Your Guide to Exploring the Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

November 15, 2016
Sara Ezra Fulton

Embark on a journey towards the magnificent Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina. Our guide gives you info about when you can visit, sights, hikes and more!

Have you always wanted to strap on crampons to explore a glacier? Would you like to spend the day walking across not just a glacier, but also the world’s third largest fresh water reserve? The Perito Moreno Glacier is located 78 km (48 mi) from El Calfate, which is less than a two-hour drive by bus and provides viewers with an extraordinarily unique experience and views. Our guide will tell everything you should know about the glacier, how to get there, along with other hikes in Los Glaciares National Park.

An image portraying the boardwalk by the infinite ice of the Perito Moreno Glacier

Infinite Ice – Perito Moreno, Image by Douglas Scortegagna, CC BY 2.0

Glaciology of the Perito Moreno Glacier

The Perito Moreno Glacier is located in the Los Glaciares National Park , within Argentina’s Santa Cruz Providence. This area is also referred to as Patagonia, rather than by a country’s providence since the natural features cross between the Argentinean and Chilean boarder. It is a unique glacier since it is one of two glaciers in the park, the other being Pio XI glacier in Chile, that is currently expanding. The other forty-six plus glaciers in the park are shrinking due to the effects of global warming. While scientists still do not understand why these two glaciers are expanding there are multiple theories. The current leading theory explaining this phenomenon is based on the notion of the “snow line:” the line above which snow sticks to the ground and bellow which melts. The snow line continues to shift up the mountain with global warming’s rising temperatures. However, since both these glaciers are located at a slightly higher elevation of 2,100 meters (6,825 ft) it is possible that they are continuing to grow thanks to continued snowfall and there ideal location above the snow line.

An enchanting image of the scenery by the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Lago Argentino – Perito Moreno Glacier, Image by Douglas Scortegagna, CC BY 2.0

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of forty-eight glaciers that make up the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, located in the Andes and crossing the Argentina and Chile borders. The ice field is 250km2 (97 sq mi) and 30 km (19 mi) in length. With an average height of 74 meters (240 ft) above the surface of the lake, the glacier’s total ice depth is actually 170 meters (558 ft). Additionally, the Perito Moreno Glacier is the world’s third largest ice field and fresh water reserve, after Antarctica and Greenland.

Since the glacier continues to grow .61 to 1.8 meters (2 to 6 ft) daily, eventually is crosses Lake Argentina. This creates a dam, and the water pressure continues to build along the Brazo Rico side until, eventually, it ruptures.  This rare glacial collapse happens on average every four to six years. The last rupture was March 10, 2016, with the previous three in 2012, 2008, and 2006. If you visit the boardwalk in the afternoon, when the sun is at its strongest, there are daily ice shows as large chunks of ice break away from the Perito Moreno Glacier and fall into Lake Argentina.

History of the Perito Moreno Glacier

The glacier bears the name Perito Moreno Glacier as a memory and testament to Francisco Moreno’s constant dedication to the nation of Argentina and his personal appreciation of the outdoors. As an Argentinean academic and explorer, he studied the region, and also played a major role in defending the border during the Argentina-Chile conflict in the early 19th century.

A picture of the Andes Mountains in Patagonia, Argentina

Andes Mountains – Patagonia Argentina, Image by Douglas Scortegagna, CC BY 2.0

Running along the Andes mountain range, Los Glaciares National Park was established by the Argentinean government in 1937. It is the largest National Park in the country. In 1981 Los Glaciares National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. And please don’t be fooled by its pristine turquoise waters and ice sheet. Since 1968 there have been thirty-two reported deaths within Los Glaciares National Park. The most common deathly blow is from large ice shards following a rupture of the glacier.

Hiking Options Along The Perito Moreno Glacier

The park has many trails that are fit for self-exploration. The boardwalks along the lake allow views of the glacier, while preserving the delicate environment. However, if you want to trek on the glacier itself you will need to be accompanied by a guide and have good hiking gear like boots and great trail socks on. The guide will provide you with a safe path across the glacier, while also helping preserve and manage the high tourist rates that encroach on this beautiful natural resource.

