Minitrekking the Perito Moreno Glacier
The Perito Moreno glacier is one of Argentina’s most sought after destinations in Patagonia. Watching- and just as important listening- to chunks of ice break off the glacier is breathtaking. Easily reached from the town of El Calafate, the Perito Moreno can be visited by means of a standard walking tour or a trekking tour. In this post, I’ll cover my experience minitrekking the Perito Moreno Glacier and give you tips to make the most of your experience.
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Minitrekking vs. Big Ice Trek
If you’ve done some research, you already know that there are two treks you can do at the Perito Moreno Glacier- Minitrekking and Big Ice. Below are some key differences between the two:
- Moderate difficulty
- Short, easy walk to get to the ice
- 10 hour tour with about 1.5 hours on the ice
- Approximately 20 people per group
- Runs from August 1st – May 31st
- For people 10 – 65 years old only
Big Ice Trek
- High level of difficulty
- One hour uphill walk to get to the ice
- 12 hour tour with about 3.5 hours on the ice
- 10 people per group
- Runs from September 15th – April 30th
- For people 18 – 50 years old only
I know, the age limit is frustrating. When I asked why they set maximum age limits, they said it was for insurance reasons.
For the sake of full disclosure, I wanted to do the Big Ice trek. However, it was sold out for my travel dates. If you find yourself in the same position, by all means book the minitrekking excursion. It left me wanting to go back for more, but at least I know what it feels like to walk on a glacier!
I’ll talk about things you should know about ice trek availability shortly.
How to book a Minitrekking excursion
You’ll find agencies of all kinds offering the Minitrekking (and Big Ice for that matter) excursion. However, know that regardless of who you book your trek through, all tours will come back to Hielo & Aventura.
Hielo & Aventura is the only company allowed to run tours at Perito Moreno. I was impressed by their dedication to safety, glacier conservation, and customer service. The staff spoke excellent English and made the experience fun, but they got serious when it came to safety.
You can book your Minitrekking excursion directly through Hielo & Aventura online or in person at their office on Libertador Street in El Calafate. You can also book it through another agency, although you’ll ultimately take the tour with Hielo & Aventura.
I did a lot of asking around at different agencies in El Calafate and was happy to see that most all offered the exact same price as Hielo & Aventura. The difference was that when asking about availability, many agencies had to call Hielo & Aventura to check.
Availability for the Minitrekking
As mentioned earlier, I wanted to do the Big Ice trek. I visited El Calafate in March, which is a shoulder month between the high and low season. I booked my trip only three days in advance. With that came no availability for the Big Ice trek for five days out.
What I found interesting is how many locals seemed surprised by the lack of availability. It appears that during the high season availability can fill in advance, but it’s less common for the shoulder and low season months.
The good news? There is almost always availability for minitrekking the Perito Moreno glacier.
They scatter when the minitrekking tours start. This is good for availability but means that you’ll most likely see groups before and after you hiking the glacier.
Starting the Minitrekking tour
We’ve got the basics of booking and availability under our belt. Now, I’m sure you’re wondering exactly what the minitrekking tour entails!
Let me share my experience with you.
Tour Meeting Point
When booking the Minitrekking tour, you have the option to choose a pickup from your hotel in El Calafate or to meet directly in the Los Glaciares National Park. The pickup comes with an extra cost, but if you don’t have a vehicle its the best way to go.
You’ll be given a general time of when you need to be in your hotel lobby waiting for the Hielo & Aventura bus. If you’re like me and booked an Airbnb or have another form of private accommodation, you may be asked to meet at the Hielo & Aventura office.
The Hielo & Aventura office is right in the middle of town on Avenida del Libertador 935.
Since I had to go to the office, I was the first one on the bus and the last one off. The pickup took around 40 minutes but it was nice to see side streets in El Calafate that I otherwise wouldn’t have explored. The drop off was quicker since the guide didn’t have to go into each hotel.
