Mt Fitzroy, a Patagonian icon near El Chalten and not far from Perito Moreno Glacier. They are both in the same Glaciares Parque Nacional and tourists hiking one should definitely trek to the other as well. They are equally stunning but different sights and experiences.
Patagonia is the southern part of South America, a huge mass of land crossing national borders and invading both Argentinian and Chilean territory. See our Patagonia Tourist Map.
Argentina’s Patagonia is vast, mostly barren and windswept but offers travellers areas of great interest, staggering beauty and sensational hiking – and not necessarily tough hikes, plenty of easy walk too.
• the amazing, creaking, grinding Perito Moreno glacier (not to be confused with Perito Moreno town that is in a totally different place).
• superb climbing and hiking in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, El Chalten.
• gaucho horseplay and life on a pampered estancia (ranch).
• excellent marine wildlife watching on Valdes Peninsula.
• if you’re interested in seeing South America’s bottom then head for Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego for more chilly, desolate scenes. We think it’s too far for too little but some people just want to see everything!
Flying into the untidy little Patagonian boomtown of El Calafate near Lake Argentino, a tourist could be excused for thinking they would rather be in Switzerland.
Calafate is a messy frontier town patrolled by ratty cars, free-pooing dogs and many excitable Italian tourist groups, but it does have a new airport, some excellent restaurants and, strangely, four ice-cream parlours in spite of a winter temperature of -15C.
But, Calafate is close to several of the world’s largest glaciers, including the magnificent Perito Moreno, which is the sole reason for the town’s existence.
Los Glaciares National Park
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in Argentine Patagonia is a massive UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It’s named after the giant ice cap in the Andes mountains that feeds 47 glaciers, including Perito Moreno. The ice cap is the largest outside Antarctica and Greenland. The two biggest attractions for international tourists in Los Glaciares are hiking in the El Chalten area and visiting the Perito Moreno glacier for a terrace view, boat trip or guided walk on the ice.
Perito Moreno Glacier facts
The Perito Moreno glacier ‘calving’, and making a lot of noise about it too.
Supplied by the Andean ice cap, this glacier is 30 km long, 5 km wide, about 50m high (to the waterline) with another 50-120m below the surface, grinding along the valley floor.
While the centre moves at 2m per day the edges are slowed by increased friction to 1. 5m a day.
p. s. Amazingly, in spite of the cold, summertime mosquitoes are still big and hungry and protection will be needed.
Why is the glacier blue?
Getting a look at the Perito Moreno glacier from a watery perspective is worthwhile as the viewing angles are interestingly different and boats get closer to the glacier than balconies.
White light travels on a long wavelength, blue on a short wavelength. Air bubbles in ice or snow absorb white light, thus appearing white, but the weight of this glacier, however, squeezes all the air out of lower levels, so white light cannot enter, only short wavelength blue. The more compact the ice, the bluer it gets; the cloudier the day the bluer too.
Getting a look at the Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares Parque Nacional from a crampon’s point of view.
The closest you will get to a glacier is if you walk on it, not something you can do on your own as Argentina would prefer that its visitors don’t tragically disappear down the many deep blue crevices. Thus a posse of guides is needed to herd even small groups safely over the ice for a couple of hours.
The trip is costly but guides are knowledgeable and the experience fascinating. Crampons – supplied – are essential as groups move fairly freely over random territory, unlike, for example, glacier hikes in some parts of the world where visitors simply walk in file on a flat, well-trod, non-slippery path.
Walking the Perito Moreno glacier.
Deep crevice discussions on the glacier.
One of our guides demonstrates how to climb glacial hills.
The bar at the end of the world. Well that’s what it looked like at the time!