Los Glaciares National Park
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Tucked unassumingly into the southwest edge of the province of Santa Cruz sits one of the most majestic places on earth, considered a wonder of the world, and declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. Los Glaciares National Park, one of Argentina’s many breathtaking national parks and monuments, is a collection of mountains, lakes and forests, from the icy Andes to the Patagonian steppe.
Los Glaciares offers exactly what you would expect: a wonderland of glaciers and ice. The glaciers here are born on the Ice Caps, also known as Patagonic Continental Ice, which is the world’s largest continental ice extension, with the exception of Antarctica, of course.
The park consists of 47 impressive big glaciers, 13 of which flow to the Atlantic Ocean. There are over 200 smaller glaciers, as well. Generally, all over the world, glaciers are more than 2,500 meters above sea level, but in Santa Cruz, they originate at a mere 1,500 meters above sea level, and they descend down to a low 200 meters. This allows for a unique access and view, found only here.
Two large lakes are the products of the melting of this immense system: Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma. By way of the Santa Cruz River, the water from these lakes feeds into the Atlantic Ocean. The park currently receives a large number of visitors annually, hailing from all corners of the globe. Activities and tours are available nearly year-round, and visitors take advantage of the organized tours, or simply explore the area alone.
The most famous part of the park is Perito Moreno, an immense glacier in the south of the park. It owes its fame to its constant movement, cyclically advancing and retreating, with somewhat spontaneous outbursts and ruptures. This is caused by the glacier advancing to one end of Lago Argentino, creating a natural dam against the water. The water has been known to rise up to 30 meters, as it has nowhere else to go. This creates an incredible pressure on the glaciers, which eventually ruptures the glacier, and begins the cycle all over again.
The cycle is not regular, and is a naturally occurring event, taking place since 1917. Since then, it will rupture every 1 to 10 years, but the average tends to be every 4 or 5 years. The glacier is a massive 5 kilometers wide, with an average height of 75 meters above the surface of the water. True to the “tip of the iceberg” cliché, the total ice depth is 170 meters. It is one of three Patagonian glaciers that are currently not retreating.
While the entire park has so much to offer in terms of beauty and adventure, Perito Moreno is certainly one of the top attractions. It is about 2 hours by bus from El Calafate, a nearby town, and there are many tour companies with organized visits. Stop by the visitor center on site to learn about the walking circuit. Trekking tours of various lengths are also available. See this Argentina Travel Guide for more information on the other parks.
On the other side of the park, and not to be forgotten, is Mount Fitz Roy. Here you will find the highest, most impressive peaks, with beautifully diverse forms of mountain granite. Mount Fitz Roy and Chalten top in at 3,405 meters. The hub for this area is El Chalten, a small town which attracts many climbers and trekking enthusiasts.
Beyond the massive glaciers and towering mountains, the flora and fauna throughout the park are a sight to see in and of themselves, with condors, eagles, pumas and the Patagonian guanaco.
Arrive from El Calafate, by bus or car. El Calafate is easily accessible by land or air.