The Perito Moreno glacier is one of the top destinations in Patagonia. It’s massive, it’s magnificent, and chunks of ice periodically calve (crack off of it) and fall into the surrounding waters with a resounding splash.
It’s also possible to walk on it, though it’s unsurprisingly not cheap. A single company, Hielo y Aventura, offers “minitrekking,” an hour on the glacier for 3600 pesos (~$200), and a “big ice” trek, 5 hours on the glacier for 6200 pesos (~$335). After debating about it for week, I decided to bite the bullet and do it. Once in a lifetime experience, after all.
However, it wasn’t meant to be. Thanks to a nationwide strike, my flight to El Calafate was canceled, and on the day I was scheduled to be on the trek, I was still stuck in Bariloche. I did get a refund, but the value of the dollar had gone up during the month since I first booked it, so I ended up losing $12 in the exchange. Just dandy.
But even without the trek, I could still visit and enjoy the glacier! I made my way to El Calafate by other means, and looked into alternatives. El Calafate exists pretty much for the sole purpose of visiting the Perito Moreno glacier, so there were plenty of ways to get there.
Even the most basic alternative is not cheap, unfortunately. Getting to Perito Moreno from El Calafate via public transport costs 500 pesos ($30) for the two hour round trip ride. In addition to that is a 500 peso ($30) park entry fee. My hostel offered a shuttle bus for 600 pesos, which I booked instead of the bus because the bus station is about a 20 minute walk out of town. Getting picked up and dropped off right at the door seemed worth the extra $6 to me.
There are two general time slots for the buses and shuttles: morning (8:30 or 9am) or afternoon (1pm). From what I could tell, there is not necessarily a better time of the day to visit the glacier, it’s mostly just up to individual preference. And regardless of when you go, you’ll have around 4 hours to fully explore the area and soak in the view. I chose to go in the morning because, in my view, the earlier the better.
After about an hour on the shuttle, we stopped at the park entrance where a ranger came to collect our entry fees (cash only). Then, we continued into the park for another 15 minutes. As the shuttle rounded the corners, we caught glimpses of the glacier in the distance. It’s truly massive, and I couldn’t wait to get up close!
The park itself is situated on a peninsula that juts out directly opposite the glacier, almost as if nature wanted to build a viewing platform so that the glacier could be adequately enjoyed. There is a network of well-maintained walkways that go close to the glacier and allow you to see it from multiple angles.
The walkways also have plaques with various glacier facts. Some things that I learned:
- Approximate height at the highest point: 70m
- Approximate width: 5km
- Length: 70km
- Largest glacier in Argentina, and the second largest in South America
- Ice thickness at the centerline: 700m
I spent the first hour walking the major pathways, stopping every 20 feet or so to take another picture of the glacier from a new angle. I couldn’t help it – you just can’t stop taking pictures!
The glacier is 5km wide, so big that I could barely fit it into a single frame with the wide angled camera on a GoPro.
Every half hour or so, there was a giant rumble, like a low flying jet passing overhead. This was a cue that the glacier was calving, and if you were in the right spot (e.g. not behind a tree), you could see chunks of ice falling off the glacier and splashing into the water below. I didn’t manage to catch any with my camera, but it’s an amazing thing to witness! The two pools below are the aftermath of ice chunks that broke off:
After touring all of the walkways, I found a bench at a viewpoint and settled down with my packed lunch. There is food in the park, but it’s extremely expensive. Plus, there’s no ambiance like the view from the viewpoint.
In the afternoon, we got another wonderful treat: Andean condors circling in the winds overhead, up to 8 of them in the sky at once. These are some of the largest birds in the world, and you can tell that they’re gigantic even though they’re so far away. It makes some sense, massive birds in a massive icy landscape.
By the time I had to return to the shuttle 4 hours later, I was sad to go but had gotten my fill of the glacier. It’s a wonderful experience to just sit and observe it from the walkways. Would I still have wanted to hike on it? Perhaps…but that just gives me an excuse to come back and attempt it again in the future.