How to visit the Perito Moreno Glacier: A Complete Guide
how to tour Perito Moreno Glacier
I’ve been in Argentina for a long time, nearly a decade now. I moved here blind, knowing nothing about the country except that I had a lot of friends living there and that I had fallen in love with Buenos Aires. When said friends invited me to join them on an upcoming trip to El Calafate, I said yes without hesitation. Despite not knowing anything about Patagonia and not having a job to pay for it (that’s what savings are for, right?!).
I boarded my flight to El Calafate much like I boarded my flight to Buenos Aires, fairly blind. I knew there was a glacier to see, but very little else. Perito Moreno's immense beauty was much more than I could have expected. If you’re wondering if a visiting El Calafate’s famous glacier is worth it, I can promise you, it very much is.
This post is a complete guide on how and when to visit El Calafate and El Perito Moreno, including all of the possible tours and alternatives.
The More You Know: Quick Facts
The closest town and your base for Perito Moreno is El Calafate. There are regular flights from Buenos Aires.
There is a town in Patagonia called Perito Moreno, the glacier is not there. I repeat, go to El Calafate.
El Perito Moreno is advancing and growing, unlike most glaciers that are retreating.
It’s BIG. The front is 5 kilometers wide and it can reach up to 70 meters in height.
Pets are prohibited.
Use of drones is prohibited.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
The best time of year to visit El Calafate is in the warmer Spring and Summer months, from October to April. The guided treks on the glacier are only held from September through April, use that as a guide on when to visit. Keep in mind that January and February are peak travel months for locals in Argentina. If you’ll be traveling over the holidays or these summer months, book your tours well in advance.
WHERE IS THE PERITO MORENO GLACIER
The Perito Moreno Glacier is located in Argentina’s southern Patagonia region, just outside of the small city of El Calafate. It’s in Los Glaciares National Park, one of Argentina’s most popular national parks, 78 kilometers from town.
You can see on the map below how close El Calafate and El Perito Moreno are to Chile. This glacier forms part of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field that Argentina shares with its next-door neighbor. All of this ice forms the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world! That’s not useful “where is it” information, but I just thought that was surprisingly interesting! You’re welcome.
Perito moreno map
HOW TO VISIT PERITO MORENO: TOUR OR DIY?
Should you splurge on a tour or go it alone? That’s the question. My friends and I went on the full day Big Ice Trek and it was worth every single penny. And I know, it’s a lot of pennies, but if you’re looking for where to scrimp and where to splurge, this is the ideal indulgence and a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.
If a trek isn’t in your budget or abilities, there are many other affordable and accessible ways this natural wonder. I detail them all for you below.
PERITO MORENO GLACIER HIKE
There is only one tour company operating guided treks on the ice, Hielo y Aventura. This brings with it certain pros and cons. The cons being that without competition, it’s hardly cheap. I personally believe the pros outweigh the cons of the price.
There are two options: The Big Ice Trek (full-day) or the Minitrekking (4 hours).
Big Ice Trek
I see this question pop up all the time: Is the Big Ice Trek worth it? I answer a resounding YES! Perito Moreno is hardly the only glacier out there, and if you’re a seasoned Patagonia traveler it may not even be your first. However, trekking directly on the ice is one of those once in a lifetime experiences you’ll always remember.
There are a few things to consider first. This hike is considered strenuous and you are isolated on the ice. For these reasons, they enforce an age limit (you must be between 18-50 and somewhat fit). They also don't allow pregnant women on this tour. Due to weather the tour is only offered from September through April.
The Big Ice Trek, despite the high price tag, does not include the $500-peso entrance fee to Los Glaciares National Park (bring extra cash for that).
MY GLACIER TREK EXPERIENCE
We were picked up at our hostel at 7 am for what was to be a long day. We arrived at the park early, before most tourists on public transport, so we had the park to ourselves. The tour began with free time to walk the pathways and catwalks, viewing the glacier from afar. This part of the park is very well constructed and offers stunning views of the glacier head on.
Next, we were ferried across the water where we were divided into language-based groups, instructed on safety and given crampons. Crampons in place, we set off. We walked alongside the glacier for nearly an hour and a half before our two guides found the spot where we would hop onto the glacier.
There is a lot of action near the crampon station, where the Minitrekking tour begins. But after walking an hour and a half, we had the glacier all to ourselves! It was such an awesome experience (as in literally inspiring awe). We spent over three hours on the ice trailing behind our two guides.
There were times they had to hack footholds into the ice with their axes, creating makeshift stairs for us to summit peaks of ice. Other times they scurried ahead of us, searching for the right path. It was clear that in such a terrain, the tour will never be identical to the day before. It felt like a real exploration of the ice.
Eventually, we paused for a picnic lunch (bring your own, lunch is not included). I can testify to the fact that a salami sandwich tastes infinitely better when eaten on a glacier in the middle of Patagonia. We sat next to an ice bridge packed so tightly it was a bright fluorescent blue (our guide told me it weighed 2 tons!).
Bellies full, it was time to begin our return. We walked back the way we came, followed by another hour and a half alongside the glacier to find our way back to base camp.
I felt like a baby horse learning to walk after so many hours of focused footsteps with crampons, trying to get a hold in the ice. I stepped too big and flung myself directly onto the ground, always the picture of elegance. Crampons behind, we stumbled back onto the ferry.
But this time we were each served a glass of whiskey poured over glacial ice. I sipped on my well-deserved whiskey, then kindly helped my friend finish his. Friends help friends finish their glacier whiskey, I’m helpful that way.
Read More: 21 Things do to in El Calafate
RESERVE YOUR BIG ICE TREK
The Big Ice Trek is a large time and financial investment, but it is worth every centavo and minute of your time. This is one of the only glaciers in the world that is currently advancing, and in this time of climate change, who knows how long we’ll have these natural wonders with us. Trekking Perito Moreno is truly a once in a lifetime experience that you won’t regret.
