A complete guide to visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina.
“Perito Moreno Glacier? Yea, it’s expensive, but so worth it!”
The backpacker in Puerto Natales was pretty convincing when we asked them what they thought of Patagonia’s most famous glacier.
As it turns out their quote perfectly summed up our own experience with visiting one of Argentina’s most popular tourist attractions, the sprawling frozen river close to El Calafate.
We had already visited quite a number of glaciers in the region, having just completed an awesome cruise through the Chilean Fjords and trekking the O Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park, so we were contemplating skipping the world famous Perito Moreno Glacier.
We’re glad we didn’t.
After taking the bus from Puerto Natales we crossed the border back into Argentina and got dropped off at the bus station in El Calafate.
Not being in a rush we had given ourselves 4 nights in town, which gave us ample opportunity to catch the perfect weather to head out to Los Glaciares National Park, home to Glaciar Perito Moreno.
Trekking up hill to our first accommodation, La Cantera (read more about where to stay in El Calafate at the bottom of this article), we dropped our bags off and went to check out the town.
El Calafate is a funky, small town, right on Lago Argentino, the largest freshwater lake in the country. It has a leafy, ski-resort kind of feel about it and we instantly liked it, despite the ‘touristy’ feel.
Checking the weather we found out that the next day was going to be sunny. Being in Patagonia we knew to never trust weather forecasts, but rather than waiting a few days we decided to head straight out in the morning to the famous Perito Moreno Glacier.
Waking up around 7am we had breakfast, packed a bag with some snacks and wine, and headed down to the bus station. We made it just in time to get the 8:30am bus to the national park and settled in for the ride. At 570 ARS (US$32.50) each*, it was an expensive bus ticket for a short journey.
With only one quick stop to pay our entrance fee on the way (another 450 ARS, or US$29.50*) we made it in about 90 minutes. As we got closer to the end of the road we got our first view of the impressive glacier, tumbling into the lake on the left side of the bus.
*Note – Prices in 2019 are now 800 ARS (US$20) return for the bus tickets and 700 ARS (US$17.50) for the park entrance fee.
Once we disembarked Alesha and I had two choices for what to do with our day – go on one of the boat tours, or simply walk around the park and take our time. We chose the latter option to keep our budget down.
Being one of the most popular national parks in Argentina, everything is signposted and it’s impossible to get lost. We found the boardwalk and started our hike.
The sun was beaming down hard and there were few clouds in the sky. Ahead of us the glacier shined brightly against the turquoise lake and distant peaks.
Rounding a bend in the boardwalk we got our first up-close view of this sprawling wonder. The Perito Moreno Glacier is over 30km in length and 5km wide at the face. The day was still young, and already we knew we’d made the right decision coming out there.
Stopping for countless photos along the way we found some beautiful vantage points to admire the lines and shapes of the majestic frozen river. The face reached heights of 70m above the lake, making its size truly remarkable.
What makes Perito Moreno one of the most interesting glaciers in South America is how active it is. Immense ice chunks constantly crack off the face, known as ‘calving’, sending huge waves across the lake.
Every 20 minutes or so another piece of ice would fall, causing everyone fortunate enough to witness this natural phenomenon to cheer out in unison.
We kept walking along the boardwalk and found a large platform to set ourselves up for lunch. Cracking a delicious bottle of Malbec we enjoyed cheese and crackers with the bottle of wine, and sat there in silence observing the glacier.
While we were having lunch we started to see small bits of ice fall from one particular crack. Sensing that something big was about to happen we set our cameras up and waited.
Sure enough a gigantic slice the entire height of the face calved off right in front of us! The impact was massive and water crashed out dozens of metres. The sound was overwhelming, and we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to see such a large piece calve.
Many outlets report that the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few in Patagonia that is advancing rather than retreating. While it’s true that the length of it is growing, it is actually thinning at the same time. This means sadly that its volume is on a downward trend as well.
With the wine finished we continued walking to the end of the boardwalk, constantly in awe of the glacier’s size. We ended up in a tranquil forest, adding a different element to the easy hike.
The hours passed by quickly, and soon it was time for us to return to the bus. Surprisingly the glacier’s activity slowed down, and the entire walk back didn’t have anymore sizeable pieces of ice fall despite the afternoon heat. We’re glad we made it out there when we did!
