Perito Moreno Glacier Hike: Mini Trekking in Patagonia, Argentina
Visiting Patagonia in Argentina and looking for an adventure? This guide tells you everything you need to know about Perito Moreno Mini Trekking in Patagonia, near El Calafate, Argentina.
During my 10 days in Patagonia trip in both Chile and Argentina, we spent about 5 days in the Argentinian side. One of the highlights of our 10 days in Patagonia trip was the Perito Moreno Glacier Trek otherwise known as the mini Ice Trekking on one of the most famous glaciers in the world. If you are not familiar with Patagonia or Perito Moreno, you may be interested in the following background information.
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Overview of Patagonia
Patagonia is a vast region of 402,700 Square Miles at the southern most tip of South America shared by both Chile and Argentina. Most people think Patagonia is only in Chile but that’s not true. Both Chilean Patagonia and Argentinian Patagonia have famous national parks and mountain ranges.
The most famous part of Chilean Patagonia is Torres del Paine National Park, with the famous 5 day W trek that most hiking enthusiasts do. The landmark of Torres del Paine is the 3 granite towers, hence the “torres” in Spanish. Most people spend 4 to 5 days camping in Torres del Paine to finish the W trek but you can also do day hikes to Mirador Last Torres like what I did.
The most famous part of Argentinian Patagonia consist of both the Fitz Roy Mountain range near El Chalten and Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate. Unlike Torres del Paine in Chile, you can do day hikes near El Chalten such as the hike to Mt. Fitz Roy view point.
Overview of Perito Moreno Glacier
Located about 50 miles from the Argentinian town El Calafate, Perito Moreno is one of the rare advancing glaciers. It was discovered by explorer Francisco Moreno in the 19th century.
Perito Moreno is about 250 square kilometers in size and is part of an ice field that cover both parts of Chile and Argentina, also the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world.
Perito Moreno is one of the most popular touristy spots in Argentinian Patagonia, due to its proximity to El Calafate, the gateway to Argentinian Patagonia and the various activities you can do about Perito Moreno.
Things to Do at Perito Moreno
Big Ice is one of the most popular activities in Perito Moreno. You trek for about 3.5 hours on the Glacier itself. The excursion runs from mid September to end of April, weather permitting. From what I read it’s very physically demanding and tiring but you really get to see a lot of the glacier.
Mini Trekking: as the name implies, this is a mini version of Big Ice during which you trek for 1.5 hours on the Glacier instead of 3 hours during Perito Moreno Big Ice Glacier Trekking.
See Perito Moreno by Boat: If you wish not to do any of the trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier, then you can always take a boat tour! The boat tour is all year round but between June and September (winter in Patagonia) there is only a 12pm boat. The tour takes about an hour and the boat will take you very close to the glacier where you can see ice falling off the glacier walls!
Kayak Perito Moreno: I had not done this but apparently you can kayak near Perito Moreno. See more information here.
See Perito Moreno from the footbridge: you can either take a tour or do it yourself to get to the footbridge, which gives you the best view of Perito Moreno.
The Mini trekking included a visit to the Footbridge. However if you are on a budget, you can take a bus from the bus terminal in El Calafate to “Glaciar Perito Moreno” either at 8:30am or 9:30am.
After a 90 minute ride, you will get off at the entrance of Glacier National park (and pay a entrance fee). The bus ride costs about USD$30 round trip and the entrance fee to the park is another USD$30ish. Bring cash to pay for your tickets! After you get off the bus you can either do a boat tour or walk up to the footbridge.
Perito Moreno Glacier Hike Mini Trekking in Patagonia, Argentina Details
The most popular thing to do near El Calafate is Perito Moreno Glacier Hike in Argentinian Patagonia for those who are active.
The most famous Glacier Hike activities are Big Ice and Mini Trekking. Both Big Ice and Mini Trekking allow you to hike on Perito Moreno Glacier with an authorized company and guide.
It is impossible for you to physically walk on Perito Moreno without joining one of the tours as glaciers can be quite dangerous with many hidden crevasses. Glaciers are also not just a big ice field that doesn’t change even though it’s hard to perceive changes by eyes, but glaciers are constantly moving and changing. Perito Moreno is actually an advancing glacier which is rare as most glaciers in the world are receding due to climate changes.
