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.
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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.