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I’m always in awe of glaciers, so it’s no surprise that our day trip from El Calafate to Perito Moreno Glacier was a highlight of our trip to Argentina.
Perito Moreno Glacier is just one of several glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park, but it’s one of the most impressive and accessible, making it a top tourist attraction in Argentine Patagonia.
There are a few ways to view the glacier, but no matter the vantage point, we stared in amazement at the monumental field of ice before us. From the walkways that line the canal at the front of the glacier, or a sightseeing boat in Lago Argentino, we were always in prime position to get an up-close look at Perito Moreno’s massive height and width. We even witnessed several thunderous splashes as chunks of ice fell from the glacier into the turquoise water.
Before we share more about our experience visiting Perito Moreno Glacier and the things to do there, here’s some information about this must-see natural wonder.
About Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina- Perito Moreno Glacier Facts
Perito Moreno Glacier is one of 48 major glaciers that start from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. This ice field in the Andes is the second largest area of ice in the southern hemisphere, after Antarctica, and the third largest ice field on Earth, after Greenland.
While it’s not the biggest glacier fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, and only the third largest glacier in Argentina, Perito Moreno Glacier is still a remarkable size. It covers an area of 254 km2/98 sq mi, which is slightly larger than the city of Buenos Aires, at 203 km2/78 sq mi. Perito Moreno has a maximum length of 31 km/19 mi and is 5 km/3.1 mi wide at the terminus.
As for height, the terminus of Perito Moreno Glacier averages 74 m/243 ft above the surface of Lago Argentino, the lake it flows into. At the centre point of the glacier, seismic shooting recorded an ice thickness of 700 m/2296 ft.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Perito Moreno is that it’s one of the few glaciers in the world that are in a state of equilibrium. The glacier’s high accumulation and ablation rates have ensured that there have been no major changes in size during the last and present centuries.
Although the glacier’s size is stable, that doesn’t mean the glacier isn’t active. In fact, Perito Moreno is constantly moving and regularly calves chunks of blue ice into Lago Argentino.
The weight of the ice even occasionally pushes the glacier up against the coast of Peninsula de Magallanes, creating an ice dam between Brazo Rico (the Rico Arm) and the Canal de los Tempanos (Iceberg Channel). When the water builds enough pressure to rupture the ice, it sometimes creates a tunnel to flow through.
Another interesting fact about Perito Moreno Glacier is that it was named after an Argentine explorer. Francisco Moreno, or Perito Moreno as he is known in Argentina (“perito” means “expert”), explored and studied Patagonia in the 19th century. His surveys of the area contributed to the Boundary Treaty of 1881 that precisely defined the borderline between Chile and Argentina. In honour of this work, the glacier was named Perito Moreno.
Things to Do at Perito Moreno Glacier
There are a few different things to do at Perito Moreno Glacier suitable for a variety of adventure levels and budgets. Activities include scenic walks, boat cruises, glacier trekking, and kayaking.
Perito Moreno Glacier Trails
The main way to admire the glacier is by walking the network of trails across from the eastern face of the terminus.
There are five different walkways that provide views of the front of the glacier, along with Brazo Rico, Canal de los Tempanos, and Lago Argentino. From the paths you can see ice that ranges in size from approximately 40 m/131 ft to 70 m/229 ft tall.
The trails vary in length from 565 m/1853 ft to 1117 m/3664 ft, but because they’re all connected they form longer routes. There’s a colour coded trail map posted on site and the paths are marked with corresponding coloured circles along the route.
Most of the trails have some sections of stairs, but there is one wheelchair accessible path with an elevator.
Perito Moreno Glacier Boat Tour
Another popular way to see the glacier is by taking a boat cruise on the Southern Spirit.
This 1 hour sightseeing tour departs from Puerto Moreno (near the lower parking lot and restaurant) and navigates in front of the north face of Perito Moreno Glacier. Here you’ll see ice that’s about 50 m/164 ft tall.
There is an English and Spanish speaking guide on board sharing information about Perito Moreno Glacier during the cruise.
Perito Moreno Ice Trekking
A more adventurous way to experience Perito Moreno Glacier is by donning a pair of crampons and trekking across the ice.
