Patagonia: Visiting Perito Moreno (the Glacier) from El Calafate
This post is based on our experience following a 10-day itinerary in Patagonia that you can check out HERE.
El Calafate is a must see and do in Patagonia, this unique small town is located by Lago Argentino, with its beautiful blue-bright water, and next to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and therefore the famous Perito Moreno Glacier.
In this post, you will read some recommendations about why it’s still worth visiting the glacier despite often being a crowded attraction, how you can visit it from El Calafate and what else you can do in this interesting town!
For our itinerary in Patagonia, we decided to stay there two days, one to settle down as we arrived from Buenos Aires and the other to visit this amazing mass of ice…
The reason we also specified in the title that we are talking about Perito Moreno, the Glacier, is because there is also a town called Perito Moreno in Patagonia, that is rather quite far away from the glacier (700 km apart).
So as mentioned before, don’t always trust Google Maps in Patagonia! Especially if you just type ‘Perito Moreno’, as it can be misleading… Just make sure you aim for the Perito Moreno Glacier that is within 1h-drive from El Calafate (you won’t find anything closer).
🤩 Why go to El Calafate? 🧊 The Perito Moreno Glacier
As mentioned, El Calafate is your base to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. But what’s so special about this glacier in particular?
Perito Moreno is not the biggest glacier (the largest and longer one of Patagonia is the Pío XI, or Bruggen, Glacier in Chile), and there are bigger ones in the same park, such as the Upsala Glacier.
That said, Perito Moreno Glacier is not less impressive than others, as you can get very close to this huge mass of ice without a boat thanks to the peninsula that confronts it, and it’s therefore very accessible.
As you walk along the footbridges that have been built, you will appreciate its wide open front and the not-so-little icebergs it keeps creating.
What is amazing about this glacier is that despite advancing an average of 2 metres of mass every day, the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers in the region that accumulates more ice than it loses, therefore not shrinking.
Moreover, due to the fact it advances so much every day, during your visit you will see more than once how the ice falls off from its front making a gunshot (or even thunder) noise.
They told us that, despite the glacier being very old (it was formed during the last Ice Age, about 18,000 years ago), the ice we currently see falling is about 400 years-old.
Another interesting fact about this glacier is that when advancing very fast, the front may touch the peninsula, creating a kind of barrier that may act as a dam between the branches of Lago Argentino (it can even change the water level of one side!), until the pressure will finally create a tunnel in the ice and collapse the structure as you can see here.
Nature is so massive and beautiful! The Perito Moreno Glacier is a place where you will keep telling yourself this…
✈️ How to get to El Calafate in the first place
Now, how do you get to El Calafate in the first place, before heading to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares?
We already gave an overview of how to get around in Patagonia, but if El Calafate is your first destination within Patagonia, the best option is to fly to Aeropuerto Internacional de El Calafate (FTE) from Buenos Aires.
We did so with Aerolíneas Argentinas and the average flight ticket was about 70 EUR/person (only one-way); flights from Chile are usually more expensive (and I recall also seeing direct flights from Brazil!). Within the region you can also move around by bus (no train!).
Once in the airport, you have different options to get to the town of El Calafate. You can take a collective shuttle or taxi. We didn’t book anything and improvised there.
I cannot recall how much the collective shuttle was (plus the exchange rate has changed very much since we were there), but the taxi is about three times more expensive. You can find some details on the airport transportation here.
If you wish to rent a car for your whole stay at El Calafate, note that many car rental companies have an office in the airport. We decided to rent our car after visiting Perito Moreno, and thus, we rented it from the town office. When returning the car, we left it in the airport (and as far as I remember, we weren’t charged more for that).
🏔️ How to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier
But how to visit the glacier?
Well, you have two options: you either go on your own (the road is quite well maintained and you can get there with a rented car) and see the glacier from the footbridges; or you hire a tour to see Perito Moreno from closer by boat or even trek on it!
As explained before, independent travel is not always possible in Patagonia, and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is a highly protected area. That said, we found the tour we did to be super well organized and we had no complaints!
Whatever option you will go for, you must pay the park entry fee (usually not included in tours), and that currently cost 1’800 ARS (about 15 EUR/person). Don’t stress about it, you will be asked to stop your car / bus, and buy the ticket before entering, although I think you can also now buy the ticket online here.
Just to also clarify that this particular part of the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares isn’t the best one for hiking (at least for amateurs like us, we didn’t find many options). For hiking, it’s better you go to El Chaltén, about which we will write later on, and is also part of the itinerary we did.
In terms of which company to go with for any tour to Perito Moreno, we went with Hielo & Aventura. They were offering the most competitive price we could find and accepted payments with PayPal. We decided to do their mini-trekking tour with transfer (as our car rental started the next day), which was ALL worth it!
What an experience to walk on a glacier with crampons… at first, I felt awful about the idea of doing this in terms of environmental impact and didn’t want to do it… then I read about how controlled this is and that this glacier in particular keeps growing (and the impact your weight has on a such a massive thing is also tiny).
