Updated January 21st, 2020.
On every backpackers bucket list, there must be at least one glacier. And if you’re planning to travel in Argentina, then no doubt the Perito Moreno Glacier is on there!
An Alternative Perito Moreno Glacier Tour
When planning our trip to Argentina, we knew that a visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier had to be on the itinerary. The question was how to visit? There were heaps of companies selling the package from the nearest town of El Calafate; coach to the glacier, boat trip, access to the trails. But one stood out more than others – Patagonia Backpacker’s Alternative Tour.
So what made this trip ‘alternative’?
Picked up at 8am prompt for an early start, we hopped onto the mini bus with just 10 other people and were warned that it was about to get bumpy. Instead of taking the usual route (paved roads) to the glacier, this bus trip was taking the alternative route along a dirt track through the mountains. All the way to the glacier!
Passing through the Patagonian Steppe
The beauty of this road is the scenery. Either side there is a spectacular view of the Patagonian Steppe (otherwise known as the Patagonian Desert), an incredible landscape that’s so dry it’s almost barren. Our guide, Romena, told us that this was the 9th largest desert in the world, and the largest in Argentina.
“Keep your eyes open!” said our guide. And so we did! During the journey we spotted a lone guanaco (closely related to the llama) as well as mountain hares with their enormous ears, a falcon in its nest, black chested buzzard eagles and more. Road kill on this deserted road proves to be the perfect feasting spot for scavenger birds!
The Harsh Life of a Patagonian Sheep Farmer
As we passed Estanica Anita (a 73 hectare estate) we learned about the life of sheep farmers in Patagonia. Many years ago, Patagonia exported wool to Europe, which kept the gauchos extremely busy. They had few rights and were treated extremely badly, which led to strikes in the 1920s which were brutally repressed by the National Army at the request of the ranch workers. Many workers were sadly murdered during that period and Estanica Anita was heavily involved.
Looking after sheep in Patagonia is no easy job! They only live six years due to the harsh climate, and each one needs 4 to 6 hectares to graze on due to the grass lacking nutrients. In fact, Romena our guide told us that the sheep lose all their teeth because the grass is so tough!
All of a sudden the bus came to an abrupt stop – “look!” Gauchos were rounding up sheep in a field at the side of the road, not a sight that you see often. We could tell how excited Romena was to be able to show us this. We piled off the bus and watched quietly from the side of the road as the gauchos called to each other, and moved the sheep up the road. A magical experience.
Los Glaciares National Park
The journey to the glacier took two hours, and two numb bums later we arrived at Los Glaciares National Park for our first glimpse of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Wow. What a breathtaking sight! At the far end of Lago Argentina, we could see the wall of the glacier, sitting on a lake of milky glacier water. Our guide walked us down to the waters edge and told us that the ‘glacier milk’ is created by the glacier grinding the rock and that mixing with the water, creating its milky appearance…
We travelled onwards to the dock, where the group had the choice of an additional boat trip to get closer to the wall of ice. We hopped on board, rushed to the front of the boat and stood mesmerised by the view (and the noise of the glacier creaking, crunching and every now and then, crashing into the water below). Many photos were taken!
Perito Moreno Glacier Walkways
The final stop was at the Perito Moreno Glacier Walkways. Here there were a selection of trails, graded by length of time it took to walk them. Our guide explained each, and showed us where to go, then left us to explore…
Two blissful hours spent gazing at this incredible natural wonder from the walkways, soaking up the glacier sun, and listening to the sounds of this moaning, groaning beast. Just sitting, watching, listening. Amazing.
When the time came, we grabbed a can of beer and headed back to the bus. There’s also whisky on offer, served with ‘glacier ice’ in the visitors centre restaurant! Bums numb and faces burnt, we were glad to take the smooth road back to El Calafate.
The Alternative Perito Moreno Glacier trip is NOT TO BE MISSED. This is one occasion when splashing the cash really does pay off, and you’ll never forget the experiences you have and things you learn on this adventure.