Los Glaciares - Perito Merino Glacier

Getting there

We left Puerto Natales early in the morning to cross the dry and treeless Patagonian steppe and the Chile-Argentina border. Five hours later we arrived in El Calafate, a booming town and tourist Mecca. You could tell it was booming as a brand new casino was under construction and boutiques lined the streets. It seems to be aiming at the young and the beautiful - ATMs dribbled cash out in $100 limits and, for the first time in our lives we suffered discrimination. We were refused the opportunity to do an ice-trek because of our age - over 45s bugger off regardless of experience or fitness! Not nice!

The nature reserve on the outskirts of Calafate

At first impression El Calafate wasn't our type of town, so that afternoon we headed out to the windy shores of Lago Argentino to take a stroll around a small lagoon that was home to flamingos, ducks, geese, coots and harriers - much more to our liking than the world of the bold and the beautiful. To be fair the town does grow on you and the lazy life of sipping beers on sunny street cafes or feasting on succulent Argentinian lamb and steaks at one of the many restaurants can be addictive.

Hawk watching from a calafate bush

Harrier sweeping low over the reeds

Bandurria in flight

An assortment of local waterbirds

When the Patagonian winds blow strong and cold the flamingos tuck themselves in

Perito Moreno Glacier

El Calafate is synonymous with Perito Moreno Glacier, possibly the most famous such river of ice in the world. Even in these days of climate change when the world's glaciers are in retreat everywhere, Perito Moreno refuses to take a step backwards. Its 60+m ice walls stretch 5km across two arms of Lago Argentino, touching a peninsula in the centre, which make an up-close inspection possible, wonderful and a "must-do" on the gringo circuit.

Thus we found ourselves on a bus full of people in a long line of busfuls of people, all heading out the 80 km along the shores of Lago Argentino to spend a day at Perito Moreno.

The 60m high ice wall of the east face of Glacier Perito Moreno

View from the jetty to the west face of the glacier

As was becoming common in Patagonia, our arrival was
greeted by a condor soaring elegantly overhead

Iceberg on Lago Argentino

On arrival, we boarded a 300-seat catamaran for a trip along the west face of the glacier, dwarfed by its incredibly blue and deeply etched and cracked walls. Some sections looked ready to fall at any moment - some did! It was a great way to appreciate the immensity of Perito Moreno.

Mists roll in intensifying the blueness of the ice face

The sun breaks out on the 60m high western ramparts of Perito Moreno

Rhapsody in blue - a few images of the tortured face of Perito Moreno
taken from the boat

Next, we did the usual wander along the three levels of balconies that overlooked the glacier at the peninsula. The higher balconies gave the opportunity to appreciate the sea of crinkled ice that extended for 30km back from the glacier face, framed by dark snow-capped mountains. We saw it in shade and we saw it in sun; the colour and tone of the ice changing with the variations in light.

View of the western face of Perito Moreno
from the peninsula

Close up of the sheer 60m ice walls rising
from Lago Argentino

Dark and light blue pressure bands on a
recently split ice slab

A cruise boat is dwarfed by the eastern face of the glacier

Looking over the western section of Perito Moreno Glacier

The play of light and shade on Perito Moreno

The sun breaks through to bathe the glacier in brilliant light

View over Lago Argentino from the peninsula

Looking through the beech trees to the sea of ice beyond

This tower of twisted ice shows the enormous
pressures at the face of the glacier

The lower balconies gave the chance to see the face up close, to listen to the cracks and groans of the glacier and to wait, with hundreds of others, for an anticipated fall of a new iceberg from the face. Perito Moreno is in equilibrium, it grows 2m a day, but loses the same as huge chunks split off from the face and fall into the lake.

The landscape of Perito Moreno

Ice and mountain framed by the red clusters
of notro flowers

Ice floating at the edge of Lago Argentino

A 3m wave heads out from where an enormous slab of ice fell

The third leg of our visit was a walk down from the main viewing area, along a dirt path through the magellanic forest, with deciduous lenga, ñire and evergreen guindo beech, open areas with red flowering notro and - very few people!! All the time, we could look out across the turquoise waters of Lago Argentino at the glistening face of Perito Moreno.

The icebergs of Lago Argentino

The face of the glacier viewed across ice-sheered rocks

A deep percussion rolled across the lake; we looked up to see the end of a huge chunk of ice disappearing into the water below the glacier's face, a three metre wave starting to spread out from the impact point. A minute late, a glistening new iceberg breached the surface with a loud hissing sound and set off on its slow drift down the lake to join the many others.

It was an impressive end to an impressive day.