Updated on July 30th, 2020
Here is my account from 2 of the most unforgettable glacial experiences in Patagonia. Exploring Patagonia is a must do on any itinerary of Argentina. The scale & beauty of the area is nothing short of spectacular!”
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, El Calafate, Patagonia, Argentina
The last continent (apart from Antarctica) I still had to discover was South America. In 2017, I took 2 months to develop my Spanish & explore Argentina, Peru & Bolivia. During my 2-week tour of Argentina, I visited Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls & Mendoza. However, I was totally blown away by the glaciers in Patagonia.
Are you interested to see & hear the awesome power of nature in one of the planets most accessible ice fields?
Want to be blown away by the beauty of the Andes & in awe of the stunning scenery this area has to offer?
If you only have a few days to start falling in love with Patagonia – these activities will give you an appetite to come back (I certainly feel that I have not even scratched the surface).
Mini Trek on Glacier Perito Moreno with Hielo Y Aventura
This was an absolutely awesome experience & we were lucky enough in early April to have spectacular weather too. It is an opportunity to not just walk on a glacier, but also see & hear the power from close quarters. On the beach, the dock & the viewing platform you can see the glacial structure from around 500 meters away. It is spectacular! In addition, being so close you can hear the sounds the glacier makes. They are thunderous, & occasionally we were lucky to see chunks breaking off, or at least the waves created by them.
The transfer from El Calafate by bus takes around 1 ½ hours & then there is a short boat ride of 20 minutes to get to the glacier itself.
Glaciar Perito Moreno is a rarity in that it is classed as a static glacier. This means the volume of accumulated snow which forms the glacier in the mountains is equivalent to that which is lost from the front of the glacier in any given year.”
Once at the glacier we met our guide. Walter was fantastic in terms of knowledge & instruction, all given with a large dose of humour. Once off the boat, they split you straight into Spanish & English speaking groups which makes life a lot easier.
We were given a short briefing on what to take onto the glacier (however we were a little distracted by a young red fox on the walkway who seemed to be as fascinated by us as we were of him). Then we headed along the walkway to the beach, for a lecture on the glacier before we were split into groups of around 18 to get kitted out with our crampons & head onto the ice. All this time you will constantly want to take photos, but don’t panic you will have plenty of opportunities!
The Mini Trek gave us 1 ½ hours walking on the glacier (legs apart so crampons don’t snag & you’re given instructions on how to go up & down the small hills). You must stay close with the group & although you are not allowed to take photos/film while you are walking (having fallen into a hole while standing still, I thoroughly support this!), there are lots of stops where you can take in the view & the experience to your heart’s content.
Walter was our guide but we were also joined by Gabriel, who was the equivalent of an ice mountain goat & clearly there to point things out & ensure our safety on the glacier. He had the amazing ability to be helping everybody in the more difficult sections but then somehow always be way ahead of us?!
Walter & Gabriel kept us in line & entertained throughout, for example posing with an ice axe or pretending you’re climbing a wall of ice. They also took us to a pool where we filled our water bottles from the glacier (recommended – the water was so pure and nicely chilled!) and found sheets of ice from the top of a more melted section for us to hold. They were superb and were generally on hand to happily take photos for us every step of the way.
The final (& most fun in my opinion) part of the trek was when we went to the “bar”. This was basically a table on top of the glacier where they presented us with whisky & chocolate, served with ice chipped straight from the top of the glacier (& water if you prefer it mixed).
The most spectacular end to an amazing experience & the first time I have ever enjoyed whiskey!!”
After leaving the glacier & packing up our crampons we took the scenic walkway back to the main dock area, the whole of the way we were still taking photos (seriously the view is awe-inspiring). At this point, there is an area where you can sit & eat your lunch with a view of the glacier (bring this with you as there is no food supplied here – all hotels offer the service, or make up your own) and there are also good toilets. Eating lunch next to a glacier is again a truly unique experience and we were given plenty of time to fully indulge in our new obsession of taking photos of the glacier.
We then returned to the boat & were taken by bus to the viewing platforms. My top tip is to go down to Segundo Balcon as this is lower & therefore closer to the face of the glacier. Here we truly got chance to see the scale of the glacier & heard numerous huge thunderous rumbles from within the glacier, as well as seeing bits falling away at the front. After an hour, we headed back – in awe of the day we had just had & pinching ourselves over what we had just seen.
We researched & booked the trip online before we left for Argentina – to ensure availability.
Cost AR$8000 including transfers from El Calafate & an additional Entrance Fee is paid separately on the day as the entry to the national park
The company offer 2 other options:
Safari Nautico – a boat trip to the glacier for AR$1000 (no transfer from El Calafate included)
Big Ice Trek (6 hours on the glacier) for AR$15000
All prices do not include the entrance fee to the national park
Discovery Tour of Estancia Christina
The Upsala glacier is a whole different scale & experience – being over 60km in length & in areas up to 4km wide. In contrast to Perito Moreno, Upsala is currently retreating & as such sections are breaking off, creating some large & picturesque icebergs.”
