EL CALAFATE AND PERITO MORENO GLACIER ARGENTINA
After the short, 3 hour scenic bus ride back to El Calafate from El Chalten, we rolled our bags 10 blocks down to Hosteria Las Avutardes (300 AR pesos/night). This is a lovely hotel just outside the main restaurant area. The rooms are big with vaulted ceilings and decorated with quality furniture. We instantly wished we had more than two nights. The owner was very kind and accommodating. Plus the included breakfast was well above the basic stuff you normally get in South America. We had already booked our bus to the Perito Moreno Glacier for the next morning, so we unpacked and found an outdoor café for a few beers and eventually a reasonably priced dinner.
The next morning we waited outside the bus terminal along with about 20 other people for our 8:15am Cal Tur bus (150 AR pesos return) to Perito Moreno Glacier. However, instead of a bus, a small 11 person shuttle van arrived. I watched as everyone was doing the math on this one. There was no way they were going to fit us all in. So people pushed and shoved their way into the van. After the van was at maximum capacity an attendant came out to check our tickets and said another van was on the way. The smiles of the people who had rushed into the first van quickly vanished as they realized they were stuffed in like sardines until another van came for the rest of us, about 20 minutes later. To add insult to injury, the 2nd van (ours) even left the station before the first one.
We stopped at the Ranger Station to pay a fee to enter Parques Nacionales Los Glaciares. It cost 100 AR pesos (about $20 US). At first, we were a bit annoyed that we had to pay a fee to see a Glacier, but once we laid eyes on it, the money was well spent. The van took us down to the boat ramp for those that wanted to take a boat up to the Glacier for another large fee. Being on a budget we opted to just do the catwalks. The bus dropped us off in front of the main cafeteria and tourist center and would return at 4pm. Looking at a Glacier for 6 hours seemed really long, but since there was a cafeteria, we figured we could sit there if we felt like it. The two most important things you need to bring are your camera (with extra batteries) and many layers of cool to warm clothing (T-shirt, pants, sweater, jacket, raincoat, scarf, beanie and gloves). And if you have it, bring a small portable chair.
Glaciar Perito Moreno is beyond stunning. Its 30km (19 miles) long, 5km (3 miles) wide and 60m (197ft) high. But unlike most Glaciers in the world, this one is still growing (meaning stable) and creeps forward up to 5m (16ft) per day, causing large icebergs to collapse into the Canal de los Tempanos (Iceberg Channel) below. Which then flows into Lago Argentino, the country’s largest body of water. Never in a million years did we think watching a gigantic piece of ice could be so thrilling, but it truly was. We only spent about 30 minutes in the cafeteria and tried to the keep the bathroom breaks to a minimum to avoid missing anything spectacular. The nearest walkway to the Glacier is about a 15 minute power walk back to the main center.
The National Park has built a series of walkways providing multiple viewing positions of the Glacier. Over 6 hours we walked along, around and up and down all the different walkways. Not only watching, but also awed by the echoing sound every time a piece would crackle and fall off, exposing the blue glowing Glacier. For the most part the falling ice was about the size of a boulder, so when we watched an iceberg the size of car slowly break off, creating a wave as it crashed into the water below, we couldn’t take our eyes off this epic blue wonder. This caught the attention of everyone, so the railings soon were lined with people as everyone waited and hoped to see its crackling counterpart fall. About 30 minutes before our bus was supposed to arrive we weren’t disappointed. It was spectacular. Sadly our video camera battery died one minute before, so we can’t share it with all of you. You will just have to go check it out for yourselves!
As I mentioned layers are essential. The weather constantly changed throughout the day from warm and sunny to freezing and raining. There are a few benches, but for the most part you have to stand, especially, if you want a prime viewing spot.
We got back on our 4pm bus back to El Calafate, grabbed some salami, cheese and olives from the corner store and packed up for our 7 hour, early morning bus ride back over the border to Puerto Natales, Chile. Since we didn’t have to go through customs from Chile to Argentina, I didn’t even think about the salami, cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwiches we were bringing across until an Argentinian girl reminded me. We chucked the lettuce and Abe declared our sandwiches. Not a problem they said. Phew!
Next stop Torres Del Paine!
Pop over and watch the video of the Perito Moreno Glacier here!