My first Patagonian post was an introduction to the travel hub of El Calafate. Today’s post focuses on the town’s best attraction. Situated about a mile from downtown El Calafate, very close to the hotel we were staying at, Laguna Nimez Nature Reserve is a beautiful place worth exploring. It’s especially a prime stop for bird-lovers, but also offers a nice easy hike in a natural setting. The Reserve is situated at the edge of a great glacial lake, Lago Argentino, and adjoins a suburban neighborhood. It contains two lagoons, Laguna Nimez and Laguna Secundaria.
The Reserve is fenced off and you enter through a small visitor center where a modest admission fee is charged. Signage outside the preserve office show examples of possible birds and plants you might encounter during your walk, and further signs at select spots along the trail help you better understand the natural environment of that area. Up to 80 species of birds can be found at the Reserve.
Birders sometimes settle into bird-viewing near the entrance, which is in a marshland habitat. But there’s a nice path that takes you around the preserve with many additional prime bird-viewing opportunities. The path is of good quality and easy to walk as it’s nearly completely flat. I couldn’t find any information on trail distance but estimate that it’s perhaps 3-4 miles (4-6 km) around the Reserve, depending on how many side-paths you explore. The trail winds beside the lagoons, through grassland, bush, sand dunes, and beside the turquoise waters of the glacial lake. The Patagonian Andes can easily be spotted in the distance. There’s a lot of thorny calafate bushes at one end of the preserve which were loaded with ripe blue calafate berries (these bushes and berries are the ones that gave the town its name and are an important food source for the birds and small animals that live in the Reserve). Several side paths lead bird blinds, good places to escape the wind and blend in for better bird viewing.
The scenery is wonderful, with broad panoramic views, and we saw large numbers of birds. A few of them were easy to recognize, like flamingos, ibis, black-necked swans and upland geese. Ducks and song birds of all size and color were about. I’m not a serious birder, though I enjoyed these unusual birds, many of which I’d never seen before. If I was birder, I’d spend a day or two here to enjoy the dozens of South American species the Reserve has to offer, in close proximity and comfort of the services you can enjoy in El Calafate.
A leisurely walk around the preserve will take about half day; longer if you stop a lot. In the winter, the lagoon freezes over and is a popular ice skating rink.
My only word of caution is that like all of Patagonia, it’s often windy here. Protect your eyes from flying bits of sand and debris with sunglasses. And the sun is intense, so use proper protection like sun screen and a hat.