The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the key highlights in Patagonia. Spanning more than 30km, the Perito Moreno Glacier is an impressive sight to behold.
The Perito Moreno National Park is a crowded tourist destination but well worth your time. Regardless if you are heading to El Chalten or Puerto Natales, this is a must-stop for travelers in Patagonia.
El Calafate is the closest city base to the Perito Moreno glacier. Many tourists stop by El Calafate, and the Glacier is undoubtedly the highlight attraction.
How to get to Perito Moreno Glacier from El Calafate
The Glacier is in Los Glaciares National Park and requires transportation to get there. There are two commons ways to get to Perito Moreno Glacier from El Calafate, depending on what activities you want to do.
You will also have to pay a ticket fee for entrance into the Los Glaciares National Park to the rangers when the bus arrives at the park entrance. Do remember to bring cash as they do not take card payments.
Bus to Perito Moreno National Park
If you only want to visit the Broad walk and see the Glacier from afar, you can DIY by taking a bus from the main bus station in El Calafate. Some bus companies that run this route are CalTur and Chalten Travel. It takes around 1.5 hours to get there.
With Perito Moreno Glacier Tours
If you are looking to do extra activities such as kayaking, boat tours, or Glacier trekking, you will need to book a tour. Most tours come with transportation to the Glacier. This is what we did as we were doing the glacier trekking, which I will cover below.
We booked from Hielo y Aventura on the main Av. del Libertador street in El Calafate. Since we were there near the end of Patagonia season and never had a fixed schedule, we just showed up and made a booking. You can also book something online beforehand if you have a fixed date trip, especially if you are going during peak season.
There are various tour options; some come with lunch included etc. However, if you’re only visiting for one day, you should not cramp more than one extra activity. I imagine that would leave you little time for each activity and the broad walk.
Perito Moreno Glacier Boardwalk
The boardwalk is the “default thing” to do at the Glacier. Many visit just for this, and it is still a memorable experience. It encompasses a well-paved wooden platform that stretches along one face of the Perito Moren Glacier, offering different viewpoints to this impressive nature.
The boardwalk is divided into upper and lower decks. Apart from walking along the boardwalk, you should factor in more time for photo taking. Be sure to keep your eyes out, as you will see blocks of ice breaking off the Glacier at times. If you want to capture such moments, be prepared to wait for a good opportunity, which will take some good timing and patience.
The boardwalk is also a great place to have a picnic if your tour does not include lunch. There is a cafe/restaurant there, but refreshments at touristic destinations are not cheap.
Therefore, I recommend you pack your own food and enjoy a lunch with an incredible view. If you read my articles before, this is something I pitch a lot when going on tours. Why eat at that expensive restaurant for tourists when you can pack a cheap and tasty meal and enjoy it with great views.
Glacier trekking at Perito Moreno
If you have never done glacier trekking before, this is a fuss-free place to try it. The crampons will be provided, and there will be people to help you put them on, so don’t worry.
There are two options for glacier trekking. Mini trekking involves a trip to Glacier itself and a 1-2 hours walk on the Glacier. “Big Ice” brings you deeper into the Glacier for a longer period, and you might get to go into ice caves as well. The route can change depending on the season.
We only did the mini trekking. I did not find it physically strenuous, so you should be fine as long as you are reasonably fit. That said, you should check the criteria for participation with any operators.
It is, after all, still a natural environment that can change spontaneously. You need to be careful and don’t wander off to dangerous paths; there can be cracks and holes in the ice. Always follow the guide’s directions.
Mini Ice Trekking at Perito Moreno Glacier
Here is a rough breakdown of the day with a mini trekking tour at Perito Moreno National Park.
The mini trekking activity gave us ample time to hang out at both the boardwalk and on the Glacier. I think this is a good combination in terms of time allocation. We didn’t really have to rush for anything.
We got picked up at our accommodation around 8 am by the tour bus, which brought us to the Perito Moreno Glacier National Park.
Upon arrival, we had 1-2 hours to explore the boardwalk and have lunch. We had our lunch at the lower deck and took lots of photos before meeting up at the parking area. It is sufficient time, but when there’s such an impressive and dynamic sight in front of you, no time is enough.
After that, we headed to the ferry to go for our mini trekking. You can choose to sit inside or stand outside to catch the view. It is likely going to be cold and windy, so make sure you bring warm clothes.
We disembark on a shore where there’s a small area with a seating area and toilets. It is then a short walk on another wooden platform towards the Glacier. Before getting on, we gout ourselves fitted with crampons on our shoes. If you have hiking shoes, I recommend wearing that. I went with regular sports shoes, it is fine, but since the shoe exterior is not as hard, the crampon fits tighter (which I don’t really like). Most people went with sneakers and sports shoes, so don’t fret if you don’t have hiking shoes.
We then proceeded to do our glacier trek. It is pretty well-managed with 2-3 guides to each group, and everyone is usually walking in a straight line.
The guides will stop at certain areas for photos, explain facts about glaciers and certain surface transformations. It is a pretty informative and enjoyable experience.
