El Calafate and Glacier Perito Moreno

Today, I had originally planned to do a short hike and then drive back to El Calafate. But the weather forecast was poor, and every trail had a minimum distance of 16km. Instead, I left early, reached El Calafate at noon, and after checking into my hotel drove to see one of Patagonia’s other highlights – the Perito Moreno Glacier. It was located 80km west of the town and I got there in the early afternoon. From the car park, there was the option of a shuttle bus to the main glacier or a path running along the side of a lake.

I chose the path and was very lucky – the weather had been cloudy and dull, but as soon as I set off, the sun came out. I turned a corner to be greeted with an amazing view of a blue wall of ice gleaming in the afternoon sun.

First glimpse of the glacier – a wall of blue ice

The path – on a raised walkway made of metal – brought me closer and closer to this incredible sight. There were frequent viewing platforms, each giving a slightly different perspective.

The park has several trails, all on walkways. Most visitors seemed to stay on the “yellow” path, where the shuttle bus drops them off. This left the more remote blue and red paths nearly empty, and I spent several hours exploring and taking photographs. 

Stunning views in the mid-afternoon

From time to time there was a cracking sound as the ice blocks in the glacier moved. The ice advances about 2 metres per day. Fresh ice from the mountains pushes the older ice further down the valley, until it reaches the lake where the warmth of the sun and the water causes it to fracture and break off (“calving”) as small icebergs. I saw – but was too slow to film – some smaller pieces of ice break off and crash into the lake below, with an impressively loud splash.

After a few hours, the clouds returned, and it started to rain lightly – although the Patagonian winds always mean that even light rain always turns into something much more unpleasant. The temperature dropped abruptly. It is hard to dress properly for the weather in Patagonia. When the sun is out, with no wind, it is hot.  When it is windy and sunny, it is cold. When it is cloudy and windy, it is very cold. And when it is windy and raining, it is unpleasantly freezing. 

It was time to leave for today, but I returned on the following day to see the glacier in the morning light.  The views were even better…….

More Stunning views…the morning this time

I noticed that all the ice formations I had noticed the day before had disappeared, to be replaced by new ones. A couple of large icebergs floated in the lake – calving events that must have happened after I had left the day before.

An iceberg that had formed overnight

I found a platform on the “red” trail in front of some rickety-looking ice structures and sat and waited, hoping for a big chunk of ice to fall for me. But my ice remained annoyingly solid, and my patience eventually ran out. I headed back to my car, having spent a total of six hours looking and filming the ice over two half-days. Back in my hotel I admired the hundreds of photos I had taken and started the difficult job of sorting them, before strolling around El Calafate. It was a very pleasant small town, fully dedicated to serving the many tourists that come to visit Patagonia. I had dinner in a craft beer brewery with more excellent Argentine beer and a burger.

My stay in Patagonia had two last twists. On the way to the airport the next morning I was greeted by a very unexpected sight.

? Surely not….
Yes! Flamingos on Lake Argentina in Calafate

I reached the airport, boarded my plane, and was treated to one last view of Mount Fitz Roy as we took off….

I left Patagonia with a heavy heart. It was incredibly beautiful, with three world-class sights within close proximity of each other – Torres del Paine, Mount Fitz Roy and Perito Moreno. The town of Calafate is named after a blue berry found in the area. Legend has it that if you taste the calafate berry, you will return to Patagonia. I had tried a “Pisco Calafate” cocktail one night. I think the legend might be right.

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