As I reach the the maze of boardwalks, the voice of my guide fades. In fact, all sound gets drowned out completely and the entirety of my being zeroes in on the beautiful, overwhelming expanse spread out before me.
Heading out of El Calafate for our several-hour journey to Los Glaciares National Park in the early hours of the day, I have little hope of a worthy viewing of Perito Moreno Glacier. The forecast predicts heavy cloud and a chance of rain.
Thankfully, the journey in itself offers many surprises. As Route 11 hugs Lake Argentino to the right side we see many different bird fauna – the black neck swan, the vapor duck, the coot and the cauquen – but none shocks me more than the gorgeous pink Chilean flamingos huddled in a group at the lake’s edge.
Our first sighting of the glacier is from the far end at Curva de Los Suspiros, aptly named the ‘curve of sighs’ due to the magnificent panoramic viewpoint it presents of the Perito Moreno Glacier. This view is the ultimate teaser of what’s to come. We stop for a short photo op, but many people – myself included – stand in silent wonder, staring at the great expanse in the distance.
The Glacier National Park became a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site in 1981. Its pride and joy – and most accessible glacier – is Perito Moreno Glacier, one of 48 glaciers that form the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields. The park also offers an array of other popular treks and hikes, including Mount Fitzroy (El Chaltén).
So, what makes this glacier so significant? At 250 square km (97 sq mi) and 30 km (19 mi) in length, it’s one of the only glaciers in the world that is advancing. (Most glaciers in the world are retreating.)
The glacier grows at an average rate of 2 meters (almost 7 feet) per day but also loses large portions daily. Its cyclic phenomenon of forward and backward movement allows visitors to view spectacular ice falls from its front walls.
Humans are nature’s ants
I couldn’t help but run onto the boardwalks in childlike excitement. There were four paths to choose from with the map at the entrance providing estimated times – ranging from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours – for completion. I started out by exploring Sendero del Bosque (Forest Path; 570m long), as I didn’t want to miss seeing this behemoth from a single angle or viewpoint. I knew full well it could look completely different the next visit.
As I walked the longest loop path, Circuito Inferior (Lower Circuit; 1100m), my mind was blown. It boasts some of the closest vantage points and, accordingly, all I could muster was a smile that enveloped my entire face. I looked around at my fellow visitors and realised that this seemed to be a bit of an epidemic, a condition of the glacier. I couldn’t help but feel that all my woes were meager and insignificant in the presence of Perito Moreno. It sure made the terrible night’s sleep of the night prior or the frustration of washing of my clothes at a lavadora for the umpteenth time diminish in an instant!
I also ventured onto Paseo Central (Central Walk; 600m). It was here I became sure – as I’m sure many visitors were – that if I sat there watching the glacier long enough, I could predict the next piece to carve off. Of course, this opinion is borderline insane, as the glacial movement is completely unpredictable, even for many glaciologists!
A cracking as loud as canon fire comes before the crash. When it happens, everyone’s heads whip from left to right to find out where it’s come from. Then you catch the almighty splash, but all is not over… The ripple effect moving out from the site can extend for hundreds of metres, while chunks of ice float for kilometres. Following the journey of these chunks is pretty calming, but all the time you’re listening for that next crack.
So often the ‘aaahhh’ from the other visitors alerts you to the fact that you have missed it but keep watching, undeterred. There will be a next time.
Power to this natural wonder.
I felt the need to sit for hours and stare into the great expanse, trying to seek out answers to the world’s problems. But when my time was nearly up, I took a final walk along the Sendero de la Costal (Coastal Path; 1117m) to say goodbye. The path curved away from the glacier and, sadly, I headed to my pick-up point.
5 things to know before visiting Patagonia’s Perito Moreno Glacier:
- For an experience like no other, opt for a mini trek on the glacier; this usually includes a short cruise to the glacier base. Treks may vary daily due to the changing glacier surface so prepare to go with the flow! You can go on a 2-hour ice walking excursion on this 3-day short break!
- Pick up a bottle of wine in El Calafate. It’s best enjoyed while sitting and observing the glacial beauty, waiting for the next big crash of ice to occur.
- Argentina is a very cash-heavy society so always be prepared with some cash over cards to pay for activities and meals.
- The best time to view a rupture is in the afternoon when the sun warms the glacier enough to cause large shards of ice to fall. Find a good position on one of the benches and be prepared to play the waiting game.
- ‘Viento mucho viento’ is one of the most common sayings in Patagonia, meaning ‘wind, a LOT of wind’ – so dress accordingly. Wear a windbreaker jacket – even in the summer – as the air swept off the glacier sure can take you by surprise!
Ready to visit nature’s masterpiece for yourself? Take in Perito Moreno on an Intrepid Patagonia tour.