Perito Moreno Glacier – National Park

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The Perito Moreno Glacier is in Los Glaciares National Park in the southwestern part of Santa Cruz province, Argentina. When it snows high in the Patagonian Andes, the snow and ice does not melt. Rather, it accumulates, forming the massive South Patagonian Icefield, a glacier system that straddles Argentina and Chile.

 

The enormous pressure of tons and tons of snow and ice compresses the existing ice and gives it a distinctive bluish tint. At such great pressures, the ice flows, inching out of the Andes and into the valleys where it melts, forming lakes and rivers. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of 48 such outlets for the South Patagonian Icefield.

 

Once every few years, the glacier plugs up Lago Argentino, cutting off the Brazo Rico arm of the lake.  The water level on the Brazo Rico side can rise to 30 meters before the pressure causes the forward edge of the glacier to shatter, sending ice, water and debris in its path.  The last time this occurred was in 2004.

 

Visitors who are not there to see the great wall of ice give way are not disappointed, however. The glacier is advancing into Lake Argentino at an approximate speed of 2 meters (six feet) per day, but it never really goes forward. The reason is that huge chunks of the glacier break off at the same rate as the glacier creeps into the lake.

 

Great chunks of ice crack off the face of the glacier every few minutes and tumble into the lake with a roar. These hunks of ice can weigh several tons and bob around in the lake as icebergs for a while, slowly melting.

 

There are observation platforms to watch this process, and many visitors take tour boats into the lake. The boats keep a respectful distance – you never know when a hunk of ice is going to break off – but the views are spectacular. Like watching rain on a lake or a brightly burning bonfire, watching, and hearing the glacier groan, creak and crumble into the lake is very hypnotic.

 

It is possible to hike on the glacier: it costs about $60-$70 per person for a basic hike and visit. It’s a dangerous adventure: a guide is essential. The entry into the national park is $17 for foreigners and $5.50 for Argentines. Tours cost $32-40 (includes guide and transport, not including park entry). A cheaper transportation alternative is to take a bus from the terminal to the park ($23 round trip, 1.5 hours each way; Patagonia Ya 10 a.m., return 5:15 p.m.; Taqsa 9 a.m., return 3:30 p.m.; Cal-Tur daily 9 a.m., return 4 p.m.).

 

National Park, Hiking, Trekking, Boating

 

Here are other activities in and around El Calafate that may be of interest: Boat Trips,

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