Travel Tip: Sit on the driver’s side of the bus when traveling from El Calafate to the Los Glaciares National Park. You’ll doubt this advice for the ride along Argentino lake, but as soon as you enter the park you’ll be the envy of your passenger side seat travelers. The best part? You’ll get the first view of the Perito Moreno glacier!
Logistics at Los Glaciares National Park
The bus ride to the Los Glaciares National Park entrance will take around one hour. When your bus arrives to the park, a park employee will board and collect the park entrance fee. The cost is approximately $18 USD per person for one day. There’s a discount for the second day if you purchase a two-day ticket.
As a worse case scenario you can pay inside via credit card (make sure you bring your passport for this). However, paying in cash is the recommended way to go so that you don’t hold everyone up on your bus.
Once all the money is collected, the employee will re-board the bus with your tickets. If you purchased a two-day ticket, check to make sure the ticket reflects this.
Bus ride inside the Los Glaciares National Park
Shortly after entering the park and paying, the bus makes a restroom stop. Unless you’re buckling at the knees, my advice is to make a beeline past the restroom and down to the lake shore.
I got lucky enough to visit when there was a rainbow and snapped some people-free shots. Due to the mixture of frequent rain and sun, our guide said that rainbows in the area are common- even double and triple rainbows!
Once you’ve taken your pictures, head back up to the restroom and enjoy no lines while watching everyone in your group crowd down by the lake.
Boat to the trekking site
After catching your first glimpse of the Perito Moreno glacier by boat, you’ll soon arrive to the small port. Everyone is required to sit inside the boat until it departs. Although it feels counterintuitive, sit at the back of the boat by the stairs. The outdoor viewing area is only at that end, not at the front like so many assume.
Once the staff opens the back door of the boat, make a beeline for the railing. Any part of the railing is better than no railing, but try to stand on the passenger side. This will give you the closest views of the glacier.
Don’t worry if you missed seeing the first chunk of ice fall from the glacier. You’ll be both hearing and seeing it happen a lot during the day.
Perito Moreno is one of the few glaciers in the world that is growing.
Arrival to the Hielo & Aventura Lodge
Once you get off the boat you’ll be at the Hielo & Aventura main lodge. Here, you can use the restroom again and store any items you have with you that you don’t want to bring on the trek.
They encourage you to leave everything behind except your camera. Once out on the ice, I understood why. Carrying other things would have thrown me off balance. Just make sure to bring your cash/credit cards with you since there isn’t a way to lock up your stuff.
I didn’t see anyone in my group carry water out on the ice. As a worse case scenario if you feel dehydrated, your guide could likely arrange for you to drink some glacier water.
Travel Tip: Pack a lunch and some snacks. The only time you’ll have access to purchase food is by the balconies at the very end of your tour. You’ll work up an appetite well before then!
Getting geared up for the trek
After dropping your stuff off at the lodge, they’ll hand out gloves to anyone who didn’t bring their own. Ahem, me.
The gloves are to protect your hands from sharp edges on the ice if you need to grab onto them or if you fall. More on falling later!
They then have a group of staff who help put crampons on your shoes. It should go without saying, but this trek requires closed toe footwear along the lines of trekking boots or sneakers. I wore sneakers and got along just fine. Just make sure to tie your shoe laces tight. If not, the crampons will pull your shoe off when you walk!
Trekking in Crampons
Your guide will give a briefing on how to walk in crampons. It felt funny having them on, but I was surprised by how easy it was to walk in them.
For me, the hardest part was remembering to put one foot in front of the other when going downhill instead of turning my foot sideways. Our guide warned us that going down sideways would cause us to slip right down the hill and topple over, so I was in full concentration mode!
The guide and one other staff member who accompanied us on the trek made sure that the ice along the path was broken up into little pieces before we walked on it. This helped immensely with the crampon’s ability to grip.
The closest thing I can describe to walking in crampons is walking on loose stone. The average person doesn’t feel like they’re going to fall over walking on loose stone. However, it can make your foot and ankle a little wobbly and it would make running difficult and uncomfortable.
