Perito Moreno Glacier
Located in Los Glaciares National Park in the province of Santa Cruz in Argentina, Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most popular attractions in the Patagonia region. The impressive ice mass is a whopping 97 square miles (78km) and 19 miles in length (30km) and believe it or not, is only 1 of the 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice field in the Andes System (which is shared with Chile). One of the things I learned during my time at the glacier which I found interesting was that Perito Moreno is actually named after a person. Francisco Moreno was an explorer and pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century. He played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile. Perito Moreno Glacier became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and holds one of the world's largest reserves of fresh water.
--> How to Get There
The glacier is located approximately 48 miles (78 km) from the urban town of El Calafate, making it easily accessible and a popular day trip from the town. El Calafate has become a central hub for those looking for an adventure in the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile. There is an international airport about 20 minute drive away from the heart of town connecting dozens of cities to the heart of Patagonia. El Cafalate town is also a very popular option to stay for a night or a few nights, since most people will not come to this region only for a day. It is also a great point to rest for the evening if you are heading up to El Chalten and you cannot fit in all the travel into 1 day.
El Calafate is approximately a 3 hour direct flight from Buenos Aires, which is the fastest and most popular option for tourists traveling to Argentina to see the glaciers. You can also find direct flights to El Calafate from other South American cities. There are multiple flight options to and from El Calafate, but be sure to book in advance since I've seen prices hike up during peak season.
--> How Long to Stay
While El Calafate gets a lot of foot traffic, there actually isn't too much to do nearby that would warrant an extended stay. If you keep reading, I will talk about some of the things there is to do near and in the town, including checking out the town and the food and the all-you-can-drink in 25 minutes GlacioBar. As I mentioned before, many people come to El Calafate to embark on their journey to hike Patagonia and to see Perito Moreno Glacier at Los Glaciares National Park. Since the round trip flight is almost 7 hours, staying for a night or two in El Calafate makes the most sense to make the most of your time spent traveling. 1-2 nights gives you enough time to do a full day tour of your choosing and to eat a couple of delicious meals (Patagonian lamb, anyone?) at one of the dozens of restaurants. El Calafate is equally as popular of a hub for those returning from their Patagonian excursions and need a place to sleep before catching a flight back to Buenos Aires or other cities where they came from.
--> Where to Stay
El Calafate is very busy for about half of the year (November - May), so they are well equipped to handle the crowds. There are dozens of hotels and Airbnb options in El Calafate for you to choose from, ranging from cheaper accommodations to luxury hotels. It wasn't very difficult to choose a place to stay for our two nights in El Calafate, but I ultimately went with Mirador del Lago due to its proximity to the La Laguna Nimez Reserva and its close walk to all of the restaurants where I knew we would walk to for dinners. I recommend picking a place either on Av. del Libertador or very close by since the most important thing is being able to quickly and easily grab a bite to eat in the morning or at night after a long day of hiking, trekking, fishing, biking, etc. Most tour companies will pick you up directly at your hotel for an excursion which is very convenient.
Ice Trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier:
One of the most unique experiences in this part of the world is ice trekking, which is when you get the exciting opportunity to walk on the famous Perito Moreno Glacier and see it up close and personal.There are many companies that operate tours for ice trekking on glacier, but I personally went with Hielo Aventura after reading many reviews from people who have booked with them. Hielo Aventura offers two types of ice trekking - the Big Ice for the more adventurous and challenge seekers, and Mini-Trekking for those who want a shorter, more moderate version of the 3 hour long Big Ice trek. Both options are fully guided and you can pick your preferred language, Spanish, Portuguese, or English for the tour.
The Mini-Trekking was incredibly fun and one of the most memorable excursions I have ever done. In total, it is about a 10 hour excursion, and a very full day trip from dusk til dawn. Included in the price of the ticket is a transfer to and from your accomodation/hotel in El Calafate, which is really convenient so you don't need to drive yourself. Our shuttle picked us up before sunrise at our hotel lobby, and we drove about an hour away to the Bajo las Sombras port where we boarded a ship to take the 20 minute ride across Lago Rico. The views on the water are stunning and a great first taste of what is to come After getting to the opposite shore and the southern wall of the Perito Moreno Glacier, we headed toward a large cabin where we could leave our belongings and lunches take a bathroom break before starting the ice trek. This is also when we were reminded to bring our gloves with us and were offered a pair to borrow in case we forgot. Since the ice is very sharp, gloves are mandatory to prevent injury. The group was then split up based on language preference, each group varying in size between 15-20 people.
