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On a family vacation in Argentina? Don’t miss the opportunity to walk on a glacier in Patagonia! Follow this guide to learn how to get to Perito Moreno Glacier and which Perito Moreno Glacier tours are right for your family!
Going to Perito Moreno Glacier as a family was Ben’s idea. He learned about this environmental phenomenon while planning our family trip to Argentina and decided it was a current wonder we had to see in person.
Ben doesn’t often insist on going to certain places, so I knew this must be a special spot.
We booked flights from Buenos Aires for 4 days in El Calafate, the main town near Perito Moreno Glacier, and planned our trip around seeing this phenomenon in person.
It took nearly four hours to fly to El Calafate, an exorbitant taxi ride to get into the city from the airport, and a dedicated day to tour the glacier (including an extra $800 ARS, or $20/ person to enter Los Glaciares National Park) but I have one thing to say about the effort and expense: IT WAS WORTH IT.
I didn’t know quite what to expect, which is the way I like to travel. When your expectations are low they are more easily blown out of the water!
I was, admitedly, a bit grumpy after a poor night’s sleep in our non-air conditioned hotel room the night before, but as soon as I saw the incredible field of ice poke out from the mountains I was stunned. Even Ben, who had done tons of research on the area, was thrilled with the sensation of seeing something so beautiful and unique in person.
If you are already planning a trip to Patagonia I can not stress enough how much you’d love a stop in this place. And don’t be deterred if you’re traveling with children: we were, and I’ll tell you exactly how to do it!
What makes the Perito Moreno Glacier so special?
What made the glacier stand out to Ben?
Aside from the coolness (get my play on words?) of being an ice field in the middle of drop dead gorgeous scenery, the Perito Moreno Glacier is a modern environmental marvel.
In a world increasingly affected by the rising temperatures of global climate change, the Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few in the world which isn’t shrinking. The 250 sq. km glacier is considered stable since it accumulates snow/ ice at the same rate it loses. The reasons for it’s state of equilibrium has stumped modern-day glaciologists (yes, that’s a real thing), making it one of the most interesting and beautiful landscapes in the world.
The Perito Moreno Glacier is just one of 48 glaciers which make up the Patagonia Ice Field, but due to it’s accessability, size, and sheer beauty it’s considered the premeir glacier for tourism.
Fun fact: The glacier is named after 19th-century Argentine explorer Francisco Moreno, a man credited with influencing Argetina’s border disputes with Chile and creating Argentina’s first national park. The ironic thing is, though, that although Moreno studied and traveled through Patagonia, he never actually went to the glacier which would bear his name!
Preparing to see the glacier
There are three things we highly suggest doing to prepare for your trip to the southern Patagonia ice fields. If you do, you’ll enter Los Glaciares National Park with a fresh understanding and appreciation of how incredible this landmark really is!
1. Watch “Our Planet” Ep. 2: Frozen World
Watch this 53-minute documentary on Netflix before your trip to El Calafate. You’ll learn about the frozen tundra in general, and the animals and landscape being affected by global climate change. It’s an easy, entertaining, beautiful, free opportunity to learn more about and appreciate the delicate area you’ll be visiting.
Children, especially, will be able to frame the experience better having this first reference.
2. Visit the Glaciarium in El Calafate + ICE BAR
The Glaciarium is a museum in El Calafate dedicated to Glaciers. It is full of gorgeous informational displays on glaciers, ice, and snow around the world, with an area of focus on the Perito Moreno Glacier specifically.
Entrance to the museum is $800 ARS/ person, and well worth it. It includes placards, video presentations, a 3D movie, interactive displays, and more. It’s one of the best museums we’ve seen around the world, and everyone in our family learned a ton in preparation for our glacier tour!
Not only was it a mind-blowing informational session, the museum also includes an ice bar. That’s right, an ice bar! As in wear-a-special-coat-and-gloves-and-sit-on-furniture-made-of-ice-while-drinking-out-of-ice-cups kind of bar. For an extra $400 ARS/ person you enter the ice bar in small groups for 25 minutes. Your entrance includes warm gear and all you can drink sodas and liquor. It’s a really fun experience to be inside the ice before visiting the ice!
Learn more about the Glaciarium and where to catch the free transport shuttle from their website.
