Adventure Travel, Argentina, Experiences, Featured

Battle of the Glaciers

13 Comments 26 March 2013

perito moreno glacier

Crampons for hiking Perito Moreno Glacier in the background

In this corner – we have the world champion Perito Moreno Glacier known through out the world for it’s heavyweight size and knock-out calving punch. In the other corner we the Viedma Glacier – a scrappy new opponent offering a powerful one-two punch of adventure and crevasses. Lets get ready to rumble!

Two Glaciers, both in Los Glaciares National Park, both offer ice trekking, both marketed to adventure travelers – but which one should you choose? I was lucky enough to set foot on both Viedma Glacier and the Perito Moreno Glacier – but not everyone is that fortunate. I decided to compare my experiences based on some criteria that I deem relevant for adventure travel seekers. You can go through this and determine what’s important to you and choose for yourself. And if you have the chance to go to both…do it!

Boat Trip

Lago Viedma

A boat awaits to pick us up on Viedma Lake

Viedma – The boat was new and well maintained. You could ride on the top and get some great photos of the approach. The boat ride took about 45 minutes to get across the lake and to the glacier. The boat swung around and took us rather close along the base of the glacier

Perito Moreno – The boat was a bit older – but nice. The ride was much shorter – only about 20 minutes. There was also a top viewing area, but the boat took you straight to the drop off point and didn’t spend much time taking you past base of the glacier.

Approach

viedma glacier

Viedma Glacier boat landing – a technical hike to get to the glacier

perito moreno glacier

Walking to Perito Moreno glacier – an easy path to the base of the ice.

Viedma – once you got off the boat you still had to get to the ice. The Viedma landing was rocky. Clearly the adventure started the moment you stepped off the boat. You were deposited onto some harsh terrain – orange colored large rocks that you had to scramble across. Our English-speaking guide team met us and then led us over the rocks towards the ice. The rock scramble wasn’t easy – it was steep in areas, however the guides were like gazelles – they knew every hard part and ran out in front to offer a hand just when you needed it. Once near the ice we sat on the rocks and the guides helped us get outfitted in crampons. We then were able to step on to the ice. There were no bathroom facilities once you got off the boat.

Perito Moreno – The boat landing area was very nice with a dock and an easy disembarkation. They had a number of buildings located there where you could sit and eat lunch and look at views of the glacier and there were bathroom facilities. After a short talk we followed our English speaking guides along an easy walk which skirted the water’s edge. It was a well worn trail which deposited us in front of another little hut with benches. There was a team of workers there to outfit you in crampons. Everyone sat on a little bench and had their crampons put on then they followed the guides onto an easy entry onto the glacier. There was no scrambling required on this entry – extremely straightforward and easy.

Equipment/Guides

crampons glacier hiking

Crampons used on Viedma Glacier. Notice the front ice picks at the toe which make it possible to climb steeper ice.

viedma glacier tour

The Viedma team served up Bailey’s with a bit of glacier ice…now this is happy hour!

Viedma – The crampons were good quality and they had toe picks which allowed you to go up steeper walls. They also furnished gloves for those who didn’t have their own. We had 3 English speaking guides for our group and they were the energetic, upbeat, and always there when you needed a hand. In fact they moved so fast on the ice that they snuck up on me many times! They encouraged you to try things slightly out of your comfort zone and would give you extra support if you looked nervous. They also took a lot of time to explain the history and geology of the glacier which I found fascinating. I was really impressed with how nimble and adventurous the group of them was. About ¾ of the way through the trek the guides surprised us with a bottle of Baily’s that they poured over glacial ice for a little celebration – a real treat!

Perito Moreno – the crampons were a step down from Viedma – there were no toe picks which pretty much immediately signaled to me that we wouldn’t be doing any real challenging hiking/climbing. The crampons were good quality, but more restrictive. We had two English speaking guides who were very nice and helpful. They also had some explanation of the glacier and the Southern Ice Field, calving, etc – but I didn’t find it as thorough. However I might not have been as attentive since this was my 2nd glacier trek. As expected from the crampons – the guides did not take us to very many adventurous areas. We stuck to a fairly well worn path and didn’t do any intimidating climbs or descents. They were there to lend a hand generally – or more often than not to tell you not to do something or get to close to things. Also at the end of the trek the guide took you to a little ‘bar area’ where they chipped off ice from the glacier and then poured people whiskeys over ice. A nice way to stay warm.

