A wide wall of blue ice spreads out before me; almost so close I can touch it. A narrow strip of water, strewn with tiny icebergs that has calved off the glacier, separates me from the confectionery of ice that forms the glacier. The crinkled frozen river stretches slightly uphill and through a pass in rocky mountains. Crackles and grumbles provide a background soundtrack.
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All You Need to Know About Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, is one of the most impressive glaciers in the world. When you think of the classic Patagonia glacier, Perito Moreno is what comes to mind.
I had visited Argentina Patagonia several years earlier, but had also visited Antarctica, so I figured at the time I’d seen enough glaciers. However, a few years gives new perspective, and I was keen to see more, including Perito Moreno national park. I took a cruise to Spegazzini and Upsala Glaciers (read about that here) in Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina) but the most famous of them all is Perito Moreno.
Perito Moreno Glacier information
- Where does Perito Moreno Glacier get its name? It’s named after named after Francisco Moreno, an Argentinean explorer.
- How wide is Perito Moreno Glacier? 1 miles/ 5 km
- How high is Perito Moreno Glacier? 240 feet/ 74 meters above water
- How deep is Perito Moreno Glacier? 558 feet/ 170 meters below water
- Is Perito Moreno Glacier advancing? Yes and no. Most glaciers on earth are retreating (which would seem to indicate global warming is real). Perito Moreno Glacier is not. However, it isn’t fully advancing either.
The Perito Moreno Glacier goes through a cycle. The glacier is fed by the Great Southern Patagonian Icefield, the third largest body of fresh water in the world, and ends at Lago (Lake) Argentino.
At the start of the cycle, its face is separated from land by a narrow strip of water called the Canal de los Témpanos (Channel of the Icebergs).
However, as it advances, it crosses the Canal de los Témpanos and the middle part of the face hits the land. This forms a dam that blocks the southern side of the lake, called Brazo Rico (literally “Rich Arm”). As water flows into Brazo Rico from snow melt, there is a buildup of water, raising the level of Brazo Rico by as much as 100 feet/ 30m. This causes enormous pressure on the ice wall/ dam, and eventually the water pressure wins out, causing an underwater channel to form.
This channel enlarges over time, until there is a bridge of ice between the glacier and the land. This then collapses in a spectacular “rupture”, with huge splashing as large chunks of ice fall into the water, and a rushing of the built-up water into the main part of Lago Argentino. This happens between once a year and once a decade.
The glacier is once again separated from the mainland and begins its advance back towards the peninsula opposite.
When I visited, the dam had formed, but was not yet in danger of collapsing. When you go, you may well see the north and south faces of the glacier separated from land.
The last rupture was March 13, 2018.
5 ways to experience Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno Glacier has this unique pattern of advancement, blockage, rupture and ‘retreat’, but that is not the only reason it is so famous. Because it heads straight towards a peninsula, it is easy to access.
I like to experience things as much as possible when I travel, so I’ve compiled a list of the five ways to experience Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina.
1. Balconies/ walkways
The easiest way to see Perito Moreno Glacier is via the series of walkways or balconies that spread out along the cliffs directly opposite the face of the glacier.
There is an extensive series of walkways all over the hillside opposite the glacier. There is an elevator tower from the upper parking lot area down to the upper walkway, so this section is wheelchair accessible. For those with greater mobility, you can walk down stairs to a lower level, which is so close it seems you could almost touch the glacier (though you can’t).
A series of boardwalk paths spreads out from this central section into the woods and down along the coast, so you can get below the top of the glacier.
If you are fairly fit and like to walk, allow several hours to hike all of the walkways.
If you prefer to walk less, the closest areas to the glacier are directly below the upper parking area and these are sufficient for many people.
Crackles and calving
The Perito Mereno Glacier is mesmerizing. Because it is advancing, it frequently calves. “Calving” is the name used to describe the event of a piece of the glacier falling off, plunging into the water below with an enormous splash and reemerging as an iceberg.
I found myself constantly scanning the face of the glacier, intent on seeing the next piece fall. There is constant crackling and grumbling in the air as the glacier shifts and the ice breaks. But then a loud crack explodes in the air, warning of an especially large piece about to fall off.
If you’re like me and geek out at this kind of thing, it is totally addictive. I was always “let me just stay for one more calving’. And then the next one… and then the next one… Eventually you will need to tear yourself away. But this is an easy way to spend a day without realizing so much time has passed!
