The Astounding Size, Sound and Beauty of Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier

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Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park—C.Helbig

So…you think glaciers are boring? Well, go visit Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. It crackles and groans and rumbles. Sometimes it sounds like rapid gunfire, and occasionally like a giant explosion. You’re almost guaranteed to see large blocks of ice collapse from the glacier’s edge and crash into Lago Argentino. Perito Moreno Glacier is active and noisy and huge and gorgeous. It’s also easily accessible with many viewing options. No wonder Los Glaciares National Park, which also includes the incredible hiking mecca of El Chaltén (Fitz Roy) is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Come take a look at this breathtaking, blue-hued beauty.


Impressive walkways at Perito Moreno Glacier—C.Helbig


View of glacier and lower walkway from upper path—C.Helbig

The easiest and least expensive way to view the glacier is via the park’s extensive walkways and balconies.  In my opinion, it’s also the best way to experience the enormity of the glacier. There are five routes ranging in length from 500-1100 m.  Some sections are wheelchair accessible. Hats off to the designers and builders of this stunning network.

We used Mundo Austral Tours  in El Calafate for our day trip to the glacier.  Vivienne our tour leader provided lots of interesting information about the glacier during the 1.5 hour bus ride. When we arrived, she gave us a quick overview of the pathways and then we had three hours to explore on our own. Three hours! Hmm, I wondered how I could possibly look at a giant chunk of ice (albeit an impressive one) for that long. Turns out, I practically had to dragged out of the park.  I was the last one back on the bus.


Bird’s eye view from the upper balcony—C.Helbig

Our first views of the glacier from the upper balcony left us speechless. It’s a monster. It covers an area of 250 sq km (87 sq mi) and has an average depth of 74 m (240 ft). Perito Moreno is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonia Ice Field that lies in both Argentina and Chile. This ice field is the world’s third largest source of fresh water.

Besides its size, we were also struck by the glacier’s varying shades of blue. Why is this?  I needed a physics refresher and got my answer the next day at The Glaciarium, El Calafate’s excellent glacier museum.

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Display at The Glacarium in El Calafate—C.Helbig

But, it wasn’t the size, beauty or blue colour of Perito Moreno that had me nearly missing my bus back to El Calafate. It was the sounds and movement of the glacier.

Vivienne had told us to keep our ears and eyes peeled for calving (chunks of ice that break from the glacier’s edge). During our visit, we heard everything from low rumbles to loud explosions. A couple of times we were lucky enough to see pieces of ice collapse and plunge into Lago Argentino. It is totally exhilarating to witness this force of nature.

Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers that is not shrinking. It is in a relatively steady state with no major changes in its average size over the last 100 years. However, it is highly active and advances about 3m/day. The process of calving  keeps Perito Moreno “in balance”.


Piece of ice calves from Perito Moreno Glacier—C.Helbig

If you think that “little” chunk of ice breaking from the glacier in the photo above is cool, get a load of what happens at Perito Moreno every few years. As the glacier advances, the tip cuts off a part of Lago Argentino. As a result, the glacier forms a dam and pressure builds in the lake. This eventually creates a tunnel, and then an arch as the water flow eats away at the ice. Eventually, the arch collapses and the whole process starts again.

The photo below (left) is from March 2016 just before the arch collapsed. Hundreds of visitors saw this dramatic event. The one on the right is from our visit in April 2018. There was a collapse in March 2018 but it happened in the middle of the night with no witnesses. Talk about being in the right place at the right time!



Just a portion of the ice bridge left standing across the channel—C.Helbig

If you go:

  • Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park is 78 km (48 mi) from the town of El Calafate, which has direct flights from Buenos Aires.
  • El Calafate is totally geared for tourism and has loads of hotels, restaurants and transportation/tour companies that provide Perito Moreno experiences. If you have your own car, the well-maintained road to the park is an easy drive.
  • Admission to the park at time of our visit was 500 Argentinian Pesos (about US $18.50/pp). Tours and transport are extra.
  • Besides the pathways and viewing platforms, included in price of admission, there are also boat tours, kayaking and glacier trekking that must be purchased separately, online or through agencies in El Calafate. While the boat tours and kayaking provide a cool “sea level” perspective, for safety reasons, they don’t get too close to the glacier. I think the pathways provide a better overall view.
  • The ice-trekking tours by Hielo & Aventura look awesome but they are expensive. This would have been fun but wasn’t in our budget. That said, we were totally thrilled with our experience on the walkways.
  • If you want more in-depth information about glaciers, the Glaciarium has excellent interpretative displays and films. There’s a free hourly shuttle bus from El Calafate to the Glaciarium 6km away.
  • The hiking capital of El Chaltén is only a three hour bus ride from El Calafate. Combining a Perito Moreno glacier visit with a few days of hiking in El Chaltén is an awesome way to see the highlights of Argentinian Patagonia.
Categories: Argentina | Tags: , , , , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on “The Astounding Size, Sound and Beauty of Argentina’s Perito Moreno Glacier