So if you are convinced by this experience, as we were, be mindful of all the information that is provided on their website and enjoy it! You will be taken closer to the glacier by boat and then walk through a Patagonian Andean forest until reaching the point where you will put some crampons on and walk over ice for some short time (about 1h).
You will see amazing ice formations:
The tour cost us about 100 EUR/person if I recall right, but because of changes in exchange rates, etc. it seems it’s now a bit more costly, about 160 EUR/person if you include transportation. But again, it’s a worthwhile experience, if you have always wanted to be close to a glacier.
There is a longer, more expensive trekking you can do, called the Big Ice, that looks amazing and we would definitely consider that for a next time in Patagonia! Back when we went, we didn’t know how comfortable we would be trekking for about 3h over such a mass of ice and thus, we opted for the mini-trekking; but sharing this with you, in case you are more adventurous!
🦆 Other things to do in El Calafate
As mentioned earlier, for El Calafate, we decided to stay there two days, one to settle down as we arrived around lunchtime and the other to visit Perito Moreno…
The first day we explored the town, an interesting one given there is no big city nearby unless you drive for about 1’000 km. It’s quite lively, at least during the mid- and high season, with many shops selling local products and souvenirs along Avenida del Libertador.
I guess shopping is therefore one thing to do! Especially if you need any extra gear, and want to buy something to remember this place.
Of note is el calafate, not the town, but the fruit, a type of blueberry that only grows there and is a symbol of Patagonia. You will find plenty of products made out of el calafate. We bought our reserve of el calafate jams to take back home and give to family and friends!
Photo under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Source: Banfield from Wikimedia Commons.
Another thing we really enjoyed while in El Calafate was going to Reserva Laguna Nimez (see our map of recommendations), you can walk there from town. This is a bird sanctuary, with many species of local birds, including flamingos.
So bring your binoculars with you! To enter the reserve, you will have to pay a fee (it wasn’t much, but I cannot remember how much it was exactly, sorry!).
There, you will appreciate the peacefulness of this remote place in the world, hearing only the noises made by the birds (some were strange and funny). Note that Lago Argentino, and its Bahía Redonda, are right next to the reserve, so do not hesitate to get out there and walk by the lake “beaches” as well.
🛌 Where to stay in El Calafate?
There are many places to stay in El Calafate, from very fancy hotels in the middle of nowhere, to more urban hotels and hostels that are close to the main street, Avenida del Libertador.
Because we knew we would spend a considerable budget on accommodation at Torres del Paine in Chile, we decided to go low-key in El Calafate, and booked a private room in a family-run hostel near the main street, Hostal Schilling (see location on our map of recommendations).
At the time, we paid about 80 EUR for two nights (very very reasonable for the region), and that included breakfast.
The common areas were super cozy, like being in your own place, and the staff was super helpful and gave us great tips for eating in town! ⬇️
🍲 Where to eat in El Calafate?
We spent two nights in El Calafate, and that was two amazing dinners! We were actually surprised by the large choice of restaurants you have in this town – and everything we tried was just yummy.
First night, we went recommended to Restaurante Buenos Cruces (see our map of recommendations), a small restaurant, a bit away from the main street, but that had a full house that night. With it’s cozy, even romantic atmosphere, this restaurant serves elaborate local dishes, and offers an extensive menu of national wines.
The second night we decided to go for the traditional cordero asado (roasted lamb), and we were recommended to do it at Mi Viejo (see our map of recommendations), which is located right on Avenida del Libertador, and what a nice place to try this dish!
It’s known in town for it, plus everything else they serve was so tasty: starters, side dishes, etc. (we were hungry after our mini-trekking… so much beauty was exhausting!).
Not to eat sur-place, but still worth mentioning, are the two alfajores shops of Fabrica De Alfajores Koonek, where you can buy some local production of these dulce de leche sweets. A calorie bomb that you may want to eat after a whole day of walking or hiking. In Argentina, we would always have one on our backpacks!
Moreover, in El Calafate you will find alfajores with el calafate filling 😉
On the map just below, we are also recommending a few places where you can have a drink in town after a day-long outing, either before or after dinner!
📍Map of recommendations for El Calafate
If you like what you read, please feel free to share this post, leave a comment and/or find out more about travelling in Patagonia 👇👇👇👇👇
If you plan to go to El Chaltén from El Calafate by car and want to do things on the road, this is your post! 🚘 🏞️ There are a few options: from visiting cave paintings and a historic (and also the only) inn on the road, La Leona, to joining an excursion to its petrified forest and admiring the gorgeous lakes that characterise this remote region of 🇦🇷 Patagonia!
Have you always wanted to go to Patagonia and don’t have many holidays? You can visit some of the most amazing places in this region and even enjoy some freedom on your own in less than two weeks. Check out our 10-day itinerary in both the Argentinian (🇦🇷) and Chilean (🇨🇱) Patagonia for inspiration!
Patagonia can be a challenging destination at times, but it’s all worth it! For us, it has been the most amazing trip we have ever done!🥇 That’s why we wanted to share with you 2️⃣0️⃣ tips based on our own experience and that we hope will help you plan and enjoy your trip to the fullest! Learn what to watch out for in case you rent a car, why independent travel can be difficult and more… 💸