3. What to pack for your day trip:
Be prepared for cold, windy weather and an expensive cafe on your trip to Perito Moreno Glacier. Here’s what you need to pack for a great trip:
- Cash. Bring $800 ARS/ person to pay as your park entrance fee, $1000 ARS/ person for boat tour tickets (unless you purchase a tour which includes this service in advance), and a bit extra for food or drinks at the cafe
- Snacks. There is a cafe for food and drinks, but it is expensive! Save money by packing your own water and snacks. We took bread, cheese slices, deli meat, alfajores, and water for an impromptu lunch when we were ready
- Camera. Duh! You’ll see plenty of people weilding their DSLR + zoom lenses, but it’s not necessary to get great shots of the glacier. A phone or compact camera will be just fine!
- Gloves and hat. Because it gets cold and windy! This is especially important for children.
- Fleece jacket and wind jacket. We find the best combination for complex weather is a fleece jacket and wind jacket. This allows you to control how warm you get, while protecting your head and neck against blasts of wind
How to get to the Perito Moreno Glacier from El Calafate:
There are four ways to get to the glacier from El Calafate:
- Rent a car and drive yourself
- Take public transportation to the glacier
- Join a glacier tour that provides transportation
Let’s go through them one by one.
1. Hitchike to Perito Moreno Glacier
Yes, this is an option, but is it the best one? Probably not.
When driving around El Calafate you’ll see people thumbing for a ride pretty often. Groups of 2-4 people have high hopes that their entire group + backpacks will be transported by a friendly stranger, but the reality is that the chance is low. What ends up happening is that you stand in the cold, blistery wind for a while before resorting to signaling that you’ll pay for a ride. At that point you could get picked up, but you’ll end up spending nearly as much money as you would have to just pay your way in the first place.
Without standing in the cold.
And if you are traveling with kids? Forget about it.
2. Rent a car in El Calafate
This is a more realistic option than trying to hitchike, but still may not be the best!
Contact El Calafate rental car agencies via WhatsApp (find numbers on a Google Maps search) before your trip. While it’s nice to have the flexibility of driving yourself, there are some setbacks you’ll want to keep in mind:
- El Calafate is a popular destination, and car agencies may not have availability for you.
- Because there is a high demand and lower availability prices are steep. Rental cars can start at $55 USD and up per day, not including the cost of gas
- Parking at hotels is also limited
Nevertheless, it could end up being the most cost-effective option if you are traveling with groups of 4-5+.
3. Taking the bus to Perito Moreno Glacier:
There is public transportation to and from the glacier, but it isn’t as inexpensive as you’re probably used to. Here’s how to do it:
- Head to El Calafate bus terminal at Jean Mermoz 104 in time to purchase tickets for a bus. You can find departures at 8:30 am, 9:00 am, and 1:00 pm (yes, you can buy tickets the day of travel!)
- Tickets will cost around $800 ARS, or $20 USD.
- The drive will take around 90 minutes (including a stop for a parks employee to board the bus and sell entrance tickets, $800 ARS or $20 USD)
- The bus will drop you off in an area where you can head off on hikes along the extensive boardwalk system or buy tickets to take a 1-hour boat ride on Lago Argentino along the north face of the glacier.
- Find out the return time and location for your bus before leaving and make sure to meet it at the appropriate time
Here’s my issue with this system: it’s nearly as expensive as getting tickets on a Perito Moreno Glacier tour which are much less hassle and include a bilingual tour guide!
4. Join a Perito Moreno tour from El Calafate
This is the option we chose, as we felt it was the easiest and most comfortable way to travel with a child. As I mentioned, keeping the little one happy on a trip we spent lots of time and money getting to was paramount. I’m more than willing to spend a little extra money to ensure every other effort is worth it!
After lots of research into El Calafate tour agencies we chose to book our door-to-door tour to the glacier with Patagonia Dreams.
We were picked up at our hotel around 10:00 am, taken to the glacier and extra photo stops with a knowledgable bilingual guide, given excellent instructions on what to do in the area, and taken back to our hotel around 7:00 pm.
It was stress-free, so much fun, and only cost $1200 ARS! Book your transport from hotel to glacier in advance from Patagonia Dreams here.
The Best Perito Moreno Glacier Tours
When traveling with kids you want to make your day as easy as possible. This is especially true in El Calafate, as getting back and forth and hanging out in the cold can make anyone irritable. Hedge your bets on having a great travel day by booking a glacier tour. The extra comfort will make a huge difference in your day!
1. Minitrekking: Walk on the Glacier
The only way to physically walk on the glacier is to book a minitrekking tour. Walking on an ice field is a truly magical experience!
