Mini Trek Perito Moreno Glacier- El Calafate, Argentina

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.

Enjoying the Icy Beauty of South Iceland’s Glaciers

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One of the many pleasures in visiting Iceland, is that you can experience a number of different ecosystems and micro climates, all within a relatively short distance. I mean, you can visit temperate forests, a variety of beaches in multiple colors, geothermal sites of lava fields and steam pits, and glaciers. I have been to a wide variety of countries, and none of the countries I have visited have so many glaciers so accessible to the average person.

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There are a variety of glaciers in different parts of the country, but the most accessible ones are the multiple ones in South Iceland. In this part of the country, you can easily see the glaciers spilling out from the mountains as you drive down Ring Road 1. And most of these glaciers are easily visited with only a short walk from a parking lot. It’s an awe inspiring glimpse into nature, one that is becoming more and more threatened over the years as the glaciers recede.

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Probably the most popular glacier site to visit (and probably also the most beautiful) is Jokulsarlon, which is a glacier lagoon just off Ring Road 1, in the southeast part of Iceland. This is the largest glacier lagoon in Iceland, and it is getting bigger all the time, as the glacier recedes, creates more icebergs  and a bigger lagoon.

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This is a site that is literally impossible to miss as you drive down the road, either from the lagoon itself, or the hordes of tourists in the parking lot. We approached Jokulsarlon coming from the east, because this was our second to last stop on our very long day of driving from north Iceland. We got there late afternoon, so there weren’t as many tourists, but it still was a bit of a shock to the system to see so many tourists after days of only small groups in the west and north.

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You have some options when visiting Jokulsarlon when it comes to activities. There is no admission fee to the site itself (a common occurrence for the nature sites in Iceland), so you can just walk up and down the shores of the lagoon, taking in all the different angles to enjoy the different icebergs. You can walk all the way out to the beach where the icebergs eventually float into the sea after bobbing around the lagoon for a few years. It is also possible to take a boat ride in the lagoon (for a fee of course), which will get you more up and close and personal with some of the icebergs. I took a boat ride on my first trip to Jokulsarlon, but we elected not to this time.

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The lagoon itself is quite large, with most of the iceberg chunks clustered in an area together, and you can see the parent glacier off in the distance. This lagoon is accessible year round, though as you can imagine, the views are a bit different in the winter when it is colder. This is one of those sites where you see it literally when you get out of the car. There is a small hill where you can get a good vantage of the overall lagoon, but this is one of the easier beautiful nature sites to visit. You could spend a lot of time just taking in all the different glaciers and imagining what the different shapes represent. My favorite icebergs were the blue ones, just because it really added a lot of icy winter beauty to the scene.

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Our last stop for the day was just down the road at the other glacier lagoon of Fjallsarlon. This glacier lagoon is sort of the junior version of Jokulsarlon, because it is much smaller. The lagoon itself isn’t as big, nor are there are many icebergs as Jokulsarlon. However, you are much closer to the parent glacier. It isn’t a small thing off in the distance, but rather right in front of you. This glacier is easily viewed from the road at quite a distance, and it wasn’t until we got closer, we realized this was actually our destination of Fjarllsarlon.

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Unlike Jokulsarlon, you will have to walk a little bit from the parking lot, but it’s only several hundred meters of a gravel path, and then you find yourself standing on the shores of the lagoon, looking up into the glacier. It is also possible to walk between the two glaciers on a path several kilometers, but since it was late in the day, I wasn’t exactly feeling it. I wanted to get to our hotel and relax.

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The next day, we visited a couple of sites, such as Skaftafell National Park (covered in an upcoming blog post), where we hiked out to the resident glacier. But on our way back, we stopped at another glacier, called Svinafellsjokull. This is another glacier that is easily accessible to the public, though instead of being just off the road, the parking lot is down a very rutted gravel road. I had visited the glacier on my first trip, but for whatever reason, I either thought I couldn’t drive down to the parking lot, or wouldn’t be able to get my car, because I ended up walking the 2 kilometers each way to the glacier. This time I didn’t make the same mistake.

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The trail to the glacier viewing site is a short hike from the parking lot, and the view soon opens up to see the glacier itself and its own lagoon. Even though it has only been six years since my first trip to Iceland, I could see where the glacier has receded and opened up the lagoon even more.

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Once you get to the best viewing site, it is possible to scramble over the rocks a bit more to scramble up the canyon, though I don’t think you will necessarily get a better view farther up. On many of the glaciers in Iceland, it is possible to visit and hike on the glaciers as part of a guided tour. There are numerous warning signs around many of the glaciers cautioning people from attempting to walk on the glaciers themselves, because there are all sorts of hazards and dangers that can hurt or kill you if you don’t know what you are doing.

South Iceland glaciers-14It is remarkable that in so many other parts of the world, glaciers are considered these exotic things, farflung from civilizations and hard to access, but in Iceland, they are literally just down the road and easily accessible for all to see.South Iceland glaciers-15