After a recovery day in the warmth of Backpackers Kaweskar, we hopped on a bus and crossed the border back into Argentina to head to El Calafate. There's plenty of things to do here, plenty of activities, but with our aching muscles and joints and budget in mind, we were focused on one thing – walking on the Perito Moreno glacier.
There are two main options for hiking on the glacier: Mini-Trekking and Big Ice. The former includes about 90 minutes of hiking on the glacier and is easier on the body, while the latter includes three and a half hours and covers a lot more of the glacier, as well as being higher up on the glacier. While the Big Ice experience was tempting, our budget kept us honest and we went with the Mini-Trekking option, which was 400 pesos cheaper per person.
We walked around the first day, looking for a tour agency after our hostel offered a price that we knew was too high – 1000 pesos per person, not including lunch or entrance fees. Instead, we went to the offices of Hielo & Aventura - the trekking tour operators - and went inside to book our tour. We paid 800 pesos per person, which included transfer to and from the glacier and the trekking on the ice. This did not include lunch, so we made our own and brought it with us that day. The price also does not include entrance to the park, which is another 130 pesos per person. As you might have guessed, we were way over budget for the day.
The morning of, a bus picked us up from our hostel bright and early and we started the two hour journey to reach the boat that took us across the lake to the buildings that served as the home base for all glacier trekkers. We left our bags in one of the buildings and started walking towards the glacier, working through a bit of forest before reaching the rocky area just below the glacier. After a couple of viewpoints, we got to the staging area where all the crampons were waiting for their users for the day.
After a bit of advice on how to use crampons, the guides lead us up the first part of the glacier, an area that's relatively dirty as a result of the constant friction with the valley underneath. The higher we got, though, the cleaner the glacier became and all the vibrant blues you can imagine started to sparkle beneath the bright sun we had that day. As a constantly evolving structure, the glacier had myriad peaks and valleys cut by small streams of meltwater.
Following along precut paths, the trekking is not especially difficult if you've hiked before. The usually knee/back problems might be an issue at some points, but most of the walking is pretty straightforward. At certain times on the trek, the guides stopped us for a break and would chat about certain features of the glacier, such as its relatively-rapid movement or how certain structures would form. We learned more about glaciers in that short two hours than we had known before. And if learning isn't enough for you, perhaps this will help:
Yep, at the end of the trek, there are trays on the ice with clean glasses and bottles of whisky and alfajores as a reward. They chip ice right off the glacier for your drink and if you don't want/like whisky, there's plenty of fresh glacier water around to boot!
After hiking back to retrieve our bags and having lunch overlooking the southern face of the glacier, we hopped back on the boat, and then back on the bus, to head to the viewing platforms for the famous panorama views of the glacier. Words are inadequate for what you see, so I'll let Anaїs's pictures do the work:
We thoroughly enjoyed our trek. The international staff were all great and very helpful and our guides did a great job making sure we felt comfortable on the ice and gave great explanations of the various glacial features. We highly recommend doing a hike on the glacier.
We started out by staying at My Hotel. While cheap with a plentiful breakfast, we would not recommend staying here. The dorm beds were very creaky and flies were ever-present throughout the facilities. The kitchen was minimal (euphemism – it was terrible) and the bathrooms were not especially clean. It used to be a Che Lagarto-branded hostel, and it shows. On our way out of town after El Chalten, we stayed at Schilling Hostal Patagonico and had a much better stay. Mostly a hotel, the dorm rooms are in a separate building in the back. The beds were comfortable (we had two twin beds – no bunks!) and the bathroom was clean and worked well. We didn't use the kitchen there, but it looked nice. Breakfast in the morning was delicious, with two types of cakes, lots of juice, coffee, and tea, the usual corn/frosted flakes, plus a couple types of homemade bread with butter/jams. Definitely worth the price and it's very close to the bus station – an added bonus when arriving to/leaving town.
Also, it looks like you can get a cheaper price for the trekking tours if you book them on Hielo & Aventura's website.