Discover the Patagonia Glaciers

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

TripSavvy / Claire Cohen

 

Patagonia glaciers are a tourist attraction for many. The Los Glaciares National Park is located in the southwest of the Province of Santa Cruz. A blanket of ice covers this protected area of around 1.4 million acres.

Among the 356 Patagonia glaciers, the Perito Moreno is the most imposing of the glaciers, with a 4-mile front and a height of more than 180 feet above water level. It's famous worldwide for its rupture process. Rupture occurs when the front of the glacier reaches the coastal margin, closes the passage of the waters from Brazo Rico and produces a dam effect where the water rises some 20 meters. While the last rupture was in February 1988, the show is never-ending. You can watch the detachment of ice blocks of different sizes from a short distance, hear the roaring they produce, and then watch them turned into wonderful floating icebergs.

A unique experience is walking on the glaciers or to see the front of another great glacier, the Upsala from Lake Argentino.

In 1981 UNESCO declared the Los Glaciares National Park a World Heritage Site.

Getting There: El Calafate

To have access to this wonder of Nature you have to reach the picturesque village of El Calafate, sitting on the shores of Lake Argentino 48 miles (78 kilometers) from the glaciers. From here, there are buses and programmed excursions that will let you live an unparalleled experience.

This small village is located on the south coast of Lake Argentino, in the southwest of the Province of Santa Cruz. According to the latest population census in 1991, there were 3,118 people living there.

It was named after a typical thorny bush of southern Patagonia. The Calafate blooms in the spring with yellow flowers and in summer with purple fruits. According to tradition, those who eat this fruit will always return to Patagonia.

Famous Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina
guenterguni / Getty Images

The Perito Moreno Glacier

This excursion is one of the most spectacular in all Patagonia.

  • At the beginning of the tour, you will skirt Bahia Redonda of Lake Argentino as well as have the chance to see Isla Solitaire.
  • You will go through the Patagonia valley with its natural environment of species such as guanacos, ostriches, foxes, etc.
  • Afterwards, you will enjoy many interesting spots: Cerro Comision o De Los Elefantes, river Centinela, Cerro Frias (guanacos site), many Patagonian farmhouses and, across the Mitre river you will get into National Park Los Glaciares.
  • Then, you will go 22 miles (35 kilometers) along the coast of Brazo Rico of Lake Argentino, among vegetation of incredible trees such as ñires, lengas, notros and cherry trees.
  • At Curva de Los Suspiros you will get the first panoramic view of Glacier Perito Moreno. But there's more:
    • From the pier Bajo de Las Sombras, 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the watching spot, you can hire the service of Sailing Safari (photographic) that consists of sailing for an hour just across from the wall of Glacier Perito Moreno.
    • In order to get to the foot of the Glacier, the ships sail through the Channel of the Icebergs, which joins two of the great branches of the Lake.

The Climate

In El Calafate, the weather is dry with only 11.8 inches (300 mm) of rain a year. But in the National Park, situated to the west, the rains are rich (59 inches / 1,500 mm a year). The average high temperature during summer is 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 degrees Celsius). The average low temperature in winter is 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degrees Celsius). It's located at an equivalent latitude to that of the city of London in the northern hemisphere.

Man hiking on Perito Moreno glacier
MB Photography / Getty Images

Minitrekking in Perito Moreno Glacier

Trekking Perito Moreno is a completely different experience from other Patagonia glaciers. The tour begins by boat at the Bay Harbor "Bajo de las Sombras", situated 13.6 miles (22 kilometers) from the Glaciers National Park entrance and 5 miles (8 kilometers) from the Glacier.

From there you board a boat in order to reach the opposite coast of Peninsula de Magallanes, crossing the Rico Branch of Argentine Lake. The sailing time is about 20 minutes. Specialized guides take the group (approximately 20 people) along a coast path that leads to the southern margin of the glacier after a 30-minute trip.

At the southern margin, trekkers put on the cleats necessary to walk on ice with the help of specialists and learn about the glacier's origin, regional flora and fauna, and how to use the cleats properly.

After the breif lession, it's time to begin to climb towards the glacier slowly, walking for about 2 hours, stopping occasionally just to take some pictures. It's a unique opportunity to appreciate the different formations of the glacier (drains, cracks, etc.) and the varied tonalities of the ice that constitute a show by themselves.

On the way back, an alternative path is used through the forest, allowing to obtain a different panoramic view of the glacier. When arriving at the shelter, lunch is eaten and then the group goes aboard to navigate back toward the starting point. During this sailing, approaches to the front wall of the glacier in order to appreciate the real proportion of it are carried out.

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