Perito Moreno Glacier tours are highly recommended when visiting this spectacular glacier. The Perito Moreno glacier in Argentine Patagonia is one of the most spectacular glaciers on earth. It is the focal point of UNESCO World Heritage site, Los Glaciares National Park in the southern province of Santa Cruz.
The town of El Calafate
The kick-off point for getting to the glacier is the town of El Calafate about an hour and a half away. The town has an interesting vibe to it, kind of a cross between a Swiss mountain village and a western United States ski town. It is full of little vacation cabins kept by folks wanting a retreat from the big cities in a peaceful and beautiful natural environment.
El Calafate was named after the calafate berry native to the region. The berry is almost identical to a blueberry but with a totally different taste. Many legends in the region reference the calafate but the common thread is that anyone who eats a calafate berry is destined to return to the town. El Calafate’s main street is lined with interesting little souvenir shops selling every imaginable derivative of the calafate berry; jams, preserves, fragrance, paste, pate and much more.
Perito Moreno Glacier Tours
Tours and excursions are also big business in El Calafate. The tour agencies line the main street on both sides. Anyone of these tours will take you to the Glacier National Park and the Perito Moreno.
Since there are so many tour companies offering the same glacier tours, the prices for the tour are pretty much the same. All of them offer the basics; transportation to the National Park, a couple of hours visiting the glacier -about $60 – and an optional boat ride to get a close-up view of the glacier – an additional $40 per person.
The entrance to the national park is about 40 minutes from town. An additional 40 minutes will bring you to El Perito Moreno. The first sight of the massive glacier is simply astounding. It towers above the cobalt blue glacial waters of Lake Argentino, a mountain of white ice emitting frozen turquoise hues.
The World’s Only Advancing Glacier
The Perito Moreno was named after a prominent Argentine scientist that explored the area in the early 1900s. The ice formation is only one of almost 50 glaciers located in the Andes mountains shared with Chile. This glacier is one of the world’s largest reserve of fresh water. What is unusual about the glacier is that it is advancing, while most glaciers worldwide are retreating. Why? Glaciologists don’t really know.
The end of the Perito Moreno Glacier is 5 km (3.1 miles) wide with an average height of 74 meters (240 ft) above the surface of the water. The depth of the ice beneath the surface is 170 meters (558 ft). This is one massive glacier. A large, well-designed visitor center at the glacier provides a boardwalk circuit allowing visitors to see the southern and eastern face of the glacier. The optional 30-minute boat ride takes you out to get a close-up view of the glacier and is certainly worth the time.
The Calving of a Glacier
Perhaps the most impressive part of visiting the glacier is the opportunity to see a “calving.” This is when a portion of the ice breaks away from the glacier and tumbles to the sea. The calving is accompanied by a loud booming sound – almost like an explosion – that reverberates throughout the area. A large portion of ice will slowly detach itself from the glacier then plunge dramatically into the lake. If you are lucky enough to witness a calving closeup while on the boat, that will be a memorable experience.
Recently the Perito Moreno Glacier tours have started offering trekking on carefully monitored sections of the ice. These tours have been gaining in popularity. One especially popular trek is the mini-trek, a short walk of about an hour. A longer option is about 5 hours. The tour companies provide customers with essential accessories like crampons.
Want to know more about this fascinating natural wonder? Consider these books:
There is so much more to see in the Patagonia; both the Chilean and the Argentine side. Here is a good start, a 21 day adventure from Buenos Aires to Patagonia, with a lot more in between.
If you love nature and stunning landscapes, see Torres del Paine National Park.
Drawn in by the unusual, bizarre and unique? Come to Ushuaia, the town at the end of the world.
What would you most like to see in Patagonia?
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