Guided ice trekking tours will take you right onto the surface of the glacier where you can see crevasses and seracs. There are two glacier trekking routes- “Mini Ice” and “Big Ice”. The mini trek gives you a little over 1.5 hours on the glacier and the big trek gives you about 3.5 hours.
Kayaking at Perito Moreno Glacier
The last thing to do at Perito Moreno Glacier is go kayaking.
On a kayaking tour you’ll paddle in front of the north side of Perito Moreno Glacier, getting to enjoy the scenery away from the crowds. From this perspective you’ll get a true sense of the glacier’s scale, as well as hear it creaking and cracking.
Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier- Our Experience
We visited Perito Moreno Glacier on a day trip from El Calafate, the closest major town to the glacier. We had a rental car so it was easy to get to the glacier without a tour.
After paying our entrance fee at the gate, we were directed to park in the first/lower lot and take the minibus up to the glacier viewing area. While we were waiting for the bus, we bought tickets for an afternoon boat trip in Canal de los Tempanos.
Once the bus arrived we rode it up to the second, smaller parking lot where the walking trails start from. Here there’s also a visitor centre with a cafe and souvenir store.
Since we like hiking, we decided to walk to the south end of the glacier first then make our way to the viewing areas on the north end. In hindsight, I would have gone to the north end first, since it gets busier throughout the day.
Starting our exploration, we headed off down the Del Bosque Trail (Forest Trail, green on the map). This elevated walkway weaved through the quiet forest, so some of our first views of the glacier were over the tops of trees. Since this trail was further back and higher up than the paths closer to the ice, we could see the sprawling surface of the glacier reaching back into the mountains.
At the end of the forest trail we got on to the Inferior Circuit (Lower Loop, red on the map). This walkway delivered us to a series of viewing balconies at the south end of the front of the glacier.
From the lower trail we could look left to see Brazo Rico and right to see Canal de los Tempanos. Seeing the front of the glacier stretch off in two directions, and knowing we were still only seeing a portion of its terminus, gave us a good idea of how wide the glacier is.
As we continued on the lower walkway, we got more great views of the rugged front of the glacier. I was amazed at how tall the ice was and loved seeing its blue hue shimmer in the sunlight.
We spent a lot of time just standing and staring at the glacier, hoping to see some ice break off. Based on the amount of ice floating in the water, we knew chances were good we’d see the glacier calve. Sure enough, we soon saw the first of several pieces of ice that would crack off and splash into the water during our visit.
Further up the trail there were some stairs, so once again we got to enjoy Perito Moreno Glacier from a higher perspective. Seeing the surface made me wish we had signed up for an ice trekking tour. I thought it would have been “cool” to walk on the glacier, but Mike didn’t see the point since we walk on snow and ice all the time back home in Canada.
Eventually we made it to the Central Trail (yellow on the map) that looks out onto the rupture zone. This is the spot where the glacier sometimes advances onto shore, blocking the flow of the lake. Unfortunately there wasn’t an ice bridge when we were there, but it would have been an amazing phenomenon to witness.
We were seeing so many great views of the glacier that I didn’t think I could be any more impressed, but that changed once we arrived at the north viewpoints.
My mind was blown when I saw Perito Moreno Glacier from De la Costa Trail (Coastal Trail, blue on the map). From this vantage point we could see the “corner” of the glacier with the north side stretching across Lago Argentino’s Canal de los Tempanos and the eastern face stretching towards Brazo Rico.
This spot was my favourite place to admire Perito Moreno from, even though it was crowded, because it gave the most complete view of the glacier. Now we truly had a sense of just how huge Perito Moreno Glacier really is.
This incredible view made us even more excited for our upcoming boat cruise, when we would get a closer look at the north face of the glacier. So off we went to the bus stop to catch the shuttle back to the lower parking lot, where the boat cruises leave from.
Once we got to the parking lot, we followed the short trail from the restaurant to the dock. There was already a line up of people waiting and I hoped we would get a good spot on the boat. We ended up sitting at the very back so we could be the first people out on deck when staff opened the exterior, upper level.
As our boat left the dock, we got to enjoy a wide view of Perito Moreno Glacier. Even though we had already spent hours looking at the glacier, I was still astonished by its enormous size.
