Having started out as a small outpost to serve ginormous sheep ranches (one family owned over 3 million hectares), El Calafate did not grow into its current self until tourism picked up for the local national parks around 15 years ago. It now has a robust population of over 20,000 people and every last one of them serves the tourist industry. Despite the tourist focus, it’s a picturesque town that sorta feels like an upscale ski resort. There is a lot to do around El Calafate located in Los Glaciares National Park. Of course many of those things revolve around glaciers and for good reason. There are 48 glaciers in the southern Patagonian ice field. Due to it's size, accessibility and sheer beauty, Perito Moreno Glacier is a main attraction.
The massive Perito Moreno Glacier is unique in that it is constantly advancing into Lago Argentino. The glacier is 19 miles long, 3 miles wide and rises 240 feet high above the water. As ice and snow build in the higher elevations, it puts pressure on the lower part of the glacier. On any given day large sections of the glacier split off and fall into the lake [called caving]. The facade of the glacier resembles a rugged mountain and is complete with small streams and ice caves. There is an extensive set of walkways directly facing the glacier that provide superb views from every angle. In addition, I'd recommend getting up close and personal on the one hour boat tour. Experiencing the glacier is truly amazing. For those who are more adventurous, you can hike it.
Like many towns in the area, El Calafate today exists mainly for tourism. The ACA hotel, associated with the Argentina Automobile Association, sports a well-done stone and wood architecture with tasteful 50's decor. The main drag has the typical array of shops and some pretty good restaurants serving the regional staple, grilled lamb. I'm not a lamb lover, but it was tasty.