Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (“Los Glaciers National Park”) is a protected area based in the Santa Cruz province, Argentina. Established in 1937, it is the second largest national park in the country. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1980. It is the giant ice cap in the Andes that gives this park its name, being the largest in the world outside Antarctica and Greenland.
The park is divided in two parts: the South containing the largest lake in Argentina: Lake Argentino, and the North containing Lake Viedma, part of the glacier with the same name. The southern part is probably the most famous one due to its major glaciers (Perito Moreno, Upsala and Spegazzini) and it was this part we explored in our first days at the park.
We stayed at El Calafate, 60 km away from the southern park entrance through an asphalt road. It is a convenient location with several options to sleep/eat and we were able to find a cosy cabaña (“bungalow”) to stay through the Airbnb website (click here if you want a first-time discount). This allowed us to cook some meals during our stay and be close to local residents, which is something we always try to do when staying outside hotels
The town is small and there’s not much to do besides some souvenirs shops and of course the relatively new interpretation centre called Glaciarium. We visited this high-tech museum before visiting the park and the famous Perito Moreno glacier (recommended by Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet). It was actually a good idea because it explains the formation of icebergs and glaciers through cool images, graphs and videos. There’s also an exhibition dedicated to the climate change and environmental issues. Although it was a little bit expensive (230$ARG per person) it was a very interesting museum where one can easily spent a couple of hours.
We visited Perito Moreno next day. We woke up early in the morning (6 am) to arrive into the park at 8 am. We were actually between the first ones entering the park and we saw the sunrise while waiting in the line to buy the entrance tickets (260$ARG per person only valid for one day). We arrived early for one reason: we had bought tickets for the mini-trekking at the glacier and the boat departed at 9 am. We hired this trekking through the agency Hielo & Aventura, the park concessionary and the only one organizing the glacier trekking (we paid 1,200$ARG per person).
After entering into the park we had to drive around 20 km until the docks. The road inside the park was relatively scenic and we stopped twice to take pictures and admire the views. Once inside the boat it took us 20/30 minutes to reach the beach next to the glacier. Of course we also enjoyed the boat trip and its views of the amazing glacier. At the beach the guides explained us how the trekking would work and the safety rules. We also did a walk of 20 minutes through the forest until the place where we putted proper shoes to be able to walk on the ice.
The trekking itself was a unique experience for us! We were a small group of 20 people plus 2 guides, and we walked around 1h30 on the glacier. During the walk we had opportunity to take hundreds of pictures and finish with a glass of whiskey prepared with ice from the glacier (very touristic!).
After the trekking we had lunch and returned to the docks where we drove to the Perito Moreno walkways. These walkways have 4 km of extension and several viewpoints from where it is possible to observe the glacier, the Icebergs Channel (“Canal de Los Témpanos”) and the beginning of the Argentino Lake. Even after seeing the glacier on the boat trip and walking on it, admiring the glacier from the walkways gave us another perspective. And the best part: we saw pieces of the glacier breaking into the water! An amazing spectacle difficult to describe and we were lucky enough to see and take pictures more than once before leaving the park in the end of the day.
In order to visit the north side of the park we stayed at El Chaltén (220 km from El Calafate), a small mountain village at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre mountains. For this reason, the village was named “Argentina’s Trekking Capital”, although it was built in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile.
Our favourite trail was the one to Mirador Fitz Roy and Laguna Capri. The walk was not the easiest we made (until now!) but it took us around 4:30 hours between going, having lunch at the viewpoint, taking several pictures and coming back. And the views were absolutely great! We also did the walk to Mirador Torre, which is the first half of the Laguna Torre trail. Great views of the Torre peak but unfortunately we got cloudy day so the views were not spectacular as they could be. This trail took us around 3 hours in total.
Tired from walking trails we decided to do the scenic drive from El Chaltén to Lago del Desierto (around 40 km in a dirt road – RP41). Our first stop was at Chorrillo del Salto, a waterfall in the middle of the mountains. Next stops were in the middle of the route because the scenery was just amazing! The usual: mountains, peaks, lakes and rivers, but since it was late afternoon we also had the sun that brought a special colour to our pictures.
Next stop: Cueva de Las Manos (Argentina)