Visiting Perito Moreno Glacier – know before you go
Visiting Perito Moreno glacier is one of the main and most popular attractions in Los Glaciares national park
Although there are many glaciers in Los Glaciares (47 major glaciers and about 190 smaller glaciers actually), Perito Moreno is definitely the most famous one there. And it’s quite special as well – I talk about it shortly.
And there are loads of ways of how you can enjoy this miracle of South America – both physically demanding ones and completely easy ones. There’s something for everyone available.
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Quick facts about Perito Moreno glacier
Perito Moreno is arguably the most famous glacier in Argentina.
It is one of the few ones in the world that isn’t retreating but moving back and forth. This makes for an amazing spectacle as you can see huge chunks of ice falling off the front wall of Perito Moreno.
Where is the Perito Moreno glacier?
Perito Moreno glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentine Patagonia. It’s in the southwest of Santa Cruz Province of Argentina, just a short drive from the town of El Calafate.
How big is the Perito Moreno glacier?
The glacier descends from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field from 2100m elevation down to Lago Argentino, which is located at approximately 180m above sea level. The glacier itself is approximately 30km long.
The complete area of the Perito Moreno is approximately 6000km2.
Why is Perito Moreno glacier special?
Well, it might be for more than one reason honestly.
First, as I said, Perito Moreno is one of the very few glaciers in the world that is not retreating – in fact, it’s advancing. The scientists are not exactly sure why it’s like that, although the most popular idea is because of the steep angle of Perito Moreno.
Second, it periodically cuts off the major right arm of Lago Argentino known as Brazo Rico. It happens when the Perito Moreno moves to the opposite shore of Argentino lake and attaches itself to it, forming a natural dam. Because of this, the meltwater raises the water levels in Brazo Rico even 30m above the water level of the rest of Lago Argentino. With time, an incredible arch is made out of the dam.
The pressure of the water and the movement of the glacier itself eventually makes the ice tongue of Perito Moreno rupture in a dramatic spectacle. It happens every 4-5 years.
How to get to Perito Moreno glacier
The two easiest ways to get to Perito Moreno glacier are by joining a tour – like the hiking tour! – and driving yourself. Another way is taking a bus.
Los Glaciares is one of the biggest national parks in Argentina, so depending on where you’re located, the only option might be to drive, though.
Getting from El Calafate to Perito Moreno Glacier
Visiting Perito Moreno glacier is quite easy if you’re located in El Calafate. You can choose between a bus, a tour, or a rental car.
Related: where to stay in El Calafate
A bus will take you directly from El Calafate to the glacier. There are two companies operating from El Calafate – CalTur and Chalten Travel. In the summer season, which is from October to March, there are 3 buses a day available.
If you opt to go for a tour, they will most probably pick you up and drop you off directly at the accommodation. This way, you don’t have to worry about getting anywhere – just show up on time!
The most convenient option, though, is driving. It gives you the freedom to enjoy the glacier on your own time, even staying long after the other tourists have cleared out.
Even if you want to go on some of the tours, you can meet up with the group already in the park! Sometimes, it even makes the tour cheaper as you don’t need a transfer.
It takes approximately 90 minutes to drive from El Calafate to Perito Moreno, and there’s quite a lot of parking available. As for car rentals, there are many car rental agencies available in El Calafate.
Getting from El Chalten to Perito Moreno Glacier
El Chalten is located rather far from the Perito Moreno glacier (3-hour drive), but there are still buses that you can take. Sadly, though, there are no direct buses, so you’ll have to first go to El Calafate and then transfer there.
Of course, it’s more convenient to drive the distance in a rental car. This gives you the opportunity to enjoy the incredible sights that Argentinian Patagonia has to offer, including the Mount Fitz Roy and different glaciers located on the shores of Lake Viedma and Lake Argentino.
Related: Where to stay in El Chalten
I’m pretty sure I actually even saw some tour companies that offer trips from El Chalten to Perito Moreno.
Keep in mind that it takes at least 3 hours to go from El Chalten to El Calafate, so making the visit to Perito Moreno a day trip might not be the best idea.
Getting from Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales or Torres del Paine to Perito Moreno Glacier
The most convenient way to get from to Perito Moreno glacier from Puerto Natales or Punta Arenas is by driving a car.
