When I originally started planning my trip to Antarctica, it was back in early 2020, before the pandemic was really a thing. So of course I wanted to combine the trip to Antarctica with a trip to Patagonia, because both feel like they are at the end of the world. Why take two super long flights at different times (with the accompanying cost of two round trip airline tickets), when you combine everything into one trip? I had been dreaming of Patagonia for years, specifically Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. However, at the initial time of my planning for this trip, I decided to make things easy on myself traveling at the tail end of COVID, so I decided to enjoy Argentinian Patagonia rather than Chilean Patagonia. The views are very similar in both countries. Both have the spiky, unique looking mountains, huge awe inspiring glaciers, frigid alpine lakes, and great hiking. The bonus in staying in Argentina is that I think costs are much lower than in Chile.
It is super easy to get a flight to El Calafate, and the town isn’t THAT far from the airport. I decided to spend two full days in El Calafate (not counting my arrival day), enjoying the massive glaciers before heading further afield to El Chalten for hiking. El Calafate makes a great base town to view the immediate areas. Having a car is fairly easy here, because the roads are good, but it isn’t necessary as there are ample bus tours that will take you where you want to go.
My first full day in El Calafate was an all day trip out to Los Glaciares National Park, which is about a two hour drive from the town. There are a wide variety of tours from simple bus tours out to the glacier overlooks, all the way to a full day excursion of trekking on the Perito Moreno Glacier. I opted for the middle offering, which was a 1.5 hour adventure trekking on the glacier, followed by an afternoon at the glacier overlooks.
We started out with the glacier mini trekking, which involved taking a boat trip from the dock out to the hut near the glacier. From afar, the view of the glacier was cool, but it gets downright eye popping as you get close to it. The glacier is huge, goes back for miles into the mountains, and has this very beautiful blue hue to it. I had seen pictures of the glacier before, but it is quite the sight to see up close and personal. I had never seen a glacier this size before, and we got to walk on it for a bit.
The trip out on the ice was pretty straightforward. The guides outfit your feet with crampons, and you follow the marked path as part of the guided group. You certainly aren’t out wandering around alone, or walking in an unsafe area. The time on the ice involved some walking up and down the glacier, peering into crevasses, marveling at the blue color of the ice in part, and the blue water, and even getting to view an ice cave.
On the ice, you can really only see a small part in front of you, as the glacier goes up and back more than we saw. But it is still an intimate look at the ice and the view is amazing. I was afraid I would trip and fall and make an ass of myself, as I am wont to do, but I stayed upright for the entire trip. It helped that we were moving at a fairly slow pace, and some artificial handrails were put in for more precarious parts of the trail. The crampons were very effective at gripping the ice, so there was never a danger of slipping and falling.
After the guided tour of the glacier, we walked back on a boardwalked trail on our own to the hut where we enjoyed lunch until the boat returned to take us back to the dock. For the second part of our tour, we stopped at the boardwalk overlooks that face the glacier. It is a different view of the glacier, and even though you were some distance away, the glacier was big enough that it felt like it was in your face.
We only had a little over an hour of free time to walk the boardwalks. That was not enough time to walk every part of the boardwalk, but it was more than enough time to walk and get really great angles to see the glacier and the lake. We even saw some small glacier calving at times, and it is an eerie sound, but cool to observe. I would have stayed longer if I could, but I don’t feel like I missed anything. I just loved contemplating the glacier and seeing this dramatic, colorful view.
A trip out to Perito Moreno Glacier is almost required if you stay in El Calafate, because it is the essential thing in the area. It is absolutely worth your time. Getting to the park is easy enough if you are independent and have your own car. But there is a plethora of different bus tours to take you out there to enjoy the park. I am glad I got to do the more physically challenging mini trekking, but also having time to take in the views.