The ice hike on the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of my favorite experiences in South America. In fact, this is the second time I have done this trek. If you can fit it into your schedule it will be well worth the effort.
Hielo y Adventura is the only company that offers trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier. We did the Mini-trek that includes an hour and half on the glacier. They also have a Big Ice trek that is more demanding with three and half hours on the ice. This second trek is limited to those 18-50.
We arranged for the first Mini-trek of the day so we could fit it in before our 8PM flight to Buenos Aires. To save time we also had arranged with the hotel for a private car instead of using the transportation provided by the tour company. See below for a note on drive time to Bajo del las Sombras port, departure point for the ice trekking tours.
Getting to the Glacier
A beautiful morning drive with the sunrise over the lake. Our driver, Gustavo, stopped at a couple of viewpoints for photos.
Check in at the port was easy. Just give them your name. Toilets are available before you board the boat.
The boat to the glacier trek starting point holds something under 100 passengers. You start seated inside but can go out to the upper deck once the boat underway. Amazing morning of mixed sun and clouds that spit rain from time to time.
From the upper deck we have the first views of the glacier. It’s hard to appreciate the massive size of the glacier with no point of reference. Some of the glacier face must tower 75 meters above the water.
Preparing for the Mini-Trek
It takes about 20 minutes to reach the dock at the moraine. Here they have inside and outdoor seating where you have lunch after the ice trek. Lunches are self-packed as Hielo and Aventura offers no food. You can leave your lunch and everything else here in unlocked cubbies. Toilets are also available.
Lots of opportunities for photos as the guides explain the program for the day. Next they divide you into smaller groups by language for an explanation of the glacier and the day’s activities. Diego, our guide, spoke excellent English and offered great explanations of the region, how glaciers are formed, etc.
It’s then about a 10-15 walk on a boardwalk to the huts where you get crampons. We were divided again into smaller groups and we were about 15-20 that stayed with Diego. Group by group you’re led to the small huts next to the glacier where they fit you with crampons, strapping them over your shoes or boots.
When everyone in your group has crampons they lead you to the ice. We had two people, Diego and Marisa, helping us on the ice. Diego gave an explanation of the most efficient way to walk in crampons without falling.
The pathway through the ice travels up and down but never for very far in either direction. There were people of various ages in our group and no one seemed to have much difficulty. The pace is rather slow for those who are reasonably fit.
They keep the groups separated on the ice. So sometimes there is a wait for the group in front of you to move.
For those who have experience walking on glaciers this may be too much of a beginner level, but for beginners it’s a fabulous experience made very accessible.
The ice formations, from clear to shades of white to deep indigo, are mesmerizing. Blue streams run below your feet. You think you will fall through but Diego demonstrates with a pick ax that the ice is solid and hard to break.
They carve a path through the formations that wind up and down. The way changes from day to day as new fissures form and they have to find ways around them. It only takes 5 to 7 days for a small fissure to become too big to cross.
Diego is generous with offers to take photos of guests.
You have about an hour and 15 minutes on the ice, ending with a whiskey –shhhh it’s supposed to be a surprise!!! – and a bon bon.
At the end of the tour and after we take off our crampons they had an extra surprise for us, a newly formed ice cave near the moraine. One of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen in my life.
While the entrance is small it’s big enough inside for our entire group. The cave glows blue while the pool at the end glows a soft violet. The walls and ceiling are clear ice that looks sculpted into undulating bowls fitted together.
After we tear ourselves away from the cave it’s a 10-15 minute walk back to the lunch area.
The boat back to the dock leaves at 1:15. We have about 45 minutes to eat and hope that the glacier calves. There was a sizable chunk that fell while we were on the ice (but not in sight of the face) that created an impressive wave on the water, but otherwise we saw only small pieces fall.
The boat leaves shortly after 1:15 and heads back to the dock, arriving at 1:40.
Boardwalk Viewing Area
At the port Gustavo is waiting and drive us the 7 minutes to the boardwalk viewing area. This is an impressive network of multilevel platforms that gets you reasonably close to the glacier face.
Make sure you look at the map and know where you want to go before you head off as there are multiple pathways that only interconnect near the entrance.
We head straight down to the platforms closest to the water. Just as we near the water a van-sized piece close to the bottom of the face plunges into the water and pops back up a beautiful glacial blue.
For more than 30 minutes we watch other small pieces fall and hear bigger chunks hit the water in the distance. The crash is delayed so by the time you look up you often miss the first part of the show.
In the visitor center they have photos and video of some impressive calving. On any given day though you never know what you are going to get.
The visitor center also has a cafeteria and a small tourist shop.
Travel Time from El Calafate to Bajo de las Sombras Port
Websites often say that it takes 90 minutes to get to the glacier. This may be the case on public transportation but with a private car it took us 75 minutes with stops along the way.
The check in clerk at the hotel suggested a 7AM departure to arrive at the port by 8:45. This turned out to be too early. We arrived at the park entrance at 7:40. It doesn’t open until 8. Fortunately they sell you the entrance ticket 500 ARS ($18USD)/person at your car window while you wait.
From the entrance it was another 30 minutes to the port, getting us there at 8:30. A 7:30 departure from the center of town would get you to the port by the 8:45 check in time. At this hour there was little traffic.
From the viewing platforms it took about 1 ¼ hours back to town, arriving just after 4PM giving us time to run errands before our 6PM car to the airport.
February 26, 2018
For links to all the posts in this series see the Hiking in Patagonia page.