Argentina: Glaciar Perito Moreno

After a glorious week outside of El Chalten, we drove a few hours south to El Calafate, the main entry point for most tourists in the area given that it boasts the region’s only airport.

We pulled into town and like the classy people we are, set up came in the public park at the waterfront. My parents were slightly more conservative with their sleeping arrangements and checked into a hotel.

The reason that we were in town was because of THE GLACIER. The hunk of ice known as the Perito Moreno Glacier is named for Francisco Moreno, a famed Argentinian scientist and explorer who spent much of his career in Patagonia. The area was long claimed by both Chile and Argentina (as is much of the area); it was finally decided in Argentina’s favor in 1881 and today is one of the area’s largest tourist draws. That said, parts of the border between the two countries are still under dispute. To see this first hand, type ‘Fitz Roy’ into Google Maps and then zoom out; the border is not drawn for hundreds of kms SW of this famed peak.

The PM Glacier is part of the Southern Patagonia Icefield, a vast swath of icy land that claims to be the third largest source of fresh water in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland, presumably.

Unlike many of it’s glacial brethren, Perito Moreno is advancing; and every so often will create a massive dam of ice across a narrow channel in Lake Argentina. The water behind the dam will rise until the extreme pressure of the water against the ice causes the dam to burst, sending water surging through the channel. People flock to the area for weeks before the event, hoping to be one of the lucky few that get to witness the surge.

This, of course, if the terminus of the glacier: 19 miles of compressed ice abruptly ends amid thundering booms and cracks as it cleaves off into the water.

It’s the sounds that makes the glaciers so thrilling. Even from far away you can hear the creaking and groaning as the ice shifts and slowly grinds forward. Every so often a massive crack splits the air and the boom as the ice breaks away and crashes into the water.

Here are a few stats to put this chunk of ice into perspective:

The face of the glacier is 3 miles wide and the part that is above water measures around 240 feet tall. From the pictures it looks like maybe 40 feet, right? Nope. 240 freakin’ feet tall.

The whole thing, including parts above and below water is a cool 550 feet.

Andean flicker.

This is a juvenile Southern Caracara. 

And this little guy is some type of wee flycatcher-like thing that I haven’t identified.

The glacier was a highlight for us – if you’re in El Chalten, take the time to drive a few extra hours and spend half a day perched upon the overlook within sight and earshot of this magnificent chunk of ice. Boat trips and glacier treks are also available and I’m keen to do one next time. 


Activities

Perito Moreno National Park: cost is 500 Argentine Pesos (about $15 usd), make sure to have it in cash as there is no atm, they don’t take credit card, and it’s a long drive back into town for money. Bring good walking shoes, a rain coat, and your camera. There is a nice little boardwalk loop that can be done between the parking lot and the main entrance (shuttle back to your car is free and runs every 10 minutes).

Campsites and Restaurant in El Calafate

Camp: We stayed slightly out of town on the shores of Lake Argentina in the waterfront parking area. No wind protection but plenty of overlander company.

Restaurant: We had a delicious meal of local lamb stew and the kids chowed down on fries, making for one happy family: La Chacrita de Nimez. Close to the campground.

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