  1. Ivan E Troncoso

    I was fortunate enough to visit these glaciers in August-September of 2012. The weather during those 5 days was uncommonly beautiful; four days of sunshine, one with cold rain.
    Trekking over Perito Moreno was the highlight of my visit. The grapples provide excellent footing on the ice. Hielo y Aventura has a ritual for the culmination of it’s tour by providing Jameson’s Whisky 🥃 poured over glacier ice! I had two ;)!

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  5. That shade of blue and that size is simply breathtaking. Like catching a glimpse of the Milky Way, it really puts my place in the universe into perspective. Thank you for these lovely shots.

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  6. Oh my goodness! I wasn’t aware of this park prior to reading this – and I am so impressed. What fantastic photos you took! The blue of the ice is magnificent!

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  7. I was feeling ambivalent also about a whole day trip to see a boring glacier, but as you and others have noted, this is no ordinary glacier! We did do the hike on the ice (I actually didn’t even know it was particularly expensive as it was lumped into a couple of days’ worth of activities in the area!), and that was a great way to get another view. I agree with you, though, that the walkways are a magnificent asset. Great photos!

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    • You’re lucky you got to do the glacier walk. I must say I was feeling a bit envious when I read all the glowing reports about this activity. I imagine it gives you a whole different perspective and quite a thrill.

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  8. This brought back some good memories. I too wondered why on earth I’d want 3 hours there, and had to be dragged back to the bus. That thing is alive I swear. Loved it!

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  9. Spectacular! I can see why you had to be dragged out of there 🙂

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    • It was pretty funny. I’m usually very prompt and respectful of time when I’m on a tour but I got so wrapped up in the place I lost track of time. I got in a nice sprint back up all the stairs!


  10. Mike Hohmann

    Stunning pictures, Caroline. The contrasting colors are fantastic. I’ve seen glaciers in Alaska and in Glacier NP and I’ve heard the sounds -it’s like they are alive. The loud cracks/booms, just like the cracks of a rifle or handgun… or the booms of a cannon.

    Minnesota was once covered by glaciers over a mile deep, and on up into Canada. They began melting over ten thousand years ago… way before the industrial revolution and and the accompanying use of fossil fuels.

    Thanks for posting.

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    • Thanks Mike. I’ve seen glaciers before visiting Perito Moreno, but I guess never close up enough to hear their amazing sounds. I’m very excited to be going to Glacier NP in August (finally after two foiled attempts…hope there’s no wildfires.)
      I’m sure the landscape of Minnesota must have interesting remnants from the glacial period.

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      • Mike Hohmann

        Indeed. The Sawtooth Mountains along the North Shore of L. Superior, the rivers and streams, Lake Superior itself are the result of glacial action. They come and go -some are gone, some remain, perhaps new ones will return someday!

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  11. Your pictures are great. If they were all taken by an iphone, you are probably the best iphone photographer I have seen.

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  12. Oh my goodness Caroline, I’ve never seen anything like it, the pictures are amazing, so impressive.

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  14. Honestly these photos are so magnificent I cannot quite conceive how incredible it must be in real life. The colors are so striking, and the sheer quantity of ice!!! WOW!

    At first I assumed that glacier collapses were due to climate change impact but am glad to hear that is not the case here and that it remains unchanged on that regard for the past 100 years.

    The walkways do look like an incredible feat of building something aesthetic that does the job of allowing viewing without being an eyesore.


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    • Like you, I was happy to find out that this glacier has remained stable over the last hundred years. I tried to do some research on why it is in balance and not receding like so many others but the theories are inconclusive.
      The colours are truly amazing and like our hiking in El Chalten, the whole great experience was heightened even more by the gorgeous fall foliage.
      Cheers, Caroline


  15. How magnificent is this glacier, Caroline! Words fail me. The way you bring it alive in the introduction gives me an audiovisual idea of it, though I suspect reality would far outstrip the imagination. The bird’s eye view of the shards of ice standing together, as if part of an army, makes me shiver somehow. xx


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