This excursion includes (almost) everything – boat, 4WD, short walk, amazing panoramic views & an opportunity to tour Estancia Christina & learn about the history of the family who started it, & a slap-up restaurant lunch, if you should wish.
The day started with an early 7am pick up from the hotel by bus which then transferred us to a (different) port in around 45 minutes. From here we cruised along the lakes, surrounded by beautiful mountain vistas. It’s hard to know where to look, but the good news is it’s also hard to get a bad photo!
After 2 hours, we arrived at Glacier Upsala. We didn’t get as close to the glacier as we had to Perito Moreno, but the main attraction at this point is the icebergs which have broken off from the glacier. It’s hard from this angle on the boat to fully comprehend the scale of the glacier. For this reason, I would thoroughly recommend this tour versus others which are purely to see the glacier by boat (in addition, being on a smaller boat meant fewer people on deck!). There is a professional photographer on board too who always seems to be in the best spot – but be patient and the area will clear.
We then sailed up another branch of the lake to dock at Estancia Christina. The estancia itself is impressive but in the setting, it is magnificent – surrounded by snow-capped mountains.”
Once we landed, we were again split into groups depending on our activity. As we were on the Discovery Tour we got into a 4WD & embarked on a 40-minute drive up a rough and often steep track towards the viewpoint. We stopped once at a beautiful vista to allow us all to take photographs. Once we got to the top it literally looked like the moon – all bare rock & rubble & very otherworldly.
From this point, it was a short 15-minute walk to the viewpoint & on the way you would be forgiven for constantly thinking how can this view be beaten? But the final viewpoint was breath-taking & well worth the effort when we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular vistas I believe I’ve ever witnessed & even better that there were only about 30 of us there – I felt very privileged. From here you can really see the vastness of the Upsala Glacier & we were even luckier in that the day we went, there were no clouds or wind (which apparently can get ferocious at this point). Our guide said that to get the sun like this probably happens 2 -3 days per month, & lack of wind is even rarer. We could clearly see the start of the glacier which we were told is 70km away.
I don’t believe my words will ever be able to do the view justice so hope the photos help to give you an accurate impression of the sheer majesty of the area.”
After having around 30 minutes to soak up the truly stunning landscape and take numerous photos, we were given a talk on how the glacier was created & shown images which demonstrated just how much it has shrunk over recent years. All explanations were in perfect English, very informative & with the characteristic humour, I have now come to expect from all our Argentinian guides.
Back down in the 4WD to lunch in a restaurant with windows on 3 sides to enjoy the location. We had opted to have lunch in the restaurant – empanadas, rustic lamb & flan with a (very) large glass of wine. The vegetarian option was a delicious mushroom pasta. If money is tight or you would prefer, you can bring your own lunch & enjoy that in the restaurant too if you wish.
Before heading back in the boat, we finished our visit to Estancia Christina with a guided tour around the museum & buildings which gave us some background to the founding family of the estancia & the hardships they endured to make the business a success. Fascinating stuff.
We finally left at 5pm and arrived back in El Calafate at 8pm. A very full but hugely rewarding & spectacular day. (And I believe a much better way to experience Upsala glacier than joining hundreds of people on just a boat cruise).
We booked the tour in town the day before in person after a recommendation from our hotel
Cost US$180 plus entry to the park (this time included in the booking price)
The company also offer 2 other options:
Classic – instead of the 4WD viewpoint you can hike 6km to a waterfall for US$100
Trekking – 4WD to the viewpoint & hike 12km back down for US$250
Plus all the extras quoted above
In addition, it is possible to stay at the Estancia which would be an amazing experience. The area apparently is excellent for mountaineering & residents have the option of taking a horse-riding tour around the area.”
I stayed at the South B&B. This is a very basic but quirky & friendly B&B run by a brother & sister with character! It’s up the hill from the town but a good location in walking distance (10 – 15 minutes depending on how much you need to stop on the uphill!). Homemade bread, eggs & cake for breakfast.
For more accommodation options check the search below:
And some restaurants…
- Mi Rancho – recommended & booked by our B&B. There are 2 & we were strongly advised to go for the original, smaller option. We weren’t disappointed.
- Viva la Pepe – if you fancy a crepe – particularly good vegetarian options
- La Lechuza – a well-advertised pizza restaurant but not brilliant pizzas. But if you’re hungry & love cheese, it’s a good option.
- La Zorra – if you fancy a beer, you can’t beat this place – they brew their own
- Librobar – service was a bit slow but if you like books & fancy a seat upstairs to watch the world go by in the bizarre gnome themed area (?!), this is the place for you!
- La Tienda de Vinos – thoroughly recommended if you are buying a bottle of wine or just want to sit down with a glass. They have just opened the café/bar option & were very friendly, helpful & offer a taste before you buy options.
What next time?
There are so many other activities around El Calafate that you could easily spend many more days exploring everything the area has to offer but one that caught my eye was the Upsala kayak experience this was recommended by our hotel owner & looked spectacular.
Patagonia itself could absorb so much more of your time to fully enjoy the area. I will definitely be back!”
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