Restrictions

Viedma My Adventure Life hiking group was older – we had people in our group over the age of 65. However there were no upper limit age restrictions for the Viedma trekking so everyone was able to go (minimum age 12). This is where the guides came in though – they were extremely attentive to our group and made sure everyone was comfortable and watched over well.  Everyone in our group did the trek just fine!

Perito Moreno – the age restriction for the Mini Trekking was 10 to 65. This meant that half the people in our group were unable to even go on the Perito Moreno Glacier no matter how fit they were. I found it really ironic that one of the men in our group was 67 years old and restricted from being on Perito Moreno even though he was the most experienced climber in our whole group. After all – he actually climbed Everest when he was 65. But there were no exceptions to the restrictions – not even Everest experience.

Trekking Difficulty

Viedma Glacier Patagonia

Climbing up Viedma Glacier – nothing felt off limits to us!

perito moreno glacier climbing

Posing for the camera…they gave us the ice picks for the shots – but we didn’t do anything like this during the mini trekking. I believe it’s included in other trekking packaged though.

 

Viedma – the trekking was challenging – and it was really fun. The guides explained how to use the crampons well and we were off. I was really surprised at the things they were taking us through and on. We did some steep climbs and descents that I wouldn’t have sought out on my own! But they were there lending a helping hand and were generally confident in our ability which was nice. They would occasionally make some steps for us with their ice picks in a really steep area, but mainly they just taught us how to utilize the crampons in these more challenging situations. By the end I was exhausted and we still had to scramble back over the rocks to get to the boat at the end. It was challenging, risky, and well supported.

Perito Moreno – This was a well-traveled tourist path and because of that the whole trek was watered down. There were no steep climbs or descents and in fact I got reprimanded a few times for trying to go my own way (which I do greatly appreciate their concern with safety). The people who were on this trek were much more timid and out of shape too – so I understand that the guides had to account for that too. The guides would lead us to some crevasses and holes and let us walk up and peer over one by one with support – but that was about as daring as it got. We even had a photo session where everyone posed for a photo that made us look way more adventurous than what they were! There are more difficult treks you can do on Perito Moreno – but they cost much more money and aren’t as comparable with the Viedma prices any longer.

Views/Landscape

Perito Moreno glacier photos

Perito Moreno glacier – you can’t beat the views!

Viedma the ice was gorgeous – however it was the overall setting that made it stunning. The bright orange rocks and blue glacial lake water were an beautiful against the ice glacier. I found the overall scenery to be stunning and colorful. It was also barren as there were no trees. Once you climbed up to a ridge you could see for a ways and take in the whole glacier. The glacier is a bit more remote so the only way you can get a good frontal view from the water is on the boat.

Perito Moreno – absolutely spectacular – it’s 3 miles wide at its front and over 20 stories high. The size is overwhelming – both while you are on the glacier and also while you are viewing it. Once you got to the top of a ridge on the glacier you could see for miles and miles. You could start to understand what being a part of the Southern Ice Field meant. The cliffs and valleys seemed larger than Viedma and overall you just felt small on Perito Moreno. In addition, you could view the whole glacier from an elaborate set of viewing platforms in front of the glacier. I easily spend 45 minutes walking around the platforms watching ice calving and trying to get a full picture of the glacier, which was about impossible even with my wide-angle lens. The viewing platforms and facilities were top notch.

Crowds/Price

Perito Moreno Glacier

The path was well-worn and easy to follow on Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno glacier trek

Our much larger group on the Perito Moreno glacier hike.

Viedma – Aprox. $100 US (half day).  There were very few people on the glacier and since there only way to really get there and see it was by boat – it really did feel remote. There were two trekking groups when we went – only about 25 people overall. Once we got on the ice we never even saw the other group of people once. The two groups went their separate ways.
Perito Moreno – Aprox. $140 US (all day includes the viewpoint & park fee of $20 is separate).   There was a constant flow of people on and off the glacier with much larger group sizes. Since the glacier is also viewable from the park on the viewing platforms – there were just more people in the park in general. More tour companies operated tours around the glacier so there was just more activity in general. It was never a real hindrance – but the experience didn’t feel as unique to me.

