The first time I heard about the Perito Moreno glacier was back in 1991 when an Argentinian friend mentioned having gone there and it being “espectacular!” as Argentines are prone to say when they like something enough. I finally got to visit it but, in doing my research, I was surprised at its location, well inland in Argentina – I had expected it to be near the ocean closer to Tierra del Fuego.
I had to get to the glacier from Chilean Patagonia which meant a long bus ride from Puerto Natales to El Calafate, the main town right outside the ice fields that give rise to the glacier. It took about 4 hrs or so to get to El Calafate and that included a stop at Argentinian immigrations/customs; faithful to expectations, a slow process and rather rudimentary baggage check with some luggage opened on the road and a sniffing dog walking ON (not around) the open luggage. At that border point, we entered the Santa Cruz province which many say is the personal fiefdom of the presidential couple (now just the wife since he passed away). I am not sure if that is the case or not but the place is certainly vast.
The more one gets away from the border with Chile, the flatter the land becomes. The scenery is impressive but then you get a few hours of that same landscape and I quickly dozed off to make up for the early pickup time (around 7AM).
The bus was full of passengers. Most of them were just getting off in El Calafate which seems to serve as a base for backpackers and other travelers but a few of us stayed on to be taken to the glacier, another 1.5 hrs away. Oh and the bus had its share of people who stank but, mercifully, they were towards the front of the bus and I, being the last one picked up on the road from Puerto Natales, got to sit all the way in the back. I guess the Northern Hemisphere folks in the front of the bus thought that being on vacation meant skipping on those showers for a couple of days. Joy.
So, the bus ride was long and tedious. But what about the main attraction, the glacier? Well, one quickly realizes one is facing a monumental piece of ice! The glacier is almost kissing the peninsula directly across from it. When the “kiss” is “deep”, the glacier splits the water body in front of it in two. I hear this is the only place in the world where that happens. After a few years of the deep kiss, the water level rises on one of the sides of the glacier and pressure builds up such that the kiss is broken up. When I went, there was a very small bridge left between the glacier and the peninsula.
The glacier’s front walls are monumentally high. Nothing helps one get this than seeing large boats come close to the glacier for a close-up. The glacier is constantly making noises as it moves and shifts and, every 15 minutes or so, a piece of ice (usually small) would break off and fall in the water making a good deal of noise.
The park has been very nicely prepared for the tourists with recently built walkways meandering down the peninsula’s face. There used to be a concrete path but one clearly sees the difference of being in a nicely built walkway vs. the more rudimentary concrete path that one can still see from the walkway. There are different paths to follow and one can go as far as one wants or stay as close to the carpark as one wants. One can see both “faces” of the glacier from most of the walkways so one doesn’t have to risk missing that falling piece of ice!
El Calafate was not much of a town but one could do some shopping down the main street. We hear that in winter there is nothing much to do. Our guide told us she read a lot and went ice skating on the part of the lake/bay that freezes. Unfortunately, my time there was limited so I could not discover any hidden gems. I had not budgeted staying a night there (which was probably a good thing) so I hopped back on the bus to ride all the way back to Puerto Natales. But I am happy to report that the bus was mostly empty, and most importantly, free of funny smells
I have no better way of describing how the vastness and general flatness of the land (it wasn’t 100% flat) that in this image I have of the Patagonian sky: sky in 3-D. Somehow, one gets a sense of multiple layers of clouds as one stares out and scans the sky. Perhaps it is the same anywhere else but I have never noticed this until this trip. I felt validated when later a fellow traveler made the same observation (minus the “3-D” part)…
Certainly, the trip from Puerto Natales was way too long for a day trip and, while El Calafate didn’t seem interesting enough for me, spending the night there would have been better for my body. However, I will say get to see Perito Moreno however you have to as it will be worth your while!