Here’s what you can expect from a minitrekking tour to walk on Perito Moreno Glacier:
- Pick up from your hotel and 90-minute drive in comfort bus to the glacier
- Drop-off at Bajo de las Sombras port, where you’ll take a boat ride across Roca Lake
- Walk 20 minutes to the face of the glacier
- Add tour-provided crampons to your hiking boots and walk across the glacier for an incredible 90 minutes
- Walk with a guide who will explain the details of the glacier and it’s flora and fauna as we you cross
- Exit via boat on Lago Argentino to view a new portion of the glacier
The only downside to this tour (literally the one downside) is that it’s limited to children 10 years and older. It’s considered moderately difficult, and younger children are not allowed to participate. If you are traveling with children over the age of 10, giving them the gift of walking on a glacier is an absolute must!
Although we weren’t able to participate in minitrekking due to our son’s age, we have walked across the Columbia Ice Field in Canada and consider it one of the most incredible things we’ve ever done. To be completely honest, the landscape of Perito Moreno Glacier blasts Columbia Ice Field out of the water, and I can only imagine how much more impressive and life-changing a walk here would be!
2. Take a Perito Moreno Glacier boat tour
We chose to take a boat tour of the glacier, and it was absolutely beautiful! It is possible to take a boat tour across Roca Lake, but Lago Argentino is the main channel for Perito Moreno boat tours. Lago Argentino is a bigger area with impressive views of arches and caves in the glacier wall. It’s incredibly beautiful. You’ll love it!
There are two ways to see the glacier from Lago Argentino:
- By catamaran: Book a glacier tour which includes boat tickets in advance, or buy a boat ticket ($1000 ARS/ adults) separately once you arrive at the glacier. Catamarans carry around 100 passengers up to 300 meters away from the north face of the glacier. They provide seating inside a protected cabin with wall-to-wall windows and two outdoor patios for 360-degree views.
- By kayak: Adventure seekers may choose to book a Perito Moreno Glacier kayak tour, which includes a 2-hour guided walk through the boardwalk system to the embark zone, 90 minutes of kayaking up to the glacier, and lunch. Be warned: this activity is one of the most unique ways to view the glacier, but will get chilly!
3. Walk the boardwalks around Perito Moreno Glacier to watch for ice calving
There are 4km worth of secure wooden boardwalks around the north and east faces of the glacier. There is plenty of time in your day at the glacier to enjoy a boat or minitrekking tour and spend a while walking around at your leisure!
These walks are not difficult and shouldn’t be considered “hikes”, but do include a few small sets of stairs and are not, therefore, generally recommended for those with extreme physical handicaps (although there is an elevator available to transport wheelchairs to the main lookout.)
Children, however, are welcome on the paths. In fact, your family can have a lot of fun exploring the different trails!
There are four boardwalk trails which stem from a central viewing platform. The go in different directions and each take 30-60 minutes to complete. Three of the four include views of the glacier from different vantage points, so we recommend taking as many as you can!
The true beauty of walking the Perito Moreno Glacier boardwalk trail is finding a quiet bench to watch for ice calving. Ice calving is when chunks of ice break from the glacier, producing a loud noise as they crash into the water below. Seeing large chunks of ice break off is an incredible experience, and it’s humbling to know that the glacier you’re seeing will never look this exact way again!
Walkign the boardwalks is free once you enter the park.
El Calafate hotels: Where to stay
There’s an interesting mix of people who come to El Calafate. You’ll find weathly Argentines, adventurous retirees from around the world, and gap year backpackers. El Calafate hotels cater to these different clientelles, and you want to choose the right one for your family’s needs.
High-End: Hotel Posada Los Alamos
This El Calafate hotel offers beautiful, comfortable rooms, a diverse breakfast and free wifi, an indoor pool and spa, parking, and is close to the heart of El Calafate. Hotel Posada Los Alamos is perfect for families who want the freedom to walk in and out of town!
Mid-range: Hosteria Meulen
We carefully chose to stay at Hosteria Meulen during our family vacation in El Calafate. We loved the large, comfortable triple rooms, free wifi and parking, diverse breakfast (including gluten free options!), and location. Though far from the city center, Hosteria Meulen is right beside Lago Argentino offering you incredible views and a quiet place away from the party hostels in town.
Budget: Pinito’s Hostel
Staying in El Calafate can get expensive, so I don’t judge anyone looking to save some money on their hotel! If that matches your description, consider booking Pinito’s Hostel. This hostel has a 7.9 rating on Booking.com. Guests love that the basic hostel offer a variety of private rooms with bathroom, a shared kitchen, and is close enough to the heart of El Calafate to easily walk in and out of town for groceries.
Planning a family vacation to Perito Moreno Glacier? Pin this article on how to get there and the best glacier tours for later!