Saturday, 19 November 2016

El Calafate – Days 65 to 66

Have a look at our Youtude video of the Perito Merino Glacier: Perito Merino

The Perito Moreno Glacier
After three nights in the Aves del Lago Hostel in El Calafate we are about to leave for a three hour bus journey to El Chalten, which is at the foot of mountain Fitz Roy and the starting point for a number of one day and multi day hikes into the mountains.

Our hostel on the edge of town by the bird sanctuary
We quite like El Calafate and particularly the hostel we’re in, it’s a little out of the centre of town, but is next to the bird sanctuary and Lago Argentino so the views over the lake and mountains are outstanding and worth the 15 minute walk into town. The town of El Calafate seems to exist and survive only on the presence of the glacier, Perito Moreno, as there is little else to do here. There are a few museums, most with the standard entrance fee of 300 Argentine Pesos (£16), the bird sanctuary, shops and restaurants and a nice Los Glaciers park, so three nights here is more than enough, except that it’s a nice place to just chill out for a bit.

Nancy, Josie and Jackie at the glacier
The day we had out at the glacier with Nancy and Josie, both French Canadians we met on the bus (and shared a room with in Rio Gallegos) was a real treat. After failing to find a car to rent for the day we eventually hired a taxi to take the four of us to the glacier and wait the 3 hours we took to walk the walkways in front of the glacier. This seemed a better and cheaper option than booking a bus tour as we were picked up at our hostels, driven there and were not queuing to get in with a bus load of others. He dropped us off at the top of the hill and we walked straight down on the walkway to the glacier, which was stunning.

A huge chunk splashes into the lake
The glacier itself is huge at 31km long, 5km wide at its widest and 700m deep at its deepest, where it moves at an average speed of 2m per day. It is one of the few glaciers that it not retreating but is considered stable, occasionally retreating a bit and at other times (such as now) advancing a little bit. This is because more snow falls on the upper reaches than ablates into the lake at its snout.

On the left is where the snout has met the land
It disgorges into Lago Argentino and at the moment has advanced so much it has reached the opposite shore right by the walkway and has cut off the upper stretch of the lake, known as Brazo Rico, from the main part of the large lake that stretched back to El Calafate 80km away. As a result of this the flow of water down the lake has been interrupted, causing the Brazo Rico section to rise higher than the main Lago Argentino, in the past by as much as 30m in height. In the past, when the blockage ruptures the flow of water has caused flooding down-stream all the way to El Calafate and Lucia, who runs our hostel near to the lake told us that three years ago the water reached within a few feet of the hostel, which today is more than 200m away!

Feeling cool at the glacier!
The very modern walkway has been constructed to allow visitors to walk across the full width of the glacier and see it from very close quarters. They run up high so it is possible to see across the top of the glacier to see it stretching off into the distance as a huge white flat roadway. In other sections of the walkway we are taken down low to see the 70m high snout tower up over us. As it is a fast moving glacier huge chunks of ice regularly fall off (calve), some the full 70m height and drop into the lake with a huge splash and impressive noise. We saw one such event that I got a couple of poor photos of and saw another just as we arrived. Of course such events are unpredictable so it’s almost impossible to film it happening, once you heard the noise its already too late!

A condor flies overhead
We were really impressed with the glacier and the walkway and organisation, even though there were quite a few people there we had no problem in getting good views as the walkway is so extensive and well planned. We both thought we were going to be disappointed but we both came away feeling this was a visit well worth doing. It’s a very impressive glacier and the closeness really makes you feel small next to the massive power of nature.

It is possible to take a boat trip, but we decided not to since the walkway offers closer views, the boats just can’t get as close because of the danger. It is also possible to take a walking tour on the glacier itself but we didn’t do that as we’ve been on many glaciers before both walking and ski touring and we know the best views are at the snout of the glacier.

A new born foal in El Calafate
Yesterday we walked round the town, visited a couple of museums and had a nice chilling day, today we’ve walked round the bird sanctuary, all wrapped up as, although it’s mainly sunny there is a strong and quite cold wind blowing straight from the glaciated distant mountains. We’re now about to walk back to the bus station and continue our onward journey. Maybe we will catch up with Nancy and Josie again in El Chalten, they went yesterday and some other people who have stayed in our hostel have also gone there today. It seems to be the tourist route round here!
The cat from next door who really wanted to come into the hostel but wasn't allowed!

The los Glaciers park complete with statues of Francisco Moreno and Charles Darwin

The distant mountains seen from the window of our hostel

Flamingos fishing in Lago Argentino

They look like they are running off together into the hills

A google map image of the glacier. The little red marker is the point where the glacier has cut the lake off causing the one half, in the bottom of the photo, to fill to a higher level than the main part of the lake above


  1. Fantastic pics. What were the little birds that you had pictures of? X