Perito Moreno National Park

In the vastness of Argentine Patagonia, there lies an incredible protected area of extraordinary beauty: the Perito Moreno National Park. This captivating natural oasis offers visitors a variety of ecosystems, a rich biodiversity, and endless outdoor activities. If you’re seeking a unique adventure, brimming with astonishing landscapes and unforgettable experiences, this is your destination.

Perito Moreno National Park Information

Perito Moreno National Park

History and Establishment of the Park

Created on May 11, 1937, through Decree No. 105,433/37, the Perito Moreno National Park was later ratified by Law No. 13,895, designating its name in Spanish as "Parque Nacional Perito Moreno". This park is one of Argentina’s oldest and most prestigious, although not as well-known as others. Nevertheless, its historical and ecological importance is immense.

The presidential decree established the creation of national reserves to transform them into national parks, and Perito Moreno was one of the territories designated within the National Territory of Santa Cruz. Through various decrees, the park’s boundaries were modified in its eastern and northern fronts.

Subsequently, on April 28, 1945, decree law No. 9504 transformed the national reserve into a national park, later being ratified as law by Law No. 13,895, enacted on September 30, 1949. This law consolidated the boundaries of the national parks, including Perito Moreno National Park.

It is important to mention that, on October 11, 1971, law No. 19,292, driven by Alejandro Agustín Lanusse, modified and ordered the boundaries of the national parks, including the Perito Francisco P. Moreno National Park and Reserve. These measures aim to protect and preserve the region’s natural wealth, ensuring its long-term conservation.

Geographical Location and Access

Located in the central-west of the Santa Cruz province in Argentina, in the Río Chico department, bordering Chile, this park covers an area of 115,000 hectares. To reach it, you can travel by road or plane to the city of El Calafate, and then take a bus or car to the park. It can be geographically located by the coordinates 47°48′41″S 72°15′02″W.

Meaning of the Name: Who was Perito Moreno?

The park is named after Francisco Pascasio Moreno, known as Perito Moreno, a renowned Argentine explorer and scientist who played a crucial role in demarcating the border between Argentina and Chile.

Size and Topographical Characteristics

The park extends over a vast territory of mountains, lakes, rivers, and forests, with astonishing geological diversity in an area of 142,120 hectares. From the high peaks to the tranquil lake shores, every corner offers a different landscape to explore.

Climate

The climate of Perito Moreno National Park is generally cold and humid, with mild summers and cold winters. The best time to visit is from November to April when temperatures are more pleasant, and most of the trails are open.

As you move from east to west, the annual rainfall can vary significantly, ranging from 400 to 3,000 mm. The influence of strong, persistent, and icy westerly winds is notable in the region. During winter, temperatures can drop to -25°C, while in summer, the average temperature hovers around 15°C. However, it’s important to note that even during summer, snow is possible, so being prepared for different weather scenarios is necessary.

Characterized by being a rugged area within the Andean-Patagonian region of Argentina. The ideal season to visit is from late spring to early autumn when temperatures are more moderate, and weather conditions are more favorable for enjoying outdoor activities.

Biodiversity: Flora and Fauna in Perito Moreno

Main Ecosystems

The park harbors a wide variety of ecosystems, from subantarctic forests to grasslands and wetlands. This diversity of habitats contributes to its rich biodiversity, which includes several species of flora and fauna, some of which are endemic to the region, belonging to the ecoregions: Patagonian Forest and Patagonian Steppe.

Iconic Species of the Park

The emblem of Perito Moreno National Park is the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus). Despite its robust body, this incredible deer moves with great skill through the rugged mountains of the region. Males have antlers that renew annually and often live solitarily, in pairs, or in small family groups. The huemul is a species declared a National Natural Monument, emphasizing its significance and the need for its protection.

Another iconic symbol of the park is the lenga (Nothofagus pumilio), a tree widely distributed in the Patagonian forests. Depending on conditions, lenga trees can reach heights of approximately 30 meters in sheltered areas, while in higher and exposed zones, they grow as low shrubs. During autumn, before shedding, their leaves turn shades of red and ochre, creating a stunning visual spectacle in the park’s landscape.

Distinctive Flora

The park is home to a diverse array of plant species adapted to its cold and humid climate. The diverse flora adapts to the various present ecosystems.

In the forests, the dominant species is the lenga tree, which varies in form depending on altitude. Alongside the lenga, there’s the guindo tree, whose northern distribution limit is in this area. Often, the guindo tree is associated with canelo and notro trees, creating a beautiful landscape.

In wetlands, the ñire tree is a species capable of adapting to various environments. However, its presence in wetlands is particularly important, as these ecosystems are fragile and of high conservation value.