To get to the walkways, you will either need a car (which you can rent here), or to get a bus from El Calafate. There are several options (click to check availability and the latest prices):
2. Mini Trekking Perito Moreno Glacier
There are two options for a Perito Moreno glacier trek – the shorter Mini Trekking and the longer and more arduous Big Ice tour. If you want to do a Perito Moreno glacier hike without spending all day doing it, then the Mini Trek is a great option.
Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World describes the Perito Moreno Mini Trek (which she did as part of her Argentina Itinerary):
“Doing an ice trek on Perito Moreno Glacier is probably the best way to fully appreciate it.
Treks are usually done on the southern part of the glacier. In order to get there, you’ll have to take the boat on the southern shores of Lake Argentino.
Once at the glacier, you’ll be met with a guide and taken to a base camp where you’ll be given instructions on how to behave during the short trek. You’ll be offered a pair of gloves, fundamental not so much for the cold temperatures (it’s actually much warmer on the glacier than it is on the balconies!), but to protect your hands in case you fall down.
You’ll then go on a brief walk through the forest, to reach another base where guides will help you wear crampons, which are needed in order to walk on the ice.
The walk lasts around one hour, and you’ll get the chance to see the cracks in the ice, and even get inside some of them; you’ll be able to get a taste of the icy cold water that springs from the glacier; and you’ll get views of the moraine.
At the end of the tour, you’ll be offered a small chocolate snack and a shot of whiskey on the rocks, directly carved from the glacier.
It’s a very easy, short trek that is suitable even for older people and families with children, and which doesn’t require any particular level of fitness. More than anything, it is a fun way to experience Perito Moreno Glacier.”
You can book the Perito Moreno trek here. This includes:
- Pick up from your hotel
- 2 hours free time at the walkways
- A 20-minute cruise on Brazo Rico from Puerto Bajo de la Sombra to the glacier.
- A short walk to the edge of the glacier
- A one-hour walk on the glacier
- A guide who can tell you more about the glacier
- Snack and a whiskey on 1,000-year old glacial ice cubes
- Drop off back at your hotel in El Calafate
3. Perito Moreno Big Ice Trek
When you do the Big Ice Trekking, El Calafate hotel pickup is also included, around 7:00am, so it’s an early start to a long, but fun day. Once you arrive at the glacier, you will have about an hour on the walkways (early in the day, so before the crowds get there) before the boat trip across Brazo Rico to the south face of the glacier, the same as the Mini Trek. There are restrooms when you arrive.
For the Big Ice Trek, you will be broken into smaller groups (with either an English- or Spanish-speaking guide). You will walk through the forest and pass the point where the Mini Trek goes on to the glacier. This is where the two Perito Moreno Glacier treks diverge.
The Big Ice trek continues uphill for about 1.5 hours, past a waterfall and through the forest to the point where you enter the glacier. This is where you get crampons.
On the glacier, you will walk past deep crevices, bright blue ice caves, and trickling streams forming deep furrows in the ice. You can even drink the fresh, crystal clear water straight out of a crevasse.
You will spend about 3.5 hours on the ice, including a stop for your boxed lunch.
Similar to the Mini Trekking, you get a complimentary glass of whiskey over glacial ice, but on the boat on the way back.
TIP for Big Ice (El Calafate): Dress in layers, wear hiking boots, a windbreaker and sunscreen! The weather can change quickly out on the glacier.
Big Ice Trek or Mini Trekking?
Which trek you choose depends on several different factors, including:
The Big Ice Trek, El Calafate:
- More expensive
- Longer, so you need to be very fit (about 3.5 hours on the ice + 1.5 hours to get to the ice)
- You spend more time on the ice (but also more time in the forest alongside the glacier)
- There is an age limit (you must be under 50 – which I personally find kind of insulting, since there are plenty of people over 50 fitter than people under 50)
- Better views of the bulk of the glacier and the surrounding mountains
The Mini Trek:
- Shorter (about 1 hour on the ice)
- Not very difficult
- Is closer to the face of the glacier, so no views of the bulk of the glacier
4. Perito Moreno glacier boat tour
If you don’t do the ice trek, then taking one of the Perito Moreno glacier tours by boat is a great way to round out your visit to the glacier.
Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World shares her experience on the boat tour (check out Claudia’s Argentina guide here):
Perito Moreno Glacier is a must see during a trip to Argentina
Most people who visit Perito Moreno do a classic Perito Moreno tour and go to the balconies, from where they can walk to a variety of viewpoints to admire the glacier, and to listen to it as it cracks and the ice falls in the water with a thunderous sound.
However, one can only get the full scale of the glacier from a boat that gets close to it.