It takes approximately 7-8 hours to drive from Punta Arenas to El Calafate – approximately 3 hours from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales, plus 3 more from Puerto Natales to El Calafate. The rest of the time is for refuelling and crossing the border from Chile to Argentina. Afterwards, it takes another 90 minutes to get from El Calafate to Perito Moreno.
If you’re staying in Torres del Paine, it would take you approximately 4,5 to 5 hours to get to the footbridges of Perito Moreno.
I guess it’s pretty obvious that this is not a good idea for a day trip, haha.
There are tours from Puerto Natales to the Perito Moreno glacier that you can go on. That means that, even if you don’t have a car, you can enjoy Torres del Paine national park, join a tour to see Perito Moreno, and get back to Chile!
Getting from Ushuaia to Perito Moreno glacier
If you wish to travel from Ushuaia to Perito Moreno, you can either drive, take a bus, or fly.
The most expensive option is driving. It takes approximately 15 hours, as you have to both drive and take a ferry. What adds more to the costs is the fuel, obviously, plus, if you wish to leave your rental car somewhere near Los Glaciares so that you don’t have to drive all the way back to Ushuaia, it adds quite a hefty fee.
A bit of a better option is to take a bus. It takes 18 hours to drive the distance with a bus, but the price is relatively reasonable (15 to 50 euro) and you don’t need to drive yourself, which makes it possible to enjoy the incredible views of Patagonia. Of course, you’d have to change from one bus to another more than once.
The most convenient, but sadly, again an expensive option, is flying from Ushuaia to El Calafate. The price for the plane ticket starts at 80euro, but it takes much less time and hassle to travel this way. In El Calafate, then, you can either rent a car or travel by bus or taxi.
Getting from Buenos Aires to Perito Moreno glacier
Since driving a car or taking a bus from Buenos Aires to Perito Moreno glacier would take like two days, I’d say that’s just not a good option at all.
The best is to fly from Buenos Aires (not the international airport, though, but the domestic one called Aeroparque Jorge Newbery). The flights are done by LATAM or Aerolineas Argentinas, so they will not be that cheap. But still cheaper than driving, and sometimes even cheaper than taking a bus.
If you wish, you can even join a tour from Buenos Aires to Perito Moreno – some of them even include airfares!
How much does it cost to visit Perito Moreno Glacier?
You only need to pay the admission fee to the national park Los Glaciares, not a specific entrance fee to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
The fee for one person is 1800 Argentine pesos (~15 euros), as shown on the official government website of Argentina. If you’d like to visit the park two days in a row, you can get the second ticket with a 50% discount, thus paying 2700 pesos instead of 3600.
The fee can be paid by cash, with a credit card (Visa/Mastercard) or a debit card (Electron).
My advice, though, is to have cash with you – you wouldn’t want to be turned away from the entrance after driving 1,5 hours from El Calafate because the card machine is not working, right?
Best time to visit Perito Moreno glacier
I’d say the best time to visit the Perito Moreno glacier is in the summer. We visited in the summer and got to enjoy it in more ways than one!
That’s when the weather is the warmest, the skies – the clearest, and everything is open – hotels, restaurants, activities… Summer lasts approximately from the end of November to the beginning of March.
Still, don’t forget that the weather in Patagonia doesn’t ever get warm warm and it’s always windy. The mean temperature in the summer in Los Glaciares is 13,4 degrees Celsius, so – not warm.
As for the time of day that is the best for visiting Perito Moreno glacier… well, it depends on what you want to do.
You don’t have too much control over the tours – and do go on at least one tour when visiting the glacier. They usually start in the morning, and that’s ok, it’s actually even for the best!
Just make sure to stay in the afternoon as well if it’s possible for you. That’s when the air heats up the most which gives you a great chance to visit the ice calving off the front wall of the glacier.
What to wear to Perito Moreno?
My best advice is to wear layers when visiting Perito Moreno glacier. When the sun is out, it might get warmer, but when it hides behind a cloud and the wind comes, it feels freezing cold.
Definitely take a wind- and waterproof jacket, a hat, gloves, and a scarf.
Related: Patagonia packing list
On the lower part of the body, we wore thermal underwear, hiking pants, and hiking shoes, and it felt ok like that.
Since the ice is very bright when the sun shines, don’t forget your sunglasses. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have some sunscreen as well when going on ice in the summer.
