Before I’d even started planning my trip to South America, there was one place I knew I had to go – Perito Moreno Glacier. A friend of mine had told me she was brought to tears by how incredible it was.
Located in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina, it spans an immense 250 square kilometres. Incredibly, this doesn’t even make it the biggest in the region, but it is certainly the most spectacular.
The ice towers an average of 74 metres above the surface of the lake, and the glacier is widely reported to grow by approximately 2 metres per day. The movement causes huge chunks of ice to detach and crash down into the water, causing waves to ripple across the lake, and leaving icebergs bobbing on the surface.
The classic tour involves a 2-hour bus journey to the glacier and a stroll around the board walks opposite. Since the glacier actually touches the land in the middle, this means you can get really close and hear the rumble and creaking of the ice as it advances. This trip can be done as part of an organised tour, or you can take the local bus from the terminal in El Calafate for AR$145 return.
For an optional extra, you can also pay AR$90 to take an hour-long ferry ride to see the ice cliff from a different angle and experience the rippling waves when the chunks of ice fall off. The local bus drops you off here and continues on to the board walks, coming back to pick up the people who splashed out.
A much more pricey option is to do an ice walk on top of the glacier. This costs around AR$750, but you get the unforgettable experience of walking in crampons through natural crystal blue ice tunnels, and they even offer you a drink of whiskey or baileys – on glacial ice of course.
While walking through El Calafate, I also saw advertisements for renting kayaks on the lake. While this would be an exhilarating experience, I’m sure they don’t allow you to get any closer than the board walks, because of the dangers of falling bergs, which are thrown violently in all directions. The glacier itself has taken 32 lives between 1968 and 1988!
Whichever option you choose, you have to pay an extra AR$100 as the park entrance fee.
Once in a blue moon
If you’re really lucky, you might get to see the glacier rupture. Because the lake is kidney shaped, the glacier actually touches the land in the middle. This forms a dam, and causes one half of the lake to raise in depth by up to 30 metres. The pressure from the weight of this water eventually forces its way through below the ice, leaving behind it an intact ice bridge between the two halves. Some time later, the bridge ruptures under pressure, sending huge chunks of ice exploding like a firework.
Sadly, you’d have to be blessed to see this, since it only happens between once a year and once a decade. The last one was in March 2012, so don’t expect another one any time soon…