Argentina, one of the wonders of the world: the Perito Moreno Glacier
The National Park of Los Glaciares , home to the majestic Perito Moreno Glacier, covers about 600,000 hectares in the southwestern part of the Argentine province of Santa Cruz. The park was formed in 1937, in 1971 it acquired its present borders, and in 1981 Los Glaciares was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The park got its name (los glaciares means “glaciers”) from the 47 main and numerous small glaciers located in the mountains on its territory.
The most convenient base for exploring the southern part of Los Glaciares National Park (where the Perito Moreno Glacier is located) is the small Argentine town of El Calafate, where you can get to the glacier either by renting a car, taking a regular bus or taking an organized tour. I, for example, preferred the third option.
Excursion from El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park: costs 300 pesos per person – at 9:00 they pick you up from your hotel, drive you all day in a minibus with a guide, and about 16:00 back. If you go to the glacier on your own without a rental car, the regular bus tickets from El Calafate to Perito Moreno and back will cost the same 300 pesos, plus you still have to somehow move between the different viewpoints and the port where the boats go to the glacier. In short, I personally decided not to show off and bought the tour – it was interesting, comfortable and cheap. The entrance fee to Los Glaciares costs 215 pesos, and the ticket to the boat to the foot of the glacier – another 180 pesos.
Road from El Calafate to the Perito Moreno Glacier
The first stop of the tour bus was at the observation deck, which offers a panorama not only of the glacier itself, but also of the surrounding Andes from afar:
The glacier, named after the Argentine natural scientist Francisco Moreno, has a total area of about 250 km² and is part of a huge glacier system that includes Upsala, Spegazzini, Onelli, Agassiz and other glaciers.
Moreover, the Perito Moreno glacier is not the most beautiful of them – it is simply the most easily accessible to tourists.
After the first stop at the observation deck, we were taken to the port, from where those who wished to go on a small boat sailed directly to the glacier:
I highly recommend taking advantage of this option – it is up close that the Perito Moreno Glacier makes the strongest impression:
Against a wall of ice up to 60 meters high, the recreational tourist boats seemed quite toy-like.
From time to time blocks of ice would fall off the front wall, much to the delight of tourists and the dismay of environmentalists. Speaking of environmentalists. They still cannot explain the so-called “Perito-Moreno phenomenon”: in the era of global warming, when the ice in Antarctica, the Arctic and Greenland is melting, the growth and melting of the Perito-Moreno glacier remain remarkably balanced. In other words, the glacier is neither growing nor shrinking – it remains as it has been for the past few tens of thousands of years.
After the water walk, they loaded us back into the minibus and took us to the observation deck, from which we could see the glacier at its most advantageous angle:
This particular angle has long been considered the “calling card” of all of Argentina’s southern Patagonia
This observation deck is located on top of a hill at the southwestern end of the Magellan Peninsula. It has a café, toilets and several walking routes marked in different colors – yellow, red, etc. – From each of which offers a unique view of the glacier – in this place are given two hours of free time.
It is known that the older the glacier, the more intense is its color – up to bright blue:
The Perito Moreno Glacier is about 30,000 years old. It is part of the Andean South Patagonian Ice Plateau, the third largest freshwater reservoir on the planet after Antarctica and Greenland.
During the tour, the guide tells a lot of interesting information about the glacier (although only in Spanish and English). For example, that the glacier moves at an average speed of 2 meters a day and, reaching the opposite shore, it periodically forms a natural dam and blocks the lake. Due to the lack of runoff, the difference in elevation between the southern and main parts of the lake is up to 30 meters! By exerting constant, powerful pressure on the ice dam, the water eventually causes it to collapse – when this happens, a rumble can be heard for many kilometers.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to predict exactly when an ice dam will break and when it will collapse: it happens with varying frequency, from once a year to once every 10-15 years. The first scientifically recorded breakthrough of an ice dam occurred in 1917, and since then such events have occurred more than 20 times.
Of all the sights I have seen in Argentina, the two that made the greatest impression were the Perito Moreno Glacier and the stunning Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil. At least once in your life, but these two wonders of nature must be seen. If we try to make our own rating of the beauties of our planet, I think Perito Moreno deserves the highest rating on the most rigorous scale.
The City of El Calafate
In the evening after the tour I took a little walk around El Calafate – a nice little town that lives mostly off tourism, all life in it is centered on the central street of San Martin.
