Few people would associate South America with anything but images of llamas, Incan ruins and Shakira, but should any traveller venture far below the capitals Buenos Aires and Santiago, they would discover sights easily confused for the South Pole. This is Patagonia.
Located on the southern end of South America, Patagonia is the region that is shared by Argentina and Chile. Isolated and mountainous, the cold area is host to
47 gigantic glaciers that can be seen from both the Chilean and Argentine borders, resides between mountains and encroaches onto water. Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia is the only destination to see these unforgettable sights and experience a relatively unknown tourist secret.
A five-hour plane trip from Buenos Aires, El Calafate is the remote town that is the tourist hub for the few travellers who visit Los Glaciares National Park. The quaint town is a kaleidoscope of different cultures. Boasting a number of different cuisines and small markets, staying in the tiny municipality is like staying in a town forgotten by the world.
The seven million kilometre square Los Glaciares National Park is the second largest national park in the world and an engrossing forest landscape that takes your breath away. Just under two hours from El Calafate, the National Park houses the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica and Greenland. The dense woodlands combined with the freezing air could make any person believe they are in the forests of Alaska, on the verge of witnessing huge displays of ice. However, unlike Alaska, the colossal glaciers that lie outside the woods are a mystifying spectacle.
Confronting the monster that is the Perito Moreno glacier is completely bewildering. The blue mass looks like rocky land and encroaches beyond the water separating the mountains and the viewpoints. Going over 250km back into the Andes and spanning 30km in length, the glacier is truly a wall of ice. With the walking circuit allowing visitors to view the face of the glacier, it is almost impossible to comprehend that this landmass is entirely made of ice. Though of detriment to the environment, every time a large piece of ice collapses as the glacier advances, all spectators cheer.
I was lucky enough to board a boat along the central lake of the National Park, allowing me to see most of the other glaciers Patagonia holds. Monstrous and striking, each glacier is different and their sheer size is terrifying.
Glacier trekking is probably the most exciting part of the entire adventure but not for the physically unfit. Strapping on ice grips, everybody has a chance to climb Perito Moreno and experience the glacier from the top. Nicknamed ‘mini- trekking’, the hour and a half walk allows you to look inside crevasses and run your hands through running water on the glacier. Thankfully, after some strenuous exercise, the supervising hiker breaks some ice from the glacier and serves it to us with whiskey.
South America isn’t often considered when wanting to see gargantuan glaciers usually reserved for Antarctica and Greenland, but what is promised goes above and beyond the imagination. I recommend a visit to this secret and unforgettable location before other people find out about it.
Originally published in BULL Magazine, April 27, 2014.