Glaciar Perito Moreno
The sight of this expanse of ice, like a frozen sea, its waves sculpted by wind and time into beautiful turquoise folds and crevices, is unforgettable. Immense and silent, you'll watch in awe, until suddenly a mighty roar announces the fall of another hunk of ice into the milky turquoise water below. Glaciar Moreno is one of the few accessible glaciers in the world which you can see visibly advancing. Some 30 km long, it reaches the water at a narrow point in one of the fjords, Brazo Rico, opposite Península Magallanes, and here, where it's 5 km across and 60 m high it occasionally advances across Brazo Rico, blocking the fjord. As the water pressure builds up behind it, the ice breaks, reopening the channel and sending giant icebergs (témpanos) rushing down the appropriately named Canal de los Témpanos. This has only happened in recent decades, February 1988, March 2004, and March 2006, raising concern that global warming may be to blame for the marked change in the glacier's behaviour. Walking on the ice itself is a wonderful way to experience it, climbing up the steep curves of what appear from a distance to be vertical fish flakes, and are in fact huge peaks, with mysterious chasms below, lit by refracted bluish light.
There are various ways to approach the glacier. All excursions not involving boat trips (and the regular bus service) will take you straight to the car park situated 77 km west of El Calafate (around 30 km further from the gates of the park) where you begin the descent along a series of extensive wooden walkways (pasarelas) to see the glacier slightly from above, and then, as you get lower, directly head-on. There are several wide viewing areas, where in summer crowds wait expectantly, cameras poised, for another hunk of ice to fall from the vertical blue walls at the glacier's front into the milky turquoise lake below with a mighty roar. There is a large and fairly inexpensive café at the site with clean bathrooms. You could also approach the glacier by boat from two different piers. To survey the glacier from the south (and for trekking on the glacier), boats leave from Bajo de las Sombras pier (7 km east of the glacier). To approach from the north, boats leave regularly from Perito Moreno pier (1 km north of the glacier, where there is a restaurant). This latter service is offered as an extra when you book your standard excursion to the glacier or it can also be booked directly at the pier. To get closer still, there are guided treks on the ice itself, known as Big Ice and 'minitrekking', where you can walk along those crevices and frozen wave crests in crampons, which are provided. The latter is possible for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness, and not technically demanding. The glacier is approached by a lovely walk through lenga forest, and there's a place to eat your lunch outside, with wonderful views; but bring your own food and drink. Tour companies in El Calafate offer all of these, or some in combinations.
The fjords at the northwestern end of Lago Argentino are fed by four other glaciers. The largest is the Upsala Glacier, named after the Swedish university that commissioned the first survey of this area in 1908, and a stunning expanse of untouched beauty. It's three times the area of the Perito Moreno Glacier, and the longest glacier flowing off the Southern Patagonian icefield. Unusually it ends in two separate frontages, each about 4 km wide and 60 m high, although only the western frontage can be seen from the lake excursion. It can be reached by motorboat from Punta Bandera on Lago Argentino, 50 km west of Calafate, on a trip that also goes to other, much smaller, glaciers. Spegazzini, further south, has a frontage 1.5 km wide and 130 m high. In between are Agassizand Onelliglaciers, both of which feed into Lago Onelli, a quiet and very beautiful lake, full of icebergs of every size and sculpted shape, surrounded by beech forests on one side and ice-covered mountains on the other.
The best way to see Upsala glacier is to visit the remote Estancia Cristina www.estanciacristina.com. Lying on a lonely lakeside spot, on the northern shores of the lake, not far from Upsala Glacier, it's beautiful, utterly wild, and yet an unbeatably comfortable base for exploring the region. Accommodation is available, or you can come on a full-day visit which includes lunch and the option to go hiking for five hours, horse riding or driving in sturdy 4WD vehicles to a vantage point high above the lake. You'll walk through incredible ancient landscapes, alongside massive rocks polished smooth by the path of glaciers, to see Upsala Glacier from above. This is an overwhelmingly beautiful sight, stretching apparently endlessly away from you, with the deep still Prussian blue lake below, and all around, rocks the colour of fire. Boat trips to Estancia Cristinaare run by Fernández Campbell .