We got back to the bus just in time and kicked back for the 90-minute ride to El Calafate.
Over the next few days we relaxed in town, spending a fair bit of time at Cerveceria El Zorro, drinking boutique beer and reflecting on the beauty of the small section of Los Glaciares National Park we had seen.
Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier was more impressive than we could have ever imagined. Despite the high price associated with seeing it, we were blown away with its magnificence.
It’s not very often you can see one of the most fascinating attractions in nature up close and personal. And with the way climate change is affecting the globe, who knows how much longer these glaciers will still be around.
The backpacker we met was right – it was worth every peso!
Where Is The Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno Glacier is about 80km from the town of El Calafate in Argentine Patagonia. Not to be confused with the town by the same name (about 12 hours further north), the Perito Moreno Glacier is part of the Los Glaciares National Park.
To give context to the location, the Perito Moreno Glacier is actually part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. This sprawling landscape feeds dozens of glaciers in southern Chile and Argentina, including the Grey and Dickson glaciers next to Torres del Paine National Park, and all of the glaciers you encounter on a cruise of the Chilean Fjords.
How To Get To Perito Moreno Glacier From El Calafate
To get to Perito Moreno Glacier you first have to travel to El Calafate in the Santa Cruz province in Argentina. El Calafate has an airport, connected to a few regional towns in Argentina, but the main connections there come from Buenos Aires, Bariloche and Ushuaia.
You can also travel to El Calafate by bus from Puerto Natales (an easy 6-hour journey), from El Chalten (only 3 hours), or a mammoth leg from San Carlos de Bariloche (24 gruelling hours….we did it…).
Once you’re in El Calafate getting to the Perito Moreno Glacier is quite easy. You can either book a tour including transport, rent a car or a taxi, or do what we did and take the local bus.
How To Get To Perito Moreno Glacier By Bus
- First head to the main bus terminal in El Calafate
Address: Jean Mermoz 104 (map here).
- Buy your bus ticket for ‘Glaciar Perito Moreno’. There are a few bus companies that go to the glacier, but we went with CalTur. The price for this ticket is a hefty 800 ARS (US$20) return.
- The buses leave at either 08:30 or 09:00, depending on the company. It is totally possible to buy your bus tickets on the day of your trip. Just make sure you get to the bus station with 20 minutes to spare.
- The trip to takes about 90 minutes. About 1 hour into the ride the bus will stop at the entrance to the Los Glaciares National Park. Here park rangers will come onto the bus and take your money for the entrance ticket.
Cost: 700 ARS (US$17.50) per person (MUST BRING CASH, they don’t accept credit card)
- Eventually the bus arrives at the end of the road. Here you get out and can either go for a hike or book your boat tickets. You’ve made it to the glacier!
- Buses return at 16:00 in the afternoon. Simply go back to the spot the bus dropped you off at. We suggest taking a photo of the number plate so you know which bus was yours, but it’s pretty straight forward. Don’t lose your ticket!
- CalTur also have a bus that goes out at 13:00 and returns at 19:30, for those who want to be out there in the afternoon or have late connections.
Hitchhiking To The Glacier
It is completely possible to hitchhike to the glacier. The road that heads out there doesn’t have many other destinations along it, so most traffic will be heading to Perito Moreno.
Get yourself a bit out of town and make it to Ruta Provincial 11. From here you shouldn’t have a problem finding a ride.
Returning to El Calafate should be just as easy, but we recommend doing what our friend did and ask the person if they can take you back as well (if they are heading back).
Tour vs Going Independently
It’s quite common for people to jump on a Perito Moreno Glacier tour to get out and see this marvellous natural wonder, but we think it’s better to go on your own *unless* you want to walk on the glacier itself.
Tour companies will charge you a little bit more for private transport to get out there but you will still have to buy your entrance ticket. Some of them, but not many, have lunch included though.
On the bright side you get a guide, however in our opinion this is unnecessary for the standard boardwalk that you do, as there are plenty of information signs along the whole way talking about what glaciers are and the history of Perito Moreno.
You’ll also be shuttled around in a group, meaning you can’t take your time in the places you want to. Instead we recommend saving the extra money and just bringing your own lunch with you (and a bottle of wine, of course).
Boat Tours Of The Perito Moreno Glacier
Once you get to Perito Moreno Glacier you can book a boat tour right there and then, so there’s no need to prebook this in El Calafate.