Minitrekking the Perito Moreno glacier
At this point, you’re on the ice with your group of about 20 following your guide. The supporting staff member will walk around your group to make sure that everyone feels comfortable, that the crampons are securely strapped and to feel out the path.
Feel out the path?
Because the Perito Moreno glacier grows about six feet every day, the Minitrekking path is constantly evolving. Its a really neat experience knowing that you are the first and possibly last to hike on that part of the ice.
Photos are not allowed to be taken when walking for safety reasons. However, your guide will stop frequently during the trek so that you can take pictures. I was disappointed that the glacier’s movement during my time on the ice didn’t work out in a way that created one of those large glacier lakes that you see in photos.
However, we got to see and hear a couple of glacier streams which was absolutely amazing!
Travel Tip: Bring an extra pair of socks to change into after your tour, just in case. The crampons help keep your foot elevated above the more shallow glacier water, but you may find yourself accidentally landing your foot in a deeper puddle!
Returning to the lodge
The trek lasted the promised 1.5 hours. When we returned to the crampon area, everyone took their own crampons off. We were then given a generous amount of time to spend around the lodge.
This is the perfect time to pull out your lunch and head to the outdoor picnic tables. Or better yet, walk over to the huge rock looking out over the glacier. From there, you can watch ice fall in front of you as well as listen to ice falling on other sides of the glacier that you can’t see.
The noise of ice cracking and falling into the water sounded like something between thunder and a shooting range, especially when larger pieces fell.
Amazing doesn’t even begin to describe it!
Visiting the Balconies
At a designated time, you’ll need to be waiting by the shore. Here, you’ll cross by boat back to where your bus will be waiting for you. This time, aim to be on the driver’s side of the boat for views of the glacier.
The bus ride from the port to the balconies will take around 20 minutes. I recommend sitting on the driver’s side of the bus since the majority of the ride has better views from that side, except for at the very end where the views switch to the passenger side.
We got off at the balconies which is where non-trekking visitors view the Perito Moreno glacier. Our guide took us down to the main viewing platform and from there we had free time to explore on our own. We were given one hour to explore.
I recommend going following the path marked with yellow dots. Here, you’ll be able to get the very closest view of Perito Moreno.
Although they say that it takes 10 minutes to get to the first viewing platform back to the bus, if you’re in decent shape it will take much less time. I even had time to start following the path marked with blue dots which took me along the lake.
It’s important to note that there are a lot of stairs involved with exploring the balconies. So, if you’re already tired from the trek. you may want to keep that in mind before wandering too far.
Accessible Travel Tip: There is a boardwalk leading to an elevator which will take you down to the portion of the balconies that offers the closest view of Perito Moreno.
There is a nice little cafe, a shop and restrooms at the entrance of the balconies where the bus parks. I personally recommend aiming to spend your time down at the balconies for more chances to watch ice falling from the glacier. However, you’ll have these amenities at your disposal if you need them.
My Overall Takeaways
The trek went by in a blink of an eye. It was an indescribable experience to be out on the ice and to see so many shades of blue. I had expected to be physically tired from the trek, but it was really more of a stroll, especially with all the stopping involved. The hardest part was in the few downhill parts and even then there was a staff member to help us.
Minitrekking the Perito Moreno glacier left me wanting to return to El Calafate to do the Big Ice trek. I’ll get there someday soon and when I do I’ll be sure to write a post about it so that I can share my experience about both treks with you.
Do you have questions about minitrekking the Perito Moreno glacier? Ask me in the comments section, I’ll be happy to help.
P.S.- Will you be taking a day trip to El Chalten from El Calafate? Check out my post for the best way to plan your day!
Laura’s love for traveling started with a trip to Jamaica. Since then, she’s spent over five years living in Latin America and four years wandering the globe. She’s an early bird and backpacker at heart and can often be spotted with a dog or ten that she’s befriended along the way. Much of the content Laura writes on A Piece of Travel includes details on wheelchair accessibility, with the support of her brother-in-law and sister. You can learn about their accessibility endeavors here.