We have a full packing list of things you should take with you to Patagonia, so make sure to check that out as well.
Glaciar Perito Moreno tours
There are loads of tours that let you enjoy the glacier Perito Moreno in many different ways.
Whatever tour you go on, though, make sure to visit the balconies overlooking the glacier as well. The best time to do it is in the afternoon, as I already said, because that’s when the most calving happens.
Perito Moreno trekking or “Big Ice”
From what I could see, it’s not possible to book the Perito Moreno trekking, otherwise known as “Big Ice”, tours, at this moment (12th September 2021). But I do hope that it’s possible soon again, so I’ll still describe the ice trekking to you.
I found some companies that provide the tours on Viator. In general, they go like this:
Most tours last the whole day, and they take you to a small boat stop near the glacier from the Bajo de las Sombras port. Looks like none of the companies provide lunch or water – you have to pack those with you, but there is a lunch/picnic stop during the tour planned. Most of the companies have pick-up and drop-off from many, but not all, hotels in El Calafate should you need it.
During the Big Ice, you spend at least 4 hours hiking on the glacier. One of the companies, Hielo y Aventura, says they do 7h of walking (approximately 3,5h “to the heart of the glacier”), and anoher – Gray Line Argentina – says they spend more than 4h on the ice but don’t say how many hours are spent walking altogether. So make sure to check what is appropriate for you.
It’s a very physically demanding trek, as you have to go up and down the snowy glacier. Some companies provide an optional guided visit to the walkways in front of the Perito Moreno for one hour included if you’d like to do that.
The Big Ice trek, according to AllTrails, is approximately 9,7km long and it accumulates a 308m altitude gain. But you should be aware that the trail can change according to what the guides deem to be safe – Perito Moreno moves, and the ice changes, so the trail does as well.
The tour price does not include lunch (as mentioned already) and the admission price to the Los Glaciares national park.
The Perito Moreno trekking has quite a lot of restrictions, starting from age and ending with a physical condition. The age limitations differ by company, but trekking is usually allowed for people 18 to 50 years old. There are no exceptions – since you have to send in your passport details, the companies can tell – I read a review where a man wrote that he got denied the trekking after booking it because he was too old.
You have to be in very good physical shape, both mentally and physically healthy, and without limitations. That means – no pregnant women, no disabled, cannot be overweight, no respiratory diseases, and quite a few other things. Definitely check out the rules the company you’d like to use has stated before booking.
And understand – there will be no exceptions made.
Perito Moreno minitrekking
The difference between Perito Moreno minitrekking and trekking is, as you’d expect, that the mini trek is shorter, at least the time spent on the ice is. If you spend almost 4h on the ice during the trekking, then during minitrekking it’s only around an hour or an hour and a half.
We did the minitrekking, and honestly, although it’s said to be “medium difficulty”, it was actually rather easy. This is one of our regrets from our Patagonia trip – we should have gone for the Big Ice instead of the minitrekking.
There are a few companies that provide the Perito Moreno minitrekking. Some that I could find are Hielo y Aventura, All Patagonia (on Viator website), Civitatis, and Patagonia dreams.
Seems like the Perito Moreno minitrekking tours by these companies are exactly the same, though.
So, about the minitrekking itself.
You have an optional pick-up and drop-off available in El Calafate again.
Then, you again take a boat from the Bajo de las Sombras port to the landing on the opposite coast of Lago Rico. After that, all the people are divided into groups of 20, there’s a hike from the southern moraine of the glacier to a viewpoint where you will access the ice. The hike goes through a Patagonian forest, and you can see different birds during it. There (or at a mountain hut nearby), the mountain guides explain basic security rules and help you put on the crampons, harnesses, and helmets to begin the journey.
The glacier hike lasts for approximately an hour, at the end of which you actually get to taste a whiskey with glacial ice. Even if you don’t like whiskey (which I don’t), you should try it because of the ice!
At the end of the hike, we had time for a bit of a picnic included before the boat back to the port. Then you can visit the balconies near Perito Moreno before your (optional) pick-up back to the hotel.
Honestly, we spent a whole day near Perito Moreno and didn’t regret a single second of it.
As with the Big Ice hike, there are limitations to those who can join the Perito Moreno minitrekking.