Our mountain guide gave us a brief history of the glacier and overview of glaciology, and then we started walking over toward the glacier for the main event! We spent around 20 minutes or so waiting for the group to get their crampons strapped onto everyone's feet. Luckily, we didn't have to do this ourselves and left it to the professionals because I definitely would not have strapped these things on right. Crampons are essentially a traction device attached to footwear that helps you to walk on snow and ice, especially during ice climbing. I wore hiking boots and highly recommend them over regular athletic sneakers, although many people just wore their Nikes. The crampons actually look quite dangerous if I say so myself, but god bless them because they are very important for safety on the ice. We were given a short demo on how to walk safely to avoid injury during the hour and a half walk before we embarked on the glacier. Because there are multiple groups and quite a few people in each group, you are not allowed to walk freely on the glacier and are instructed to follow each other like in a conga line. While this may seem annoying to some, it's actually not that limiting because you can't really walk that quickly with the crampons on anyway and its nice to take your time and enjoy the ice formations and see the natural cracks and small ponds along the way. We were asked to not take photos and videos while actively walking, but we made frequent stops for photo ops! It was also very cool to drink from the ponds of fresh water, so we didn't have to carry any water bottles to stay hydrated (I mean its less than 2 hours after all, so we would have survived regardless haha).
Trust me, by the end of the one hour mark, I was so ready to unstrap my crampons and step on the ground again because its very tiring. By the time we reached the end of the trek, we all enjoyed a bit of whisky (with glacier ice!) and chocolate, before walking back to our group cabin to enjoy our boxed lunches. Although we had some gloomy weather during our day tour, I really enjoyed the experience and it was a great leg workout too ;) I highly recommend Hielo Aventura for their professional and organized service and would definitely consider booking their Big Ice trek or Safari Nautico tour, which is a 1 hour boat ride around Lago Rico along the glacier.
--> What to Wear
Argentina has pretty distinct seasons just like we do on the East Coast in NYC, but keep in mind that Patagonia is very far South (only about 900 km from the end of the world in Ushuaia), so be prepared for the cold. The summer months of December-February should be quite warm and sunny, but I would still make sure to bring a light, waterproof jacket in case you experience some sprinkles and wind. Worse case is you can just leave your jacket in the cabin if you don't feel like carrying it with you on the trek. Better safe then sorry! I visited in the autumn in mid-April, and unfortunately suffered quite a gloomy day. I'm so happy I brought a cozy jacket and wore a hat since it was quite cold the day we visited. Don't forget the essentials:
Rain Jacket / Poncho
Gloves / Hat
Boxed lunch (you can get this in town the morning or night before your excursion. Your hotel may also offer boxed lunches as a service.)
Backpack to carry camera/tripod/misc.
Plastic bag (to store garbage since you cannot leave any waste at the park)
Perito Moreno Glacier Viewpoint
Ice trekking is definitely not everyone's cup of tea. For those who are a bit less adventurous or have less time on your hands to see the glaciers, don't worry because the park has an extensive maze of balconies and viewing points so you can enjoy Perito Moreno and all its glory without getting out on the ice itself. The viewing points are scattered at different levels and distances from the glacier so you can get a close look from multiple perspectives. All of the views are equally as breathtaking, and to be honest, the photos really can't do it any justice. It's sheer size and grandeur is simply indescribable.
Because I did the ice trek with Hielo Aventura, they took us to the viewpoint after lunch and gave us about an hour of free time to roam around. If you were only going to see Perito Moreno without doing a lengthier excursion or trekking of any kind, I would recommend 2-3 hours at the viewpoint in order to walk the entirety of the balconies and to sit and enjoy a lunch picnic on one of the many benches and enjoy the views. Since it was raining, we only walked around for about 30 minutes but that was enough time to hear the glacier crack as ice breaks off from the glacier and slams into the water below. It's quite daunting yet majestic at the same time.
Entrance to the park is 500 pesos (~$26USD), which we paid for before our ice trekking tour on the shuttle bus. Tickets were not included in the trekking price with the tour company. To get to Perito Moreno Glacier Viewpoint, you can either book a transfer with a tour company or there is always the option to drive yourself there if you have a rental car. With this option, you can determine your own schedule!
