After entering Argentina near the small town of Río Turbio, we started driving North on the iconic highway 40 (Ruta Nacional 40). Our first stop was in El Calafate, which is located close to one of the most impressive sights on the planet. Just 70 kilometers from the town, the Perito Moreno glacier flows into Lago Argentino. You don’t need a boat to see the glacier though, because it stops less than a hundred meters from the shore on the opposite side of the lake. There, a beautiful network of boardwalks lets you see the glacier from many different perspectives. Perito Moreno is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world, moving down the mountain around two meters a day. This movement is both visible and audible. Every 5 to 10 minutes we could see ice break away from the glacier, sometimes pieces the size of a 20-story-highrise, which of course triggered large waves in the lake. Even without ice breaking down, the tensions inside the ice created loud cracking noises the entire time. The front face of the glacier stands more than 70 meters tall at the center, which made us feel very small. Few things on this trip have impressed us as much as the Perito Moreno glacier, a truly awe-inspiring experience.
Perito Moreno glacier
Perito Moreno glacier from the South
Central wall of the Perito Moreno glacier (over 70 meters tall) with boardwalks and people at the bottom
Large iceberg that just fell down from Perito Moreno glacier in front of our eyes
Ice breaking off from Perito Moreno glacier
Owl near the Perito Moreno glacier
In the afternoon we did a short guided trek on the glacier, which gave us an even closer look. Our trek was at the Southern edge of the glacier and we were happy to learn that the ice does not move as much there as in the center. With crampons strapped to our hiking booth, we walked on the ice for around one and a half hours. The Perito Moreno glacier is part of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, a huge network of glaciers which is the third largest source of fresh water in the world (after Antarctica and Greenland). From this ice, our guides cut some ice cubes and served us whisky on the rocks for the end of our trek.
Trekking group on Perito Moreno glacier
Sam and Marta with crampons on Perito Moreno glacier
Our next stop after El Calafate was El Chaltén, the base for hiking in the Fitz Roy range. There are lots of beautiful hikes in this area, but the weather is notoriously unpredictable. The most famous hike is the one to Laguna de los Tres, a great view point for the highest mountain in the area, Cerro Fitz Roy (3405m). Our route was around 20 kilometers, so we decided to split it up in two days and pack our tent. The weather was good in the valley when we started, but it got colder and windier along the way and eventually it started snowing. Luckily, the campground was sheltered from the wind and most of the snow and we could set up the tent. Early the next morning, we saw stars through the treetops and started hiking up the last steep section to the lagoon. Unfortunately, it started to snow again on the way up and clouds started building. Shortly after sunrise, we arrived at the lagoon, but the highest and most interesting part of the mountain was completely engulfed in clouds. We stayed around 45 minutes, hoping the clouds would clear. But when the snowfall increased, the wind got fiercer and the visibility eventually dropped to ten meters, we gave up and started hiking down. For once, the weather was not on our side and our efforts were not rewarded.
Sunrise from the hike up to Laguna de los Tres
Laguna de los Tres and Fitz Roy (mostly in clouds)
The next day we hiked towards Cerro Torre, another iconic peak of Argentinian Patagonia. But already after half of the hike we could see that our destination is completely in the clouds and we turned around. Overall, we were not very lucky in El Chaltén. The best view we had of the mountain range was actually from the road when we approached the town. After three days of hiking we wish we had stopped for longer to appreciate that view when we arrived.
Highway approaching El Chaltén with cloudy views of the Fitz Roy range
Marta hiking (in the background would be Cerro Torre if there were no clouds)
Marta coming back to El Chaltén
From El Chaltén, a long day of driving brought us to Perito Moreno. We did not return to the glacier, but to a town with the same name. The Argentinians seem to have a habit of naming unrelated things with the same name, which can be confusing. So there is a Perito Moreno glacier, a Perito Moreno town and also a Perito Moreno national park. Neither of which have anything to do with the other, nor are they close together. In Perito Moreno town, we camped one night at the municipal campground. The next morning, we drove to the nearby archeological site Cuevas de los Manos. There, in a canyon in the middle of the Patagonian steppe, are some of the most significant cave paintings in the South of the continent. From around 8000 years ago and over thousands of years, indigenous people have painted the rock walls. Mostly with handprints, but also with Guanaco hunting scenes and more abstract art. Its impressive how well these paintings have survived for such a long time.
Hand paintings at Cuevas de los Manos
Painting of guanaco hunting scene at Cuevas de los Manos
Canyon view at Cuevas de los Manos
Colorful landscape near Cuevas de los Manos
Guanacos seen from Ruta Nacional 40