Boats depart regularly from the northern shores of Lake Argentino to get as close as reasonably possible to the northern walls of Perito Moreno (boats can get as close as 30 feet/ 100 meters from the glacier). There are also boat trips to the southern face of the glacier.
The tour usually lasts around one and a half hours, during which passengers can get out, take photos and videos, and admire Perito Moreno in all its glory. It’s honestly very cold on the boat when you stand outside, but it’s completely worth going as this will likely be the best view of Perito Moreno you’ll get!
During the tour, passengers get a drink – the best option is whiskey on the rocks. Not only it is guaranteed to warm you up, but the “rocks” will come directly from the glacier!”
5. Perito Moreno kayak experience
If you really want to feel the enormity of the glacier, being in a tiny vessel at water’s level is the way to do it. Try the Perito Moreno Kayak Experience.
Note, though, that you won’t get TOO close – the glacier is calving constantly and when large chunks fall off, it can cause quite a swell, so you will be at a safe distance away.
There are two options:
- The full day, which includes transfers from El Calafate (pickup around 7:30am from your hotel/ hostel), two hours to wander the walkways (9:30am – 11:30am), a boxed lunch and transfers back to El Calafate (3:00pm – 5:00pm) in addition to the kayak experience described below.
- The kayak experience only. This has none of the above; just the kayaking. If you have your own car or arranged a separate transfer then this is the best option.
The kayak experience is:
11:30am. Get your gear, head to the launch point and get an intro to kayaking if this is your first time. The launch beach is walking distance from the office.
12:30pm – 2:00pm: Kayaking. Enjoy the awesome experience!
2:00pm – 3:00pm: Hot drinks and snacks.
Some details to know:
- It doesn’t run in the depths of winter, June-July
- You have to be 14 or older
- Needs to have 2 people to run
- 20 people max.
The verdict: Experiencing Glacier Perito Moreno Argentina
Perito Moreno is one of the best day trips from El Calafate, but to fully experience it, you really need to allow more than a day. Doing each of these activities I have described will allow you to see and experience the glacier from multiple perspectives. If your time is limited and you only have a few hours, then I would prioritize the walkways.
|Authenticity of experience||18|
|Quality of interaction with culture/ environment||18|
|Difficulty to arrange||18|
|TOTAL TC SCORE||90|
The Experience: Perito Moreno Patagonia Argentina
The glacier is at the far end of a round-shaped peninsula. As you head out from El Calafate, you will first pass a turn off to the Punta Bandera boat dock. This is where boats for cruises to Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers and the north face of the glacier leave from. Continue along and you come to the entrance to Glacier National Park, Argentina. You need to pay $750 pesos to enter the park.
As you go further, the road follows the curve of the peninsula around to the left until you get a view of the glacier in the distance. There are pull outs where you can stop and take photos.
Then on your left, you will see the Puerto Bajo de la Sombra, which is where boat cruises to the south face of the glacier and the ice trekking leave from.
Continue a little further and you get to the end of the road. You are now at Perito Moreno Glacier.
There are two ‘levels’. The lower level is the main parking lot. This is where the kayak office is, as well as a restaurant/ café and restrooms.
From here, there is a free shuttle operating 10:30am to 5:30pm to take you uphill to the top area (it takes about five minutes), which is where the walkways are.
Outside these times, you can drive up, and there is a small parking lot at the top. There is also another restaurant and gift shop at the upper level. If you visit outside the shuttle hours and the small parking lot at the top is full, it is actually not that far to walk between the two ‘levels’ as long as you are reasonably fit. If you aren’t that fit, you will definitely not want to walk though.
The walkways start at the top parking area.
Where is the Perito Moreno Glacier and what is the currency?
We’ve talked a lot about how to see the glacier, but haven’t actually answered the question “Where is Perito Moreno Glacier?” The Perito Moreno Glacier location is 48 miles/ 78 kilometers from El Calafate, in the middle part of Patagonia.
Patagonia is the name for the whole southern end of South America, and includes both Argentina and Chile. El Calafate and Perito Moreno Glacier are in Argentina. El Calafate is located between El Chalten (135 miles/ 220 kilometers to the north) and Puerto Natales, Chile (175 miles/ 280 km to the south).
The currency in Argentina is the Argentinean peso. The symbol used for the peso is $, which is the same symbol used for the dollar. Check the latest exchange rate here.
Map of Perito Moreno
Visa requirements for Argentina
Visa requirements vary depending on where you are from. Citizens of the United States do not currently need a visa, but always check for the latest update, as this could change.
