Nature served up another remarkable highlight in South America when she created the Perito Moreno Glacier in the south of Argentina, up there with Iguazu Falls and the Bolivian Salt Flats as one of the most spectacular places and is a must visit, worth every hour of the long journey to get there!
It’s been a long overnight bus journey south from Puerto Madryn to Rio Gallegos. The bus is late, due to leave at 4pm, we eventually pull away around 6pm. We’re booked in the slightly more expensive ‘cama’ seats in the downstairs of the bus. ‘Cama’ is bed, but these are not fully reclining, just a bit bigger and better than ‘semi cama’.
We arrive in Rio Gallegos about 11am next morning, it’s really just a travel hub and as we couldn’t book onward travel remotely, we now scurry around to check out car hire or bus options to get to El Calafate from where we’ll visit Puerto Merino glacier. I spot a cheap 2 day package advertised in the window of the Marga bus company, departing in 20 minutes and we make a snap decision to go for it after some haggling!
We bus the 4 hours to El Calafate, small town on beautiful Lake Argentina, a glorious blue glacial lake. We’re met and transferred to our rather nice hotel and perfect two room suite with lake views! Making good use of the few hours we have, we head up to the Glacier Museo and Ice Bar, a few km out of town and have a very educational hour or two in this brilliant museum learning about the ice and glaciers of our planet and beyond as well as the evolution of the seas and continents through changing eras of ice ages followed by warming.
Then we head to the incredibly fun ice bar where we don special silver ponchos with hoods, gloves, booties for the girls (to wear over flip flops) then enter the 10-degrees-centigrade-below-freezing bar and enjoy drinks from glasses made of ice whilst trying to capture a few of the moments on camera. Ben made sure we made the most of the ‘unlimited’ drinks, rustling up 3 when I suspect they normally only have time to serve just one. A lot of fun though after initially objecting to the session only being 20 minutes, everyone was quite happy to emerge and thaw!
So far so good with the 2 day ‘package’ bought in Rio Gallegos. It included all transfers and overnight with dinner at our 4 star hotel on the lake in El Calafate. It was even discounted for cash – all in, about £70 a head. Definitely cheaper than doing it all independently and cutting out a lot of organising time. First ‘package’ we’ve done in S America and a good one!
It’s tough to get everyone up next morning before 7am for our 7.30am pick up but soon we’re driving through breathtaking scenery of the lakes and mountains of Southern Patagonia and a few minutes after stopping to buy our park entry tickets, we get sight of the glacier itself at the end of the valley. It’s awesome!
Perito Moreno Glacier is fed by the Southern Patagonian ice field located in the Andes between Chile and Argentina.
Soon we have arrived. We opt not to take a boat ride but get up close on the walkways – we wander around enjoying the gurgling sounds of the glacier and occasional crack, like thunder and sight of a splinter (maybe 4 or 5 meters high, the biggest we saw) of ice crashing off the face of the glacier into the water below, before the pieces smash back up to the surface and settle in a white blue swirling slush!
We wish we could get really close but apparently 32 people died between 1962 and 1982 from ice missiles thrown out from the glacier as giant shards crash down! So we watch from the safety of the walkways and then make silly videos to keep the kids amused.
We can see where the ice bridge has broken, the last time in January this year. As the ice edges forward it creates a dam across a section of the lake and as the pressure builds it eventually ruptures and falls, taking a few years to reform and builds up until it crashes again! The height of the glacier above the lake is around 75m , hard to believe looking from the walkways or at the photos, and the small cracks we experience make me wonder how incredible those ruptures must be every few years!
We enjoy the tranquillity as we take in the view and wait for another crack. Zoe reads and draws. They all balance on the handrails, Ben winning 150 pesos from Dad for hands free balancing past 150 meters of it!! Three or four hours pass in a flash. It’s slightly chilly but we’ve been immensely lucky with a glorious blue skied Patagonian autumn day!
After a pleasant lunch on the balcony of the glacier restaurant it’s time to hop back on the bus for the lovely drive back to El Calafate (about 90 minutes) and onward back to Rio Gallegos, another 4 hours, also very scenic, with baby rheas (south American emus) eagles, Patagonian deer by the road. The kids enjoy sitting up front upstairs and counting how many they see!
A way into the journey it starts to get dark. Before she crashes out on my lap, Zoe asks ”What’s next Mum? After seeing glaciers?”
”The end of the world,” I say, ”We’re off to the end of the world tomorrow, closest we can be to Antarctica!!”
”Ok, cool!” she says happily and shuts her eyes! This little intrepid traveller is really getting into the groove of her life on the road!