The Best Way to Visit Perito Moreno: Go Independently or Take a Tour?
When Bunny started planning her epic 6-week long trip to Argentina, it was clear that she would have to visit Perito Moreno. She had salivated over photos of this magnificent glacier for years and was dying to see it with her own eyes.
Los Glaciares National Park
Perito Moreno is situated in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentinean Patagonia. The Park was declared a "World Heritage" site by UNESCO in 1981. Bunny thinks that the UNESCO labels are often shelled out too easily but she is happy to confirm that Los Glaciares totally deserves this esteemed status.
Perito Moreno is the most famous glacier among the many in the park. It is a jaw-dropping sight, at five kilometres long with an average height of 74 metres (that’s 22 stories!). Quite unsurprisingly, the Perito Moreno glacier is generally recognised as one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world.
Perito Moreno is best visited from El Calafate, a small Argentinean town approximately 80 kilometres from the glacier. El Calafate has an airport, with frequent and direct 3-hour flights from Buenos Aires, making it relatively easy to visit Perito Moreno despite its remote location.
Bunny spent two nights in El Calafate and enjoyed its quiet resort-like atmosphere. She stayed at the tiny Nau Bed & Breakfast which had friendly hosts and offered great value and good breakfasts.
Options for Visiting Perito Moreno
When Bunny did her research for Perito Moreno, she understood there were three different options for visiting the sight: 1) she could go independently, by local bus or taxi, 2) take one of the tour options that included a boat ride or 3) go for the deluxe tour option of ice-trekking on the glacier.
Bunny’s original plan was to visit Perito Moreno independently. She is not usually a fan of tours of any kind. She had done a boat tour on Iceland’s magnificent Jokulsarlon some years earlier and didn’t think it necessary to repeat that for Perito Moreno. As for the ice trekking, the tour option also seemed a bit expensive to her.
If You Go Independently
You can get to Perito Moreno easily on a regular bus from El Calafate. The return bus ride gives you about four hours on the glacier, depending on the company you go with.
Bunny also enquired about taking a taxi to the glacier. This is possible, although understandably more costly, particularly if you are only 1-2 people. Plus, in general a taxi will wait for you a maximum of three hours, giving you a little less time to spend on the glacier.
The bus ride from El Calafate to Perito Moreno takes approximately 1,5 hours. The bus first stops at the park entrance for visitors to purchase tickets. The national park entrance is 500 pesos (app. 25 USD) for foreigners, payable by cash in pesos and only at the entrance of the park. This is the only addition to the bus ticket you will have to pay if you want to do Perito Moreno on the cheap - although nothing is cheap in Patagonia.
This was Bunny’s original plan when she arrived in El Calafate but she was soon persuaded into doing a Mini-Trekking Adventure by Hielo y Aventura instead. She was told that it was simply impossible to trek on the glacier without being part of a tour group so she relented - and was happy to have done so!
Mini-Trekking Adventure by Hielo y Aventura
Hielo y Aventura is the only company allowed to take people hiking atop Perito Moreno. All the other tour companies selling this tour are eventually joining the Hielo y Aventura tour on the spot.
So Bunny decided to go with the parent company directly and bought tickets in their office on the main street in El Calafate the day before the outing. Bunny travelled off-season and had no problems securing a spot, but it is probably best to reserve in advance if you are there at a busy time.
The Mini-Trekking Adventure is basically a whole day tour, where you are picked up from your hotel in the morning, taken to the national park, given time to explore on your own, then taken to the glacier by a short boat ride for your short, guided trek on Perito Moreno.
The whole outing takes about 9-10 hours and is a real door-to-door service. Not cheap though!
Ice-Trekking Bus Ride
Bunny was picked up on time at her B&B shortly after 9am and arrived at Perito Moreno around 11:30am.
The drive was beautiful, with the landscape changing from arid hills to bushes and trees and then to snowcapped mountains. Argentina’s biggest lake, Lake Argentino, loomed like a giant turquoise jewel for the first part of the journey. Bunny also spotted a lot of wildlife, including guanacos (llama-like creatures), horses, sheep and big birds of prey along the way.
On the way there, a Hielo y Aventura guide was sharing facts and stories about Patagonia in English and Spanish. There was a short stop at the park entrance for purchasing tickets and another one for a photo opportunity when the tour participants started getting their first glances of the impressive glacier. It’s impressive even from a distance.
Once the bus arrived at the visitor’s centre, Bunny and other participants were given about two hours on their own to explore the glacier from the network of viewing balconies. This may sound like a lot of time but in reality the time flies by. Bunny could have stayed for hours!
Bunny visited on a sunny Sunday in the beginning of April and the balconies were relatively quiet. She imagines the situation might be completely different in the middle of the high season.
Visiting the park is very well organised and the viewing balconies are nicely maintained. There is a cafeteria (expensive) on site, with excellent (and free) bathroom facilities and a gift shop.
The viewing balconies comprise three separate walking routes, clearly marked, with each offering different vantage points for admiring the glacier. Bunny was advised to explore the Northern route first as participants of the Mini-Trekking Adventure would get closely acquainted with the Southern side during their hike. This was good advice.