It turned out that in El Calafate you don’t often see street names, which makes it a bit difficult to navigate. But in this situation, the famous Patagonian wind comes to the rescue: since the Andes are to the west of El Calafate, and the vast prairies are to the east, logic suggests that the wind there blows from east to west. That is, if you are walking down the street and it blows in your face, you are going east; if it blows in your back, you are going west. I do not pretend to “science” of my hypothesis – but I checked it by experience – it works
The most impressive thing in El Calafate for me was the local parillas (that’s what they call restaurants in Argentina, specializing in charcoal-grilled or open-fire meat):
How to get from the city to El Calafate airport: shuttle company Vez Patagonia, they do not have an office, you have to order by phone 494355 from the hotel, price 100 arg. pesos. The second option is a cab, 200 pesos.
You must pay the airport tax (76 pesos) at the airport before departure. The fee must be paid regardless of whether you have an international or domestic flight.
Lifehacks: how I save money on insurance, hotels, and domestic travel
How to buy good and inexpensive travel insurance:
Good working insurance wasn’t easy to find before, and now it’s even harder because of the constant fluctuations in the ruble’s exchange rate against world currencies. For the last few years I have been taking out travel insurance through an online service Cherehapa – there is an opportunity to compare products from different insurers and choose exactly what suits you best:
I also recommend reading a detailed article on choosing the right travel insurance – it may well save you from unnecessary overpayments and more serious trouble.
Booking a hotel – how to get the most and pay the least:
In addition to the well-known Booking.com service, there are new interesting online resources, which make the life of a traveler much easier and pleasantly save the thickness of his wallet. One of them, Hotellook, is one that I use regularly myself and recommend to all my friends and acquaintances. This service compares prices for an object in all available booking systems and offers you the most interesting options. In addition, it tracks discounts and specials.
Hotels in El Calafate with discounts from Hotellook:
How not to go broke on domestic travel around the country:
For those who need to get from point A to point B inexpensively and comfortably, I can recommend an interesting young startup called Bookaway.com – it allows travelers to find, compare, and book bus, train, ferry, and cab tickets online:
Useful articles about Argentina:
P.S. Join the Facebook groups www.facebook.com/allmyworld.ru and Vkontakte vk.com/allmyworld.ru , and subscribe to AllMyWorld.ru’s email updates to keep up with new articles about independent travel around the world.
Have an unforgettable trip to Argentina! Your Roman Mironenko
What is the most striking thing about Argentina? The endless pampas with unruffled llamas and lonely gauchos? The old men dancing a heartfelt tango in the Plaza Dorrego? Or hills overgrown with green vines, on which hang heavy ripe bunches of malbec?
I was impressed by the sight of a block of ice the size of a truck breaking away from the immense ice sheet, slowly and languidly gaining speed, and finally plummeting into the cold water with a deafening noise.
I think the huge and majestic Perito Moreno Glacier is definitely worth seeing! No photo can adequately capture the full scale of this giant.
What is Perito Moreno
In the vast plains of Patagonia at the foot of the Andes stretches the sky-blue Lake Argentino. Here, in Los Glaciares Park (which means “glaciers” in Spanish), an enormous ice tongue with an area of 250 square meters and a height of up to 700 meters slides down from the mountains. This is the great Perito Moreno, named after the explorer Francisco Moreno.
The scale of the giant ice mass is breathtaking. What we see above the water is only a small part of the giant, but it is almost like a twenty-story house! Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that does not shrink, the rate of its freezing in the upper mountains is as fast as the rate of ice melting in the lake. No wonder travelers from all over the world come to admire this natural wonder.
How to get to Perito Moreno
The first thing to do is to get to the small, pleasant, but unremarkable town of El Calafate. There is a small airport next to the town, and the famous Route 40, which runs along the Andes from north to south across Argentina, passes through it. Since the country has a well-developed bus service and domestic aviation, getting to El Calafate from the capital or any other city is not a problem.
The Perito Moreno Glacier National Park is almost 77 kilometers from El Calafate, and travelers can get there by bus, boat or car. Or you can not think about the transfer and buy a tour.
You can buy round-trip tickets for $30 (450 pesos) at the bus station in downtown El Calafate. Flights leave every half hour from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. from El Calafate and until 7 p.m. from Perito Moreno.
The bus station in the national park is very close to the ticket offices and cafes – you can’t get lost.
Boats sail from the marina at El Calafate every hour from 10:30 to 3:30 p.m. Shipping on Lake Argentino is open from October through April. The cost of a one-way boat ride is $18 (250 pesos).
I would highly recommend choosing this way at least one way, because the shores of the lake, surrounded by the majestic Andes, are delightful. But don’t forget to be thoroughly insulated: you’ll be attacked by a strong, cold wind on the open deck!
The most comfortable option, in which you do not depend on anyone, is to take a little over an hour ride from the city to the glacier by rented car. Rental agencies are abundant in El Calafate, the rental price starts at $30 per day, a liter of gasoline costs $0.7. At registration, you will be asked for a standard driver’s license (international rights are not asked) and a bank card on which to block a certain amount.
