Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina: A sight you need to see for yourself

If ever there was a sight where the expression "photos don't do it justice" applies, this is it.

Perito Moreno Glacier, a five-kilometre wide, 60-kilometre long and 70-metre high wall of ice that dramatically ends in Lake Argentino, in Argentinian Patagonia, is one of the most spectacular natural sights on earth.

Located in the Los Glaciares National Park, the glacier is the main attraction of the region and it's easy to see why. There are few places on earth where a glacier this large and this spectacular can be accessed with such ease.

And while it lends itself to beautiful and majestic photos, no matter how good shots are, it cannot compare with being here.

I've spent the night in the village of El Calafate​, a pretty little resort town popular with skiers and the base for most visitors to Perito Moreno. Though the town was settled in 1927, tourism has only really taken off here in the past 15 years after the local airport opened. It now consists mainly of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and places selling cold-weather gear.

It's the tail end of summer here and, while it's cold this far south, it will be some time yet before the snow starts falling.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of tourists in town to visit the glacier and each morning a caravan of buses snake their way around the twisting roads that lead into the national park. El Calafate itself is located on a steppe, a flat landscape subjected to howling winds of 100km/h, but the surroundings become more rugged and interesting as our coach comes closer to Los Glaciares.

After a brief stop to pay the national park entry fee, we travel up a winding road until we crest a small hill and Perito Moreno appears - a stark white block between two distant mountains. It's only a tantalising glimpse though - seconds later we turn again and the glacier disappears from view.

But soon enough we're at the main viewing area. A steady stream of coaches drop off their passengers, who either head into the kiosk for snacks and a hot drink, or head straight down the elevated walkways to get a close-up view of the glacier.

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Accessibility is one of the main attractions here - the walkways and stairs are easy to navigate and there's even a lift for those visitors who are less mobile. The unique geography of the area has placed a hill directly opposite the glacier's edge, putting visitors just a hundred metres or so from this magnificent wall of ice.

There are three main trails but most tourists stick to the central (yellow) one. It's well worth taking a longer walk along one of the other trails, which also offer excellent views and a chance to get some time alone (or at least without large crowds) with the glacier.

Out here you can find a brief moment to reflect on the spectacle, the silence broken only by the breeze or the cracking of the glacier as it breaks and shifts. Each sound is different. Sometimes there is a sharp crack like a gunshot, other times a long, rising rumble like thunder. If you're lucky (as I was) you may be looking at the right moment to see a huge chunk of ice calve off the glacier and splash into the water below.

There are also boat cruises to get you closer to the glacier, but I find myself battling for space outside with the large number of other passengers, which is not a particularly pleasant experience. Still, it is quite inexpensive at 200 pesos (about $30) so can be done in addition to taking the walks.

It's possible to get even closer and go hiking on the glacier, following safe trails with a guide. I unfortunately don't have time to participate in this activity, but there are numerous tour agencies in El Calafate that can arrange it.

After a couple of hours here, it's time to board the coach and head back to El Calafate. On board, I look at my camera's display screen and flick through the 140 photos I've taken during the visit. Some of them are certainly nice, but it's clear that none has quite captured the magnitude and beauty of Perito Moreno. I doubt any camera ever could.

Trip notes

More information

http://www.losglaciares.com/en/parque/

Getting there

LATAM flies from Sydney to Santiago via Auckland with connections to El Calafate. See https://www.latam.com/en_au/ 

Touring there

The South America Travel Centre can create tailor-made itineraries including accommodation, transfers, activities and domestic travel across the continent, including visiting Perito Moreno. See http://southamericatravelcentre.com.au

The writer travelled as a guest of the South America Travel Centre and LATAM.

See also: The world's 10 most amazing places to take a swim
See also: The luxurious hotel at the end of the world

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