About the Glacier
What is it?
Perito Moreno is a stunning glacier formation that has become one of the most famous and important attractions in Argentina. It is located approximately 50 miles from the town of El Calafate, and is fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the worlds third largest fresh water reserve.
Glaciers are immense masses of ice that travel down the slope of a valley, ending in lakes, cliffs or terminal moraines (accumulations of dirt and rocks pushed along by the glacier). There are two main parts to a glacier: an accumulation zone where snow falls, collects and compacts, and a percolation zone where the glacier loses mass to evaporation and melting. There are many glaciers throughout Patagonia, but Perito Moreno has some very unique features that make it particularly special.
Why is Perito Moreno Special?
There are three main reasons why Perito Moreno is so unique:
Accessibility: Perito Moreno is one of the most easily and safely accessible glaciers in the world: 185m above sea level, close to the town of El Calafate, in a stable climate, and viewable from walkways, by boat, and on the surface of the glacier itself after just a 15 minute walk around the edge of Lago Rico.
Stability: Perito Moreno has been regarded as stable (it's surface, width and length have remained largely the same) since 1971. This means that the snowfall in the accumulation zone is sufficient to balance the mass lost from melting in the percolation zone.
Breaking: When Perito Moreno glacier reaches the Magallanes Peninsula it obstructs the drainage of Lago Rico into Lago Argentino, which causes the levels of Lago Rico to rise because ice melting from the highlands has nowhere to drain to. Ultimately, the pressure of all that water causes the glacier to break. This can take anything from one day to an entire week depending on the amount of water accumulated in Lago Rico, and the ice mass blocking the water from passing through. These breaking cycles are irregular, happening every 2-16 years: the last ones were 2006, 2004 and before that 1988!
The glacier was originally named after prominent Argentine naturalist and explorer Francisco Moreno, who studied in the area in the 19th century. Moreno played a key role in defending Argentina's territory during international border disputes with neighbouring Chile, and donated the land for the first Argentine National Park. He is often referred to as Perito (expert/specialist) Moreno, hence the name of the glacier that he never actually saw!
Julian Tomas Rogers (English Captain of the Chilean army in 1879) was the first person to set foot on the glacier, but it was not until the early 20th century that the glacier became more well known. In 1912 the father of Argentine mountaineering Federico Reichert walked all the way along the glacier to it's source in the Southern Ice Cap.
Since then the glacier became increasingly famous, and is now believed to be the best known glacier in the world.
Perito Moreno is one of the largest glaciers of the Los Glaciares region at 254 square kilometres in total size. It is 19 miles long, 3 miles wide, and 730 metres thick at it's deepest point. It towers an average of 55 metres above the surface of the lake at it's face, and around 120 metres below the surface!. The glacier is believed to be advancing at a rate of 2.64 metres a day, unlike most glaciers worldwide which are in retreat.
Just observing Perito Moreno from the walkways is an unforgettable experience, but if you have more time or are feeling more adventurous we highly recommend a boat trip up to the face of the glacier, and an ice hike on it's surface.
How to see the glacier
There are a number of ways to experience Perito Moreno in all it's glory, and we're here to help you find the right way for you, and help you fit it seamlessly into your wider Patagonia plans.
If you've never donned crampons or used an ice axe before then this is a great opportunity, no previous experience is required!
Begin with a visit to the viewing balconies before taking a boat across the lake to go and hike on the surface of the glacier. You'll clamber over deep blue crevasses, witness incredible ice caves and seracs, and splash through rivers of meltwater with an experienced guide and all the necessary safety equipment.
There are two different ice hike routes, both of which require a full day and include your transport from/to Calafate. The 'Mini Ice' gives you 1h 40mins on the ice itself as part of a two-hour guided tour. It is available for those aged between 10 to 65 from August through June. The 'Big Ice' is aimed at more active/adventurous visitors, and gives you 3h 30mins on the ice. It is available for those aged 18 to 50 from Sept - April.
Boat and Hike
A fantastic way to combine a visit to Perito Moreno with an exploration of the fjords of Los Glaciares National Park: home to ancient forests, black sand beaches, hidden waterfalls and massive hanging glaciers. You'll have the opportunity to hike among this unique wilderness before sailing up to Perito Moreno to take in it's beauty and gaze up at it's massive wall of ice from the water. You will then have time to admire the glacier from the viewing balconies before heading back to El Calafate.
Viewing Balconies and Boat Trip
For a less active experience, you can simply take in the sheer size and beauty of Perito Moreno from the network of viewing balconies that have been erected opposite it's face. This is the most affordable and time efficient option, but still allows you to get stunning photos and see/hear the glacier calve and crash up close.
You can also take a short boat trip up to the face of the glacier, which gives you a unique perspective of the ice and a real appreciation of it's size and height! The trip is only an hour long and you can book it when you arrive in the park if you're planning last minute!
You can combine these excursion with each other, and/or an ice hike if you have more time.
Although quite touristy, the ice hike on Perito Moreno is well worth a try. I remember stopping and staring in wonder at jagged seracs in the distance, and hopping over the deep blue crevasses beneath me.
Chloe O'Keeffe Wildlife & Cruise Specialist
Trips that include Perito Moreno Glacier
What our customers think
The Perito Moreno Glacier is breathtaking and easily accessible from the raised walkway in the park. We also did the boat tour, which offers history and closer view of the glacier.
Richard & Susan Canada October 2017
FAQs about Perito Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier is accessed from the town of El Calafate, which can be reached by air from Buenos Aires or other domestic airports in Argentina, or by bus from Punta Arenas in Chile.
The Fitz Roy Range is accessed from the mountain town of El Chalten, which you can reach by bus (three hours) from the town of El Calafate, near to Perito Moreno.
Yes, you can access Torres del Paine by bus from the nearby town of El Calafate. The journey is approx five hours long to Puerto Natales, the gateway to Torres del Paine, from there it is another few hours into the park.
No, there is no experience required for ice hiking on Perito Moreno.
Yes, the shorter 'mini ice' hike has age limits of 10 to 65, and the longer 'big ice' hike has age limits of 18 - 50.
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