The road to Perito Moreno is well paved. It is single lane, but traffic is sparse, so I did not experience any difficulties.
There is a large free parking lot next to the national park ticket office. The staff will help you find a free spot.
With a tour.
Organized tours to the glacier are sold at many places in El Calafate. The price includes a transfer from the hotel to the glacier and back, as well as a guide throughout the day. Admission to the park, boat ride, or glacier tour are paid separately.
A special type of excursion is the lake excursion, when enthusiastic travelers are loaded onto a boat in El Calafate, driven around the lake for about 2 hours, brought to the glacier, given a walk around the park, and then returned to the hotel.
The price depends on your choice and varies from $20 (300 pesos) to $200 (3000 pesos).
What to do on the glacier
Finally you have reached the national park. Even from afar, you’ll see a bluish mass of ice wedged among the peaks of the Andes. After about 20 minutes of brisk walking you will reach a lakeside complex of lookouts connected by wide walkways.
The first thing you want to do is to run around all the sites and choose the best view. So I did, landing at last on one of the benches and immersing myself in meditative contemplation of Perito Moreno. The ancient Scandinavians believed that our world was created from the body of an ice giant. And looking at the peaks and gaps blue under the sunlight in front of me, I could easily understand them.
It is impossible not to marvel at this natural wonder! What power one can feel in this giant block of frozen snow 30 thousand years old, what universal calm it inspires.
Suddenly, in the silence of the clear mountain air, a piercing crack is heard, and before the eyes of amazed onlookers a piece of ice breaks off and falls noisily into the waters of the lake. You need to hold your camera at the ready to document the fall of a particularly large ice-floe.
But watching from afar doesn’t exhaust the possibilities of the national park. You can go on a walk on the lake, during which the boat sails quite close to the ice giant. The cost of the swim starts at $13 (200 pesos).
But the most interesting part is climbing on the back of the old man Perito Moreno, touching his cold growths with your hand. The feeling of walking on the glacier is absolutely inexpressible!
There are many options for such a walk of varying difficulty and duration, but all need to book a few days, or even a couple of weeks in high season. Trips usually include transfers from your hotel to the glacier and back, special shoe attachments, safety ropes, a well-trained guide, and whiskey or hot chocolate to which you will add the most eco-friendly ice. During the hike, you’ll learn a lot about the life of this ancient and living creature named Perito Moreno, showing you secluded ice caves and dizzying views. Prices start at $200 (3,000 pesos).
The national park is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and admission costs $18 (250 pesos).
When to go
From November to March, the temperature ranges from +10 to 15 °C, even during the warmest months (December and January) do not expect hot weather. During the Argentine winter, July through August, it’s usually 0 to +5 °C, and in the fall and winter it’s +5 to +10 °C. And next to such a huge mass of ice, even at +12 °C, you start to turn into ice very quickly and yourself. So I would recommend to go during warm summer months (from November to March) and to move around a lot, in order not to get cold.
What to bring
When going to visit Perito Moreno, don’t forget a few important things:
- Warm clothes and lots of them! Thermal underwear, a ski suit, a scarf or ski mask, a hat and warm gloves will be your best friends even in the Argentine summer. You will have to spend some unforgettable hours next to the glacier or even on the glacier blowing with the arctic cold, so be careful to keep yourself warm!
- Comfortable shoes are an absolute must-have on this trip. The hiking paths and lookouts nearby in the national park are done well: they’re not slippery, and there are ramps and elevators for those who can’t use stairs. But given that you’ll be spending hours on leisurely walks or climbing the glacier itself, it’s worth choosing your footwear very carefully. The ideal choice would be high trekking boots.
- Thermos flask with hot tea or coffee is a great companion in this trip! Watching a huge chunk of ice plummet into the water is best done by sipping hot tea. And if you take sandwiches as well, you can spend the whole day at the glacier. Well, if you don’t have that option, a cafe near the bus station and parking lot will save you from hunger and cold. Hot coffee here costs $3-4, sandwiches from $6.
- And, of course, a camera or an action camera will help you capture unforgettable moments of your visit to the majestic Perito Moreno.
In the vast expanses of Argentina there are the stunning tropical waterfalls of Iguazu and the vast red grass of the Tierra del Fuego, over which the icy winds sweep; the beautiful colonial cities and the light-drenched high-rises of Buenos Aires. And in the heart of this land of contrasts rests an unwavering, ancient giant, as ancient as time itself, next to which you feel all the power of nature, looking at which you redefine yourself. Even if you only have a week in Argentina, go to Perito Moreno!