When to go
Don’t forget that the seasons are reversed in South America, so the best time to go to Perito Moreno is in the summer (Dec – Mar), or on the summer side of spring and autumn. The weather in Patagonia is unpredictable all year round, but summer sees average temperatures of about 15°C, perfect for hiking and walking during the day. Autumn is also recommended as the leaves change color, adding unparalleled beauty to an already incredible landscape.
Navigating the ever-fluctuating Argentine economy can be a futile exercise, as inflation drives prices up about 40% every year, so there is no set cost to visiting Patagonia or indeed the park. However, it is wise to note that as tourism is the main economy, tour operators, hotel owners and restaurateurs can charge “enthusiastic” prices, so over-estimate your costs, especially if you want to partake in the many excursions on offer. Check the conversion rate here before you go.
What to do
Perito Moreno Glacier
To start with the obvious, go and see the Perito Moreno glacier! What to do at Perito Moreno can vary depending on your stamina, so decide before you go how you want to see it.
Explore the park independently
This is the simplest and most cost effective option. Upon arrival at the glacier, apart from being in awe of the incredible body of frozen water that winds through soaring peaks surrounded by lush vegetation, you will notice a series of walkways leading down to face the shelf of the glacier. Wander these at your leisure, stopping to take photographs along the way and spend some time at the front, where you are sure to witness the amazing rupture of the glacier at some point. Bring a packed lunch and eat at one of the lookout points, or grab a bite in the visitor’s center beside the car park.
Mini-trekking on the ice
Not satisfied with seeing the glacier from afar? Well, how about getting on top of it? Mini-trekking is a popular option for people who want to get up close and personal with Perito Moreno. This is usually a full day tour which starts in the morning from El Calafate. You will be brought by boat to the glacier, and the boat trip itself is a sight to behold, after which you will make your way towards the glacier, before donning your crampons to scale the ice. Along the way you will see glacial ponds and streams and the most crystalline blues known to man. A shot of whiskey will keep the cold at bay as you spend about an hour and a half on the glacier before making your way back to the visitor’s center.
Big Ice trekking
For those who need to really connect with the glacier, Big Ice is the trek for you. Slightly more demanding in time and energy than the mini-trekking, Big Ice lets you explore more of the glacier in three hours plus, so plenty of time to feel at home with the nooks and crannies that abound on the Perito Moreno.
Perhaps less adventurous than the name implies, the nautical safari is an extended boat trip past the wall of the glacier. The views from the boat are inimitable, and you will be surprised at how close you are to the giant mass of ice over the course of an hour sailing in the Lago Argentino.
The appropriately named Glaciarium is a shrine to all things glacier-related, even in its construction, taking the form of a monolithic iceberg. An interactive, multi-media exhibition explains everything you need to know about glaciers and their activity.
The lesser-known neighbor of Perito Moreno in Glaciers National Park, the Upsala Glacier is almost as incredible and has a host of alternative activities to avail of.
This full day tour will see you spend two hours kayaking among icebergs in the Upsala Channel. Float by these sculptural forms and disembark at one of the seven nearby beaches to observe the unique Patagonian landscapes that border the Lago Argentino.
This vast expanse of land embodies the Patagonian estancia, or ranch. With spectacular views of the Upsala Glacier, you can have the authentic Patagonian experience by discovering the wonders of the estancia on horseback, 4X4 or by hiking. Stay at the legendary lodge for the night for the ultimate R&R after a long day outdoors.
Do not be fooled, Patagonia is enormous and it is a long way to Perito Moreno. Getting to El Calafate, the central hub of the region, is easiest by plane. Regular flights leave from Buenos Aires, Cordoba, Bariloche and Ushuaia to El Calafate airport, which is just a few kilometers from the town. Argentina also has a heavily developed network of buses, leaving from major and regional cities to El Calafate. The roads are in good condition but the distances are long, so come prepared. Reaching El Calafate by car can easily be incorporated into a Patagonian road trip, but ensure your car is in good working order, as getting stranded in the middle of the Patagonian wilderness is not for the faint-hearted. And lastly, for those free spirits, you will be happy to hear that hitchhiking is common and usually safe, but be ready to spend long stretches waiting at the side of the road for someone to pick you up. Hitchhiking is also a great way to get from El Calafate to Perito Moreno, but make sure and leave early, as many of those who work in the park will set off early at 8am.
Where to stay
El Calafate is the best place to stay when visiting the glacier. There is a wide range of accommodation in El Calafate, from budget hostels to B&Bs to luxurious hotels. Calafate Hostel is a cheap and cheerful option for backpackers located in the center of town, while Los Notros Hotel has one of the best views in the entire area outside of the town itself. A more extensive list of accommodation in the area can be found here. A list of places to eat and drink in and around the town can be found here.
For up to date info on what is happening in the park, check out this Facebook page. The official site of the El Calafate tourism board also offers a more expansive overview of goings on in the area and activities, as does their Facebook page.