It wasn't necessarily on the top of our wishlist when we started, but as soon as we found out you could take a walking tour on a glacier, we were excited. Outside Calafate, Argentina, you can visit and walk on one of the world's few advancing glaciers, Perito Moreno. This is a massive glacier with its source in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. This ice field is the third largest mass of ice on the planet and is up to 1,000 meters thick in places. The center of the glacier moves forward nearly 2 meters per day and the edges advance at about 10cm per day. This difference in speed means that the ice is constantly changing.
We got up for our 8:30AM bus to Perito Moreno about an hour away. After picking up a number of other tourists we made our way to the park and the docking area for the boat that would cross to the opposite shore. Here we stowed our lunch and divided into groups for those that spoke English vs Spanish. We took a quick walk to the base of the glacier and dawned our crampons. They're weird to have on you feet at first, but you get used to them. I was worried about them having a size that fit, but they went all the way up to 54 (I'm a 49). It seems someone called ahead at some point and asked if they had a 54, they didn't, so they made a pair in that size.
After getting our gear on, we started up the glacier and received a quick howto on walking on ice with them (Helpful Hint: keep your feet apart so you dont step on your foot and impale yourself). We then proceeded to wander around the edge of the glacier viewing various points. An interesting fact, the dirt on the glacier ends up gathering in small pools which then heat up due to their darker color. This causes the pools to get larger as they melt the ice and they form small ponds. After expoloring some cravasses and several streams and pools, we headed toward the top of the glacier. We had a fantastic view across the glacier and the surrounding mountains.
We spent about 1.5 hours on the glacier and then descended back to the starting point. Here we removed our crampons and returned to the lodge for lunch. After lunch we crossed back to the opposite shore and boarded the bus. We then headed out to the 'balconies' which are a series of viewing platforms for viewing the glacier. The platforms were excellent and allowed us to see the opposite side of the glacier. It also allowed us to see most of the glacier up towards its source at the ice field.
The views and sounds were amazing. Parts of the glacier a constantly falling off into the water. You can hear the cracking of the ice and several times an hour you can hear fracturing of ice that sounds as loud as a gun shot. We were able to see large chunks fall into the lake several times during our hour on the balconies.
After an hour we returned to the bus and headed home. The day was simply amazing and I'd love to spend some more time at glaciers while in Patagonia. I was a little disappointed that we were limited to only an hour on the balconies, but really I could have spent an entire day just watching the glacier.
Nuts and Bolts
- We booked directly with Hielo & Aventura in Calafate. They seem to be the only actual operator of this tour so if you book with an agency you'll probably pay more. The tour was excellent, well organized, the guides were knowledgeable and experienced. The only complaint that I have is that we only had an hour on the balconies and 1.5 or 2 hours would have been better.
- Remember to bring $100 ARS ($25 USD per person) for park entry, it isn't included in the price of the tour. Some guidbooks listed $60 ARS, but the price increased in January of 2012
- I highly recommend the minitrekking, however if you don't want to fork out the $1,400ARS (~$320 USD for 2 people, including park entry) for this you can get a bus to the park. The bus appears to be $140 ARS and the entry fee would be $100 ARS. The "balconies" are really fantastic, really well built, and easy to traverse.
- You can drink the water on the glacier.
- The cheapest place in Calafate we found was Hostel Buenos Aires which is up Buenos Aires street (directly in front of the bus station) two blocks (the second block isn't lined up directly with the first, just bear right). It was $130 ARS (~$30 USD) for a double room with shared bath. They have a decent kitchen and good showers.