In steppe areas, the vegetation appears as low, bushy shrubs adapted to conditions of low humidity, low temperatures, frost, and strong winds. Some of these shrubs are cushion-shaped, others are thorny, and there are species with tiny or even absent leaves. Xerophytic grasses, like coirones, can also be found, along with communities adapted to specific soil features, such as meadows, salt flats, and river terraces.

In the high areas of the Andean mountain range, the flora complements the vast diversity of species present in the park. These areas house species adapted to extreme altitude and climate conditions, adding even more beauty and variety to the flora of Perito Moreno National Park.

Region’s Fauna

Perito Moreno National Park serves as a refuge for a multitude of animal species. Thanks to the presence of Andean forests, sub-Andean grasslands, lakes, lagoons, and wet meadows, many species of animals find their home here. Among these, the Magellanic tuco-tuco and the orange chinchillón stand out as endemics of Southern Patagonia.

In these environments, you can also encounter red and gray foxes, mountain cats, grassland cats, lesser ferrets, Patagonian skunks, and Patagonian pichis.

The park’s primary herbivores include guanacos and huemuls, with the latter being considered a provincial Natural Monument due to its endangered status. These animals play a crucial role in structuring the park’s plant ecosystems and are natural prey for pumas.

If you’re fortunate enough to spot a huemul, it’s crucial to inform park personnel, as this contributes valuable information about the species in the protected area.

Regarding birds, it’s possible to observe the choique or lesser rhea, the gray gull, and the condor. A species of amphibian, the Nansen lake frog, can also be found, along with puyenes and peladillas in the lakes.

Recommended Activities and Excursions

Hiking and Trekking Routes

Perito Moreno National Park is a paradise for hiking enthusiasts, with over 100 kilometers of trails to explore. There are numerous routes available for different levels of difficulty that will take you through stunning landscapes.

Un Paisaje con Historia Trail (Historical Landscape)

This trail allows you to walk a route to discover the human occupation of the area through narratives and informative displays.

Lago Volcán Viewpoint (Volcano Lake)

The Lago Volcán Viewpoint, located on the road to El Rincón station, 24 km from the Onelli Information Office, offers breathtaking views of Lago Volcán. From this viewpoint, visitors can appreciate the beauty of the lake and also access the trail leading to the Río Volcán gorge, where the remains of the Historical Walkway are located.

The Río Volcán trail covers a distance of 0.2 km and is of low difficulty, taking about 20 minutes to complete. On the other hand, the Historical Río Volcán trail covers a distance of 0.5 km and is also of low difficulty, requiring approximately 45 minutes to traverse.

These trails offer visitors the opportunity to explore the area and get closer to the history and natural beauty of the Río Volcán gorge, providing a unique experience in Perito Moreno National Park.

Cerro León and La Condorera Ascent (León Mountain)

The ascent to Cerro León, with an altitude of 1405 meters, offers stunning views both to the north, towards the Valle del Río Lácteo and Cerro Volcán, and to the south, where the beautiful Lago Belgrano and the Belgrano Peninsula can be seen. For those wishing to observe condor nests, the La Condorera trail can be accessed from this area.

To reach Cerro León, you can access it from the El Rincón Camping Area or from the vicinity of La Oriental.

The ascent to Cerro León covers a distance of 3 km and is of high difficulty, with an estimated time of approximately 2 hours to complete.

On the other hand, the La Condorera trail covers a distance of 1.5 km and is of moderate difficulty, requiring about 1 hour to traverse. This trail offers the opportunity to explore the steep slopes where condor nests are located, providing a unique experience in Perito Moreno National Park.

It’s important to note that the ascent to Cerro León and the La Condorera trail require an appropriate level of physical fitness, and it’s recommended to be prepared with the necessary equipment to safely enjoy these mountain activities.

Belgrano Peninsula Trail

Península Belgrano offers gently rolling landscapes and spectacular views of Lago Belgrano and the surrounding hills. One of the highlights of this lake is its unique coloration, as its northern part receives water from rivers originating from glaciers, giving it a milky white hue due to suspended particles.

The trailhead and parking area are located 9 km from the Onelli Information Office. There are two available circuits, both sharing the same start and end points. The "Circuito Chico" crosses the center of the peninsula from north to south, while the "Circuito Grande" skirts the western and southern shores.

Within Península Belgrano, there are four shelters, three of which have adjacent camping areas. The Caleta Huala Shelter is 800 m from the circuit’s start, the Archipiélago Shelter is 2.9 km away, the Playa Quetro Shelter is 7.8 km away, and finally, the Dos Bahías Shelter is located 5.7 km from the start.