Bunny quite happily hopped around the different routes and thought it was wonderful to just stare at the incredible mass of ice in front of her. One of the amazing things about Perito Moreno is that there are frequent calvings, where large junks of ice fall from the glacier, causing thunderous ruptures and massive ripples in the turquoise water below.
Mr. Bunny was obsessed with getting one of these calvings captured on film. It was easier said than done as the calvings are impressive but unpredictable. Plus, you often hear the event just a few split seconds after it happens. You can check out the videos of this blog post to determine whether Mr. Bunny was successful in his efforts or not. (Nope. Nada. There aren’t any videos.)
Boat Ride to the Glacier
After time on the balconies, Bunny and the other participants were taken to a boat that was a short bus ride away. The boat ride to the opposite shore took about 20 minutes and Bunny spent most of it outside on the deck. She positioned herself on the right-hand side of the boat for best views and managed to snap some nice photos during the boat ride.
On the opposite shore, Bunny had a different vantage point of the glacier.
The adventure started with a short hike (20 minutes or so) across some wooded areas until she arrived at the foot of the glacier. This is where you get up close and personal with Petit Moreno.
After a short safety briefing, the guides kindly fitted Bunny’s boots with crampons for the ice trek. Then it was slow but steady going on the glacier, the group forming an orderly queue behind the guide. This is not a venture requiring athletic prowess, Bunny says. A second guide stayed in the rear keeping an eye on the group.
The head guide advised the participants not to take photos while walking as there were plenty of photo stops during the trek. Bunny registered the advice and then chose the ignore it. The scenery was just too amazing not to record it every ten seconds or so. So Bunny hung at the back of the group and happily snapped away while the others toddled ahead.
The views were absolutely incredible and Bunny felt safe at all times. She wore gloves as the ice can be razor sharp in case you happen to fall down. Hiking boots were also highly recommended for this outing although Bunny spotted people going in tiny sneakers as well. Idiots be idiots, as Mr. Bunny famously says.
Whiskey in the Jar
The trek only lasted about an hour but once Bunny reached the end, the guides had prepared a little treat for her: whiskey in the jar! Well, whiskey in the glass, really, but Bunny couldn’t resist a Metallica (cover song) reference there.
Hielo y Aventura had set up a makeshift bar on the glacier, serving whiskey on the rocks - the ice naturally sourced from the glacier itself - with accompanying chocolate treats. Bunny hadn’t read many reviews before going on the tour so the whiskey-chocolate combo at the end of the trek was a lovely surprise for her.
Ice Cave Bonus
Bunny’s tour didn’t end with the whiskey stop though. She was extremely lucky with her tour (Mr. Bunny claims that she is always lucky but what does he know) because an accessible ice cave had formed on the glacier for the first time in six years.
Bunny and the other travellers had to bend slightly to enter this magnificent ice cave that had water dripping from the ceiling and a small stream running through it. The entire cave glowed an eerie blue colour and was covered with marvellous natural ice textures and formations on the ceiling and walls. A very special experience!
Back to El Calafate
After the ice cave, the group hiked back across the wooded area back to the boat. Bunny admired Perito Moreno for the last time from the return boat ride.
On the bus back to El Calafate, the scenery was, if possible, even more gorgeous in the soft light of the evening sun. Bunny arrived back at her B&B at 6:30pm, making her Mini-Trekking Adventure a 9-hour day trip in total.
She was pleased with her magnificent day on the ice and Mr. Bunny was pleased that nobody was expecting tips at the end of the trip!
Bunny’s Tips for Visiting Perito Moreno
Prepare for Any Weather
Before visiting Perito Moreno, Bunny obsessed about the weather as usual. The truth is the weather can be very changeable. Plus, the weather in El Calafate is not necessarily any indication of what to expect at Perito Moreno. The key is to prepare for the worst and bring lots of layers, including something windproof as it can be extremely windy out there weather on the balconies or atop the glacier.
Don’t despair if the weather is bad. Bunny was informed that the glacier actually reflects a nicer shade of blue when there is less sunshine. Bunny chose to believe them.
Bring a Packed Lunch
Bunny brought a packed lunch with her and enjoyed a picnic-style outing on the balconies, with the best possible view right in front of her. She could have killed for a hot chocolate with lunch, so be wiser than Bunny and bring a thermostat with a hot drink in addition to your lunch. The cafeteria, of course, sells hots drinks but there can be long lines and who wants to come to Perito Moreno and sit in the cafe? Not Bunny, that is for sure.
Take Back All Your Rubbish
Also bring a plastic bag with you for all of your rubbish. There are no rubbish bins on Perito Moreno as all visitors are requested to take all their rubbish back with them. Bunny was pleased to note that people followed this advice.
Perito Moreno is such an awe-inspiring sight that you are bound to love it, whether you go independently or as part of a tour.
If you want to do Perito Moreno on the cheap, going independently is an excellent option. You will have time and freedom to explore on your own and experience the essentials.
If you want something a little extra special, the Mini-Trekking Adventure by Hielo and Aventura is the way to go, despite the steep price tag. The tour is very well organised and gives you an opportunity to experience a special connection with the glacier. You get to taste it (literally) and feel it in a more intimate way than you can on the balconies, as impressive as the views from there are.