Overall

Perito Moreno Glacier

Our guide peers at a small ‘baby’ crack in Perito Moreno. One day soon it will grow into a big crevasse.

Viedma – I loved the remoteness, the difficulty, and the organization of this trek the best. It felt more unique and the challenge was definitely greater which then left me with the real feeling of accomplishment when it was over. I also loved the fact that we had better crampons for doing more difficult climbing. Plus – for whatever reason – I connected with the guides more on this trek.
Perito Moreno – the trek was ok – but I was a bit turned off by the fact that I was a part of this big tourist dance and didn’t feel nearly as unique or special. However the experience was safe, and well run without a doubt. In addition – I did really love the fact that the view area was included in the days activities. From a photography standpoint – Perito Moreno offered much more.

Recommendation

If you have to choose just one – then I recommend the Viedma trek for it’s uniqueness and more adventurous trekking. Then I would recommend simply driving out to Perito Moreno and checking out the viewing area and setting your eyes on this large piece of moving ice – it’s a humbling experience to simply see it’s enormity.

More information:

Complete tour including hiking and both glaciers 

Self Drive tour of the glaciers

Glacier only Options:
Viedma Glacier Patagonia Adventure
Perito Moreno Mini Trekking

 

Disclosure: Adventure Life hosted my Patagonia travels. However, all of the opinions expressed here are my own – as you know how I love to speak my mind!

patagonia adventure

Your Comments

13 Comments so far

  1. Turtle says:

    Great analysis but it’s a big call to pass up trekking on Perito Moreno. I still remember how amazed I was to finally see it for myself. It’s one of the most incredible sights in Argentina! I didn’t make it to Viedma but I saw some other very cool glaciers when trekking around El Chalten. It’s such a beautiful part of the world!

    • Sherry says:

      True – I did enjoy Perito Moreno for the views – but if you can only do one trekking – in my opinion it should be Viedma – and then just go visit Perito Moreno – they have an amazing viewing area that’s totally worth it and only costs the park admission.

  2. Absolutely marvellous – crampons and Baileys, what a combination! I’d love to dig my crampons out of the garage and take them here :)

  3. Rocio says:

    Gorgeous pictures!!

  4. Red Hunt says:

    Super cool, I haven’t been down that way of Patagonia yet and hear about Perito Moreno non-stop…but this Viedma Glacier sounds much more my style….great comparison! (Although both still sound fun.)

  5. Laurence says:

    Sounds like the Viedma one is the one to go for, but they both sounds pretty awesome to be honest ;)

  6. Mark H says:

    A bit of a David and Goliath comparison. One well known and one not so well known. Travel throws this conundrum up in several places around the world and the choice is difficult. NZ also has two glaciers near each other with merits to both. Great review of the two options.

  7. Sam says:

    Those are some great pics. Have no yet been to either Perito Moreno or Viedma Glacier yet but will have to give one of them a try next time I am in Argentina, thanks for the in depth article.

  8. Federico says:

    You get the same crampons if you do the Big Ice trekking, but is a 2:30 to 3hs on the Ice, plus 1 hour (each way) to get to the glacier. The mini-trekking is just 1 to 1:30hs on the Glacier plus 15 min. to get to the glacier

  9. Phil says:

    Thanks for the info Sherry going to South America in February and was looking for good places to visit on my way from ushuaia to the caves at chile chico ,thanks again
    Phil

  10. Sophie says:

    Hi Sherry,

    That is a great comparison and I really enjoyed the article! Quick question: Is the Viedma trek available from El Calafate or only from El Chalten?

    Thanks,
    Sophie.


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Sherry traveling the world

I'm Sherry, a corporate cube dweller turned nomadic traveler. I travel to off-the-beaten-path destinations to bring you unique travel experiences and photography. But it's not just about travel, it's also about life experiences of a middle age wanderer.
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