Let's say right away that the Perito Moreno Glacier represents for many (and I am part of these "many") the apex of a trip to Argentina, more particularly in Patagonia. It is by far the most photographed place in Argentina and a natural wonder that you will hardly see anywhere else on the planet. Not that there aren't other glaciers in the world, but Perito Moreno is certainly one of the most spectacular and accessible.
Perito Moreno: the glacier
Il Perito Moreno Glacier is located inside the Los Glaciares National Park, and was inserted in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981. It is a very large park, 350 km from north to south, which includes two lakes: the lake Viedma and Argentino lake (the 3rd largest in Latin America). This park includes several glaciers (Perito Moreno, Viedna, Upsala ..) which are nothing but the gigantic offshoots of the so-called Southern Patagonian Ice Field, an immense glacial system 500 km long and disputed between Chile and Argentina (the border line does not exist at the moment and is the subject of continuous discussions between the two countries). The entrance to the park is located 50 km from the town of El Calafate, but then you have to walk another 28 to arrive in front of the Perito Moreno front.
For how many photos and videos I had already seen (millions!), When I found myself face to face with this ice giant I felt like crying. It is impossible to imagine! It is immense, a 14 km long ice wall, 4 km wide and 40-60 meters high with an unreal color. I had never seen a celestial like this (which I later discovered to be an optical effect, given by the refraction of light). I would have been watching it for hours!
But the most impressive are the sounds it produces, the ice screeches, creaks and rings; even the smallest fragment that comes off produces an impressive noise that the mountains amplify. We are faced with something alive, which is constantly moving. The Perito Moreno is in fact one of the few glaciers in the world that does not retreat but increases, stretching up to 2 meters per day. The glacier forms on the mountains at 2000 meters above sea level, then gradually descends and the water that flows continuously under it contributes to its displacement.
How to visit the Perito Moreno
The glacier can be explored in three different ways (not exclusive): on foot, by boat and with an ice trekking.
All excursions depart from El Calafate and can be booked directly through the hotel / hostel or in one of the thousands of agencies that are located in the city, but if you go there in high season I suggest you book them first because they have already sold out several days before (in each paragraph you will find the link to book them).
If you are in Chilean Patagonia, another option is to visit Perito Moreno in a day starting from Puerto Natales. The excursion lasts 16h, it starts in the morning at 6:30 and returns at 22:30. It's a kill, but it might still be worth it if you're in Chile.
1) Visit the Perito Moreno on foot
One was built on the hill facing the glacier network of walkways which lead to different terraces and lookout points from which it is possible to admire the front of the Perito Moreno from the front. There are several paths to walk to reach the inferior extaciation; here you will find yourself 300 meters from the ice front and you will almost feel like you are touching it! The view from the walkways is amazing, you will see the glacier in all its majesty and you will hear all the noises caused by the continuous breakages. You can stay here for hours, I warn you.
2) Visit the Perito Moreno by boat
If from the walkways it is difficult to appreciate the height of the Perito Moreno, when you pass under it, at close range, you realize that the ice wall is very high! It oscillates between 40 and 60 meters, practically a 15-storey building. The boat departs fromimbarcadero say "Under the Shadows" several times a day in high season (in low season only at 12) and the navigation lasts 00 hour.
3) Visit the Perito Moreno with a mini-trek on the glacier
I opted for this excursion. If you want to book it you can do it through this link on the Denomades website (a super reliable and, above all, certified sustainable tourism agency). It is a full day trip that includes the view of the Perito Moreno front from the walkways, the boat crossing and a 2h trek on the glacier with crampons. It was one of the best experiences of my life! It is definitely expensive but totally worth it.
We leave in the morning at around 7 from El Calafate and return around 17/18. After the view from the walkways, you cross the lake by boat passing under the south face of the Perito Moreno to reach a refuge. Here you have lunch (lunch is not included and you have to bring it) in front of a magnificent view of the glacier. After lunch you can walk to a hut near the start of the ice, leave your backpack and everything else you don't need here before putting on your crampons. Then the adventure begins! The guides give an explanation on the use of crampons and how to walk on the ice and then leave. The walk on the ice lasts about an hour and a half / two; during the trek you can admire the crevasses up close, the caves with bluish reflections that open into the ice and, why not, stop to drink from the streams that you meet. It seems to walk on clouds! I was lucky enough to do it in good weather, and the horizon boundary between ice and sky seemed to disappear. I felt an indescribable emotion!
4) Escursione Big Ice
This excursion is the PRO version of the mini-trekking. The program is the same, but the glacier trek lasts 3: 30 / 4h and is much more challenging. The excursion is recommended only for people between 18 and 50 years old, trained and in excellent physical shape.
Perito Moreno: when to go and how much it costs
Like most of the excursions in Argentina, even those to visit the Perito Moreno are very expensive (the costs you see below refer to 2017).
- Entrance to the Los Glaciares National Park costs 20 euros and includes the scenic walkways.
- Boat trip: 25 euros + 20 euros admission to the National Park (all year)
- Minitrekking: 150 euros + 20 euros admission to the National Park (always except July)
- Big Ice: 270 euros + 20 euros admission to the National Park (only from October to April)
One thing that struck me a lot is that the Perito Moreno is located almost at sea level and, while walking on the ice, it is absolutely not cold. I thought I should have dressed like Fantozzi in the North Cape, but I was wrong. If it's sunny, at least in summer (November-February) you can easily stay in short sleeves!
Where to sleep and where to eat in El Calafate
Hostel Nakel Yenu. This hostel is located slightly outside the center (but can be reached with 10 'on foot) and a little higher. It is very nice and welcoming. You can book the excursions directly from them, even by email in the days before your arrival. The staff is really nice and the breakfast is good.
Don Pichon: there are two excellent reasons to come and eat in this restaurant in the hills (near the hostel by the way): the view of the lake and the meat. The parrilla and the cordero are really good and the portions are very generous.
You may be interested in these other articles on Argentina and Patagonia:
- How to organize a trip to Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego
- Chilean Patagonia and Southern Chile: the Lakes Region, the island of Chiloé and Torres del Paine
- Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego, a journey to the end of the world
- What to see in Buenos Aires in 3 days