Patagonia,  Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Mt Fitzroy, a Patagonian icon near El Chalten, Argentina

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 Guide

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!

El Calafate

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

The Perito Moreno glacier, Patagonia, a cool place to hang out, argentina

The Perito Moreno glacier, a cool place to hang out in Los Glaciares National Park and UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Photos taken in November, early summer.

The glacier is about 80kms (50 miles) from Calafate (and not to be confused with Perito Moreno town) in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Activities in the vicinity range from basic gawping at the ice from varied viewpoints (known as balconies) on the cliff face opposite the glacier’s end, to boat rides and expensive but worthwhile glacier treks.

There is one very expensive hotel within view of the glacier and a couple of campsites about 8kms (5 miles) away.

The glacier is a staggering sight, one of the best glacier experiences in the world. Apart from ice viewing and hearing disturbing rumbling noises from the convenient terraces the place is good for boat rides, guided glacier hikes (both worthwhile) and other hiking trips nearby.

Perito Moreno Glacier viewpoint, Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina

Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia, seen from the ‘balconies’ on a cloudy day.

The Perito Moreno glacier is constantly advancing at a rate of about two metres a day, but never makes any progress because as it expands at this point where the valley opens out, so frontal chunks drop off constantly, calving into Lake Argentino.

This provides spectators with plenty of cracking sound effects to go with the occasional sudden splash that desperate camera-huggers are rarely in time to catch. Calving, by the way, is not accelerated by warm weather or rain, it is solely due to advancing glacier spreading out.

Perito Moreno Glacier facts

Perito Moreno Glacier calving, Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina

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?

Perito Moreno Glacier tourist boat, Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina

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.

Glacier Walking

Walking Crampons, Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

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 Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

Walking the Perito Moreno glacier.

Crevice discussions [you fall in, you die!], Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

Deep crevice discussions on the glacier. Bottom line, you fall in, you die.

Perito Moreno Glacier Bar,Los Glaciares Parque Nacional, Patagonia, Argentina

The bar at the end of the world. Well that’s what it looked like at the time!

A drinks party on the Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares Parque Nacional, Patagonia, Argentina

What a brilliant end to our icy hike, a scotch on the rocks party!

At the end of the Perito Moreno glacier trek the guides spring a surprise, a free scotch whisky and chocolate bar hidden in one of the glacier valleys, the perfect end to an icy two hour walk. . . 12 year-old scotch on 60, 000 year old rocks, not often you get a drink like that!