NOTE: Both trekking experiences include 20 minutes of navigation to ferry you across the water for access onto the glacier. By going on a tour with Hielo y Aventura, you see every possible view of the glacier: from the catwalks in the park, from the water and walking across the ice yourself. It’s the most comprehensive experience available.
Mini Trekking Perito Moreno
Is the Big Ice Trek too long, strenuous or costly (or all of the above)? Never fear, Hielo y Aventura also offers a shorter mini trekking excursion. These tour groups access the glacier directly next to the crampon station and spend about an hour and a half on the ice.
If you have kids or are older this is a great option, the age limits are from 10-65. Check with them before booking if you have any health conditions. Also note that despite being a shorter trek, it's still a full day time commitment.
book yours here.
PERITO MORENO GLACIER TOUR OPTIONS
There are a number of Perito Moreno tour companies offering guided walks to view the glacier and/or cruises on the lake. I explain in more detail below about boat excursions offered inside the park. You can buy a ticket for these inside the park without a previous reservation. You can also explore the park easily on your own without a guide. The pathways are well constructed and without a guide, you are free to go at your own pace.
That said, I understand plenty of people prefer to have guided tours. If you prefer to have a tour pick you up from your hotel and take control of the logistics, check out these options.
- MOST POPULAR PERITO MORENO TOUR | This tour is the highest rated tour of Perito Moreno on Viator. Coming highly recommended, this tour is a full day excursion. It includes a boat ride and hotel pick-up/drop-off. Like most, it doesn't include lunch so bring a picnic. This is the ideal option for those who'd prefer not to go it alone. Reserve yours here.
HOW TO SEE PERITO MORENO WITHOUT A TOUR
You definitely don't need a tour to see Perito Moreno If you’d prefer to go it alone. You can take the bus from El Calafate and go at your own pace.
HOW TO GET TO PERITO MORENO BY BUS
Unfortunately, there aren’t any local city buses to Perito Moreno, but there are daily shuttle buses that depart from the main bus terminal in El Calafate. Here’s everything you need to know:
Bus Terminal Address | Jean Mermoz 104
The buses depart at around 8:30 or 9, depending on which of the two companies you choose.
The cost is currently $800 pesos ($21 US) as of January 2019.
The ride takes approximately 1 hour and a half
Bring cash for the entrance fee to the park, currently $700 pesos, double check that here.
At the end of your day in the park, find your bus in the parking lot at the designated return time (likely at 4 pm). While you can purchase your ticket the day of, it's a good idea to swing by the bus station the day before to confirm the exact departure times and have a better, clear plan for your day.
If you’re Type A like me, you can even reserve ahead of time here on Plataforma 10 (screenshot below), or just use the platform to confirm bus times. Only CalTur tickets are available here but I believe there are actually two companies to choose from if you wait and book from the bus terminal.
PERITO MORENO ON YOUR OWN
Once in the park you can wander the pathways and catwalks that offer panoramic views of Perito Moreno. Watch chunks of ice break off into the water, take a million photos, and enjoy yourself at your own pace. Bring a picnic lunch (and wine, always bring wine) to enjoy with a view.
PERITO MORENO BY BOAT
There are regularly scheduled boat tours departing from inside the park. You don’t need to reserve this ahead of time. Find the small building advertising their “Navegacion” tours to check the schedule and purchase your ticket. Lunch isn’t provided and it lasts around an hour and a half.
EL CALAFATE Accomodation
Best hostel in el Calafate
AMERICA DEL SUR HOSTEL | We stayed in the America del Sur hostel and it’s the best budget accommodation in El Calafate. I really loved this hostel and wouldn't think twice about staying here again if I was on a budget. My friends and I rented an en suite private room and were very comfortable.
It’s a short walk from downtown and the views it offers are priceless! It's very affordable, with beds as cheap as $11.50 US for a dorm or $50 for a private double room. Check rates here
Hotels in El Calafate
BOUTIQUE HOTEL LA CANTERA | Great for couples | This boutique hotel in La Calafate is the highest rated for value, with rooms starting at only $100 US. They serve an excellent breakfast (which in Argentina, is priceless). Just picture yourself on this deck, with a glass of Malbec watching the sunset and you'll be booking your room right away! Check rates here
LINDA VISTA APART HOTEL | Great for families | In Argentina, an apart hotel is a hotel where the rooms are small apartments, like an Argentina Airbnb before it's time. This apart hotel in El Calafate is perfect for families that need more room to move or anyone who appareciates having a kitchen at their disposal. It's very highly rated and it's easy to see why, the cabins look clean, cozy, and spacious. Apartments start at only $115 US for two. Check rates here
Luxury hotels in El Calafate
EOLO Patagonia Spirit - Relais & Chateaux | This Relais & Chateaux property is the epitome of Patagonia luxury. It's located on an expansive property halfway between the city of El Calatate and the glacier. Check out the photo above to see just how beautiful their property is, posted on their official instagram account.
Unfortunately for me, EOLO Patagonia is out of my budget. I'll have to just save it for my dreams for now. I worked at a Relais & Chateaux property once and can testify to the level of luxury and quality that they provide. You know you'll never be disappointed by one of their hotels. If you're looking for a luxury hotel in El Calafate, this is it. check rates here
Airbnb in El Calafate
There are a number of cozy cabins and homes to choose from on Airbnb in El Calafate. If you're traveling with a large group or family, renting a home is often much more affordable and comfortable than multiple hotel rooms. If you've never used Airbnb before, I love it! It offers you the chance to really feel at home while on vacation. If you want to try it out click here for $40 US off your first stay.
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