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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

National Park "Los Glaciares" - Are Fitz Roy & Co. more worth seeing than the Torres del Paine?

Perito Moreno Glacier – the greatest natural attraction in Southern Patagonia?
Chilled flair in El Chaltén – a Mecca for trekking and climbing enthusiasts from all over the world
Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre – Patagonia's landmarks up close
The best views of the imposing peaks lined up along the Fitz Roy Circuit

We are back in Argentina, on our way to the National Park Los Glaciares - the largest glacial landscape in the country. Only a fraction of it is easily accessible. The great ice masses of the Patagonian Ice Field are difficult to reach with arduous, costly expeditions. To be honest, that really excites us. However, the logistics are extremely complex and in the end you cannot always do everything at any price. While we have ideas in mind for visiting a few special spots in this stunning landscape, for now we're sticking to the standard tourist trails.

The Perito Moreno is the third largest glacier belonging to the Patagonian Ice Field and measures approximately 255 square meters, which corresponds to a length of around 30 km and a width of 5 km. It is quite easy to reach, located only 70 km from El Calafate by car. We want to be there early in the morning - on the one hand to have the best light conditions for photography, on the other hand to avoid the big tourist rush. Unfortunately, the national park only opens its gates at 8 a.m.... We are at the entrance on time and one of the first to reach the viewing platforms. There are several paths from which you can admire the calving glacier from different perspectives. Neither of us feel very comfortable with such mass attractions, we are thrown back to the waterfalls of Iguazú (>>> see our blog). Nevertheless, the "hype" is justified. Perito Moreno is an impressive sight – ice glistening in the sun and pieces of ice crashing into the lake from time to time represent an unforgettable natural spectacle. The calving front of the glacier is between 55 and 77 meters above the waterline. Unlike almost all other glaciers in the region, the Perito Moreno Glacier is not retreating, and no corresponding trend could be observed in the mass balance of this huge Patagonian glacier.

UNESCO has classified the entire National Park Los Glaciares as a World Heritage Site, but the Perito Moreno is by far the most popular spot in the park. This is mainly due to the easy accessibility - according to the motto "get out of the car and admire". Of course, all kinds of activities are offered for tourists. From boat trips to "ice hikes" - everything is possible. Definitely exciting if you've never set foot on a glacier. We forego the "tourist naps"; we prefer to explore one of the countless lesser-known glaciers in the area on our own. There will still be some opportunity to do so.

You can also explore the National Park Los Glaciares from El Chaltén. The small town of 2,000 inhabitants is a 4 hours drive from El Calafate. Already when approaching the place, Fitz Roy presents itself in a majestic way. The 3,406 meter high granite mountain is the symbol of the city. We definitely want to hike the so-called Fitz Roy Circuit, a 2-3 day trek that leads to the best viewpoints. The weather is not ideal. Low cloud coverage and continuous precipitation let us decide to postpone the start by one day. In any case, we take 3 days to have enough chances to marvel at the fantastic scenery. The trail is very easy and therefore extremely popular. Every viewpoint can also be done as day hike from El Chaltén.

We start in the afternoon, the stage is quite short at around 2 hours. The trail takes us towards Cerro Torre, the second prominent mountain in the Chilean-Argentinian mountain range. At 3,133 meters, it is very difficult to climb due to its steep, smooth granite walls, most of which are covered with hoarfrost in the upper area, and the extremely adverse weather conditions. Mountaineers consider it one of the most difficult and at the same time most beautiful peaks in the world. Our utmost respect goes to our Italian climbing coach Davide, who managed to do the ascent in only around 40 hours.

We content ourselves with the viewpoint at the Laguna Torre. Unfortunately the weather is not very stable. In the evening it is totally overcast, we are standing in the fog and see nothing. Camp Agostini is right next to the viewpoint. The contrast with Torres del Paine National Park could not be greater. The campsites here are completely free of charge, not even the entrance tickets for the national park are checked. We can't believe how differently the two nations "manage" and market their spectacular natural wonders. Well, we're not complaining. We set our alarm for 5am hoping to get a better view of Cerro Torre as the sun rises. Unfortunately we are disappointed again. So far, we still got the best views and shots from the car park in El Chaltén - with Micha's telephoto lens.

Cerro Torre und Fitz Roy im Abendlicht Los Glaciares National Park El Chalten
Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy in the evening light

Cerro Torre El Chalten Argentina Los Glaciares Highlight Wandern Hiking
The legendary Cerro Torre

During the day it clears up and we enjoy a summery day by Patagonian standards. Hiking in shorts - that's not so often possible here. The path takes us along a high valley towards Fitz Roy. There are two viewpoints that are probably worthwhile. Nearby is another free campsite, Camp Poincenot. After setting up our tent, we walk to Laguna Sucia in the late afternoon. Or at least try to. The trail is actually not signposted. And after about an hour we find out that we have to cross a raging glacial river to move on; alternatively walk along the other side of the river. We'd better postpone it to tomorrow.

After dinner, Micha wants to go to the much better-known viewpoint at the Laguna de los Tres. I'm totally exhausted and just want to rest. In hindsight, I'm very glad I didn't come along. Of course, Micha hadn’t thought about the distances, after all there are 500 meters of altitude to be overcome. It takes him about one hour. For him, however, the evening walk is worthwhile. No one left at the viewpoint at 9:30 p.m. and fantastic views. With the last light at 10:30 p.m. he arrives back at the camp.

Fitz Roy im Sonnenuntergang Los Glaciares Hiking Wandern Highlights Laguna de los Tres
Fitz Roy at sunset

The alarm clock rings at 5 a.m. the next morning. We want to start a second attempt to Laguna Sucia. However, Micha spontaneously decides against it, yesterday is still in his bones. So I set off alone, this time on the right side of the river. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the trail is not well known. The terrain is difficult, the path hard to find. But after about 1.5 hours I am the only one at the viewpoint. Priceless. Even if the views are not optimal, the place is very impressive. The lagoon is just below the magical mountain range, surrounded by glaciers. All around, melt water feeds the turquoise-blue lake.

Since Micha wasn't with me, we only have a mobile phone picture of Laguna Sucia :-)

Laguna Sucia El Chalten Wandern
A hidden gem, Laguna Sucia

And so everyone of us had a viewpoint to his/herself. Together we make our way back to El Chaltén. An easy 10 km hiking trail leads back to the cute mountain village. Slowly, more and more day trippers are arriving on the trail. We're glad to leave it. Our next hike in El Chaltén is said to be more of an insider - the 4-day Huemul Trek. We are excited!

The question remains, do you prefer Torres del Paine or Los Glaciares? From a photographic point of view, we found Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre more exciting than the Torres, but that is certainly a matter of taste. If you have a very limited budget, you will choose Los Glaciares, as the Torres del Paine itself is significantly more expensive, even as a self-catering trek with own tent. The crowds in Los Glaciares are also more humane than in Torres. But why either or? The view from John Gardner Pass on the Gray Glacier in Torres del Paine was one of the absolute highlights in Patagonia for us. So if there is enough time I would take both Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine. Visit the >>> Torres del Paine blog here.

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