The two common tour options are the “mini-trek” or “big ice” packages. The “mini-trek” is a short, hour and a half hike, while the “big ice” offers five hours of exploration.

When To Go

The best season to visit the park, especially if you are planning on partaking in longer treks or climbs, is the summer season (December to February). Although, for glacier visits, the months of October, November, March, and April commonly offer favorable conditions with fewer crowds.

 Getting There

It takes under two hours to drive to the park from El Calafate, the closest major city and airport. Via bus or car, the park is accessible from multiple roads diverging off of Route 40. There is also the city of El Chalten within the park, which offers a great place to stay or resupply food provisions for camping.

A picture of the Glacier under cloud cover with the mountains in the background

Perito Moreno, Image by marc cornelis, CC BY 2.0

Tours & Costs

For non-Argentineans, the entry fee to Los Glaciares National Park is 100 Pesos (approximately $23 USD). Tours range in price from $100 to 350 USD depending on packages, which will commonly provide transportation from El Calfate to the park.

For more tour information check out Viator and Hielo Adventura they offer both the “mini-trek” and “big ice” treks, along with a one-hour nautical tour across Lake Rico that allows you up-close views of the ice wall.

What to wear

Remember to wear layers. You will want a warm jacket, along with warm base layers, including long john’s/long underwear. Waterproof materials will also be appreciated, especially for your feet. Hiking through the ice will create a cold environment and therefore, think about quality, leather-hiking boots. Your shoes also need to be sturdy enough to allow for crampons, which the tour company will commonly provide. And don’t forget to pack an extra pair of dry socks for the ride home!

Additional Destinations and Treks

If you feel like mountaineering, Mt. Fitz Roy at 3405 m (11,171 ft) and Mt. Torre at 3102 m (10,177.165 ft) stand as the tallest peaks in the area and are not for the faint of heart. Be aware that mount is cerro in Spanish, and the words are used interchangeably in both conversation and maps.

Mt. Fitz Roy was first climbed in 1952 by French alpinist Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone. It is still considered one of the most technically challenging mountains to climb in the world. The ridgeline is commonly recognizable to people since the silhouette of Mt. Fitz Roy and surrounding ridgeline serve as Patagonia’s logo, an outdoor gear and clothing company. Yvon Chouinar, the founder created the company following his accent in 1968.

Mt. Torre, while technically less challenging, is infamous for the foul weather that plagues its peak. It has been climbed in a day and a half, but commonly takes between three and eight days. “Having an epic in Patagonia is like being mauled by a rabid dog – unpredictably violent and outrageously inevitable,” according to Climbing Magazine (Climbing No. 224, page 47).

An breathtaking view of the Perito Moreno Glacier

Wall of ice – Perito Moreno, Image by Douglas Scortegagna, CC BY 2.0

Additional trails within the Los Glaciares National Park:

All these trails can be done without a guide. However, if your navigation skills are not ideal it is possible and recommended to hire guides for half-day to multi-day trails.

  • Launa de Los Tres (22 km, 7-9 hrs): One of the most well-known trails in the park, the hike culminates with views from the lake of the three peaks: Fitz Roy, Pointcenot, and Torres.
  • Laguna Torre (20 km, 5-6 hrs): An easy hike, rising only 350 meters to the lake, it still offers staggering views of Cerro Torre. You can continue on to Mirador Maestri lookout point.
  • Loma del Pligne Tumbado (16-18 km, 6-8 hrs): With a steep elevation, this trail takes you 1,000 m above El Chaten before looping south of Cerro Fitz Roy, while also offering views of Lake Viedma.
  • Torre and Viedma Glaciers: Visit either of these two glaciers you would like additional ice treks.

For camping spots within the park, check out this Google Map that provides multiple locations. https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/0/viewer?msa=0&mid=18el6Do4Y8MDhdRt-WdF3lAZsN0k&ll=-49.67318284494983%2C-73.05081700000005&z=8.

A google maps view of the potential camping spots during your trek in Patagonia

 

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