Epic Adventures Los Glaciares

Ice hiking on Perito Moreno glacier

In Patagonia, the draw of Perito Moreno glacier is hard to escape. Its giant frozen cliffs reach more than 60 metres high over a giant lake, an immense river of ice flowing unstoppably down from the mountains. Along with the iconic Fitz Roy mountain range, it is one of the two great draws for Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, and almost every traveller to the region visits at least once. 

There is a great variety of ways to explore Perito Moreno. You can enjoy the views from the scenic boardwalks around the glacier, paddle in a kayak beneath its towering walls, or take a boat trip around the lake with a few extra hikes thrown in for good measure (something we explore in a separate blog). I’ve visited Perito Moreno many times, but on my most recent trip I wanted to really get up close by going ice hiking on its great craggy surface. 

Felipe of Swoop Patagonia on Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares
Felipe on Perito Moreno glacier

Hiking choice: Mini Ice or Big Ice?

If you want to walk on Perito Moreno, there are two options. The first gives just a short taste of what it’s like to walk on a glacier and is called ‘Mini Ice’. This follows a set route that’s marked out on the glacier, with ropes set into the ice. It’s perfect for those shorter on time and prefer not to walk too far but still want the experience of putting on crampons.

Perito Moreno glacier keyring
Choosing crampons for the ice hike?

I’m a former trekking guide, so you won’t be surprised to know that I opted for ‘Big Ice’, a full day’s excursion that promised to get us away from the crowds and out on a big empty cold horizon. 

In truth, the day unfolds in quite a similar way no matter which option you choose. On the morning of my excursion I was picked from my hotel in El Calafate by a comfortable bus, and it quickly became clear that half of us on board were Team Big Ice, and half Team Mini Ice. We were all bound for Puerto Bajo las Sombras, where we would board a catamaran ferry to take us across the lake to the face of the glacier itself. 

Walking up from the boat trip to the start of the hike

The boat trip offered our first view of the glacier. No matter how many times I’ve seen it. It’s always hard to comprehend just how enormous it is – even when seen in what I have to confess was some classically wild Patagonian weather. The crossing took about half an hour, sweeping around the side of Perito Moreno than you get from the traditional boat tour or the scenic walkways. 

On our arrival, a mass of guides quickly sorted us into groups: Big Ice and Mini Ice hikers, and English-speakers and Spanish-speakers. Near a small group of huts we were given our first bits of kit: rope and harness. Ice hiking isn’t dangerous, but it was good to see that safety is always paramount. 

Hiking to the glacier

Perito Moreno was already looming large in front of us, but from here we actually walked for nearly an hour to reach the best access point to actually get up onto the actual glacier. Before we set out, there was a side trip to a scenic lookout point with an Argentinian flag where we all stopped for photos. Shortly after this, the Mini Ice groups split off to follow their own shorter route onto the ice. As we started our own hike, it was fun to look back and watch them making their ascent. 

The scenic viewpoint in classic Patagonia weather

The walk took us across the moraine and through a stretch of native beech forest until we got to our own access point. I was pleasantly surprised that it really felt like a proper hike, with some rough stretches and even a couple of places where we used the ropes and harnesses on some rocky and muddy descents. It certainly added to the sense of adventure. 

Hikers walk to the ice at Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares
Walking to the starting point of the ice hike


After an hour we arrived at a small way station near the ice. The guides had neatly laid out all the crampons on the ground for us and pointed to the final stretch that would finally take us up onto Perito Moreno itself. 

Hikers getting ready to walk on the ice at Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares
Getting ready to walk on Perito Moreno glacier

Beyond us we could see people putting on the crampons and getting on the ice, which instantly filled us with excitement. That last climb was steep but soft. When we got there, there were three more guides helping everybody put on their crampons, and then further dividing us into groups of eight and ten. These would be our groups for the ice hiking itself. 

It turned out that this was the magic trick. We all entered the glacier at the same spot, but within a few minutes all the groups had dispersed and it suddenly felt like we were the only people there. 

Two hikers on Perito Moreno glacier in Los Glaciares
Photo opportunities on the surface of the ice

Ice hiking on Perito Moreno

Lunch break on Perito Moreno glacier
Lunch break on the glacier

Having seen just how massive Perito Moreno is, it was an incredible feeling to actually be ice hiking on its surface. To be honest, it’s a little bit surreal. The glacier is beautiful of course, but getting to stand on its surface really brought home just how massive it really is. I felt tiny and insignificant, but in a good way – the feeling of just how powerful nature really is. 

You also got the sense of how alive the glacier is. From a distance it looks ancient and unchanging, but as we walked you could see tiny rivers tracing through its surface, hear its groans and feel how the ice is constantly breaking and advancing. 

Felipe of Swoop Patagonia at Perito Moreno glacier
Felipe on Perito Moreno

In total we had several hours out on the ice, so it’s important to dress well for any sort of weather.  Halfway through the hike we stopped for our box lunch before eventually turning back for the hike back to the boat. As much as I would have liked to linger, the catamaran sticks to a strict schedule and I wasn’t sure I wanted to miss the last boat home. No wild camping allowed! 

Which ice hike is for you?

As we boarded the boat, we met another group who had done the Mini Ice hike. They were equally excited about what they’d done. It was a tamer adventure perhaps, but a smart decision by the park authorities to offer the choice to visitors of different tastes and abilities. 

A last view of Perito Moreno at the end of the hike

But for me, this ice hiking was a revelation. Perito Moreno is famous across Patagonia for the large numbers of visitors it attracts, but hiking in crampons across its surface there were times when we felt like we were the only people there. That was something I never expected – and the surprise made the experience even richer.


Avatar photo

Felipe Fernandez Cruzat

Patagonia specialist

After backpacking around the world, Felipe returned to his native Chile where he worked for three years as an outdoor guide in Torres del Paine, and spending time across the border learning to ride like an Argentinian gaucho before joining Swoop Patagonia. He currently lives in Santiago.