The good weather we’d had in Buenos Aires followed us south as we headed south into the wilds of Argentina’s icy Patagonia to see the one of the world’s most spectacular advancing glaciers – Perito Moreno.
The glacier – made from ice that’s formed from snowfall high up in the mountains – stretches five kilometres across and travels 35 kilometres towards the sea at an astonishing rate of around two metres per day.
Because it’s constantly advancing (as new ice from the mountains pushes the rest forward) there’s always the chance that you can see the ice crack and break off into the sea with a satisfying splash from the viewing decks at Parque National Los Glaciares. Tours also allow you to don some stylish crampons and walk out on to the more stable parts.
To reach the glacier, most people stop over in El Calefate – a small town that seems to have sprung up in the middle of nowhere simply to cater for tourists wanting to visit the national park – and that’s exactly what we did.
Our first view of El Calefate was from 9,000 feet as our aeroplane was coming into land. We were immediately stunned by the beautiful turquoise colour of the glacial lakes that surround the town, which is nestled in amongst countless snow-capped mountains.
The town itself isn’t anything special and is mostly made up of hotels, hostels and tour offices, but we were reminded of the remoteness of our location when we were suddenly plunged into darkness during a power cut in the town’s only supermarket. We both made to leave our items in the aisle and exit the shop until we noticed that the locals had barely batted an eyelid and had carried on shopping in pitch-blackness – business as usual!
The glacier itself was so much more impressive that I had expected. To start with, this moving block of ice is massive. It rises 50 metres above the water level and towers over spectators leaning in close to get the best look.
Then there’s the power of the ice that has sheared a path through solid rock to create its own valley – and you can hear the energy of the ice moving with every crack that echoes around the mountains.
Most of all, the glacier is incredibly beautiful. The colour of the ice ranges from the purest white to the brightest blue, and it arches up in stunning peaks that glitter in the sunlight – like icing on a Christmas cake.
Another surprise was how Perito Moreno felt – we were both expecting that it would be freezing, but it wasn’t cold. It felt more like the kind of cool but dry air that you get at ice rinks.
However impressive the glacier is at first glance, the best bit is the calving – when huge chunks of ice break off and tumble into the sea. First comes the noise – like a deep booming thunder – and then you see the ice split and collapse into the sea, causing a rush of waves that race down the entire length of the glacier.
We could have stayed and watched the glacier as it creeps forward all day, but we were due to join our group for a mini trek onto the ice itself.
Walking in ice cleats took some getting used to (it involves walking from your toes to your heels – a bit like a forward moonwalk!), but the sights we saw were jaw-dropping. Everything around us didn’t seem real – it was more like being in a Santa’s grotto-like fairyland.
There were beautiful ice-blue lakes, glittering ice-arches and deep crevasses that seemed to be bottomless. All of it sparkled in the sun. What was even more amazing was that our guide explained the ice under our feet was more than 400 years old!
Perito Moreno was our first foray into Patagonia and we were amazed by the beauty of it.