Other experiences in El Calafate
You may have had your fill of glaciers, but if not, I strongly recommend taking a cruise up the Lago Argentino to see the Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers. They are different from Perito Moreno, and I personally LOVE glaciers and never tire of them. The cruise makes anther great day trip from El Calafate.
You get see huge icebergs up close, see the enormous Upsala Glacier from a distance and get super close to the beautiful Spegazzini Glacier – and then get to have a drink over 1000-year old iceberg ice cubes on the way back (it’s definitely a thing to do in the area!)
How to get to Perito Moreno Glacier
Getting to Perito Moreno Glacier from El Calafate is easy. If you have a car (which you can rent here), you can drive there in less than two hours. If you plan on driving during your trip to Patagonia, I highly recommend reading my Guide to Driving in Patagonia, which has tips on what to look out for, driving distances, where to get gas/ petrol, etc.
Otherwise, there are bus transfers you can book, or the boat and kayak trips and ice trekking tours can include transfers to/ from El Calafate.
How to get to El Calafate
If you are coming from Buenos Aires to Perito Moreno glacier, then you will head to El Calafate (but first, don’t miss experiencing tango in Buenos Aires – read about it here). El Calafate is one of the main airports in Patagonia and a good entry point for places further south and for El Chalten a little north.
If you are entering Patagonia in Chile and then coming to El Calafate, the main international gateway is Santiago, Chile. Check out my posts on Chile here and be sure to read my guide to Driving in Patagonia, which covers both Chile and Argentina.
So, how to get from Buenos Aires to El Calafate? There are three main ways to travel from Buenos Aires to Patagonia: by plane, by bus and by car.
How to get to Patagonia from Buenos Aires by plane
El Calafate Airport has direct flights daily to/ from Buenos Aires to El Calafate (3.5 hours), as well as to/ from Ushuaia (1.5 hours) and Bariloche (1.75 hours). Check out prices to El Calafate with Skscanner here.
How to get to El Calafate by Bus
Major bus routes to/ from El Calafate include:
- Rio Gallegos, southwest of El Calafate, in Argentina. 4 hours
- El Chalten, north of El Calafate, in Argentina. 3 hours.
- Buenos Aires. Change buses in Bariloche. 5 hours to Bariloche.
- Bariloche, in the lake district in northern Patagonia, Argentina. 5 hours.
- Puerto Natales, south of El Calafate, in Chile. 5-7 hours, including the border crossing.
Click here for bus schedules and tickets.
How to get to El Calafate by car
- For directions to drive from Rio Gallegos, click here. 3.5 hours.
- For directions to drive from Buenos Aires, click here. 32 hours (via Rio Gallegos).
- For directions to drive from Puerto Natales in Chile, click here. 3.5 hours plus the border crossing.
- For directions to drive from El Chalten, click here. 5 hours.
Note that there are not that many gas stations in Patagonia, so always, always fill up when you can. For information on gas stations, driving distances, tips and more, read my guide to driving in Patagonia here.
How to get from El Calafate airport to town and getting around El Calafate and Patagonia
There are a couple of options for getting from El Calafate airport to town.
El Calafate airport transfer
Ves provides an airport shuttle from El Calafate airport to your hotel/ hostel in town, for all flights. Book the shuttle here.
Renting a car at El Calafate airport
You can get around Patagonia by bus, but for more freedom, renting a car is the way to go. This is what we did, and it meant we could stop on the side of the road to take photos of animals. Rent a car here.
Driving a car gives you much more flexibility, but driving in Patagonia does have its challenges. Read my full guide to driving in Patagonia here.
Where to stay at Perito Moreno Glacier
Best* accommodations in El Calafate
|Best Bed and Breakfast in El Calafate||Nau Bed & Breakfast||9.5||Check availability and prices here|
|Best guesthouse in El Calafate||Keoken Boutique||9.1||Check availability and prices here|
|Best condo hotel in El Calafate||Linda Vista Apart Hotel||9.4||Check availability and prices here|
|Best luxury hotel in El Calafate||EOLO Patagonia Spirit - Relais & Chateaux||9.7||Check availability and prices here|
|Best lodge in El Calafate||Cabañas de Nené Aparts||9.5||Check availability and prices here|
|Best mid-range hotel in El Calafate||Hotel ACA El Calafate||9.2||Check availability and prices here|
|Best budget hotel in El Calafate||Hosteria Miyazato Inn||9.1||Check availability and prices here|
|Best hostel in El Calafate||Folk Hostel||9.4||Check availability and prices here|
* Based on highest booking.com ratings at time of writing
For tips on choosing a hotel, check out my Guide to Choosing the Best Hotel here.
