If you plan a trip to see the glacier you have to travel to El Calafate, Argentina, the closest town to Perito Moreno Glacier (80 km away). I took the bus from Puerto Natales to cross the border back to Argentina (aprox 5 hours) and I was advised to book it in advance since the bus looks pretty busy on this route. Arrived in El Calafate at midday and checked-in to the hostel, Nakel Yenu, very nice hostel but you must have your own lock and towel and also they don’t have hair dryer to borrow (later I found that all this 3 items are not very popular in hostels in Patagonia or even South America, very practical to buy a lock and just give up the idea of hair dryer, and about the towel I just got used with my travel towel although it feels like using a newspaper to dry after shower).
El Calafate looks like a very small european resort with a lot of mountaineering equipment shops, souvenir shops and bazaars, and a bunch of restaurants. I went to restaurant Los Amigos, is a restaurant specialised in seafood and fish, bit far from the city center but very nice, with good food and a nice service. The man there didn’t ask me about vampires (popular belief about Romania due to a fictional book) or gypsies (popular misconception about Romania due to general ignorance and name confusion) , he said instead that he knows about Nadia Comaneci, the first female gymnast in the world who got a perfect 10 at the Olympics .
And because I had plenty of time left till the sunset, I went to Laguna Nimez, a wonderful place where you can see many species of birds and especially the flamingos. You buy a ticket with 70 argentinian pesos and you can come back anytime during a week. I took a tone of photos of flamingos and then came back to the hostel to prepare to wake up early and see the famous glacier. Not many people know or visit this place and I think it’s just because Perito Moreno it’s way more popular, but I saw a poster on the street about it and asked infos at hostel reception.
The trip to the glacier costs 350 pesos for the bus, 215 entrance fee in the Las Glacieres National Park and if you want the tour with the boat you add 200 for one hour of being pushed by tourists trying to make the perfect selfie with the most famous glacier in the world, which I did and don’t recommend. You can also trek for one hour and a half on the glacier but I will do it on Viedma Glacier, since I heard it provides a better experience just by avoiding the bunch of tourists at Perito Moreno.
The night before it rained heavily and when I woke up it was still raining, and it kept raining until we came back in El Calafate. The guide, Juan, is very nice and helpful and spoke a lot about the climate (the winds coming from the west and discharging all the rain and snow before passing the mountains, therefore there is steppe at the base of the mountains on the east part, covering one third of Argentina, with small grass adapted for the winds and bushes with thorns to keep the moisture from the air), the flora (the grass and bush I spoke about and three types of faggus), fauna (so many sheep which were brought from Europe, a long period of time farmers were sending back to Europe sheep meat but the sheep are not adapted to steppe and because they don’t have the teeth to cut the grass they take it out from the soil, they also have nails and damage the terrain when running, therefore the steppe was on the way to turn in a desert so the government gave a law for the farmers that for each sheep they need 4 hectares of land in order to minimise the impact and provide sufficient food for the sheep; this made sheep farms collapse and close business, though some of the ranches started tourism businesses instead; there also are guanaco, nandu, hares, and so many others) and the glaciers ( high in the mountains is snowing and that snow turns in time in ice on top of the glaciers, the glacier being pushed down; at the base are Brazo Sur and Brazo Rico meeting and flowing in the front of the glacier on their way to meet Canal de los Tempanos, they put pressure on the ice at the base of the glacier so there is a point where the glacier breaks and on the very few occasions it passes that point the water is forming beautiful bridges of ice) .
On the way to the national park we stopped for a coffee at an old farm adapted for selling coffee and tea for tourists where we met a guanaco.
At Perito Moreno are small trails with balconies where you can have a better view of the glacier. A better weather would have been wonderful but still the view is breathtaking in any weather. My photos are not as good as I want but by the time I will get old and have Alzheimer I have beautiful memories of the ice and the sounds it does when breaking.
I think this glacier it’s overrated, it’s incredibly beautiful and it’s magic to see and hear the ice breaking and falling, but the amount of tourist is overwhelming, and it’s too much, not really enjoying the glacier while people push you from all sides. And the trip with the boat it’s a must not do. But again, it’s just my experience. I really loved it but it was over populated.
Coming back to El Calafate we saw lots of rainbows and when we arrived in the city it was all sunny and warm.
Just before leaving El Calafate for El Chalten I visited a museum about the southern Patagonia over tens of thousands of years with a dedicated part for the killings of indigenous people by the colonists few centuries ago. Just to make you understand some of the realities of the colonialism. Not many people visit the museum, maybe is not very popular and for sure is quite far from downtown but I saw on the street intriguing posters with a question ” did you ever asked yourself what really happened? “. Intriguing enough to go and check it. And it was worth it!