The Circuito Chico covers a distance of 9.6 km, has a moderate difficulty level, and takes an estimated 3 to 4 hours to complete. On the other hand, the Circuito Grande covers a distance of 16.8 km, has a high difficulty level, and takes an estimated 5 to 6 hours to traverse.

Both the Circuito Chico and Circuito Grande offer visitors the opportunity to explore the natural beauty of Península Belgrano and enjoy panoramic views of Lago Belgrano. Remember to be prepared with the necessary equipment and to respect the park’s conservation regulations during your journey.

Valle del Río Lácteo Trail (Milky River Valley Trail)

This is a challenging yet rewarding option for hikers. With a distance of 11.5 km and a high difficulty level, it’s estimated to take approximately 4 to 5 hours to complete. Along this trail, visitors will have access to the base of the towering Cerro San Lorenzo, with its vertical face of 2000 meters, and the unique Laguna de los Témpanos, known for hosting enormous ice blocks from the Glaciar Lácteo. Furthermore, the landscape along the trail showcases recent transformations caused by glacier retreat and other geological formations, such as alluvial fans.

The trailhead is located 20 km from the Onelli Information Office. It’s important to note that you’ll need to wade through a stream at the beginning of the trail, and about 250 meters further, you’ll find the Gilberto Shelter. At the end of the trail is the Doug & Kris Tompkins Shelter, where the trail to Laguna de los Témpanos begins.

It’s recommended to wear appropriate footwear specifically for the stream crossings you’ll encounter along the way.

If you wish to visit Laguna de los Témpanos, there is a separate trail with a distance of 5.2 km and a high difficulty level due to its distance and stream crossings. It’s estimated to take approximately 2 to 3 hours to complete this trail.

These trails provide a unique experience for those seeking to explore the breathtaking natural environment of Perito Moreno National Park. However, their level of difficulty should be taken into account, and it’s important to be prepared with the proper equipment for a safe journey.

Lago Belgrano Viewpoint Circuit (Lake Belgrano)

An appealing option for visitors who want to enjoy stunning views without venturing too far. With a distance of 8.5 km and a moderate difficulty level, it’s estimated to take approximately 2 to 3 hours to complete the circuit. This route winds around the southern shore of Lago Belgrano and at the foot of Cerro Mié, offering incredible panoramic views. Hikers have the option to stay at the René Negro Shelter or at one of the nearby camping spots.

It’s important to note that both the parking area and certain parts of the circuit are exposed to the wind. It’s recommended to park facing the prevailing wind (west) and exercise caution if planning to undertake the circuit with children or older individuals.

Azara Circuit

Challenging and demanding, with a total distance of 52 km and a high difficulty level. It’s estimated to take between 3 and 5 days to complete this circuit. The route crosses the ecotone between grasslands and lenga forest in the Azara sector, offering extensive views of lakes and mountains. The circuit begins at the Azara parking area and coincides at its start with a portion of the Lago Belgrano Viewpoint Circuit. Along the circuit, three shelters and camping areas are found: Tucúquere Shelter (13 km from the parking area), La Angostura Shelter (10 km further), and Azara Shelter (8 km from La Angostura Shelter and 15 km from Tucúquere Shelter).

Birdwatching and Wildlife Viewing

Perito Moreno National Park is a prominent location for birdwatching, with 120 recorded species. Both the park and the San Lorenzo Provincial Reserve have been recognized as Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) by BirdLife International through Aves Argentinas.

The wetlands and bodies of water in the park provide a suitable habitat for a wide variety of birds, such as ducks, gulls, plovers, sandpipers, herons, divers, and grebes, among others. These areas offer food, shelter, and nesting sites for these species.

Emblematic species include the torrent duck, adapted to mountain rivers and in decline in Northern Patagonia; the grayish-brown sandpiper, exclusive to the region; and the hooded grebe, endemic to the Santa Cruz province and critically endangered.

The choique, a native bird, inhabits the steppe, and four species of agachonas or shore plovers can be found among the coiron grass.

Furthermore, the park’s hills and cliffs are used as nesting and perching sites by birds such as the condor, the black eagle, the white-chinned siskin, and the burrowing owl.

Lagunas del Mié Bird Observatory

The Lagunas del Mié Bird Observatory is located approximately 8 kilometers from the Onelli Operations Center, in the direction of the Lago Belgrano Viewpoint. From this place, visitors can enjoy observing various bird species, such as flamingos, cauquenes, and ducks, without disturbing their natural behavior and protected from the wind. The observatory facilities provide a conducive space to contemplate and appreciate the beauty of these birds in their natural environment.

