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Los Glaciares

Los Glaciares National Park / © Foto: Kathy Binder, Universes in Universe

Los Glaciares National Park

Los Glaciares National Park combines the magnificence of the Andean peaks and forests with the immensity of the Patagonian steppe to compose an impressive landscape that frames some 350 glaciers, among which the Perito Moreno glacier, the Upsala and Viedma stand out for their exceptional beauty and accessibility.

The traditional southern access to the park is the city of El Calafate on Lake Argentino, which offers all kinds of lodging and tourist services, as well as an international airport. For the more adventurous, in the northeastern end of the park, at the foot of the famous Cerro Fitz Roy, is the tourist village of El Chaltén, the national capital of trekking.

A trip to Southern Argentina to visit Los Glaciares is a unique experience not only to enjoy and relax in harmony with nature, but also to become aware of the meaning and value of one of the world's most precious natural treasures for human survival.

This region southwest of the province of Santa Cruz, is located within what is known as the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which is the third largest continental ice extension on the planet, after Antarctica and Greenland.

Los Glaciares National Park was created in 1937 and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. Almost half of its surface of 727,000 hectares is covered by ice fields. They are the remnants of what was the last great glaciation, whose erosive force when it retreated gave shape to the wide U-shaped valleys that today occupy Lake Viedma in the north and Lake Argentino in the south.

Perito Moreno Glaciar

The Perito Moreno is the most famous of the 350 glaciers in the Park and the best known in Argentina. It has an area of 250 km2, that means larger than the whole city of Buenos Aires. It penetrates Lago Argentino from the west with a mass of more than 60 m high and a 5 km wide front of incredible shapes, luminosities and shades of blue and turquoise, depending on the incidence of light and the state of ice compression. Fascination also produces the constant sounds emitted by the glacier: the cracking of the ice due to the changes and movements in its interior, as well as the thundering produced by the huge chunks of ice breaking off from its front and collapsing into the lake.

© Foto: Kathy Binder

© Foto: Visit Argentina

The glacier also is known for its easy access: from El Calafate, just an hour away along the highway that borders the Rico arm, you can reach the Magallanes peninsula where a system of walkways and viewpoints offer spectacular views of the glacier and the icebergs breaking off from its front.

Alternatively, about 48 km from the city you can get to Puerto Bandera from where boats depart for excursions on the lake and pass in front of the Perito Moreno glacier. From here you can also take excursions along the northern arm of the lake to see the Spegazzini and Upsala glaciers.

Spegazzini Glacier with its "moraine", the dark line of ice and rocks.

Boat next to a huge iceberg in the north arm sailing towards the Upsala Glacier.

On the Perito Moreno Glacier it is possible to hike with authorized guides who provide crampons and instructions on how to move safely on the ice.

Periodic phenomena of natural dam breakage

The Perito Moreno glacier is also famous for the spectacle of the breaking of the ice dam that forms regularly in its advance over the Magellan peninsula, closing the water passage of Lake Argentino from the Brazo Rico to the Canal de los Témpanos.

The pressure of the water on the base of the ice begins to break through forming a bridge, which ends up collapsing on the lake bed. This happens at irregular periods and attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world who wait anxiously for this to happen.

© Foto: Glaciarium

The Perito Moreno glacier and climate change

A special property of the glacier Perito Moreno used to be that it remained stable, since the accumulation of snow was always more than enough so that melting and iceberg detachment did not substantially affect its size, contrary to the worldwide glacier retreat in the last century. It had even been observed that since 1950 it had grown. However, the latest analysis by glaciologists showed other results. During the period 2021 - 2022, the glacier retreated about 700 meters on the northern margin of the Iceberg Channel. According to the scientists, this is not a very high value for other glaciers in the region, but it certainly is for the Perito Moreno.

Also the phenomenon of the formation of the bridge and its spectacular breakup could be affected, although glaciologist Lucas Ruiz affirms that as long as the Perito Moreno glacier is still in contact with the Peninsula, it can be assumed or trusted that the breakup process will continue to occur.

Glaciarium - Glacier Interpretive Centre

© Foto: Glaciarium

Only 8 km away from downtown El Calafate, the Glaciarium offers several didactic and interactive exhibits about glaciers and ice formation, pioneer explorers and scientists, history and evolution of the Perito Moreno and Upsala Glaciers, encouraging visitors to reflect on how to take care of the planet.

Inaugurated in 2011, designed by Pablo Güiraldes and Santiago Cordeyro Arquitectos, it has a façade inspired by the imposing Patagonian ice. In addition to the two large exhibition pavilions, it has an auditorium and a gallery for photography and painting exhibitions.

Glaciarum website

Location on map

Flora and fauna of the park

Flowering notro tree

Condor nest seen from the boat

The ecosystems that can be observed are the High Mountain, extreme for life, the Andean Patagonian Forest of temperate to cold and humid climate propitiating arboreal species such as lenga, ñire and guindo and notro, and the Patagonian Steppe, arid and windy with hard grasses (coirones) and thorny bushes (calafate and neneo).

Among the birds, the Andean condor, giant woodpecker, and torrent duck stand out; among the predators, the puma, whose conservation has become primordial, like the protection of the orange Mangangá bumblebee among the native pollinating insects.

The park's emblem

The park's emblematic animal is the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus), a short-legged deer with characteristic two-pointed antlers. It is an endangered species and was declared a National Natural Monument in 1996.

El Chaltén - Northern Gateway

© Foto: Visit Argentina

The Los Glaciares National Park can also be accessed from the north with the tourist village of El Chaltén as its access. Founded in 1985, it is one of the youngest towns in the country and the national capital of trekking.

It is located at the foot of the famous Cerro Fitz Roy or Cerro Chaltén as the original language Aonikenk/Teheulche, which in the means: "blue, sacred, or smoking" mountain. This legendary 3,405-meter-high mountain with sharp granite walls has challenged mountaineers from all over the world.

Most visitors come to the area to practice mountain sports, hiking, kayaking, horseback riding, and sport fishing. The Viedma Glacier is another major attraction, with catamaran excursions departing from the Bahía Túnel dock on Lake Viedma, 18 km from El Chaltén. For lovers of rustic luxury, the famous international lodge company Explora has recently opened the hotel Explora El Chaltén.

© Photos: Kathy Binder, unless otherwise indicated. Text: Universes in Universe.

Location, access:

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
Administration and information center
Av. Libertador 1302
9405 El Calafate, Santa Cruz
Tel. Information Center: (0054) 02902-492504

Website | Email

Location on map

Park entry points:

Southern Area
City of El Calafate (international airport)
Location on map

From El Calafate, it is 80 km of paved road via RP 11 to the Perito Moreno Glacier (walkways and balconies), and 47 km via RP 11 and RP 8 to Puerto Bandera to take boats.

Central Area
Parador La Leona
Location on map

The access to Central Area starts at the Parador La Leona, with long stretches of gravel road up to the sectionals.

Northern Area
El Chaltén village
Location on map

In the Northern Area there is no access fee and both services and trails start from El Chaltén.

Between El Calafate and El Chaltén there are 220 km of paved road.

© Texts and photos are protected by copyright.
Compilation of information, editing, translations, photos: Universes in Universe, unless otherwise indicated

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