Perito Moreno glacier: Los Glaciares National Park’s awe-inspiring wonder
Visit the Perito Moreno glacier, Los Glaciares National Park’s awe-inspiring natural wonder.
There are only a few places in the world which have taken my breath away – and one of them is the Perito Moreno glacier. This glacier is undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in Argentina and draws thousands of visitors every year from every corner of the world to marvel at one of nature’s most perfect creations.
Located approximately an hour and a half from the town of El Calafate in southern Patagonia, a visit to the Perito Moreno is not only a must do, but it will be a life changing experience.
Keep in mind that everything you have seen in travel websites, magazines, and TV shows, will not prepare you for the intense, overwhelming, awe you’ll feel when you first lay eyes on the glacier. There is simply no picture that can do justice to the immense beauty of the Perito Moreno glacier. If you have ever watched Game of Thrones, you’ll understand how Jon Snow felt when he saw the Wall for the first time – it is an indescribable feeling of nature’s power. You have to go, you have to live it, and you have to breath it, to really take it in.
And you will not only be able to absorb its beauty with your eyes, but also with your ears, as thundering sound erupts every time large chunks of ice from the glacier crash into the milky waters and then idly drift away. This is as unforgettable as it gets.
When to visit
You can visit the Perito Moreno glacier at any time, but it’s best to visit during the summer season (December-March) as you won’t need to brave too much snow. If the day is clear, you will have a chance to see how the light plays off the glacier like a kaleidoscope – different shades of blue dance about the glacier. The sun is at its peak during the high season, so you will have a great chance to witness the calving of the ice which is an experience that will linger in your mind for years.
Keep in mind that the weather is unpredictable throughout southern Patagonia, so I recommend you have a buffer day in case the weather doesn’t cooperate. If you don’t you will miss out on seeing the sites at their best.
Interesting facts about the Perito Moreno glacier
It’s size: The Perito Moreno sits within the unspoiled waters of the Lago Argentino and has a 254 square kilometers surface area, making it one of the largest glaciers of the Los Glaciares region. It is 30 km long, 5 km wide, and 730 meters thick at its deepest point.
It’s stability: Unlike most of the glaciers which are retreating due to global warming, the Perito Moreno glacier keeps expanding and moves forward approximately 2.5 meters per day. It also loses a proportional amount of mass every day, which ensures the glacier is “in balance”. Its surface, width and length have remained largely the same since 1971.
It’s easily accessible: Very few glaciers are as accessible and safe as the Perito Moreno. You can enjoy the glacier from different perspectives: from the catwalks, by boat or kayak, and even join one of the tours to walk on its surface.
It’s purity: The Perito Moreno is one of many glaciers that are part of the Los Glaciares National Park founded in 1937. All of these glaciers form the Patagonian continental ice which is one of the largest drinking water sources in the world.
What to do
We booked an excursion which took us from El Calafate to the glacier. After a few cloudy days, we got lucky with a perfect sunny day to motivate us on the hike on top of the glacier.
There are several activities you can do when visiting the Perito Moreno glacier. We decided to walk on the catwalks and pay extra for the trek on the glacier’s surface. However, regardless of which option you choose, the experience will be forever embedded in your mind. This is truly one of the natural wonders of the world.
Walk on the catwalks (Pasarelas): This is the classical tour which offers visitors the chance to see the glacier from above. With a length of 4.7 kms, the catwalks provide several vantage points where you can enjoy the full majesty of the Perito Moreno glacier.
From here, you can also witness the famous calving of the glacier – when large chunks of the glacier crash into the water. Pay close attention because it will happen within only a couple of seconds and if you are not looking towards the glacier you can easily miss it.
Tip: If you time your trip, you will also see the melting of the ice bridge which forms in winter.
There are three circuits along the catwalks providing different trails and perspectives of the glacier. The most popular ones are packed, so keep in mind you may need to wait a while.
There are a few benches which are sparsely located, so we took the opportunity to have a picnic lunch with a million-dollar view. As we ate, we could hear the thunder of the ice falling and see the reflecting hues of blue flicker along the ice. Our lunch was included in the tour package, and it was delicious (my husband’s favorite: milanesa sandwiches), but there is also a cafeteria available at this location where you can get something to eat and go to the bathroom. If you bring your mate, you will have a hot water refill station in the cafeteria area.
There is also a gift shop for souvenirs, but my husband, overcome with the thought of eating milanesas, forgot his wool hat and gloves – two major items you will need for this trip – and was able to get some at the shop.
Go kayaking: Paddle the icy waters of the Lago Argentino towards the glacier to experience it at water-level, which will give you a whole different level of appreciation for the glacier’s magnitude. Take the opportunity to enjoy the immense silence all around you which is only interrupted by the roar of falling ice blocks.
Go trekking: Trekking on the Perito Moreno surface is the most first-hand way of experiencing the glacier – and the most unforgettable in my opinion. Keep in mind that only guided tours are allowed to trek on the ice so you should book your excursion in advance and the cost is extra.
As part of this tour, you’ll walk to docks on the lake to take a boat ride in order to get to the glacier. When we got to our destination, we broke up into groups with two personal guides, got the safety rundown and then we strapped on the crampons to walk on the ice. It’s approximately a 1:30 hour walk on the glacier. During the hike you’ll see a wide variety of ice formations, valleys, cracks that look like canyons, glacier mills, small ponds and scary ice caves.
The best part is at the end – when you celebrate this accomplishment by drinking whiskey, with ice from the glacier, and snack on some chocolate all while you stand on the surface of the ice! The trekking difficulty is moderate and is easier once you get used to walking on the ice (there is a specific way to walk with crampons). There are alternative, more advanced, excursions where you will trek for over 3 hours.
Take a boat tour: For a different perspective of this impressive glacier, you can take a 1-hour boat ride around the lake. Watch closely to see slabs of ice detach from the glacier and crash into the surrounding lake.
Where to stay
There are plenty of accommodations in the nearby town of El Calafate. I stayed at the Blanca Patagonia Boutique Inn and Cabins and highly recommend it. It’s a small but very charming hotel offering 17 rooms with great lake views, and cute cabins. The hotel offers free buffet breakfast and free Wi-Fi in public areas.
What to pack
Here are a few clothes and accessories you should bring with you – but remember to layer up as the day will go from cold to hot to very windy to rainy all in a matter of hours:
Comfortable and warm shoes: Bring warm shoes and socks since you will be walking and enjoying the glacier outdoors. Remember that you might be going up and down stairs when you are in the catwalks so you may want to bring shoes that are comfortable and don’t cause blisters. I recommend the North Face Men’s Chilkat III Insulated Boot and the North Face Shellista II Mid Snow Boot for women.
Lightweight jacket: Depending on when you visit the Perito Moreno glacier you might want to bring a warmer jacket. I recommend the North Face Women’s Metropolis Insulated Parka III. It’s water resistant and insulated. For men you should get a synthetic fleece for the wind, like the North Face’s Gordon Lyons Full Zip Jacket.
Gloves: I recommend the North Face Etip recycled gloves which in addition to ensuring you keep your hands warm; they are touchscreen compatible, so you won’t need to remove them every time that you want to take a picture – which, believe me, will happen very frequently.
Sunscreen: Protect your skin -especially your face- as you will be outside for most of the day and there will be hardly in shade. I recommend Supergoop! SPF 40 for your face.
Sunglasses: A good pair of sunglasses is key as the reflection of the sun on the ice can hurt your eyes and you also want to avoid having to squint all the time. The O’Neill Offshore polarized sunglasses offer glare-free vision, optimal visual acuity and 100% UVA+B protection.
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