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Founded in 1927 as a frontier town, El Calafate is the base for excursions to the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, which was created in 1937 as a showcase for one of South America's most spectacular sights, the Perito Moreno Glacier. Because it's on the southern shore of Lago Argentino, the town enjoys a microclimate much milder than the rest of southern Patagonia.
To call El Calafate a boomtown would be a gross understatement. Between 2001 and 2008, the town's population exploded from 4,000 to 22,000, and it shows no signs of slowing down; at every turn you'll see new construction. As a result, the downtown has a very new sheen to it, although most buildings are constructed of wood, with a rustic aesthetic that respects the majestic natural environment. One exception is the brand-new casino in the heart of downtown, the facade of which seems to mock the face of the Perito Moreno glacier. As the paving of the road between El Calafate and the glacier nears completion, the visitors continue to flock in. These include luxury package tourists bound for the legendary Hostería Los Notros, backpackers over from Chile's Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, and porteños (those from Buenes Aires) in town for a long weekend—including Argentina's President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who owns a vacation house and two hotels down here.
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