Patagonia is the home of the world’s third largest ice field (Antarctica is #1, Greenland is # 2). This means there are many miles of ice and tons of glaciers in the area, but few can match the jaw-dropping ability of the Perito Moreno Glacier which is located 2 hours outside of El Calafate in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. If any glacier was made to be a tourist attraction, Perito Moreno is the one. First, imagine a 35 kilometers long tongue of ice that is 60 meters tall spilling out into a lake. Next, imagine all of it coming closer to the edge of a perfectly placed peninsula that juts out in the middle of the lake towards the glacier. After that, place metal boardwalks all along the front of the peninsula so that tourists from all over the world can snap photos of this wonder. Though it does not move very fast, this massive glacier is as mobile as a glacier can be. That’s right, glaciers move. In fact, the Perito Moreno glacier moves about 2 meters per day. All this movement and the sheer weight of the ice (glacier snow is much denser and therefore heavier than regular snow) combine to create a truly fantastic spectacle. After hearing so much about this beast, we had to see it for ourselves.
Since visiting the Perito Moreno glacier outside of El Calafate (not to be confused with the town called Perito Moreno), I feel that visiting this behemoth of a glacier is a must for anyone on a Patagonian adventure. It was really cool to stand on the boardwalks and stare at this gigantic piece of ice for hours. You are close enough to it to take really good pictures, but far enough away so that you feel safe from the falling ice. The coolest part about going to see this glacier, however, is (hopefully) watching enormous pieces of ice calve off into the lake below. It is not only the visuals of truck-sized chunks of glacier ice falling into the water, but the accompanying sounds that come from the cracking and shifting of the glacier that makes it quite impressive to see and worth every cent spent on getting there.
Though not always guaranteed, we were fortunate enough to be there just as the tip of the iceberg… I mean glacier broke off creating huge waves that disrupted the tranquility of the lake. Check out the video I took!
Let me remind you that you just watched the equivalent of a 20-story tall building falling into the water. It was pretty cool to see it live. Several other pieces fell during the time we were there, but this one was by far the most significant. I took pictures until my camera battery ran out just before we had to leave. After we returned to El Calafate on our scheduled bus, we talked to some other people staying in the same campground as us that said they did not see any large blocks of glacier fall off. This made us feel even more lucky that we saw what you just watched in the video embedded above. Surely, visiting Glaciar Perito Moreno will be one of my highlights of Patagonia.
And while we are talking about highlights of Patagonia, let me tell you about the feast we enjoyed in El Calafate. Our campground, Camping Ovejero, is actually a campground, a hostel, and a restaurant. Every night starting at 7pm, the restaurant opens its typical Argentine barbeque called a parrilla. Just as I feel it would be wrong to visit Patagonia without visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier, I also feel a trip to Argentina would not be complete without partaking in a parilla. For anyone familiar with the Spanish language, you should know that the double-L (like the one found in parrilla) normally makes the same sound as a “y” in English, but in Argentina, the “ll” sounds like a “j”. So, we are at this parilla (pronounced par-ee-ja) at the restaurant associated with our campground and it is an all-you-can-eat for the equivalent of about $12 US dollars. I am in heaven! We even splurged on a bottle of Argentinian Malbec to go with our appetizers of garlic bread and lamb tongue and the rest of our meal. After about 2 hours, we had eaten our fill of all-you-can-eat salad bar, chorizo, blood sausage, and chicken, but we especially enjoyed the patagonian lamb that had been slow cooking over an open fire for hours. Once we finished one plate of meat, the waiters would bring out another plate overflowing with meat. At the end of the meal, we had for sure eaten more than our money’s worth and I was a happy man, that is, until I got up from the table and had difficulty walking back to the tent because I was so full. Oops!
Tips for El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier:
- El Calafate is a fairly large town (pop. 22,000) and has many of the things that smaller villages do not have. i.e. a proper supermarket, gas station, chocolate shops, airlines offices
- Definitely check out one of El Calafate’s newest attractions, the Glaciarium Museo del Hielo Patagónico, a well thought out museum that explains everything you want to know about glaciers, but emphasizes the ones in Patagonia. They also have a “Glaciobar“. There is a free shuttle too.
- Make sure to visit all of the different observation decks when at the glacier because each offers a different view from different angles or distances. Closer is not always better.