Laguna Volcán

Just 22 meters from the Onelli Information Center and accessible from the parking area and the start of the Cañadón del Río Volcán trails. This lagoon is a beautiful body of water that offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy a tranquil and picturesque setting.

Water Activities: Navigation and Fishing

The park has numerous lakes and rivers where you can enjoy water activities such as boating and fishing. Lake Belgrano, with its turquoise-colored waters, is one of the highlights.

Conservation and Management of the National Park

Challenges and Conservation Threats

Perito Moreno National Park faces several conservation challenges, including climate change, the introduction of invasive species, and tourism pressure. However, efforts are being made to mitigate these impacts.

Conservation Initiatives and Projects

Several conservation initiatives are ongoing, including reforestation projects, environmental education programs, and measures to protect endangered species.

Practical Visitor Information

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit the park is during the austral summer months, from November to April, when temperatures are warmer and days are longer.

Accommodation and Services

The park does not have accommodations within its boundaries, but there are several lodging options nearby. You’ll also find food services, tourist information, and equipment rental for outdoor activities.

Shelters and Campsites

It’s important to note that the shelters in Perito Moreno National Park are not equipped with utensils or supplies. Visitors must bring everything they need, including personal items, cooking utensils, and disinfection products, as indicated by park regulations. Make sure you are prepared and bring everything necessary for your stay in the park’s shelters or camping areas.

Reservations must be made one week in advance.

How to Get There

By Car

To reach Perito Moreno National Park by car from the Santa Cruz towns of Gobernador Gregores and Perito Moreno, you can take National Route 40 and then Provincial Route 37. From Gobernador Gregores, the journey is approximately 220 km, while from Perito Moreno, it’s around 320 km. It’s important to note that there is a 90 km stretch of gravel road along the way.

Another access option is through Provincial Route 41, which connects the town of Lago Posadas to Perito Moreno National Park. However, this route is only suitable for 4×4 vehicles, and it’s recommended to always carry mechanical rescue equipment. Additionally, it’s essential to consider the weather conditions before traveling on this route.

It’s recommended to check the road conditions and weather before starting your journey and always follow safety recommendations while driving.

Other Transportation Options

Unfortunately, there are no bus lines that directly connect the neighboring towns to Perito Moreno National Park. However, there are other transportation options to reach nearby towns.

To reach Gobernador Gregores, you can choose to travel by car from Río Gallegos or El Calafate, both of which have air connections to Buenos Aires. It’s also possible to reach Gobernador Gregores from Puerto San Julián or Comandante Luis Piedra Buena, where buses arrive from various parts of the country.

Once in Gobernador Gregores, to reach the protected area of Perito Moreno, you’ll need to continue the journey using your own means, either in your own vehicle or by hiring a taxi or remis service.

It’s important to plan your transportation in advance and consider all available options to reach the park from the nearby towns.

Prices

Entry to Perito Moreno National Park is free for visitors. However, it’s mandatory to register before entering the park. This can be done by sending an email to the address peritomoreno@apn.gob.ar.

Regulations and Tips for Your Visit

Remember that you are visiting a protected area. Respect the park’s regulations, such as not littering, not making fires, and maintaining a proper distance from the animals.

Discovering Local Culture

Indigenous Communities and Their Relationship with the Park

Indigenous communities have lived in this region for thousands of years and have left a significant cultural impact. By learning about their history and relationship with nature, you can enhance your appreciation of your visit to the park.

Throughout the territory, you can find archaeological, historical, and cultural sites that showcase the presence of human communities that inhabited the area for thousands of years.

Certain points in the landscape, such as rock shelters, were used as shelters and observation points for hunting by these communities. Some of these sites contain rock art depicting the lives and activities of ancient inhabitants.

The "Un Paisaje con Historia" (A Landscape with History) trail, located near the Ceferino Fonzo Visitor Center, offers visitors the opportunity to learn about the human occupation of the area through narratives and informative displays.

If you come across any archaeological artifacts, it’s important to inform park staff without moving them from their location. These findings are valuable for scientific research, and preserving their context is crucial.

Regional Cuisine

Enjoy the regional cuisine during your visit. Try Patagonian lamb, grilled trout, and complement your meal with a good Argentine wine.

Local Festivals and Events

Visiting during the celebration of a local festival or event can be a great opportunity to learn more about the region’s culture and have a unique experience.

Perito Moreno in the Context of Argentina’s National Parks

While all of Argentina’s national parks are unique, Perito Moreno National Park stands out for its tranquility and diversity of ecosystems, making it a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts. It plays a crucial role in conserving Patagonia’s biodiversity and in Argentina’s national parks system. Through its management, the goal is to conserve nature and promote responsible tourism.

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