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February 2018, Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
It’s getting rainy and dark outside when we finally end the last walkway of the National Park. We are literally face to face with the blue glacier Perito Moreno, part of the third largest ice cap in the world.
Yeah, you heard right, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in the Andes Mountains, comes after Antarctica and Greenland in terms of contiguous ice surface: 13 000 square kilometers covered by 48 main glaciers and 100 smaller ones, stretching on 370 km from north to south.
Coming back to us. 🙂
So we’re patiently waiting for a mini-bus or something to get us out of the park. Not that we wouldn’t walk the trails back to the beginning, but they are closed.
We’re high up, in the middle of nowhere, a huge glacier in front, and a highway entering the woods far in the distance.
Half an hour later, we hear the news: no one is coming to pick us up. The park is CLOSED.
In a few seconds we make up our minds: run!
If anyone watched us from above, they would see a bunch of little humans running like crazy on the highway, in a pouring rain, going into the woods, not knowing how far the end is. And the night is coming.
Let’s rewind to how we got here.
The blue glacier
If you came to the funky little town El Calafate, southern Argentina, you would hear about Perito Moreno from the first day. Actually we really took our time and stayed here for 1 week.
Perito Moreno is just one tiny bit of the Patagonian ice cap, but so easy to reach.
So we’re taking the bus from El Calafate and in 1.5 hours we’re standing at the base of Los Glaciares National Park, south of Lake Argentino.
The sun is beaming down. Ahead of us the glacier shines brightly against the turquoise lake.
The whole area is beautifully designed for exploring, with 5 walkways starting on the east side of the glacier and surrounding it to the south.
First, the surreal blue colour of the ice strikes you. Second, as you walk around it, a strong “crack” takes you by surprise. Huge ice chunks from the glacier fall into the lake, right under your eyes. And with a few seconds delay, you hear the massive impact.
Funny thing, light travels faster than sound! 😀
As we keep walking along the boardwalk, another wonder comes into sight: the glacier reaches land, pushing the surface and forming an ice arch. And just when you start asking yourself if it is really growing in length (YES!), you see the water trying to make its way under the arch.
When Perito Moreno glacier reaches the Magallanes Peninsula, it obstructs the drainage of Lago Rico into Lago Argentino. This causes the levels of Lago Rico to rise because ice melting from the highlands has nowhere to drain to. Ultimately, the pressure of all that water causes the ice arch to break every few years, in a spectacular rupture event. Then, the cycle starts all over.
We continue walking the trails one by one, constantly in awe of the glacier’s size. As the hours pass by, the sky gets covered by thick clouds. Eh well, this is just the regular Patagonian weather.
It’s time to return to the bus.
The sweet ride home
Where were we? Oh yes, sprinting on the highway. 🙂
Our hearts beating like hell, running faster than ever before, we reach the terminal at the exit from the woods.
Maybe it was a 20 minutes run, but it surely seemed longer under the prospect of not catching the bus to El Calafate.
We are finally taking the sweet ride back to town.
All in all, Perito Moreno is just magnificent. It is worth every peso!
- only 3% of the water on the Planet is fresh; 97% is salt water, coming from the oceans
- out of the 3% fresh water, 77% is ice
- after Antarctica and Greenland, the Southern Patagonian ice field is the biggest reserve of fresh water in the world
- Viedma glacier (975 square km) is the biggest in Argentina
- Perito Moreno glacier (254 square km) is the size of Buenos Aires
- Lake Argentino and Perito Moreno are only 177 m above sea level
- Perito Moreno (perito=expert) is named after Francisco Moreno, a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century, but who never saw the glacier that was named after him
- Perito Moreno max. height is 70 m above water level, but in average it has 55 m above the surface of the lake, and around 120 m below the surface. The greatest measured depth is 700 meters!
- Perito Moreno is believed to be advancing at a rate of 2.64 m a day(!), although it loses mass at approximately the same rate. Scientists aren’t sure why this particular glacier is stable, while most of the other glaciers in the region are melting and retreating.
How to get to Perito Moreno
- Buenos Aires AEP airport – El Calafate FTE airport (3.5 hours LATAM flight)
- El Calafate – Los Glaciares National Park/Perito Moreno (1.5 hours CALTUR bus)
600 ARS (30 USD)/pers for ½ day roundtrip, from El Calafate
- Park entry
500 ARS (25 USD)/pers
~10 USD for a wrap sandwich or a salad (take some snacks&water from El Calafate, the food is pretty expensive inside the park)
You will surely want to spend more time in El Calafate. Here’s our complete guide of what to do around here.
In January 2018 we booked one-way tickets, took our backpacks and left cozy old Europe, for (hopefully) the greatest adventure of our lives: South America. If you like our story, don’t forget to spread the word!
Happy travels and stay safe!