El Calafate, Patagonia – Berries, Birds and The Best Restaurants

El Calafate

If I were to tell you about a city named Strawberry, you’d be forgiven for your mockery and sniggers. And yet, when a name has a Spanish flair, rolling emphatically off the tongues of proud Patagonians, it sounds altogether more intriguing. The adorable little town of El Calafate serves as a base for most tourists heading towards the impossibly splendid Perito Moreno Glacier. Its name is derived from the Calafate berry, a local traditional berry, blue in colour and slightly tart. Myth suggests that those who eat the Calafate berry will one day return to Patagonia and this was all the evidence I needed to start sampling.

Perito Moreno Glacier Patagonia Argentina

The novelty that this quirky anecdote has for tourists has not gone unnoticed by local traders with shops on every corner selling everything from Calafate jam and ice cream to Calafate chocolates; after an initial taster, my suitcase quickly went from overweight to obese, stuffed with these souvenirs. It is becoming a bit of a ritual of mine to buy specialty teas from my trips – this is entirely unintentional as I drink tea occasionally rather than habitually but I think it was the tea factory hotel in Sri Lanka that was the turning point. I honestly didn’t think it would be an issue on this trip as I’d never known of the Argentinians or Brazilians being famed for tea. But in Patagonia, tee manzana (apple tea) is almost more prevalent than water and the rest is….well the rest is sitting in my larder. You had me at apple.

The Best Restaurants in El Calafate

The town itself is quite small with a disproportionate number of restaurants all aimed at the tourist market. With little, wooden, rustic buildings, it had a similar feel to Zermatt, Switzerland, if a little more man-made. I cannot stress highly enough how helpful it is to book ahead if there is a specific restaurant you have in mind. The popular ones are easy to spot (as are the bad ones) and considering most people are returning from the same excursions at roughly the same times, you can see the potential for waits.

Pumpkin knows better than to risk the wrath of his wife when she is cold and hungry so all our bookings were done in advance with the exception of the fabulous Viva La Pepa Crepes, where the sugarcraft artwork really hallmarks the crepes. We kept things local by opting for a Patagonian lamb crepe with cream cheese, honey, rosemary and mint to share for mains and a delicious apple crepe with Calafate ice cream to finish.

La Tablita and Isabel – Cocina al Disco are great options for those looking for delicious food with an informal atmosphere minus the price tag. The “discos”, which are the specialty of the house, are essentially huge casseroles – the honey mustard chicken was our choice and we couldn’t even finish one between the two of us. It comes with a generous half loaf of bread with a knife wedged in the middle. No seriously.

La Tablita is an excellent-value parilla (Argentine grill-style restaurants,) serving authentic cuisine. My Patagonian trout was nice enough with perhaps one too many bones to fish out (sorry for the awful pun) but I enjoyed my Pumpkin mash (the nickname’s now so engrained that I forget it was an actual vegetable long before my husband got tagged with the label.) Pumpkin himself highly recommended his grilled lamb and fries with white wine, parsley and garlic.

El Calafate signs

The Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary

A stroll along the main street in El Calafate on our first day took little more than a meagre 20 minutes, allowing us ample time to browse the Laguna Nimez bird sanctuary. One of my good friends, a biology teacher, will tell me off for feeling almost embarrassed that we were bird watching. But for 45 Pesos per person and an afternoon to pass, it seemed worth a punt.

bird sanctuary El Calafate Laguna NimezAs it turned out, we could count on one hand the number of bird species we saw – perhaps they just weren’t there that day or perhaps our binoculars need upgrading, as we spotted some fabulous close-up bird photos on the laptops of fellow travellers the following evening. The lakeside scenery, though, was in itself worth a visit, the ambience so serene that we had actually forgotten it was about the birds. The lucent blue waters glistened under the low sun, pristine and with tones of jade that took me back to the Maldives.el calafate bird sanctuary scenery

The terrain beneath our feet varied rapidly in texture from small, gravely and superficial to a thickened, dense, yellow sand by the edge of the lake, where my calves met with resistance. The grass, where there was any, was barren with scanty tufts of long straggly wheat-like crops, as if shaving brushes had been embedded in the soil, doted around the sanctuary. Some interesting foliage and fauna can be seen here with numerous daisy bushes resembling lollipops, where the delicate “loves-me, loves-me-not” petals had been swept away by the blustery winds that were commonplace in Patagonia.el calafate photograph

Thinking I could get away without a pair of trainers at the sanctuary was an ill-thought out move, as the varying textures of soil commanded a more sensible shoe. Patagonia in Autumn was not much different to a cold October day in England but you need at the very least, a scarf, sunglasses, ,a sensible pair of shoes and a waterproof. In the distance, we spotted flamingoes, ducks and a large vulture. If you own a super zoom lens, this would be the place to bring it.

