Confession: I’ve harbored deep skepticism about the value of a visit to Perito Moreno Glacier.
Perito Moreno Glacier is El Calafate’s claim to fame; companies send buses, arrange lavish day trips and tour boats, and every store in the Argentinian city sells the same twelve post cards depicting the great ice wall towering above the chilly waters of Lago Argentino.
Truthfully (bear with me, here), I’ve rarely given any glacier a second thought. When living in New Zealand, I didn’t bother with a visit to Franz Josef, and even in Torres del Paine and Parques Nacional Los Glaciares, I was only beginning to come around when we saw Grey and Grande Glaciers. (Hold the rotten tomatoes, please. I’m just trying to be honest.)
Perito Moreno Glacier is hyped by every tour operator and guidebook in El Calafate, and I worried that we’d be cattle-herded past a hunk of ice, and I’d be playing the Emperor’s New Clothes Game, saying, “Ohhh, how lovely. Very nice,” while thinking, “Um. It’s frozen water. In a large amount. Cool. Why did we pay all this money again?”
Ted began the mission of winning me over. He’s been fascinated by glaciers for a long while, and his giddiness has been palpable each time we’ve rounded a bend to encounter a massive field of ice.
The moment we began walking down the elevated trails toward the lookout points and heard the creaks and groaning of this enormous mass, my attention was captured, too.
This 97 square mile ice mass is one of only three growing glaciers in Patagonia.
It’s constantly calving, daily dropping massive chunks of blue ice into the lake water below. At the time of our visit, the last massive rupture was in 2008. We learned when we were in Buenos Aires in following weeks that the glacier ruptured again on March 2nd, 2012.
Pictures alone cannot capture the experience. The stunning challenge to my indifference came as we listened with alert ears while afternoon sunlight softened the foremost wall and slowly melted away handholds between sheets of ice.
Hours passed, and we were mesmerized.
Shortly before departure, we watched a massive tower slowly tilt away and toward the lake. The void between pieces grew almost imperceptibly at first. Watching the changing shadows was like playing a 2D/3D puzzle game. Was it moving, or were my eyes playing tricks?
Then, just like that, the shadows jumped, the shapes changed, and the ice came free falling through the air and crashing into the water below.
The waves and ripples caused older floating remnants to do a little dance for us.
Condors flew overhead and little avian visitors perched on the overlooks.
We snapped pictures, resigned to knowing that the essence of such a fantastic show of nature could never fully be captured on film…
I hope I can hold the memories as the years go by. The grinding of ice: the crunch of snowpacks and the blue of Arctic Circle slushies. The haunting sounds of cracks and fissures calling Marco Polo to the rapt audience of tiny humans.
The childlike joy of tasting rain falling in the wilderness.
We returned to the tourist bus at the end of the afternoon. Exorbitantly priced hot chocolate aside, my skepticism had been tempered by the overwhelming magnificence of nature and the power of paying witness to its grandeur.
That evening: a beautiful drive back to El Calafate. Prejudices overcome by nature’s beauty.
Two Tips to Combat Travelers’ Claustrophobia in Touristy El Calafate After a Visit to the Glacier
For a real meal at fine prices, a glass of relaxation, live music and a leisurely evening, head down to the end of town opposite the hustle and bustle of pizza traps and trinket shops and stop in for Dinner at Pura Vida Resto Bar.
Wholesome food made fresh to order: pumpkin stuffed with beef stew, cheese and sweet potatoes, onions and peaches for me and hare stew with Argentinian wine for Ted…on record as a top-five dining experience of our trip.Av. del Libertador 1876, El Calafate 9405, Argentina
If you spend any amount of time in El Calafate, you must take in one other frozen wonder:
The Banana Split at Cafe Borges & Alvarez: served in an over-sized martini glass and smothered in dulce de leche. Absolutely delicious. Also good to know: the cafe is named after an 80s Argentinian sitcom, not the famed author…
Avenida del Libertador 1015, local 27, El Calafate, Argentina
What about you? Any natural wonders that have won you over after an in-person visit? Any favorite post-adventure eats in Patagonia, Portland, or anywhere in between? We’re all ears!