Glaciers, there is just something about them. Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park is truly awe inspiring. Located in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina it is one of the biggest glaciers in the world and the most visited tourist attraction of Argentinean Patagonia.
It is located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) outside of El Calafate. Buses run to the park daily from the town so it is easy to get there (as opposed to some glaciers requiring a lot of effort to see), but the real reason for its popularity is its sheer size and beauty.
Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier
Check out the stats for the Perito Moreno Glacier:
- Covers over 97 square miles (250 km square).
- 18 Miles (30 kilometers) in length.
- At its deepest point, it is 2,297 ft (700 meters).
- It has been a UNESCO Heritage Site since 1981.
- Where it reaches Lago Argentino it is over 3 miles (5 kilometers) wide and 262 feet (80 meters) high.
- One of only 3 glaciers in the world that is not receding (becoming smaller).
Los Glacieres National Park itself is 600,000 hectares. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of 48 glaciers fed from the Great Patagonian Southern Ice Field (which we passed on entering Torres Del Paine National Park via Rio Serrano). To form some idea of the scale of this glacier, take a look at this overhead picture from the Earth Observatory. The Southern Ice Field is the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water. It is massive.
What is a glacier? A glacier is a moving body of ice. They form in areas with a large volume of snow fall and cold temperatures. The temperature allows some snow to melt forming ice, but never warms enough to melt the entire mass. In addition, to be a glacier it needs to have movement. This is usually rather slow movement over a long period of time.
Perito Moreno Glacier is named after Francisco Moreno, an Argentinean explorer that probably never saw this glacier. Perito Moreno Glacier empties into Lago Argentino and is famous for its ruptures. Every so often (think years) the glacier’s movement will close off the flow of water in the channel between the two sides of the lake (it moves down too close to the land). Pressure begins to build up below and behind the glacier until finally it ruptures (explodes). It last ruptured in 2013. A rupture can last several days until the pressure and ice have cleared. I am sure it would be spectacular to see in person. I can remember seeing it on the international news.
For most people, visiting Perito Moreno Glacier will be exciting even without the rupture. It is difficult to describe the scale of it and pictures just don’t convey it properly. When visiting Perito Moreno Glacier you can take a boat ride up toward the face of the glacier. This is the 5 kilometer wide, 80 meter face of it. It makes the boats look tiny. The color, a deep blue, is amazing and the jagged edges of the glacier make for some spectacular photos. The color is the result of mineral particles suspended in the ice.
The second way to explore Perito Moreno Glacier is the walkway by the visitor center. You can wander around this walk exploring the different facets of the glacier. Bring a lunch and have a seat and just watch and listen. The glacier is a living, breathing thing. It regularly cracks, groans and large portions fall into the water making for some spectacular crashes. (This is known as calving.)
Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier
You can take a public bus from the bus station in El Calafate, or for not much more you can be picked up and dropped off from your accommodation on a tour bus. If you have a car you can drive to Los Glaciares National Park. There is an admission fee per person to enter the park. You can also organize a tour from town. The tour is more expensive and does much the same as taking the bus and boat ride. If you can, pack a lunch. There is only one very busy cafe at the visitor center. You can enjoy your lunch while watching the glacier.
A lot of people pass through for the day heading out visiting Perito Moreno Glacier and then continuing on. There is an airport in El Calafate and you can arrive overland. Many people continue overland to Torres Del Paine in Chile, or fly out to Bariloche or Ushuaia. It is also a popular stop before or after heading to El Chalten, Argentina’s hiking capital, which we will explore in our next post.
The town of El Calafate is worth a wander around and has some reasonable shops and restaurants but the main attraction is definitely visiting Perito Moreno Glacier. The pictures below are the view of Lago Argentino from El Calafate. Note how blue the lake is from the glacial melt waters. The bird life on the lake is spectacular, including my favorite birds, flamingos.
It is possible to walk on the glacier by organizing a tour. There are age restrictions and of course the weather is an important factor.