As we got closer to the glacier, the wall of blue ice started looking taller and taller. Soon we were close enough to see rows of vertical cracks originating from the glacier’s jagged surface. It looked like it was just a matter of time before these columns of ice would break free and tumble into the frigid waters below.
For most of our Perito Moreno Glacier boat tour we kept a close eye on the ice, scanning back and forth hoping to witness another calving.
Every time we’d hear the ice rumble and crack we’d frantically look around asking each other, “Where is it? Where is it?” Lucky for us, we saw several calving events and I was even able to capture a few on camera, both in photos and video.
When the boat started to turn around and head back to the dock, I was sad our tour was over but thankful we got to see the glacier calve. That’s always an exciting experience! The boat cruise and all the glacier activity we saw was the perfect way to end an enjoyable visit to Perito Moreno Glacier.
Final Thoughts About Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier
Even after a full day at Perito Moreno Glacier, I remained dazzled by the beauty of this special place.
Never before have I been so close to such an enormous, active glacier. The colours and shapes of the ice were mesmerizing, and the size was almost beyond belief. It’s crazy to think all that ice we saw is just a fraction of the glacier’s total size. After seeing it in person, I couldn’t believe it wasn’t the largest glacier in Argentina.
While exploring along the elevated walkways was a great way to view the glacier up-close, we also thought it was worthwhile to do a boat cruise. We enjoyed the different perspective from the water, but the best part was having a “front row seat” to watch the glacier calve. We also appreciated that the tour wasn’t rushed so we had plenty of time to admire the towering ice.
Perito Moreno Glacier was so spectacular that I would go visit it again if I did another trip to Patagonia. Next time I’d love to do an ice trekking tour or even go kayaking in front of the glacier.
Tips for Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier
Location: Perito Moreno Glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park, in the southwestern part of Argentina’s Santa Cruz province. It’s about 80 km from the town of El Calafate.
Getting There/How to Visit Perito Moreno Glacier: If you have a rental car, you can drive from El Calafte to Perito Moreno Glacier in about 1 hr 20 minutes. Just head west on Highway 11 and follow it all the way to the glacier. The road is in good condition and the scenery is great, so it’s an enjoyable drive.
- If you don’t have a vehicle, you can book a Perito Moreno Glacier tour that includes transportation from El Calafate.
- Another option is to take a bus from the main terminal in El Calafate to Perito Moreno Glacier.
Best Time to Visit: Generally, the best time to visit Perito Moreno glacier is in the summer (December to March) when the weather is most pleasant.
Entrance Fees/Park Pass: Visitors to this sector of Los Glaciares National Park are required to buy a park pass at the entrance gate. If you visit two days in a row you get a 50% discount on the second day’s entrance fee.
Parking: There are two parking lots- an upper lot near the glacier and a lower lot near the boat dock. The upper lot is small so unless you get there early, you won’t be able to park there. Staff will likely direct you to park in the lower lot. From the lower lot you can take a free shuttle bus to the upper lot where the glacier is. You could also walk the Coastal Trail from the lower lot to the glacier.
Services: At Perito Moreno Glacier there is a cafe and gift shop at the upper parking lot and a restaurant at the lower lot. There also is a small interpretive centre with informative displays tucked away among the trails.
Perito Moreno Glacier Boat Tours: Tickets for the Southern Spirit boat cruise can be bought the day of your visit from the booth marked “Navegacion” beside the lower parking lot. Departure times are 10:30 am, 11:45 am, 1:00 pm, 2:30 pm, and 3:45 pm. Tours are 1 hour long and leave from Puerto Moreno, the dock near the lower lot. To get there, follow the trail beside the restaurant.
Information was correct as of July 2021, but can change without notice. Please confirm directly with service providers.
Tours of Perito Moreno Glacier
Here is a trusted site where you can book Perito Moreno Glacier tours and activities. Here are some I picked out related to what I’ve mentioned in this post:
- Perito Moreno Glacier & Optional Boat Cruise
- Perito Moreno Glacier Mini Trekking Experience
- Perito Moreno Kayak Experience with Transport
Perito Moreno Glacier tours like ice trekking and kayaking should be booked in advance because it didn’t look like you could sign up for them on site. Plus, these tours often include transportation from El Calafate.
Accommodations in El Calafate
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