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El Calafate and the Glaciers

January 29, 2013

Spegazzini Glacier

While EL Chalten gives access to the Northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares the big glaciers are in the South of the park and most can be accessed via El Calafate which lies just over 200km by sealed road South.

El Calafate is a much bigger town with a big supermarket (for which we were very grateful) but is still very much a tourist town.

Jared and the Lamb

We had timed our arrival to meet up with some friends, the same group we had Thanksgiving with, as Team had announced that they were going to roast a whole lamb. We couldn’t miss out on another meat fest.


The evening was great fun and as ever the food was fantastic.

We love big ice so we arranged a boat trip to see the big glaciers in the area. The most famous glacier, Perito Moreno, can be seen from land but the other two biggies in the area, Upsala and Spegazzini, can only be seen by boat.

ice 2

The trip was reasonably priced the downside being that they cram the fast catamarans full of people and we have discovered that Argentinians are not averse to a bit of pushing and shoving to get where they want to go !

Face of Perito Moreno Glacier 1

To board the boat we had to drive 40km from El Calafate to a small port on Lago Argentino where we boarded a two deck catamaran. We were pretty much last on board so only got some middle seats although this didn’t matter as we were out on the deck most of the time.

Upsala Glacier

As soon as we got going all the Argentinians rushed outside to get pictures of each other on the bow but the cold wind soon drove them indoors so we were left on the prow alone.  The first glacier we were visiting was Upsala which is the biggest glacier in South America (60km long and 4km wide with a surface area of 595 sq. km). As soon as we turned down the arm of the lake holding the glacier we started having to dodge small icebergs that became bigger and bigger as we got closer to the face of the glacier.


We stopped close to a big one with some amazing colours and the crew hauled some ice on board for people’s drinks – a good way to sell more drinks !

Front of Upsala Glacier

The boat cruised to within 300m of the ice face giving an amazing view of this glacier with its 80m high wall.

Glacier in Mountains

After around 20 minutes for viewing the glacier we started heading towards the Spegazzini glacier. This one has the highest face of any in Argentina (at between 80-135m high) and when we got close it dwarfed the boat that we were on.

Spegazzini Face

The final stop of the trip was to see the North face of the Perito Moreno glacier. It was here that we saw some chunks carving off the ice and smashing into the water.  The Perito Moreno glacier is famous as it is one of the only glaciers in South America that is not retreating. In fact it regularly advances across the small channel from one side of the lake to the other causing a dam. The water in the dammed side starts rising until it carves a hole in the ice and an ice arch is created. The collapse of these ice arches is a national news event and pretty spectacular (you can see videos of it at the Glaciarium in El Calafate).

Perito Moreno Glacier

After we left the Perito Moreno glacier the boat headed back to the port. We hadn’t had enough, and because we’d paid the park entry fee for the day already, we decided to drive up to the land based viewing platforms for Perito Moreno.

Perito Moreno Calving

Viewing the glacier from land is actually a better experience than from the boat. Firstly you get closer. The boat can’t get too close because of the danger of waves from calving events. Secondly you are up higher than the water level so can see up the glacier. On the boat the view is blocked by the wall which is around 60m high.

Perito Moreno Glacier 2

You could spend hours watching the glacier as there is a constant backdrop of cracks and other noises. Every few minutes chunks fall off the glacier into the water causing large waves to crash against the shore. It’s an amazing sight.

Perito Moreno Glacier

After a night bushcamping by Lago Argentino we returned to the campsite in El Calafate in order to spend a day doing some chores: changing the truck oil and fuel filter, greasing our nipples (on the truck!), changing a wiper blade etc. All the sort of chores that need doing periodically.


We did visit the Glaciarium, just outside Calafate, which is a modern museum of Glaciology. It was intersting but probably not worth the entrance fee. There were some nice films however.


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