Perito Moreno Glacier is simply stunning. It has become one of the principal tourist attractions in Argentina and Patagonia and, after our visit, we can totally understand why.
Here's our guide on how to reach the site with transport from El Calafate, an overview of entry costs and some tips to make the most of the day. Note that all prices listed are in Argentinian pesos.
public transport options
'Public transport' to the glacier only comes in the form of shuttle buses; there are no 'local' buses which pass by the entrance. Several companies run the route daily and you can find them all in the bus terminal in El Calafate. We'd recommend you confirm departure times and purchase your tickets the day before you want to visit the glacier as demand is high.
The most common option is the 07:30 or 08:15 departure, costing $550ARS per person (updated November 2016). This gives everyone time to take up the option of the boat ride which brings you closer to the glacier (additional charge of $350 per person - updated November 2016). The bus picks you back up in the car park at 16:00.
We decided that we didn't want to do the the boat and didn't require as much time at the site, so we went for the slightly cheaper option ($400 pp) of a 09:30 departure and a 16:30 return. Only a couple of bus companies offered this later route, including AndesMar. We'd recommend this option if you're not bothered about the boat; it gave us ample time at the site and saved us a little cash on an already expensive day-trip.
There is also a bus which leaves at 13:00 and returns at 19.30 but this didn't seem as popular, however would be ideal for avoiding the crowds.
A terminal tax of $5 each is also charged and you need to pay this before boarding.
From the bus terminal to the glacier, it's just under 90 minutes through some beautiful landscapes. The difference with the public transport option, versus a tour, is that it won't include stops at any viewpoints or a guide; you are paying purely for transport from A to B.
Balking at these costs for essentially a 90-minute bus, we investigated whether a taxi would be cheaper. The price ranged from $1200-1500 for a round-trip which included a couple of hours at the site, so it really only makes economic sense if there are 3 or more if you in a group.
A number of hostels also arrange tours to the glacier, so ask where you're staying to see if it's a good deal. In high season, hitch-hiking may be a good idea as there will be lots of local tourists driving to and from the site from El Calafate.
Foreign visitors pay substantially more than locals, with entrance to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which includes Perito Moreno, costing $500 per person (updated March 2017 - for anyone that doesn't believe Argentina's economy is in the toilet, we paid half that less than 18 months ago!). This is paid once your bus arrives at the entrance and is separate to any tour or transport costs, so remember to bring enough cash.
We were surprised at how well the entire complex was designed. The wood and metal walkways blend into the surroundings and are very well constructed, rather than an eyesore.
They bring you to a variety of viewing decks so you can appreciate the glacier from every angle and lead to some rest areas with benches where you can snack or just sit and enjoy the spellbinding view. Before you start to navigate these walkways, check out the map at the top which shows you the different routes to follow and how they connect up; each is colour-coded and there are signs along the way too to keep you right.
One could rush around the viewpoints in a couple of hours but, as you've got no alternative but to wait for your bus in the afternoon, we'd suggest you go slow, take your time and enjoy one of the most incredible sights in the world. The site will be punctuated with large tour groups throughout the day but we were surprised that we actually had a lot of time in solitude to enjoy the glacier (check out our photo journal for some stunning shots).
For those travellers with mobility issues, be aware that these walkways cover several kilometres and involved some uphill walking; there is a lift for wheelchair users and people with mobility issues to brings you to the main viewing deck.
Next to the main car park, there are bathrooms, a gift shop and a restaurant. As is to be expected, the restaurant is overpriced and, despite the cost of your entry ticket, only food purchased there can be consumed at its tables (it's also the only indoor seating space at the site).
For any visitor, we'd therefore recommend you to bring your own snacks, water and a packed lunch to enjoy outside on one of the benches with the incredible view and the soundtrack of cracking ice.
Here's an overview of what we spent, per person, on our day trip to Perito Moreno from El Calafate. If you're on a tight budget, like us, then taking the slightly cheaper bus and avoiding the restaurant in favour of your own packed lunch are the only two ways to save some money.
Return-journey on cheapest bus: ARS$400 | £18 GBP | US$26.6
Bus terminal tax: $5 | £0.2 | $0.3
Entry to Perito Moreno: $260 | £11.8 | $17
Packed lunch: $35 | £1.5 | $2.3
Total costs: $700 | £30 | $46.6
Please note that all costs above have been converted using the Blue exchange rate at the time of travel (October 2015, £1 = ARS $22, $1 = ARS $15). If the official exchange rate was used, then the total costs would have been closer to £40 / $77 per person. If you are not aware of the Blue rate, then you need to read this post before you travel to Argentina.
Further, the costs of entry and tours in Argentina are subject to change several times a year due to the country's level of inflation and economic situation. Earlier in 2015, the cost of the bus to Perito Moreno was $305 and entry was $215 . If you visit in 2016 and notice a change in any of the above prices, please let us know in the comments so we can update the post.
Where to stay in El Calafate
Depending on your budget and whether you need a kitchen to cook in, there are literally dozens of guest houses and hostels to choose from in El Calafate - and take it from us, we spent a long time trawling around the town with our backpacks on searching for the best deal!
After an hour or so, we eventually settled on Bla Guesthouse. It's new, well designed, reasonably prices and has a great kitchen.
If cooking facilities are less important, be sure to check out Alberque & Hostal del Glaciar Libertador - it comes really highly rated, but is a little more expensive.
Finally, for those who enjoy waking up to spectacular views (take our word for it - this place is full of them!) consider America del Sur Hostel. It's a little walk out of town, but the place is beautiful!