If you get all the way to Patagonia, Argentina, you must visit the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Sounds pretty exotic doesn’t it? Pretty touristy but get yourself a good guide who knows all the secrets & go. Most folks stay in El Calafate, a fun little town and the gateway to Los Glaciares National Park, home of the massive Perito Moreno Glacier.
An Amazing Day
Guide Pablo Antimi (firstname.lastname@example.org) Glaciar Sur. Tour Pioneros
From El Calafate you can take a bus, a taxi, or drive yourself to visit the glacier. It will take you about an hour and a half and there’s an entrance fee of 800 pesos. Or like my daughter Jenny and I, take one of the many guided tours. We were happy with our ‘typical tourist’ adventure with Pablo but he offers way more adventuresome trips if you’re looking for glacier walks or rock climbing.
We travelled along Route 15 watching for wildlife & listening to Pablo’s stories about the area. Our driver must have been a tracker in his former life. He’d spot a family of foxes or a flock of birds and make sure we saw them too.
As we drove along beside Lago Argentino, it was definitely time for ‘elevenses’. Pablo brought out his thermos of hot water and proceeded to make his morning tea, ‘Mate’ (‘mawteh’), and gave everyone a chance to experience this National Beverage of Argentina. It is prepared by steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water and is served with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd. Obviously we went before Covid 19 made sharing a straw ridiculous.
Lunch at Estancia Nipebo Aike
As we pulled into the estancia we felt like we could be in Scotland. There were horses grazing peacefully and two hard working collies keeping the sheep in order.
Arriving at the welcome centre we smelled our lunch cooking in the fireplace which was big enough to hold two men standing! The smiling, proud cook was busy roasting a lamb the traditional way so the fat drips down to keep the meat moist. Salads, homemade breads, and of course Argentina’s famous Malbec wine, were on offer as well.
The Glacier – South Side
Advertisements promised we would ‘take a boat to the face’ and sure enough, as the van pulled up to a lake we saw a small boat waiting for us. And not another tourist in sight!
We all climbed into the sturdy, covered boat and were on our way to the South Face of the only Glacier in the world that is still growing.
Jenny and I, sitting at the front, had to be rescued by Pablo after we were lifted off our seats by the immense waves. Pablo held onto us so we could move to the back where there was less intense buffeting!
Suddenly we were actually ‘at the face’. With strong arms helping us, we all clambered onto the rocky shore. The sheer power of the place was overwhelming. It felt like our little group was alone on a prehistoric journey.
Pablo guided us out onto the rocks through the fierce winds, to get close to the ice then let go of our hands. Jenny and I clung together and could. not. move. We couldn’t go forward or back. We couldn’t lift our arms to get a picture! Pablo had to come back and rescue us.
As we all stumbled back onto the boat, everyone was laughing, delighted with this exciting, unexpected adventure.
To celebrate, Pablo offered everyone a toast of whiskey with 3000 year old glacier ice cubes. Salud!
The North Face – The Main Event
Another short boat ride took us around to the North Face, where the van met us and drove us up to the visitor viewing area.
So many tourists. We were thankful we arrived late in the afternoon, just as the big buses were leaving. Having a clever guide is a huge asset when you’re travelling!
There’s a good visitor centre with cafe, washrooms, and gift shop. The viewing platforms are quite extensive, sturdy, and well maintained. Walk down to the first level, get your pictures taken, and see everything quite well. We continued down to the bottom and just sat in the sun and gazed at the massive ice face. Every time you heard a ‘crack’ you’d look quickly and see a bit of ice breaking off, a calving. Too soon it was time to head back up.
There were condors cruising way above us. As we stopped to enjoy the show we heard a ‘boom’. A huge dark mound was rising out of the water, spreading big waves. It looked like a whale breaching. Pablo screamed, “It’s an underwater calving! It’s very rare!” As the water settled, a new bright aquamarine spike was all that was showing.
It was a perfect ending to a perfect day.
Hire a guide to take you. Guides know the best routes, times, and of course stories. They help you & you help the local economy.
La Cocina , an Italian restaurant on the Main Street was wonderful & full of locals.
We stayed at a boutique hotel just steps away from the Main Street & the bird sanctuary, Madre Tierra. Highly recommend. The owners were fabulous & so helpful. We had the best breakfasts of our entire stay in Argentina.
If you want real pizza, with locals, go to La Lechuza. Great ambience, pizza, & beer.
Go in the summer (December- February) or Autumn (March-May). Summer is warmer but be prepared for the winds. Autumn is beautiful, there are fewer tourists, but be prepared for rain & even snow.
The Perito Moreno Glacier, named for a 19th-century explorer, is currently 19 miles long and rises an average height of 240 feet above the water. Altogether, the glacier covers about 121 square miles. It is part of an ice field located in both Argentina and Chile that is the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world. Part of an area known as Argentina’s Austral Andes, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981.