When you arrive in the national park there will be a small booth with a sign saying ‘Navegacion’. Simply enquire there about boat tours and they can put you on one.
If you want to get closer to the glacier than from the boardwalk this is the next best option without going on a hiking tour.
These will get you up to 100m away from the face of Glaciar Perito Moreno and give you a spectacular perspective from the water’s level.
Most of these tours also include snacks and a glass of whiskey served with glacial ice and last for around 90 minutes or so. Confirm this when you book your tour.
Trekking Tours On The Glacier
One of the best things you can do in El Calafate is go on a trekking tour of the Perito Moreno Glacier! If you’re after an adventure, be sure not to miss this.
Teaming up in small groups you leave town and head to the national park in private transport. Then you jump on a boat and cross the lake to get to the side of the glacier.
Now comes the best part – you will be given crampons and ice axes and be taken on a guided trek directly on the glacier itself! If you’ve never been on a glacier before trust us – it’s something you’ll never forget!
Walking on one of Argentina’s biggest tourist attractions is truly sensational. You can book short Perito Moreno Glacier tours (known as ‘Mini Trekking’) or the larger ‘Big Ice’ which lasts for a few hours more and can even go inside ice caves depending on the time of year.
As to be expected, especially in Argentina/Patagonia, these tours aren’t cheap. The Big Ice trek is 4000 ARS (USD$275) including transport, and the Mini Trekking is 2400 ARS (USD$156). Neither of these include the park entry fee or lunch.
Still, it might just be your only chance to trek on an enormous glacier! We didn’t personally do it (we’ve trekked on quite a few glaciers before), but you can pre-book your tour.
Where To Stay In El Calafate
El Calafate is one of the more expensive places for accommodation in Argentina due to its remote location and popularity. But being expensive also means it has very high quality hotels!
If you’re looking for a good, budget place to stay in El Calafate, then the absolute best option is the America del Sur Hostel.
Located only 7 minutes walk from downtown, this hostel is designed like a beautiful timber cabin and has panoramic views of the mountains and lake.
If you want something a bit cheaper than check out the other options on Hostelworld. Make sure you book ahead in the high season (December to April).
Design Suites El Calafate
For the absolute best luxury hotel in El Calafate, you can’t beat the incredible (and aptly named) Design Suites!
A short 10-minute drive from downtown with a to-die-for view over the lake and surrounding mountains, Design Suites has the highest quality hotel rooms with the funkiest style in town.
From the moment you walk in you are welcomed with the huge windows letting in light and vistas from all angles. There is a large dining area with a bar attached, and a cool sitting room to the side. This is also where the delicious buffet breakfast is served in the mornings.
There’s an interesting collection of art scattered throughout the hotel as well, giving it a gallery feel, with most of the pieces available for purchase.
You’ll find an indoor-heated pool, sauna and spa as well downstairs, ensuring Design Suites has all the amenities you could ever want to make your stay enjoyable.
The rooms are bright and spacious, with large, comfortable beds and window-side sitting areas with glorious views. When you’re finished exploring the best that El Calafate has to offer, coming back here at the end of the night is superb.
Design Suites also offer a free shuttle into town, but this only happens twice a day which is a shame, meaning if you want to go at any other time you need to call a taxi (around 5000 Pesos each way).
Book your room at Design Suites El Calafate
Boutique Hotel La Cantera
We also were lucky enough to spend 2 nights at Boutique Hotel La Cantera. While it’s not quite as luxurious as Design Suites, it does offer a very homely feel and a better location for those who want to be closer to downtown.
The common area is more like a large living room complete with a fireplace and comfy couches. It’s a perfect place to kick back with a book (or in our case our laptops to catch up with work).
The bedroom we booked was tucked away at the back of the hotel, and while it was large and had some interesting decorations, it did feel a bit dated, particularly the bathroom. It also didn’t have a lot of light coming in.
That being said, they do have bedrooms that seem much nicer and more modern facing the lake. If you stay here definitely try to book one of these.
Book your room at Boutique Hotel La Cantera
Our accommodation in El Calafate was organised as part of our partnership with Destino Argentina, and hosted by Design Suites and La Cantera. All thoughts, opinions and hours spent watching chunks of ice fall of the glacier are, as always, our own.