Big Ice is an all day tour that let you hike on Perito Moreno glacier for 3-4 hours and it is labeled as strenuous. We didn’t think we wanted to spend so many hours on the glacicer and opted for the Perito Moreno Mini Trekking.
Booking Perito Moreno Mini Trekking
The company we used for Perito Moreno glacier hike is Hielo & Aventura and they are the operator of both Big Ice and Mini Trekking.
We chose Hielo & Aventura because they are the largest glacier trekking tour company in El Calafate and they have been doing this for years so we trusted their expertise. They also have excellent reviews and seem like a legit company.
Mini Trekking is open all year round except June 1 to mid July, which is winter in Patagonia Argentina. For those who are not familiar with the climate in Patagonia, the weather can be very extreme with high wind and sudden rain/snow/hail. Therefore tours such as Big Ice and Mini Trekking are not safe to operate in bad weather.
The price of Perito Moreni Mini Trekking is about 4500 Argentinian Pesos (~125 USD) per person with shuttle pick up and drop off and 3600 Argentinian Pesos (~100 USD) without shuttle. For an unique experience like glacier trekking I think it’s well worth paying for.
Perito Moreno Mini Trekking Day of Details
Bus Pick Up
Hielo & Aventura will ask you for your hotel name ahead of time so arrange shuttle pick up. You will need to confirm your tour details with the driver because they also pick up people who are doing Big Ice from the same hotel with their company shuttle.
We were picked up from our hotel Hotel Kosten Aike in El Calafate around 7:30am the morning of our Mini Trekking tour. The bus ride takes about an hour until we entered Los Glaciares National Park.
The bus will stop at the entrance of Glaciares national Park and a ranger will come onto the bus to collect entrance fee of 500 Pesos in cash and give you a brochure of Los Glaciares National Park.
Ferry Ride to Perito Moreno
Once you pay the fee the bus will keep going for a few minutes until you reach a ferry port called Bajo de Las Sombras Port. This is when everyone gets off the bus to stretch your legs and board the Ferry to reach Perito Moreno.
The ferry takes about 20 minutes across Brazo Rico lake and during this time you can get an amazing view of Perito Moreno and even witness the ice cracking and falling. Even if you didn’t get a nice photo of Perito Moreno on the ferry, worry not! You will get another chance to go on a Ferry after your 1.5 hour of mini Trekking on Perito Moreno.
Walking Up and Around Perito Moreno
After the 20 minute ferry ride to Perito Moreno, you eventually get off the boat. You have a few minutes to take photos at the deck while waiting for other passengers to get off the boat.
Follow your guides to the refugio on shore to put down your bags and your packed lunch on the shelf and use the bathroom before you head out since there is uh…no bathroom on the glacier. You will be on the glacier for about 1.5 hours so you definitely should do your business when you have the chance.
Bring what you want to take with you on the glacier and follow your guide to a little beach area while you are divided into either an English speaking group or a Spanish speaking group.
Your guide will then give you background information on Perito Moreno, how glaciers are formed, why Perito Moreno is an advancing glacier, the current status of the glacier, etc. Your guide will also tell you about safety information while on the glacier to avoid injuries and danger.
After your prep talk you will walk through the forest (on a board walk) for about 10 minutes to a hut at the base of the glacier to put crampons on. Someone from Hielo & Aventura will be helping you to put the crampons on.
Once you have them on, try to get up to see if they are comfortable (as in they are not cutting into your feet). This is why it’s essential that you wear good walking or hiking shoes and boots instead of something like Converse or Tom’s.
Once everyone has their crampons on, it’s time to officially start the Perito Moreno Mini Trekking. In the photo below, you see that the glacier is connect to land on the left side, and that is where you will slowly make your way up the glacier at an incline.
Glaciers are not flat, in front there are a lot of up and downs while trekking on a glacier. When you go uphill, you need to lean your body forward and while going downhill, you actually need to lean backward and trust that your crampon will stabilize you on ice. I was really scared the entire time so the guide actually held my hand the entire trek. However I am not a normal case as most people were perfectly fine walking on their own.
