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Perito Moreno Glacier – part 1

Posted by on July 15, 2010

Monday morning and we were up before sunrise again, including the jetlagged Daniel and, well, Amal, ready for our tour at 9am. Yes, a tour feels ‘wrong’ but this is to the Perito Moreno glacier, and for 105 pesos (less than 20 pounds for a full day), it seemed worthwhile.

Morena Glacier and iceberg

Perito Moreno Glacier and iceberg

As per what we’re being introduced to as ‘Argentinian time’, the bus arrived on time (about 30 minutes late), and we popped around a few other places in town picking up other travellers, before heading west out of El Calafate on Route 11.


The road takes you along the side of Lagos Argentino, the huge lake which El Calafate is alongside. To the south are ‘smaller’ mountains and miles of tundra. It looks remarkably desolate, but in fact when we attempted to walk up to some guanacoes yesterday found the ground felt like walking on cake – very soft and certainly has a lot of water. The wind is the main reason treees don’t grow, and indeed when you reach the national park and it’s more sheltered the vegetation changes considerably.

To the north (blast, not my side of the bus) is the stunning lake and the snow-covered Andes in the distance. I resolve not to lose my seat for the return trip.

Along the way the guide (who talks in Spanish and then English – it’s great practice!) explains the history of the area, and what you can see. Argentina was apparently the third country to create a national park, and this contains many, many lakes, mountains and glaciers (including the Mayo glacier!). She hands out cards with pictures of the animals and wildlife, and follows our route along a map for us. Not that we have much chance, but I revert to ‘wildlife’ mode and start keeping an eye out for the three types of foxes, the pumas(!), armadillos and more.

We see a few more guanacoes, and even a condor circling high above the bus, as we start winding around the right side of another lake, and around the corner we start seeing small icebergs in the water. The water itself is that beautiful glacial water – a fantastic turquoise colour I’ve only seen before in New Zealand. I’ve also only seen icebergs at the foot of the Mt Cook glacier, but they were quite dirty – after their collection of dirt gathered as they worked their way down the mountain.

Whether it’s the different types of mountain or something else, these icebergs are clear, and many of them are the same brilliant blue as the water they are in. Our guide explains the colour is due to the minerals trapped inside, so perhaps the different areas of the glacier they come from have different level of this.

Perito Morena Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

Shortly, we pull over to a viewing spot as we’ve come around the corner for our first view of the Perito Morena glacier. Even from this far away it’s clearly huge. There’s a viewing platform built, and walking up to it I’m already glad I brought my boots with me – the ice
is certainly not easy to walk on. The wind here is really strong too, which explains the glass partition mostly covering the viewing platform, but we pose for some tourist shots in the clear part, and hop back on the warm bus.


A few more minutes and we come to a dock. Here an optional extension to the tour (45 pesos) means an hour on a catamaran. Although the bus is a warm place to stay for an hour, there’s no way we’re passing this up. It’s a double-level catamaran, with plenty of viewing space all around, with warm seats indoors for those who struggle to stand the cold. And it’s seriously freezing. The wind that blows off the ice combined with the boat zooming across the lake reminds us of the eclipse temperatures, with cameras malfunctioning and batteries deteriorating again.

Thankfully as we approach the glacier the boat slows, and we’re able to take photos of the many icebergs, big and small, now sailing past us. We almost come to a stop, and for the next thirty minutes the captain just chugs up and down the front of the glacier – about 200m away, giving us ample opportunity to admire and record what we’re seeing in front of us.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is about 60 metres high at the face, and it dwarfs us. While it’s deceptive from this angle (we could see later how small the boat looks from above), the glacier was still huge. The south face is over a kilometre wide, as is the north face, separated by a hill that the glacier is slowly trying to push into. As it happens due to the front of the glacier breaking off, and the back forming each winter, it has hardly changed in size for years. An impressive feat, considering its THIRTY kilometre length back up into the mountains!

With hundreds of photos taken, and our fingers frozen, the boat makes its way back to the dock, and we board the bus for a short journey up the hill that separates the two faces. There we reach a visitor centre, and are told we have about three hours to explore the many walkways.

This is really well set up for tourism. There are over four kilometres of walkways up and down the hill, and over 2000 steps. Decided that while I’m fitter than I’ve been in ages, I could still do more – the final climb back up really hurt the legs. With viewing platforms everywhere, even more photo opportunities showed themselves, and I’ve got a massive photo sorting workload ahead of me at some point.

From these viewpoints you can see both faces of the glacier. The north face is a similar size to the south, and from up top you can see all the way up the tail of the glacier. It really is huge, the largest in the southern hemisphere, apparently. The variety of colours as well, clear in parts, to dark chasms and cracks. Some of the surface is smooth from melting and freezing repeatedly, and you can see huge cracks and gaps where the ice has split or broken off. Along the face there are also dark blue ‘veins’ snaking their way up the face.

We chat to a few people along the walkways. Several came for the eclipse, others fluked it – saw it from a bus, or had no idea. Two German girls spent the entire eclipse duration in the El Calafate supermarket! Others have been travelling for weeks or months, and it’s great to hear the travel stories and ideas, the good and the bad experiences, and just meeting so many relaxed, happy people.

All this while we keep our eyes and ears open. Every so often a cracking sound is heard, and people rush to the closest edge to have a look. While most of the sound is further afield, sometimes it’s ice breaking off the face. Finally we saw one with a few small pieces hitting the water, and shortly after another crack AFTER some more in the same spot. Realising that the sound takes some time to reach us, it makes it that much more difficult to see something falling; by the time you hear the sound, it’s often already fallen into the water!

Back on the bus for the return trip, we stopped off briefly at the side of Lago Argentino for some shots, before being dropped off at our hostel.

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4 Responses to Perito Moreno Glacier – part 1

  1. Scott

    Drinking games by the lake huh, interesting :)

    • marksmayo

      Haha, not quite what I meant obviously 😉 Wait until the next post though..

  2. Andrea

    We were just there two days ago – so incredible! We saw a couple of ice falls, the whole face of the glacier. Too fast for us to take video, unfortunately. The sounds were my favourite – I could listen to the ice cracking in the distance all day…
    Andrea recently posted..W is for Wet- A Week in Torres del Paine National Park

    • Mark Mayo

      Fantastic, isn’t it? I was actually admiring your post with the photos of the Grey Glacier – should be the Blue Glacier with colours like that, wow!

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