So after the trekking days in El Chalten, the next stop more south in Argentinian Patagonia is El Calafate: home to the National Park Los Glacieros, with world-known glacier Perito Moreno. A visit to the glacier was on our South America must visits list. It’s possible to join a standard tour or visit the park by yourself (with public transport). Yet, we took it a small step further and did a big splurge towards this cute chunk of ice:
an ICE TREK on the Perito Moreno glacier !!
For the fun facts geeks, here’s some general information about our ice buddy, Perito Moreno (special thanks to our guide Tato!):
- Measures 250 square kilometers and stands at a height of about 250 feet above the lake
- is part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field on the border of Chile and Argentina, which is 3rd largest of the world (after Antarctica and Greenland)
- contains nearly 1/3 of the world’s fresh water, with over 300 snow days per year
- Non accumulation part of ice is approx. 400 years old, the glacier around 1.2 million years
- named after the 19th century explorer Francisco Moreno
- one of the only glaciers on Earth that continues to grow instead of melting away
Let’s take you to our story about how we experienced this, with some detailed information of our wonderful journey and practical information about El Calafate.
Glacier trekking – Hielo y Aventura
Choosing your ice trekking company is easy: there is only one company who is allowed to organise these events: Hielo y Aventura. They have a solid experience for years, which you can tell from the smooth way the entire process went: from buying the tickets, bus service, professional guides, etc. Given their “monopoly” position probably also gives them the power to ask a relatively higher price (+ Argentinian inflation). But hey, you won’t trek on a glacier every day ! The only decision you still need to take is… Small or Big Ice trek?.
Even though the Big Ice Trek looked pretty cool with over 3h of exploring the glacier (with ice caves), we still opted for the smaller one, just to keep our splurge within our budget limits. See more on Financials below.
At 9 AM sharp, we were picked up from our hostel (included in the package) by a mini bus to head to the meeting point. From there, we took a larger coach (approx. 50 persons per tour) to head to the National Park.
The trip towards the park is 80 km from El Calafate and takes around 1h15, passing beautiful landscapes. The guide will give some interesting info from time to time, e.g. this fun fact: the El Calafate bush is typical for this area, with berries with a blueish color. These are used for jams or ice cream. Legend goes that if you eat these berries, you will return to Patagonia one day.
Enter the National Park
Some parts of the National Park Los Glaciaros are free entry (e.g. in El Chalten), though Perito Moreno is not. Once the bus reaches the entrance gate, we were asked to pay the fee. Beyond this point, it’s another 10 minutes drive to the drop off point, aka the starting point to visit/see the glacier viewpoints and wood and metal walkways. We arrived around 11.00AM and were given 2.5h to visit the site. This also included time for lunch, which we brought ourselves. At 1.30PM sharp, the bus would leave towards the Harbour drop off point.
The Visitor Site
We were surprised at how well the entire complex was designed. The wood and metal walkways blend into the surroundings and are very well constructed, rather than an eyesore. It’s totalling 4km of walkways, but be prepared for plenty of stairs and some uphill sections.
There are several tracks to follow, nicely colour coded with approx. timing. We did not really rush, still had some time for our lunch (with an awesome view) and still managed to visit all the viewpoints and walk all the tracks. If you would make it for a day trip, you’ll have plenty of time to visit for sure!
Even though there are tourist groups visiting the glacier throughout the day, it never really felt very crowded. Heck, we found some nice view spots where we were all alone! Lots of time in solitude to enjoy the glacier (check out our Photo Journal for some stunning shots). Here’s already a preview of this ice beauty!
If you’re lucky, you could witness the ice bridge phenomenon collapsing!.
The Ice Trekking
After mesmerising and gazing at that beautiful facade of Perito Moreno Glacier, it was finally time to start the trek. We embarked for a 20 minutes navigation across the Rico Arm, enjoying breathtaking views of the Perito Moreno glacier’s front wall.
