Los Glaciares National Park

A parade of steppe and ice

Address

9405 El Calafate, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

GPS: -50.337744862766, -72.267998174146

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Founded in 1937 on the border with Chile, Los Glaciares National Park is bordered by the Andes Mountains to the west and the Patagonian Steppe in the east. Its creation is part of a decree issued by the Argentine government to protect the Andean and Patagonian areas through the establishment of national parks – the Lanín, Los Alerces and Lago Puelo. With an area of over 7,200 km², Los Glaciares is the largest protected natural area in Argentina, just ahead of Nahuel Huapi National Park. Before its discovery by the first Europeans, including the Portuguese navigator Fernando de Magellan in 1520, this corner of Argentine Patagonia had been occupied by man since prehistoric times (the oldest settlements of nomads are dated between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago). The Tehuelche (South American Indians) and then the Mapuche (indigenous peoples) were the main inhabitants of the region until the arrival of the Spaniards in the middle of the 16th century.

The territory of Los Glaciares National Park is a natural extension of the Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side. Of great glaciological interest, it offers its visitors a breathtaking Andean panorama of mountain lakes, ice fields and snow-capped peaks. With its 50 major glaciers, the park’s ice cap (also known as the Southern Patagonian Ice Field) concentrates the largest ice surface in the world after the polar regions of Antarctica and Greenland. Perito Moreno, the preeminent glacier of the area, advances two to three metres per day, unlike most other glaciers in the world that tend to melt irremediably. During its progression there is the sound of incessant rumbling generated by the glacier and visitors can watch the spectacular falls of shards of ice into the Lake Argentino.

In the other part of Los Glaciares National Park, the ice cap gives way to large tracts of wilderness typical of the Patagonian region: semi-desert plateaus, forests, Andean vegetation (tundra) and arid steppes. As varied as they are, the landscapes of Los Glaciares National Park have the reputation of being among the most admired of the South American continent, despite extreme temperatures and grueling conditions. Chilly, wet weather, and strong winds, can be experienced year-round.

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  • The Perito Moreno Glacier which is 30 kilometres long, 60 metres high and 5 kilometres wide (accessible via a network of wooden walkways); other glaciers of interest (Upsala, Spegazzini, Viedma, Mayo, Onelli and Agassiz)
  • Icefalls and icebergs in quantity; the South Patagonian Ice Field (a gigantic ice cap of more than 15,000 km² on the border between Argentina and Chile)
  • The Fitz Roy (or Cerro El Chaltén) and Cerro Torre mountains, with sharp peaks exceeding 3,000 metres; the sometimes-visible mountain peaks of Torres del Paine National Park (Chile)
  • The lakes or lagoons Argentino (the largest lake in the country with a superb view of the Perito Moreno Glacier), Viedma, del Desierto and Roca; the Chorrillo del Salto waterfall (north of El Chaltén)
  • The fauna (guanacos, pumas, deer, condors, eagles…) and the flora (Andean forests, subpolar forests, grassy plains, arid steppe of Patagonia…)
  • The frescoes and rock paintings visible in the Punta Bonita and Walichu Caves on the southern shores of Lake Argentino (said to be 10,000 years old)
  • Hiking, adventure travel, horseback riding, biking, mountaineering, rock climbing, sport fishing, sailing, and rafting; the cultural museums of El Calafate (the Glaciarium on natural heritage and the interpretation centre on the history of the region)
  • Boat trips to the glacier walls or through the icebergs from Punta Bandera
  • Scenic routes and observation platforms (miradors) in the park
  • Mount Fitz Roy is named after the captain of Charles Darwin’s ship (Robert FitzRoy on the HMS Beagle) who left Plymouth in 1831 as part of a scientific expedition that lasted five years (as opposed to the original two years planned).
  • The mylodon is an herbivorous terrestrial sloth that lived on the ground in prehistoric times and not in trees, like today’s sloths. Equipped with large claws, it dug burrows to protect itself from the cold and predators (including a large feline with enormous sharp canines called Smilodon). According to recent research, cryptozoologists believe that the mylodon could have survived in some remote areas of Patagonia, whose many regions remain unexplored. This species of giant sloth that could reach three metres in height corresponds to a mysterious animal integrated in the Amerindian folklore and described by the first explorers. Thus, researcher Charlie Jacoby considers it possible that a group of mylodons could still exist today in a forested mountainous area surrounded by two glaciers, among which is the famous Perito Moreno with its 250 km² of glacial surface (this glacier represents the third largest freshwater reserve on the planet). Other scientists think that the mylodons totally disappeared from the Earth’s surface about 10,000 years ago, towards the end of the Pleistocene. Remains of skin, bones and a perfectly preserved turd, were discovered frozen in a cave north of Puerto Natales (Cueva del Milodón Natural Monument) in 1895.
  • During its natural advance, the Perito Moreno Glacier produces a strange cyclic phenomenon. An ice arch is formed at the front of the glacier and ends up breaking abruptly under the pressure of the water, causing huge blocks of ice to fall. This unpredictable scene occurs every two to five years, attracting visitors spellbound by the spectacle.
  • The Upsala Glacier is the third largest glacier in South America behind the Pío XI (or Brüggen Glacier) in Chile and the Viedma (also located in the Los Glaciares National Park but difficult to access). These three entities are an integral part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. In continuous decline due to global warming, Upsala owes its name to the Swedish University of Uppsala, established in 1477 and the oldest in Scandinavia. It financed the first scientific expeditions to the glaciers of Patagonia.
  • Two dams that will produce hydroelectric energy are under construction on the Santa Cruz River (Condor Cliff and La Barrancosa). The dams could threaten the stability of the Perito Moreno Glacier and, by domino effect, unbalance the entire South Patagonian Ice Field.
  • The village of El Chaltén, in the north of the park, is a good base for hikers, climbers and mountaineers wishing to reach the legendary Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy mountains (the Laguna de los Tres Trail is particularly popular with hikers).
  • To the south, the town of El Calafate has an international airport and is an ideal starting point to reach the Perito Moreno Glacier, the most popular in the park.
  • Check the condition of the roads and trails before you get there and prepare yourself for the icy winds of this Andean region.

Where to eat

  • La Zorra Taproom
    (beers and tapas bar)
  • La Wafflería
    (tasty desserts)
  • Restaurant Mora
    (exquisite cuisine)

Where to go

  • Petrified Forest of La Leona
    (unusual landscapes)
  • Laguna Nimez Natural Reserve
    (home to pink flamingos)
  • Cabalgata del Glaciar
    (horseback riding)

Where to stay

  • Patagonia Hostel
    (convenient and relaxing)
  • Hosteria Posada Karut Josh
    (friendly and comfortable)
  • EOLO - Patagonia´s Spirit
    (cocoon in the middle of nature)