The tour guide will also give you some time to take photos at different spots of the glacier so that was really nice. With every group, there is a guide and another experienced person who goes ahead of the group to check the condition of the glacier to make sure there are no hidden crevasses.
At the end of the mini trekking, we were offered a nice surprise before we headed back to land.
Once you are back on land, walk back to the refugio for a sit down lunch with a view of the glacier. You have to bring your own packed lunch for the Perito Moreno Mini trekking as lunch is not provided. Most hotels offer packed lunch in El Calafate for additional cost or you can make your own lunch.
You get about 1.5 hours for lunch so most people walk back down to the beach area for more shots of the glacier from afar.
Perito Moreno Ferry & Glacier Viewing Platform
Once lunch is finished, we went back on the Ferry to head back to our bus to continue our tour to the viewing platform of Perito Moreno. This is your last chance to get some awesome shots of the glacier from water but the view is also amazing at the viewing platform.
For backpackers who prefer to visit Perito Moreno themselves, most of the time they will be taking a bus directly from El Calafate to the viewing platform and pay for a ticket to enter.
The advantage of going with a tour such as the mini trekking tour is that transportation and ticket (except national park entrance free) is included and you don’t have to worry about logistics.
The disadvantage is that the viewing platform area is quite big and there are actually multiple path you can take to get lower to get different view points of Perito Moreno. With our Mini Trekking tour, we only had about an hour to an hour and half at the viewing platform so we couldn’t really walk around as much as we would’ve liked.
There are several different walking path marked on a map for the Perito Moreno viewing platform, each with a different color indicating degree of difficulty.
During the Mini Trekking tour, we only really had time to do the shortest path, partially because we spent a lot of time taking photos and waiting for the ice to crack and fall from the front face of Perito Moreno.
I read somewhere that the frequency of ice cracking increases on sunny days and in the afternoon as temperature rises and I guess that makes sense. It is quite something to witness together with the thundering noise the ice makes when it cracks and falls into the lake.
Once you finish the viewing platform the tour will take you back to El Calafate by 5pm.
Should You Do Big Ice or Mini Trekking?
Consider Your Fitness Level
Doing Big Ice or Mini Trekking at Perito Moreno was a debate that we had prior to booking. Most blogs talk about how amazing Big Ice was but after considering how much time we had to hike on the glacier, we decided to opt for Mini Trekking on Perito Moreno.
Even with Mini Trekking, we actually spent probably 2 hours on ice going up and down hills continuously. I consider myself relatively fit and it was pretty tiring for me to walk on crampon and be careful of where my body weight was shifting.
Most websites and review also warn you about how strenuous Big Ice can be because you will be on ice for about 3.5 hours, so before you jump to booking Big Ice, think about how much you can handle walking on ice.
There is also an age limitation for those who want to do Big Ice whereas Mini Trekking is pretty much open to everyone except the really young and really old (older than 65 years old)
Consider Your Budget
Since Big Ice is a lot longer than Mini Trekking at Perito Moreno, it is also more expensive. As stated earlier, Perito Moreno Mini Trekking with Hielo & Aventura costs about USD 120 per person. Big Ice costs almost double at 7900 Pesos (~USD 220) per person. If you just want a taste of glacier trekking without the high cost then you should consider mini trekking.
Consider the Weather at Perito Moreno
Good weather is necessary for both Big Ice and Mini Trekking in Patagonia. However it is even more important to have good weather for Big Ice than Mini Trekking because you spend more time on the glacier and you also visit different spots of the glacier during Big Ice. When the weather is bad the company tends to cancel Big Ice tours and instead offer Mini Trekking as an alternative.
Big Ice only runs from Mid September to end of April every year whereas Mini Trekking runs pretty much all year round except June and half of July in the dead of winter.
