The Wonders of Perito Moreno Glacier

GlacViewI saw a lot of natural wonders on my recent jaunt around South America including roiling lava in the crater of an active volcano, a collection of ferocious waterfalls and innumerable snow-capped mountain peaks. For me, however, the most astonishing of them all was Perito Moreno Glacier situated in Argentinian Patagonia where you can while away hours listening to the creaks and groans of the ever expanding ice and watch enormous chunks of it crash into the beautiful azure waters of Lake Argentino.

Cost of Accommodation, Transport and Entry

If you plan to visit Perito Moreno Glacier you’ll likely find yourself based in the absurdly pricey town of El Calafate. If you are staying here on a budget prepare to scrape together a few key ingredients at one of the local supermarkets, cook at your hostel and eat the resulting meal repeatedly until you leave. The cost of restaurants (we couldn’t find a single one that could be classed as cheap) and accommodation here is prohibitively high so be sure to factor this into your budget when you plan your visit. The fact that everything in town is extremely expensive severely limited our activities in and around El Calafate and, as a result, we spent most of our time in our hostel watching TV, lazing about and delaying our next meal so we didn’t have to splash out on another bag of groceries.

We stayed at Albergue Buenos Aires for three nights in a private twin room which came to around £140 in total, easily the most expensive accommodation we stayed in during our South American journey and by no means the most luxurious. It was, however, the cheapest private room available in the town that we could find with similar places coming it at much higher prices.

The rooms at this hostel are basic but spacious. There are three shared bathrooms available for guests, a common area with satellite TV and two large and well-stocked kitchens which is handy considering most visitors here will look to cook to conserve their cash. The showers are consistently hot and water pressure is good. In our twin room we were provided with complimentary towels which always comes as a bonus when travelling cheaply. There is a fairly recent computer available for guests and wi-fi connections were fast and reliable which is not often the case in budget accommodation. The location is excellent, only a minute or two walk from the main bus station which is handy if you’ve just endured a 33 hour bus journey like we had and just want to crash immediately upon arrival.

On the negative side, the breakfast provided is extremely basic even when compared to some of the cheaper and more grungy hostels we stayed at during our trip. I found my bed lacking in support and it left me with pretty bad lower back pain for a few days. There is a resident cat which runs around freely which may cause problems for people with allergies.

Albergue Buenos Aires was by no means the worst hostel we stayed at but for the price I paid I would have liked an improved breakfast and a more comfortable sleep. Still, as one of the cheaper accommodations in El Calafate, I would still recommend it to anyone travelling on a shoestring who is looking for a private room before visiting the glacier.

When getting to the glacier we used a travel company called Cal Tur. Our tickets cost 450 pesos (roughly £22) for a return. The bus journey took just over an hour. When you reach the park proper the driver will pull over and a member of the Los Glaciares National Park staff will board your bus to confirm your nationality. Argentina is easily the most expensive country I have visited, unabashedly so. Tourists are taken for a ride when it comes to paying for entry to parks and the like so expect to pay substantially more than Argentine nationals. Entry for foreign individuals at the time of our visit came to 500 pesos (roughly £25) but due to high inflation in Argentina this price is subject to change.

Additional activities can be added to your visit if you are willing to pay out even more money. A boat can be taken that will give you closer views of the glacier and a better view of any ice falls (costs 400 pesos, roughly £20); a mini-hike is available which lasts a couple of hours and takes you along the edge of the glacier (costs 2400 pesos, roughly £122); and, for the most adventurous and flush with cash, a full day hike can be taken which leads you deeper into the glacier for more spectacular views (costs 4000 pesos, roughly £203). As we felt that entry to the park was expensive enough, we decided to stick to the walkway trails along the edge of the lake which afford some pretty amazing views of the glacier anyway.

Once you’ve had your cash taken you’ll receive your tickets and the driver will take you a little farther, to the glacier itself.

