Cuenca to El Calafate (to get to Perito Moreno Glacier)
We managed to arrive in El Calafate 30hrs after leaving Beth & Larry’s apartment in Cuenca. There were some real awesome times (flying first class on the two longest legs of the trip) and then there were some not so real awesome times like being told at the last minute that we had to purchase our Argentina reciprocity fee in the Guayaquil airport 50 minutes before the flight was set to take off. But we did it. And heck, we liked it so much that we are leaving for a 28hr bus trip at 4pm today to Bariloche. I feel bad saying things like “this is going to suck’ because we are on the trip of a lifetime…BUT….we’re going to be on a bus for 28hrs….make no mistake, from 4pm today until 8pm tomorrow night it will not be fun.
We decided on El Calafate for a few main reasons. The primary was it’s access to Perito Moreno Glacier which is part of the 3rd largest ice field in the world (after Antarctica and Greenland). We would have loved to go to Antarctica but our timing and our budget really didn’t work out. We are a bit late to take a cruise to the Arctic. Perito Moreno Glacier is a very, very respectable replacement.
El Calafate would also serve as the southern-most point we would make it to on our journey. From here we are going to springboard north into Chile and then cut directly across South America (from west to east) and end of in Montevideo, Uruguay sometime in the near future.
So, as you can see El Calafate itself didn’t have much of a draw. It’s really a combo of it’s access to the Perito Moreno Glacier and it’s location in respect to the remainder of the trip that drew us here. Which means there isn’t a ton going on here. The town seems to have been built specifically to cater to 2-3 day trips with the intent on visiting the glacier. It’s really why you haven’t heard from us on the blog until now (we went to the glacier yesterday). There is really not much here.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Now I can get into the good part, our visit to Perito Moreno Glacier. This place was so dang cool. Loved it.
I should mention here that when we arrived in El Calafate we had nothing booked. No hotel, no tours booked, no tickets to get out of town – nothing. So our first order of business was finding a hotel room (check) and next was showering (check), getting something to eat (check) and booking our trip to Perito Moreno Glacier.
We had read online that it was important to book in advance. Sure it is…that’s what they all say. “This tour is going to fill up, so book now!!” There is only one company in town that has the license to operate a long multi-hour trek on the glacier called “Big Ice”. (Hielo y Adventura) That is the tour we wanted. We popped into their office and asked for the tour and wouldn’t you know…they’re fricken booked solid until next Wednesday. Huh. Well, OK.
Luckily they had plenty of openings for a tour called “Mini Trekking” which gave us about 90 minutes of hiking on Perito Moreno Glacier. This was just what the doctor ordered. Big Ice would have had us hiking 4hrs off the glacier and 3hrs on the glacier for a total of 7hrs…which would probably have been a bit much.
In a nutshell here is how the day went. It’s a little long for the amount of time you spend on the glacier but it is so worth it.
- 9am: Bus picks you up from hotel
- 11am: Arrive at Perito Moreno Glacier national park (80km from El Calafate). Our guide gave us a quick update on what the day would look like and set us free to explore the grounds nearby and the viewing decks. We had 2.5hrs to eat lunch.
- 1:30pm: Bus picks you up and drives down to the docks to board a boat
- 2:00pm: a short 20min boat ride across the channel (in front of the glacier) to the tour companies base camp
- 2:30pm: after getting settled, using the bathroom and storing your backpack you begin a short hike to a spot where you put on crampons
- 3:15pm: your group starts the glacier trek.
- 3:15pm – 4:45pm: Trek the glacier. Drink the water directly out of the pools (delicious, really!) We were fortunate and had a great group of people (young, physically fit, not too uncoordinated) which meant that we could cover more ground than the other groups. Honestly, this is a big deal. The group is only as strong as it’s weakest link and if people are falling down or can’t move quickly you could do a lot of standing around.
- 4:45-5pm: The guide pours a celebratory glass of whiskey over some fresh glacier ice.
- 5pm: take crampons off, walk back to base
- 5:30pm: boat back to dock
- 6pm: bus back to El Calafate
- 7:30pm: arrive back at hotel (shorter on the way back because you do not stop for bathroom breaks or stop to pay national park entrance fee)