The bird sanctuary is just a brief walk away from the main town area and quite reasonably priced so once you have tired of your share of jam and wool shops, venture down here to be at one with nature.

Have you come across any cities or towns with unusual names?

 

Part of the #SundayTraveler Link Up

25 thoughts on “El Calafate, Patagonia – Berries, Birds and The Best Restaurants

  1. Thanks for sharing Patagonia with us! We have been meaning to try and get to this part of the world but just haven’t got around to it. Will have to remember to look these restaurants up when we do go 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 3, 2014 — 10:00 pm

      I’m sure you guys will make it! It was a long way for us to go from Buenos Aires but I’m glad we did as the scenery was totally worth it! Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  2. thanks for sharing looks like another amazing corner of the world! 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 3, 2014 — 10:01 pm

      Thanks so much for reading 🙂 yep it’s probably one of the furthest places I’ve been from home with such spectacular scenery – it’s a charming little town!

  3. Wow this place is so high on my bucket list! Beautiful photos and write up!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 5, 2014 — 1:20 pm

      Thanks so much for the kind words Becky! I really loved it there – so peaceful and scenic. Hope you make it there soon 🙂

  4. We’d love to visit Patagonia and such lovely pictures you shared. As a tea lover, the apple tea sounds wonderful!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 5, 2014 — 1:22 pm

      Thanks so much Jessica – we hadn’t been sure whether to go there all the way from Buenos Aires but when we saw how beautiful it was, we were so glad we did! And yes, I was cross with myself for not bringing back more apple tea!

  5. What a beautiful and special part of the world! I love the name and how the locals really cashed in on it. I’d buy all the souvenirs I can get my hands on too and sample away. Beautiful photos and your food looks delicious!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 5, 2014 — 8:01 pm

      Thank you so much Mary – yeh I loved the myth that if you eat the berry, you’ll return one day – and I hope I will!! I even managed to find Calafate berry ice cream which I had with the dessert crepe 🙂 Any excuse!

  6. I’m so jealous of this trip to Patagonia. I just got my first taste of Argentina a few months ago and am wanting more. This is exactly why!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 7, 2014 — 10:01 pm

      Yes I vividly recall reading your Buenos Aires food tour post and drooling!! I fell in love with Argentina and it was my first trip to South America, which added to the magic. I’m sure you would find Patagonia beautiful & I hope you make it there soon so I can read your take on it 🙂

  7. I would love to go to Patagonia! I can’t wait to get there. I’m totes jelly 🙂

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 10, 2014 — 9:16 pm

      Thanks so much for commenting 🙂 I’m so glad you like the look of Patagonia and really hope you get a chance to visit – it’s so scenic and beautiful so I’m sure it would not disappoint!

  8. I’m pretty sure I’d travel here just for the craft beers and “discos.” Such a nice mix of great food and stunning nature. Beautiful shots!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 10, 2014 — 9:19 pm

      Thanks for the kind words Dave 🙂 The scenery was absolutely stunning and the delicious food came as a real surprise, as I really didn’t know anything about Patagonian food – Patagonian lamb is the big thing there so if you’re a fan of lamb, this is THE place! Hope you get a chance to go one of these days and enjoy a cold craft beer with a mountain view!

  9. Patagonia looks like a place I would make up if someone asked me to describe my dream landscape. Mountains and glaciers capture my imagination like no other sights.

    I must also say, the bread served with a knife through the middle does look quite menacing!!

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 15, 2014 — 9:04 pm

      Haha, yes the bread with the knife was utterly bizarre – can’t say I’ve ever seen it served that way before! It was the first major glacier I’ve ever seen and the scenery was breathtaking – I’d love to see more of this kind of scenery across the world. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  10. What’s up, all is going fine here and ofcourse every one is sharing
    information, that’s in fact fine, keep up writing.

  11. Haha, I think I would probably make fun of a city named Strawberry, but there are plenty of strangely named towns in Canada and the US. Apple tea sounds yummy. Is it sweeter than normal tea?

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 19, 2014 — 6:34 pm

      Thanks Adelina – yep I think the name of this town would really get lost in translation! The apple tea was really light and refreshing – very slight hint of natural sweetness – I loved having a cup of it in the mild cold weather of Patagonia. Thanks so much for reading 🙂

  12. Patagonia looks so special. Its not a place I had given much thought to – but now I have seen it a few times it’s growing on me. Thanks for linking up with us for #SundayTraveler

    1. Shikha (whywasteannualleave) August 19, 2014 — 6:36 pm

      Thank you for having me! To be honest, I knew very little about it until we planned a trip to Argentina & got reading – I just couldn’t get past how beautiful all the pics looked – beautiful scenery 🙂

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