At the end of the Glacier, we celebrated with chocolates and sparkling wine/Whisky. Thereafter, we returned our crampons and went back to the boarding area for the ferry back. The boarding area also has great views of the ocean and the Glacier.
Heading back to El Calafate, the tour company usually drops everyone at or near their accommodation. You can probably also alight wherever you want in town if it is convenient for them. For example, if you are staying further out, you might want to stop in the city center for dinner instead.
Just check with the driver or when you make the tour booking if this is possible.
Where to eat in El Calafate?
The La Zorra Taproom is a great place for food and evening drinks. The ambiance is excellent, and there is a good variety of craft beer. We also tried the curry chicken, which was not bad.
For quick and tasty fast food, Wolly Burger is a great place to eat. I have to admit that I was really in junk food mode at that time, having been trekking for the last few weeks.
I wanted some high-carb food, and this burger place certainly satisfied my cravings. They also have good Internet speed (for any hardworking digital nomads out there).
The La Anonima supermart next door is the perfect place to grab snacks or ingredients if you are packing lunch.
Where to stay in El Calafate
We basically bunked in at a hostel that was booked last minute since we arrived late at night due to the border delay. It was an OK experience but here are other well rated accommodations that I have heard good reviews about.
Hostels in El Calafate
America del Sur Hostel: This is a popular hostel with accommodations in several other cities as well. It has a good location in the city center and a huge common space with great view of Lake Argentino.
Patagonia Republic Hostel: In contrast, this is a more cozy hostel with a homey vibe. The quaint looking hostel is right in downtown, so you can easily access most amenities and stores. There is also a socket for each dorm bed which is always a convenient feature.
Folk Hostel: If you like to better immerse in nature and want to stay further away from the city, the Folk Hostel is a good option. The nice looking cabin has a very modern interior. They have a breakfast option and a super spacious kitchen.
Hotels in El Calafate
If you are more of a luxury traveler that likes more private accommodations and hotels, here are some varying options:
Hotel ACA El Calafate: This is a modern looking hotel with your typical hotel vibe with all the usual amenities. It is located right in the city center and also has free parking.
Patagonia Queen: This is a boutique hotel with a classic, cabin home decoration. It is like a gigantic house converted into a hotel with rooms, gym, leisure area, and even a small cocktail bar.
Sierra Nevada: If you are looking for a quieter spot, the Sierra Nevada spacious hotel set close to the lake and the city center. It has a contemporary interior design and just nested within a green surrounding despite its location.
What to pack for visiting Perito Moreno Glacier?
Here are some items that will be useful to bring along when visiting El Calafate and the Los Glaciares National Park.
If you are going kayaking, you should check on the essential items to bring along with the operator. It certainly looked interesting as I saw the kayakers from the boardwalk, but I was also still high from kayaking in Antarctica.
- Covered shoes. Or hiking shoes, preferably if u are doing glacier trekking.
- Warm Jacket for cold. It is going to be cold, so a parka jacket will come in handy. I am a fan of compact puffer jacket that can be compressed into a small pack for easy packing.
- Sunscreen. It is cold, but if it is bright and sunny, don’t forget your sunscreen. It can be deceptive when you feel cold air and won’t notice you are getting sunburned. You can always rock a nice cap to cover your face.
- Sunglasses. This is good to have especially when you are on the ice as the surface can reflect the sunlight and make it quite blinding.
- Power bank. If you are taking photos with your phone, bring along your power bank to make sure your phone has extra juice. If you’re using a camera, it will be good to bring a spare battery. You get my drift. You can expect to be taking lots of photos.
- Long pants. I like to go with adjustable pants whenever I am out on hikes and in nature. I can easily switch between long and short leg covers, depending on the situation.
- Thermal Wear: Depending on how tolerant to cold you are and the season you are visiting, thermal wear can be an option. I like to use it as my base layer in Patagonia when I am not doing heavy physical activity.
- Gloves: Similarly, you might want to bring some gloves along if you are susceptible to cold. I used it mainly while on the glacier. I only had normal thick gloves but the touchscreen enabled ones will be useful here as it was a hassle to keep removing and wearing the gloves while trying to take photos on my phone.
- Day Pack: Bring a reliable day pack to store your stuff and lunch. I use a Tigernu backpack and pair it with an additional waterproof cover whenever I go anywhere with water.
Try not to bring any valuables that you cannot carry on with you, especially if you are going on glacier trekking. There is no guarantee if there will be security lockers. You might have to pile your bags and leave them somewhere.
Getting out of El Calafate
The two popular destinations to visit before/after El Calafate are usually El Chalten, Argentina or Puerto Natales in Chile.
El Calafate to El Chalten
El Chalten is well known as the hiking capital of Argentina. The most famous trek is the Fitz Roy Hike. You can catch a bus to El Chalten from the main bus terminal, and it is approximately a 3 hours bus ride.
El Calafate to Puerto Natales
Puerto Nalates is the popular base if you are planning to visit the Torres Del Paine National Park. The city is around a 6-hour bus ride away. However, the timing is going to be very dependent on the border crossing. Our bus was stuck at the border for ages because (as I understand) a passenger tried to smuggle weed across. As such, do plan for some buffer time.
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