river kayaking and rafting with incredible scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities. The main draws to El Calafate include its proximity to the stunning Lago Argentina and the opportunity to paddle close to Perito Moreno Glacier. Choosing one destination over the other is a challenge, especially if you are a paddling enthusiast. This is why you should spend a few extra days in this region, and explore both regions both on land and the water.

Related Articles