LOS GLACIARES NATIONAL PARK
Dating from 1937 this park preserves an extensive area of the south Patagonian ice cap and the glaciers that from it flow. It covers a total of 600.000 hectares in the southwest corner of Santa Cruz province.
Because of its spectacular scenery, its glaciology and landform interest and some species of its fauna, which are threatened, UNESCO declared it a World Natural Heritage site in 1981.
Undoubtedly the most noteworthy feature of this national park is the ice field, which in total cover an area of 2.600 sq. km (more than 30% of the park is ice). From this icecap 47 mayor glaciers descend. The best known is the Perito Moreno Glacier, which reaches the waters of the southern arm of Lake Argentino with a 5 km front rising 60 meters above the water.
The Upsala Glacier on the northern arm of the same lake is larger; it is some 50 km long and 10 km across the snout.
In the northern sector of the park impressive Mount Fitzroy and its cohorts stand, rising to 3375 meters, well above the surrounding cordillera.
Add to these mountains and glaciers the sub-Antarctic woods dominated by trees of the Nothofagus genus and flowering bushes such as the Chilean firebush and Berberis with their colourful blossoms.
The forests are the winter home of the Huemul (Andean deer), which descends from its high mountain meadows above tree line for shelter and food.
Even at this latitude and in the presence of ice we find special birds such as the austral parakeet and the green-backed fire-crown. This is the home too of the enormous Magellan woodpecker.
The park is also refuge to a great variety of waterfowl such as the black-neck swan, the ferruginous ruddy duck and the torrent duck.
Towards the east, the Andes give way to the Patagonian plateaux and the woods to the steppe. Here we find guanacos, Patagonian foxes and skunks. The most noteworthy bird is the lesser rhea.
Over the last 2000 years the region around the Lake Argentino was
occupied by groups of hunter-gatherers who gleaned resources from
the steppe as much as from the woods at elevations between 200 and
1100 metres above sea level. Their economy was centred on the guanaco,
with complementary use of different habitats according to the season.
Research at the archaeological sites has turned up materials originating from the Pacific, which indicates direct contact with this area or a network of connections.
How to get there
The best way to drive to the National Park from the North is down Route 3, nearly to Río Gallegos, and then the remaining 316km northwestward along Routes 5, 40 and the access road to El Calafate, Route 11. This town is some 50 km east of the park. El Chaltén, in the northern part of the park is reached from Calafate eastward along Route 11, north along Route 40, and back into the mountains along Route 23. El Calafate has a new airport with many direct and connecting flights.
Of interest for the visitor
The Park's head office is in El Calafate. At this locality and El Chaltén, lodging can be found in hotels, hostels and cabins. There are camping areas in many parts of the Park and neighbouring towns. Boating excursions on Lake Argentino leave from Punta Bandera and take one to Bahía Onelli and Upsala Glacier, amongst other spectacular areas.
There are many more possibilities to tour the area; some are described below:
- Moreno Glacier, which is reached by a road along the Brazo Rico a southern arm of Lake Argentino. Here walkways and balconies permit viewing of the glacier.
- The trail to base camp at Rio Blanco starts at the Lake Viedma ranger station. It crosses the Fitzroy River, wanders through the deciduous southern beech woods (Lenga). From the base camp at Cerro Chalten one can reach Laguna de los Tres. This takes four hours. Mount Fitzroy (Cerro Chalten) is 3375 metres high, and chosen annually by highly skilled mountaineers from all over the world. National Parks emit the permits for this activity.
- The trail to Laguna and base camp of Cerro Torre leaves from the Lake Vidma ranger station, and ascends to Laguna Torre along the margin of Fitz Roy River, through Lenga woods. It is 15km long takes some six hours walking.
- Another activity is sport fishing for introduced trout at Lakes Roca, Argentino and Viedma, and Río de Las Vueltas.