One of the things that we knew we wanted to do when we were in El Calafate was visit the Perito Moreno Glacier. Our hostel made things easy for us when they sent a number of different tour options before we arrived to ensure that the tour that we wanted to go on had availability on the day that we wanted.
After looking through our options, we decided on the Glacier Perito Moreno XL Tour. It is an alternative to the large bus trips to the glaciers, taking you off the beaten path and arriving after the bulk of tourists leave. Plus at 600 pesos or $45 per person, the price seemed reasonable.
Getting to the Glacier
We were picked up at our hostel around 8am and were the first to be picked up. We made a few more stops before all 7 of the people on our tour were picked up. I was surprised with the age difference in those on the tour which ranged from early 20’s all the way up to retirement age.
The quickest and most direct route to the Perito Moreno Glacier is via paved road. Since many of the buses that go to the glacier all leave around the same time and take the same route, our tour took a less direct, unpaved road. This way we got to see some nature on the way and arrive after many of the buses return to the city.
Along the dirt road we saw a number of animals including eagles and hawks along with ostriches and guanacos (similar to a llama). We did our best to get pictures but shooting through the windows was challenging, especially when the animals ran/flew away when they heard the van.
Stop at the Farm
We didn’t drive directly from town to the glacier. We made a stop at a farm along the way which had a bathroom, hot drinks and lots of animals. The mix of animals was a little strange but our guide told us that the farm takes in orphaned animals. It isn’t uncommon for animals to be in a fenced in area, then jump out. Should there be babies that can’t jump that high or the parent not make it over the barbed wire, there is no parent to care for the babies.
Since I love animals I was in heaven. The goats and guanacos are used to people coming around so they were very friendly. One of the guanacos was extremely friendly, taking my petting as a sign of something more and tried to mount me. It shocked me but afterwards we were all laughing at how funny it was.
After 30 minutes or so, we washed our hands and hopped into the minivan. We drove a relatively short distance to the glacier.
Arriving at the Park
When we arrived at the entrance of the park everyone had to pay a 260 peso or $20 entry fee. I found it interesting that we were in Los Glaciares National Park, the same park that we would later visit in El Chalten. Strangely, in El Chalten there is no park fee which makes me wonder if the entire park runs off admission fees to the glacier along with government funding.
As we pulled into the park our guide Juan gave us some facts about the glacier.
- It is one of the only growing glaciers in the world, advancing at 4.5 feet per day
- At 155 square miles it is roughly the size of Buenos Aires
- The glacier is the 3rd largest reserve of fresh water in the world
- The bottom of the glacier is a more intense blue color than the upper layers due to the pressure from the weight of the ice
- The glacier stands 240 feet over the surface of the water and 558 feet below the water surface, hitting the bottom of the lake
Glacier Boat Ride
One of the optional parts of our tour was to go on a boat ride near the glacier. Since we wanted to get as close to the glacier as possible, we shelled out 250 pesos or $20 each for our tickets.
We got on the boat as soon as possible, opting to get a window seat with a window that opened up. That way we could get good pictures while still staying warm. The rest of our boat was a group of Chinese tourists, a group not known for their manners.
It was absolutely insane when the boat’s upper deck opened up. It reminded me of the videos that you see of people rushing a store on Black Friday, trampling whoever is in their way. We stayed below deck for a while, knowing that people would take their pictures, get cold then head back down. Our thoughts were right and we were able to have some time on the deck without too many other people towards the end of the boat ride.
The most annoying part about our time on the deck involved the professional photographer. He took pictures of people in front of the glacier with his digital camera then sold 8×10 size printed pictures for 100 pesos or $7.50 each. He was insane with getting the perfect shot, even if it meant pushing people out of the way. He physically pushed me out of the way when I was taking a picture of a Russian guy that was on our trip. I seriously couldn’t believe how rude it was. I also couldn’t believe how many people were spending money on printed pictures – seriously, who prints pictures anymore?
Walking the Balconies
After the boat docked, we started walking the balconies to see the glacier. The balconies are relatively new, only being open the last 5 years or so. They were a mesh metal material which allowed water to get through, provided some traction and I’m assuming hold up for a number of years.
When we were behind some trees we heard a large crash. We knew that part of the glacier had broken off and we missed it. Shortly after we saw a few tourists on the balconies and asked them if they caught it. They had and said it was a pretty large chunk of ice. We heard some more cracking and staked out a prime spot on the balconies to wait for some more glacier to break off. When we saw another chunk was breaking off we didn’t have our camera ready. The third time was the charm though. We captured quite a large piece of ice break off into the water.
I then pulled out my lunch, a sandwich that we had purchased in town and started to eat it. Andy was going to follow suit but shortly after I started eating the rain started. We decided that the rain probably wouldn’t let up so we put on our ponchos that we brought with us. Once I finished my sandwich the rain started getting even heavier. Even with our ponchos on we got pretty wet, especially from our knees down where we didn’t have any protection.
We figured that we had all of the shots that we wanted to get. We headed back to the cafe and gift shop area where we could get out of the rain. Andy was then able to eat his lunch in a covered area.
Returning to El Calafate
We weren’t the only ones that were scared away from the glacier by the rain. All 7 of the people on our tour were in the same area as us before our designated meeting time. We were all cold, wet and ready to return to town.
The ride back to town was on the main road so we got to see some new scenery. As we moved further from the glacier, which gets 500mm or just under 20” of rain a year, the weather cleared up. We saw a beautiful lake and asked Juan if we could stop to take a few pictures. We all got out of the car and enjoyed the beautiful teal color of the water which is caused by the minerals in the melted glacier ice.
When we arrived in town we were told that our tour included an empanada and beer at a local brewery. It was a nice stop at the end of the tour, especially since everyone got along pretty well and wanted to spend a little more time together. After we finished our beers, everyone said their goodbyes and headed back to their respective hotels.
After we booked the tour we realized how simple it would have been to go to the glacier on our own. There are bus tickets to the glacier that you can easily purchase at the bus station which drop you off right at the glacier. The trade off is that it would have been more crowded on the balconies than when we were there.
Our guide Juan was really informative, spoke perfect English and had learned the perfect balance of talking the right amount, but not too much. He made me feel better about the imperfect weather by telling me that the glacier is actually more blue when the weather is overcast, appearing more white on a sunny day. Since the coolest part of the glacier was the blue color, it made me feel like we endured some questionable weather to get some great pictures.
If I were to go back to the glacier I would be torn between going on my own and paying less or taking the tour again. I would lean towards taking the tour because if nothing else, there are fewer people around which makes for better photos.