The southern Patagonian ice field is one of the most important collections of glaciers in the world. The ice field which spreads along the Andes for 350 km’s.
There are several places to see the glaciers of the Southern Patagonian ice field, but the two most accessible are in El Chalten and El Calafate.
As you know from previous posts, we absolutely loved El Chalten for the fantastic family friendly hiking. But it is also a great place to see Argentina’s largest glacier – Glacier Viedma.
We booked a tour from El Chalten which included transport to and from Lake Viedma, and a boat trip to the glacier. It was a half day tour with about 2 – 3 hours on the boat. It takes about one hour to get from the pier out to the glacier. On the way out, our guide explained some facts about the glacier as well as some of the history of the region and about the flora and fauna found in this part of Patagonia. We were surprised to learn that there is a huge population of Salmon which come to this lake to spawn. The Salmon are an introduced species and are threatening the local fish species in the lake, so make sure you eat lots of Salmon when visiting Patagonia!
It was freezing and windy when we got to the glacier, so I kept Mr Z inside except for this quick photo op.
Glacier Vieldma is Argentina’s largest glacier, and there are hiking opportunities on the glacier. However these are not available to families, so we only did the boat trip. The boat trip was a good diversion from hiking, and gave us a day to rest our legs, but it was by no means a highlight of our visit to the region. The glacier which made it to the highlight reel was most definitely the next.
This is Argentina’s most popular and most visited glacier and for good reason. It’s absolutely stunning. It’s also one of the most accessible. We booked a tour from El Calafate which picked us up from our hotel and drove us to the national park. There was also a boat trip which could be purchased for an additional fee, but we were all boat tripped out. Plus, this glacier has a series of walking paths and boardwalks which offer stunning viewpoints of the glacier so we were happy to stick to that.
The day was cold and rainy, and things got even colder as we approached the glacier. As we drove through the Patagonian steppe our guide told us about the region. As we approached the park we entered a region which receives slightly more rainfall, which was obvious as it was the first time we had seen trees on the drive.
Our tour bus dropped us off at one end of the boardwalk and would pick us up from the other. We were left with a couple of hours to explore.
Now if you believe the guide and the timings on the map, you would think it would take several hours to do all the trails, but that is not the case. We were going a slow walking pace (we did have a 4 year old with us after all), plus stopped on numerous occasions to take photos, and it only took us about 2 hours to walk down every boardwalk option. That being said, we didn’t stop too long in each viewpoint as it was freezing and raining sporadically, so maybe the timings are based off how long it takes people to walk through on a beautiful sunny day.
The glacier can only be described as mind blowing. Seeing the massive face of the glacier was a definite “wow” moment. As we walked along the boardwalks we could also hear – roughly every 15 to 20 minutes – the creaks, cracks and finally the crashes as ice broke off the glacier and fell into the lake to become iceburgs.
It is a stunning location and we felt very lucky to be able to explore this special place.
Located just outside the town of El Calafate (but with free shuttle transfers from the centre of town) is one of El Calafate’s museums, the glaciarium. As you can guess, the museum is devoted to the glaciers of El Calafate and the larger region. Here you can learn about how glaciers are formed, and their importance in regulating the Earth’s temperature.
Jacob and I visited the glaciarium in between visiting Glacier Viedma and Perito Moreno, and the museum really helped cement the concepts we were learning about.
We only spent two nights in El Calafate, but that gave us enough time to visit the Glaciarium in the afternoon we arrived, and then Perito Moreno the following day.