At our arrival at the Hielo y Aventura Chalet, we were told how the afternoon would look like. We were divided in groups of maximum 20 people, and according to language (English/Spanish). Our guide Tato was really awesome: we got the full fun fact story about the glacier, he carefully explained us how to ice trek with crampons and always kept an eye out for every person in the group.
Hiking on ice is fairly straightforward. Make sure your crampons are on tightly, then lift your feet and smash them down into the ice to make sure you have a good grip. Keep your feet enough apart that you don’t rip your pants or skewer your own calf, which apparently has happened more than once on these tours.
It’s a very surreal feeling to be out in what seems like the middle of nowhere on something that is as foreign as the surface of the moon. The ice changes texture and shape often so there is always something new to look at after walking just a short distance. The surface is deceptively peaceful since one wrong step can leave you crashing through a thin spot, or slipping into one of the fast moving rivers that form on the surface as parts of the ice begin to melt. Above all, it’s exquisitely beautiful.
After hiking up and down several stretches of the glacier, making small stops for pictures and looking at the strange ice sculptures, small lagoons, gullies, cravasses and plenty of ice formations of the most incredible blues, the glacier still had one surprise for us. Well, Hielo y Aventura did. At the end of the 1.5h hike (3PM-4.30PM), we were treated with some chocolates and Jameson Scotch. Right on the glacier, with fresh cut glacier ice ha!
We took the boat back around 5.15PM, making it back to our hostel by bus at 7PM. It’s a full day journey, but worth every Argentinian Peso !
As mentioned earlier, there are 2 options (updated prices season 2017/2018):
- Small Ice Trek: 3,200 ARS 1.5h trekking (150 EUR / 180 USD). (to give you an idea, in Nov 2016, the trek costed us 2,100 ARS or 131 EUR / 150 USD !)
- Big Ice Trek: 5,600 ARS 3h trekking
The Trek does not include the entrance fee to the National Park, so you still need to add 330 ARS per person (Nov 2016). Don’t forget your lunch!
TIP: bring waterproof shoes, comfortable clothing and be prepared for changing weather conditions. It may get quite chilly/windy on top of the glacier!
- Entrance: for foreigners, price is 330 ARS / 21 EUR / 23 USD per person (Nov. 2016)
- Transport : “public transport” (i.e. shuttle buses)
- 7.30AM or 8.15 AM departure, 4PM return: 550 ARS
- 9.30AM departure, 4.30PM return: 400 ARS
- Possible boat tour: 350 ARS / EUR / USD per person
UPDATED entry fee season 2017/2018: 550 ARS / 26 EUR / 31 USD
TIP: in high season (summer), you may opt for other possibilities, being: 1. hitchhiking, since there are a lot of people heading towards the park; 2. getting a taxi, though this is financially only interesting if your 4 people and willing to bargain; 3. rental car, again, if you are 4-5 persons ; 4. ask your hostel, as some of them run specific Glacier tours (at discounts).
Looking for more pictures of our adventure? Check out our Photo Journal !
Practical info about El Calafate
How to reach?
El Calafate is located in Southern Patagonia. It may be reached using one of the following options:
- Bus (our choice)
- From El Chalten, it is a 3h journey. There are 3 companies offering this service, all for the same price: 600 ARS per person (Nov. 2016). We used Chalten Travel
- From Puerto Natales (Chile): This is a 6h bus ride (including border crossing). Chilean bus prices are a little cheaper compared to their Argentinian counterparts.
- Flight: El Calafate has an airport, so if you are short in time, you can fly from the main Argentinian airports. But be prepared to pay up, because flights ain’t cheap in Argentina (easily 150-300 EUR one way depending on the distance).
Where to stay?
Depending on your budget and whether you need a kitchen to cook in, there are literally dozens of guest houses and hostels to choose from in El Calafate. We had done our research some days before while we were in Bariloche.
Eventually, we settled on Hostel I Keu Ken. It’s budget friendly, is still close to the bus station and city center. There’s also a large supermarket close by, and the views were pretty nice !
That’s about it. We’re going out of this adventure with some music !
Did you like our story? Have you been to Argentina or Perito Moreno Glacier? Share your story with us, or ask questions.