Other Things to Do in El Calafate
There are so many fun activities to do in Patagonia that include hiking, ice trekking, fly fishing, mountain biking, rafting and more. Inevitably, you will find yourself passing through or staying in El Calafate for part of your trip, so why not plan some fun activities to do in the city while you're here anyway? Many of the excursions and day tours will begin in El Calafate, but for those of you who have a few hours of time during your day to explore (if you arrive a day early, waiting to catch a flight at night without time to do a full day tour, etc.), here are some of the things you can do to enjoy your time in El Calafate without having to venture too far out.
Laguna Nimez Reserva Natural Municipal
Reserva Laguna Nimez is an 86 acre nature reserve located in El Calafate. The parkland is home to over 80 species of birds, both Patagonian residents and migrators. If you love bird-watching, this is the spot for you! There is a small entrance fee to enter the reserve, which contributes to facilities management, conservation and education. Admission includes bird field guides and binoculars, and maps are available in 6 different languages. This is a great way to spend a couple of hours in the morning or during sunset while you are in Calafate, since it is only a 15-20 minute walk from the center of town. I would recommend 1-3 hours total for the visit.
GlacioBar Branca and Glaciarium
Ice, Ice Baby! Located just a short 15 minute drive from El Calafate town, the Glaciarium and GlacioBar are great to visit during a free day or afternoon in the city. The Glaciarium is a glacier museum and modern interpretive galciological center. They focus on the understanding of glaciers and environmental awareness. The exhibit includes many models, dioramas, photographs, interactive representations, a 3D documentary and others, making it both an engaging and educational experience. I think visiting the Glaciarium is a great activity to do before seeing the glaciers as you would definitely have a different appreciation for the ice masses after reading and learning more about them. Admission is 480 pesos, around $15USD.
One of the coolest experiences we had in Argentina was visiting an ice bar located in the basement of the Glaciarium museum. The bar is made entirely from ice, with ice walls, chairs, tables, and even an igloo. For 300 pesos (~10USD) for adults, you gain admission for 25 minutes for an all-you-can-drink experience of a lifetime. Of course, you get to drink out of ice cups. Before heading into the bar, you are given a poncho and a pair of gloves to make sure you don't freeze to death inside. It's still cold depending on what clothes you are wearing underneath, which is to be expected since you're in a giant ice box. I thought it was incredibly fun and such a unique experience, though it was a bit crowded since the group was about 10-12 people. For 10 bucks, it's definitely a steal and worth checking out. If you don't have time to visit both the museum and the bar, I would just recommend checking out the bar since you can learn about the glaciers during the day tours and excursions. There are also other ice bars in El Calafate town, like the Yeti Ice Bar, but GlacioBar is the most highly recommended option.
How to Get There:
» Shuttle: There is a free shuttle the departs hourly from the parking lot of the Tourism Bureau of the Province of Santa Cruz. On 1° de Mayo street, one block from Av. del Libertador. This is super convenient if you don't have a car!
» Car: If you are renting a car, Glaciarium and GlacioBar are located just 6km from El Calafate en route to the Perito Moreno Glacier
Explore El Calafate Town
El Calafate has a very small population of around 6,000 people and runs mainly on tourism throughout the year. There are dozens of hotel options, restaurants, bars, and shops scattered around the city and along Av. del Libertador. El Calafate has that traditional "ski resort town" type of look and feel, with many wooden exterior storefronts and restaurants and bars with fireplaces that give you that warm and fuzzy feeling after a long day outdoors at the glaciers.
What better way to end a long day of adventures than sitting back and relaxing with a cold pint of beer? Also don't forget to try the Patagonian specialty - LAMB. It's spectacular and a must-eat in this region of Argentina. We had the most incredible Patagonian Lamb stew at Isabel Cocina al Disco, easily one of the best meals of our trip.
Besides the food, there are plenty of clothing shops in case you forget to bring clothing or accessories for your trip. You can also find a large variety of souvenir shops where you can pick up hoodies, trinkets, and my personal favorite, postcards so you will never forget the adventures here!
Thank you so much for checking out this post. Argentina is such a beautiful country and I am so happy I finally got to cross it off of my bucket list. Make sure to read my Buenos Aires Guide and El Chalten Hiking Guide to start planning your entire trip to this beautiful country!