Here’s a little known fact: The Andes has its own ice cap — the largest in the world beyond Antarctica and Greenland — whose pure, frigid waters feed 47 glaciers.
To protect this spectacular but sensitive natural area, the Argentine government created Los Glaciares National Park, the largest national park in the country. Almost a third of its area is covered in ice, while the rest is a fantastical landscape of lakes and forests, craggy mountains and shifting, calving glaciers. For trekkers and nature enthusiast, there are few better destinations in the world.
Two main bases exist for exploring the park: El Calafate to the southeast and El Chaltén to the north. El Calafate is the larger of the two, with a population of around 22,000. Both exist almost exclusively as tourist hubs, serving the backpackers, nature lovers and trekkers who come to explore the park.
El Calafate sits on the shores of Lago Argentino. And while it’s lost some of its charm due to the tourist boom, it’s lively and has all the services tourists might require. Tour offices line the main streets, alongside souvenir shops, restaurants, chocolatiers and adventure outfitters.
The town serves as the main hub for visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier, some 65 km to the west. The glacier is one of the main attractions in the whole of Argentine Patagonia, and tourists visit daily to watch and hear chunks of ice calve from the face of the spectacular glacier. It’s also possible to go ice trekking on the surface of the glacier with various tour companies — just don’t forget your crampons. You can get from El Calafate to Perito Moreno in less than two hours by local bus.
Alternatively, head to the park’s northern border and the town of El Chaltén. Despite its smaller size, El Chaltén is officially designated the Trekking Capital of Argentina. It sits below the peaks of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy, both of which attract climbers. Trekkers can spend countless days on the trail networks that run from the town into the surrounding Los Glaciares National Park. Many of the most popular treks head to various glacial lakes, including the dreamlike Laguna Torre, about 10 km west of the town.
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