Spreading along the south shore of Lago Argentino, a giant glacial trough fed by meltwater from the Campo de Hielo Sur, fast-growing El Calafate is the poster child for Argentina’s tourism boom.
The gateway to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares  and the spectacular Moreno Glacier , El Cafate has few points of interest in itself. Still, it has increasing and improving services, including hotels and restaurants, and it is southwestern Santa Cruz’s transport hub.
Calafate owes its growth to (1) a new international airport tha ha’s nearly eliminated the overland route from Río Gallegos for long-distance passengers; (2) the competitive Argentine peso; (3) the fact that former Argentine president Néstor Kirchner, a Santa Cruz native, built a home here and invited high-profile international figures, such as Brazilian president Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, to admire the Moreno Glacier with him.
The boom has had drawbacks, though. As the population has more than doubled in a decade, real-estate prices have skyrocketed. Unfortunately, a prime downtown location that once housed the old power plant—admittedly a noisy eyesore—has become the site of a hideous casino.
El Calafate (official pop. 6,439) is 320 kilometers northwest of Río Gallegos  and 32 kilometers west of northbound RP 40, which leads to the wilder El Chaltén  sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares  and an adventurous overland route to Chile. While only about 50–60 kilometers from Torres del Paine  as the crow flies, the town is 215 kilometers from the Cerro Castillo  border crossing and about 305 kilometers from Puerto Natales  via Argentine highways RN 40, RP 5, and RP 11, plus a small additional distance on the Chilean side.
El Calafate is the transport hub for western Santa Cruz thanks to its new airport, road connections to Río Gallegos, and improving links north and south along RN 40.
By Air: Aerolíneas Argentinas (9 de Julio 57, tel. 02902/49-2815), LAN Argentina, Rumbo Sur (9 de Julio 81, tel. 02902/49-2155, rumbosur [at] cotecal [dot] com [dot] ar), and LADE (tel. 02902/49-1262, ladecalafate [at] cotecal [dot] com [dot] ar) have regular flights to and from El Calafate.
By Bus: El Calafate’s Terminal de Ómnibus overlooks the town from its perch at Avenida Roca 1004; for pedestrians, the easiest approach is a staircase from the corner of Avenida Libertador and 9 de Julio. There has been little progress on plans to move it to the former airfield terminal just west of the bridge over the arroyo so that buses would no longer enter town.
Interlagos (tel. 02902/49-1179), Taqsa (tel. 02902/49-1843, www.taqsa.com.ar ), and Sportman (tel. 02902/44-2595) shuttle between El Calafate and the Santa Cruz provincial capital of Río Gallegos  (4 hours, US$13), where there are northbound connections to Buenos Aires  and intermediate towns, and southbound connections to Punta Arenas (Chile) . These buses will also drop passengers at the Río Gallegos airport.
Three carriers connect El Calafate with El Chaltén  (4.5 hours, US$18–20) in the Fitz Roy sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares: Cal Tur (tel. 02902/49-1842), Chaltén Travel (tel. 02902/49-2480), and Taqsa. Most services leave around 7:30–8 a.m., though there are sometimes afternoon buses around 5–6 p.m. Winter services are fewer, but normally go at least daily among the three companies.