Big Blue: Perito Moreno Glacier

A short walk from the car park and restaurant area where you are dropped off will lead you to the beginning of a metal gangway. These gangways form trails that snake along the lake shore providing varied views of the glacier from different elevations and angles, allowing a range of impressive photographs into the bargain – be prepared to take a great many photographs and videos during your visit! There are a number of different trails you can follow, each colour coordinated and graded for difficulty. They range from 4km to 8km in length and are dotted with placards offering scientific and historical details about the glacier in both Spanish and English. I found even the longest and most difficult trail to be an absolute doddle – anyone with a modicum of fitness shouldn’t have any problems with any of them. If you are travelling with a disabled companion, there is a track available that is wheelchair friendly but must be accessed from a different location than the trails suitable for able bodied visitors. There is a free bus that runs all day that will take you from the main car park to this entry point and back again.

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One of the gangways you’ll find yourself hiking along and your first glimpse of the glacier

After walking for a short while you will get your first sight of Lake Argentino in all its splendour, its waters a stunning blue and skirted by striking snow-capped peaks. Walking a tad more slowly reveals the main event itself: the Perito Moreno Glacier.

LakeArge.jpg

Beautiful Lake Argentino

Even from this initial vantage point the giant mass of ice is a special thing to witness. Its blue colour is eye-catching and its enormous size is evident even from this distant viewpoint. As you inch closer, more details of the glacier are revealed including its roof which is formed of countless jagged peaks and a lovely marbled effect along its side where the colour of the ice darkens briefly before growing paler again. The baby blue spires of ice that form the glacier stretch back far into the distance, each one of them making their slow but inevitable progression towards a drop into Lake Argentino. As you observe the glacier in all its glory you’d be forgiven for thinking some great battle from yesteryear was raging amidst the gullies of ice. Concentrate and you’ll hear what sound like a succession of whip cracks, musket shots and cannon roars as the ice shifts and settles.

Spires

The jagged spires that form the roof of the glacier

Certain parts of the glacier’s side lean precariously from the ice’s main mass. The surface of the lake below is often littered with icebergs and small ice fragments from where these giant lumps have crashed into the water. When the ice does fall it is truly an amazing sight. Hang around long enough and you are sure to see an impossibly large slab collapse into the lake’s azure waters. When a segment of the glacier succumbs to gravity the effects are dramatic. Shards of ice as large as tower blocks fracture from the main mass and fall – seemingly in slow motion – towards the lake’s surface. When they enter the striking blue depths they do so with extreme violence, creating a thunderous explosion that comes to your ears after a noticeable delay. If, when you arrive, you spot a small collapse you stare in amazement with a dumb grin on your lips but that initial reaction will soon be eclipsed by one of the larger spire collapses if only you are patient enough. That’s when your mouth will involuntarily fall open in astonishment.

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A picture showing fragments of ice from collapsed spires floating on the lake’s surface

Such is my luck, I stood around for an age trying to film an area of the glacier that was obviously on the verge of collapse. When, however, the wind had chilled my hands so much that they became painful, I reluctantly gave up, pulled on my gloves and set off for another circuit around the walkways.  Of course, mere moments after I set off, as I walked through an area obscured by woodland, I heard the loudest crash of the day and, once I made it to a clearing in the trees, my worst fears were confirmed – the area I had been watching for the last forty minutes had collapsed and I had missed the biggest ice fall of our visit. I was truly gutted.

Despite this minor disappointment and the high cost of getting here, I had an amazing time observing Perito Moreno Glacier. You can spend hours taking in the sights and sounds of this spectacular place and it was easily the highlight of my time in Argentina, if not of my entire trip.

A Note on the Weather

When you visit Perito Moreno Glacier be sure to dress appropriately. We visited in late March which is officially summertime in Argentina but, owing to the glacier’s extreme southern location, the weather was still very cold at times. I had packed thermal undergarments and plenty of thick layers but, at times, even they didn’t seem enough. When the sun was out temperatures were very bearable but the sporadic wind was the real killer here – it cuts through your clothing and chills to the bone. Wrap up warm and wear layers so you can add or remove depending on the weather throughout the day. If you have something windproof make sure you pack it as it will go some way to making your visit a more comfortable experience. If you are feeling frozen you can always make your way back to the cafeteria/restaurant to warm up with a coffee but be warned that prices are rather high.

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