The table below shows comparison between Big Ice and Mini Trekking at Moreno Perito
|18 – 50
|10 to 65
|Time on Glacier
|Mid September to end of April
|All Year except June 1 to mid July
What to Pack for Glacier Trekking on Perito Moreno
To help you best prepare for your mini trekking on Perito Moreno, I summarized a list of items that you must bring with you for the tour for both your comfort and safety:
Sunscreen and sunglasses: Ice and snow reflect sunlight and that is why you can get sunburned easily when snowboarding of skiing. The same logic applies to glacier trekking. You also want to bring sunglasses with you especially on a sunny day as it can get really bright during your glacier trekking.
Gloves: You need to bring gloves for your safety. Since there is a chance of you falling during glacier trekking you could really hurt your hands on ice without gloves.
Hydration Pack: You will be on the glacier for about 1.5 hours and it’s easy to get dehydrated during the glacier trekking due to sun and wind exposure. It’s a lot easier to drink from a hydration pack than a water battle when you are constantly moving.
Hiking Boots: You will put crampons on your shoes so it’s helpful to wear sturdy and comfortable shoes for this glacier trekking tour.
Packed lunch: Very Important! The Mini Trekking tour does not provide food or water and it is a full day activity! Bring your packed lunch so you don’t starve.
Cash: You need to pay your 500 pesos Park Entrance fee as well as tip your guide. I suggest bringing at least 1500 pesos.
Camera & Phone: This is a no brainer
Layers of Clothes: The weather is always unpredictable in Patagonia and could change drastically during the day. We got pretty lucky that when we visited end of November it was really sunny and nice on Perito Moreno. However most of the time it’s very windy on the glacier so bring layers and a scarf and hat just in case. If the weather turns out nice you can always leave your backpack and your extra clothes at the refugio before walking onto the glacier.
Other Useful Information For Visiting Perito Moreno in Patagonia, Argentina
Where to Stay Before You Visit Perito Moreno
Perito Moreno is about an hour away from the city of El Calafate. I always think of El Calafate as the gateway to Argentinian Patagonia because it is the only airport you can fly into.
You can fly into El Calafate from both international locations or from within Argentina. Airlines that fly to El Calafate include LATAM and Aerolineas Argentinas.
Aerolineas Argentina offers more direct flights from and to El Calafate within Argentina compare to LATAM.
Besides flying, you can also take a bus from various locations in Argentina to El Calafate: we took a bus from Puerto Natales in Chilean Patagonia to El Calafate during our 10 days in Patagonia.
We stayed in El Calafate for 2 nights in order to visit Perito Moreno. The hotel we stayed at was Hotel Kosten Aike which offered big rooms and a central location. The hotel also offered packed lunch for us (at a cost) for the Mini Trekking tour.
There are many hostels in El Calafate both near town center and near the bus stop. If you plan on visiting Perito Moreno glacier by yourself then you will need to take a bus from the bus station in El Calafate.
Where to Eat in El Calafate
There are many restaurants in El Calafate, some are traditional Argentinian food whereas others are pizzas and pastas and pubs.
Some of our favorite places include Isabel – Cocina al Disco (traditional Argentinian place serving large portions meat stew with ravioli (optional)) and they take credit card. Another amazing restaurant we liked was Mi Rancho(Argentinian food, REALLY good!) You definitely need to make a reservation for Mi Rancho and they only take cash. I really liked the meat and filled pasta at Mi Rancho.
Additional Readings For Visiting Patagonia
If you are spending a few days in Patagonia in both El Calafate, El Chalten or in Torres del Paine, be sure to check out my other Patagonia blog posts to see what you can do there:
10 Days in Patagonia: This blog talks about my 10 day Patagonia itinerary including where we stayed, things we did, what to eat in each town, and useful Patagonia planning tips.
Mirador Las Torres Day Hike: This blog discusses the day hike to the base of the famous Las Torres in Torres del Paine in Chile. If you are thinking about hiking this, be sure to read this blog to prepare yourself on what’s to come.
Monte Fitz Roy Day Hike from El Chalen: This blog shows you the best Argentinian Patagonia day hike and what you should expect. If you are already in El Calafate, I highly recommend you make the trip to El Chalten and do this hike. I truly think that the Monte Fitz Roy hike is the most beautiful hike in Patagonia (even more than Mirador Las Torres).
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