It’s suitable for people 10-65 years old, and you need to be in reasonably good physical shape. People with any degree or type of physical or mental disability that affects their attention, progress and/or coordination are not allowed. Not recommended for pregnant travellers and those with heart or many other problems. For the full list check the rules of the tour before booking it.
Just like the Perito Moreno trekking, the minitrekking tours do not include the admission ticket to the Los Glaciares National Park.
Perito Moreno kayaking experience
There are many companies that provide a Perito Moreno kayaking experience, and all of them seem to be quite similar.
I found these companies that provide kayaking tours to Perito Moreno:
- Calafate travel
- MilOutdoor (Tripadvisor)
- RipioTurismo (Viator)
- Patagonia Dreams with or without transfer (GetYourGuide)
- Many on Viator
Most of the tours offered are pretty much the same.
You can choose between a kayaking experience with or without transfer. Some of them offer lunch included as well – looks like those tours that have a transfer and therefore last around 7h have it. None include the Los Glaciares entrance fee, though.
Some tours are full day, which means that you get a transfer and time to spend on the balconies as well. Even if you have a half-day tour, I’d recommend spending some time just admiring the Perito Moreno glacier from the footpaths – glimpsing the ice calving from the front face of the glacier is incredible!
All of the companies provide you with all the equipment necessary. That is, you get a dry suit and boots, kayak, life vests, helmets etc. But check the info on the specific tour you want to go on, as they should have a list of things you have to have with you. I know that some say to take sunglasses and sunscreen (which should be in your suitcase when going to Patagonia anyway).
Some Perito Moreno kayak tours have pictures included in the price, but some don’t. Make sure to check the info before so don’t get surprised that you’d get charged for them separately.
Before the tour, the guides give you a safety briefing and a quick theory class. There’s usually a little warm up as well. Afterwards, you put theory into practice and go kayaking for about 1,5 hours. You get to enjoy the Perito Moreno glacier from a completely different perspective while floating along with glaciers. Sounds like a dream come true!
As for the requirements for the tours, no previous kayaking experience is necessary, but you do need to be in moderately good physical shape, as the tour is rated at medium difficulty. Of course, swimming skills are required. And, obviously, it’s not wheelchair accessible.
Check the age restrictions of the company you’d like to have a Perito Moreno kayaking experience with – some say that the minimum age is 14, some – 12, some don’t have the age restrictions stated. Children under 18 years of age must be accompanied by an adult.
Visiting Perito Moreno glacier in a kayak seems like a really cool experience. I’m kind of disappointed that we didn’t get to do it.
Perito Moreno boat tours
There are many, MANY different boat tours that you can go on to enjoy Perito Moreno and different glaciers in the Los Glaciares National Park.
A boat trip is the least expensive Perito Moreno glacier tour that you can go on as well – prices for an hour-long ride are as low as 13,60 euros. Of course, it’s possible to book a tour that costs 300euro as well, which means you get a 5h private guided tour of the walkways around the glacier with an optional boat tour (that still lasts one hour).
Some other boat trips that you can take are Glaciers Gourmet Experience: Full-Day Cruise with Lunch. The prices start at 110 euros. During this tour, you get to enjoy not only the Perito Moreno glacier but others such as Upsala and Bertracchi Glaciers as well. You can have a gourmet or box lunch depending on your preferences. Just know, alcoholic beverages are not included.
As far as I could see, there are no limitations for going to the boats that take you to the Perito Moreno glacier. That means that this is the best tour for visiting the Perito Moreno glacier for those who are not in good physical shape or just want to enjoy a close-up view of the Perito Moreno glacier. Well, as close as you can safely go to a glacier that tends to calve a lot.
Of course, you have to be careful when taking small children with you and it might not be the best experience for you if you tend to get seasick. Otherwise, take your camera, sunglasses, and warm clothes, and go!
In conclusion – is visiting Perito Moreno glacier worth it?
In my opinion, definitely, visiting the Perito Moreno glacier is more than worth it.
You don’t really have to go on a tour to visit it, but with prices as low as 16euro definitely do it if you have a chance. Otherwise, even just spending a few hours on the balconies overlooking the glacier is an amazing experience.
Hearing the ice calve, and seeing it as well, can even give you goosebumps (as can the wind – definitely dress warmly!).
So, when are you visiting Perito Moreno glacier?