Best time to visit Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno Glacier weather is best in January to mid-March, when it is warmest. This is also the time when most people go there. If you’d prefer to have Perito Moreno a little more to yourself, spring and fall/ autumn are good options, and the weather can still be nice. I was there in late November and although there were some windy days (although not when I visited Perito Moreno), it was lovely.
Weather: Perito Moreno Glacier
|Month||Average High||Average||Average low|
|January||67.7°F/ 19.8°C||58.9°F/ 14.9°C||45.4°F/ 7.4°C|
|February||66.6°F/ 19.2°C||57.6°F/ 14.2°C||44°F/ 6.7°C|
|March||63.7°F/ 17.6°C||54.2°F/ 12.3°C||40.4°F/ 4.7°C|
|April||56.7°F/ 13.7°C||46.9°F/ 8.3°C||33.1°F/ 0.6°C|
|May||48.9°F/ 9.4°C||40°F/ 4.4°C||28.7°F/ -1.8°C|
|June||44.6°F/ 7°C||35.7°F/ 2.1°C||26°F/ -3.3°C|
|July||42.8°F/ 6°C||33.8°F/ 1°C||23.9°F/ -4.5°C|
|August||45.4°F/ 7.4°C||36.8°F/ 2.7°C||26.1°F/ -3.3°C|
|September||52.2°F/ 11.2°C||42.4°F/ 5.8°C||30°F/ -1.1°C|
|October||57.2°F/ 14°C||47.4°F/ 8.6°C||34.6°F/ 1.4°C|
|November||61.2°F/ 16.2°C||51.7°F/ 10.9°C||38.8°F/ 3.8°C|
|December||65.1°F/ 18.4°C||56.2°F/ 13.4°C||43.5°F/ 6.4°C|
Perito Moreno weather breakdown
|Hours of Daylight||12 to 16 hours||Up to 17 hours of daylight in December and January||Up to 13 hours||Up to 10 hours|
|Rainfall||Average four days per month||Average three days per month||At least seven days of rainfall in May (the wettest month)||Heavy snowfall|
|Wind||Average speeds of 13.2 mph. 21.2km/h* in November (the windiest month).||Still windy. Wind speeds up to 12.7 mph/ 20km/h||3.6 mph/ 5.8km/h in May, the lowest wind speeds of the year||wind speeds of up to 4.5 mph/ 7.2km/h|
* For reference: Hurricane force winds are officially 74 mph/ 118 km/h or greater. This is an average – wind speeds in Patagonia can get up to 100 mph /160 km/h and literally blow you off your feet.
Planning and packing for Perito Moreno Glacier
There is so much to see in Patagonia, you will want to plan your trip carefully. I used the Lonely Planet and Moon travel guides, in addition to the Internet. Buy the Argentina Lonely Planet here and Buy Moon’s Patagonia guidebook here.
Use my Trip Planner for a step-by-step guide to help you at each stage of planning your trip.
When you are ready for your trip, check out my Essential Packing List. Although there is not a lot of hiking involved, you might also check my Day Hike Packing List if you plan to spend time on the outer walkways.
Additional consideration: Travel Insurance
You need travel insurance! It can be confusing, so I have written a Guide to Understanding Travel Insurance to help demystify it.
A great insurance option is World Nomads. You can book it right here.
Why do I like WorldNomads.com? Its backed by specialist insurers and global assistance partners, so you buy it online and claim online, and, unlike many insurances, it covers a range of adventure sports and activities (check their website here). In addition, they are a company that cares about sustainable travel and they give you a chance to make a difference by making a micro donation to support a community development project when you sign up.
Enjoy Perito Moreno!
Do you have any stories of El Calafate or Patagonia? I’d love to hear them. Comment below.
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Read more about Patagonia:
- Cruising past glaciers and icebergs in Argentina
- Hiking to Laguna Torre, Argentina
- Driving in Patagonia (Argentina and Chile)
- Experiencing tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina
- Hiking French Valley in Patagonia, Chile
- Complete list of places to stay in Torres del Paine NP, Chile
- Taking a food tour in Santiago, Chile
- Tasting wine in the Maipo Valley, Chile
James Ian has traveled to 82 countries and all 7 continents. He is passionate about experiential travel, i.e. meaningful travel that actively engages with the environment and culture. He helps people have similar experiences that involve active participation in activities and festivals; engaging with the local food and handicrafts through lessons and food tours; and interacting positively with environment by hiking, riding, rowing, diving and low/no impact animal encounters.
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