Part 1: Travel Diaries
Part 2: Practical Tips
Part 1: Travel Diaries
Departure at 8:30 am from the bus terminal of El Calafate with the company Taqsa (we only take that from Ushuaia, the service and the bus are good). 500$AR/person round trip, transportation only and without guide. It is unfortunately the rate here, with a difference of more or less 50 pesos according to the schedules
Be careful, to go to see the Perito Moreno glacier, you have to go to El Calafate, and not the city Perito Moreno which isn’t at all in the right place. The same goes for Fitz Roy, there is a town with that name, while Mount Fitz Roy is next to El Chalten. There, like in the Philippines, they recycle names and it is confusing.
The path leading to the park is magnificent, we get closer and closer to Lake Argentino and then we move away from it to stop at the entrance of the park. An employee goes up in the bus and makes us pay 330$AR each one. I hope that this ticket has a sufficient validity period so that I can trek in the same park, but in El Chalten
The bus will make another “view point” stop before making a final stop at the main parking lot. It is 10:30 am, we queue in front of the office of the boat, but nobody is there. A few minutes later, several guides of the park announce that there will be no boat today, because of huge icebergs floating near the boarding bridge. We would have liked to take the boat at 1pm we 😔 Too disappointed, I run left to right to have more information and I surprise a conversion of a guide with her customers. She tells them that she can take them to another pier, and the boat will leave for the same price as this one (350$AR). When you pay a tour with a guide (700$AR, or 200$AR more), you aren’t just abandoned in the parking lot
Our driver still shows us a free shuttle, leaving every 10 minutes, taking everyone to another parking lot at the top. From there, we have access to different metal footbridges of varying heights, giving a view more or less close to the glacier
Woooow! We’ve never seen a glacier so huge, so accessible and so talkative. We have moreover the good morning light, it is so beautiful, so blue that we are completely dazzled and we have to wear sunglasses and to spread sun cream
Next to that, the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand is a big joke. I suggest to Lonely Planet to add in its guide of New Zealand: “if you plan to go to Argentina, don’t lose your money, zap the Franz Josef Glacier and save your energy”
The shades of blue are incredible, between the blue sky, the discreet blue of the glacier, the azure blue of the floating icebergs, and the creamy, milky blue of the lake, we have in front of us an impressive palette of blues offered by nature
Apart from the magnificent view of the glacier, you can hear the glacier rumbling. Sometimes discreetly like a firecracker, and sometimes more strongly, like thunder. When the glacier rumbles like that, everyone stops and looks at the glacier attentively, waiting for a block of ice to fall
We have time to finish the whole red course and admire the fall of mini ice blocks (mini by far, but each block is surely the size of a coconut) – before landing on the first balcony of the yellow course to eat our sandwich. Suddenly, we hear a big thunder and a huge piece comes out of a cavity
Seeing small blocks of this cavity continue to fall, JB and I bet on another fall and have the phone riveted to this spot. That’s how we were able to take pictures in burst mode and make an animated gif where we can see the whole cavity falling down (see the Facebook post above)
It will be the most impressive fall of the day. It is so violent that there is a mini tsunami in the vicinity, displacing huge icebergs already floating in the water. It’s such a kick-ass vision that everyone is smiling up to their ears, delighted with this sunny day and this extraordinary waterfall
We tell ourselves that if we had taken the boat, we would have missed this fall. So Mother Nature made the right decision for us
Following the blue route to the lake, we witness 2 other huge falls on the other side of the glacier. Each time, it is very impressive: the sound, the sight… the icebergs which float… We are so fascinated by the glacier that we do not see the time passing: it is already 4 hours that we pass from one footbridge to the other
The red route is the least interesting, but it offers a “new” view on a less exposed facade of the glacier
The yellow course is the most popular, offering a direct view of the glacier
The blue course is my favorite, you can see almost everything from the lowest balcony of the blue course, along the lake
The only thing I find a pity is the absence of a balcony close enough to the glacier and low enough to realize its size (but this would risk to distort the site). The glacier measures between 40m and 70m, but when the walkways are too far away, or too high (30m), we lose thisn’tion of height that could have been given by observation from a boat
To close our visit, we go to the lake where huge icebergs float. I pick up a small one for fun but it isn’t clean enough for us to taste it. In any case, at the bar near the carpark, we can buy shots of whisky with iceberg ice from the glacier for 100$AR. The oxygen enclosed in these icebergs can date from 500 years ago
It is 2:15 pm, our driver is waiting for us to take us back to the bus terminal in El Calafate. Everybody is tired and sleepy in the bus
Very happy with our day, we have dinner at the restaurant just in front of the youth hostel. I discover with greediness the delicious lamb goulash (a local specialty, 210$AR). What we eat well here! I love this country!
Part 2: Practical Tips
- Beware, cash dispensers empty very quickly here (as everywhere in Argentina). Try to pay as much as possible by card (travel agencies, buses and some restaurants accept cards) and withdraw as much money as possible before coming here. We were able to withdraw 1500$AR at the same time at the Banco La Nacion. If you go to a restaurant, avoid those that do not accept the card.
- Guided tours cost in the range of 700$AR/person, transportation included and available in all languages. Transportation only costs in the range of 500$AR (to be purchased either in agencies or directly from the bus companies at the bus terminal). Both fares do not include the park entrance (R$330 in December 2016 but may increase further).
- I think that the guided tours bring a big plus especially in case of glitches (no boat available as it is the case the day of our visit), but if everything goes well, we can do without it.
- We are more likely to see ice falls if we stay a long time in the same place (there are benches for that). The blue course is very good because it offers a beautiful view on a big part of the glacier. We multiply our chances to see huge blocks falling down.
- Because of erosion, the boulders fall down all year round, but it is of course more likely to be seen in summer.
- It is absolutely necessary to bring food for lunch, the cafes have a beautiful view of the glacier but aren’t close enough to see the blocks falling. The prices are very correct though.
- We opted for a departure at 8:30 am and return at 2:30 pm. As it takes 1H30 to go from El Calafate to the park, I think that if we had taken the one hour boat, it would have been too short (even if everyone tells us the opposite – the glacier is so exceptional that we don’t see the time passing). A departure at 8:30 am and return at 4:30 pm would have been ideal. Before buying your tickets, estimate how long you want to stay there, because you can’t change your mind on the spot.
- In case of rain, there are semi-glazed observation points on the footbridges and two cafes on the two parking lots for shelter.
Budget (rates December 2016)
- Bus Ushuaia -> El Calafate (18h) : 1140$AR/person
- Youth Hostel: Nakel Yenu: 18€/person/night in dormitory, breakfast included
- El Calafate – Glacier parking: with Taqsa: 500$AR/person round trip
- Entrance to the park: 350$AR/person
- Shopping to prepare our sandwiches: 210$AR (enough for 2 meals, 2 people)
- Dinner at the restaurant: 550$AR for two, drinks and tips included