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“Welcome to the tour,” our guide said in her slow, cheerful Argentine dialect. “We will first drive 30 kilometers on this nice asphalt road, and then the next fifty will be on gravel. The road has over 1,000 twists and turns, and after we get to Mount Tronador,” she paused, rolling that last ‘r’ with a flourish, “we will drive the same exact route back. Are you excited to visit the Black Glacier?!”
This is going to be a looooong day, I thought to myself. I hoped it was worth it.
It was. This was exactly one of those Patagonia experiences we had imagined we would have: pampa, turquoise lakes, rugged mountain peaks and of course, glaciers, but this is also an entirely unique experience.
Visiting Mount Tronador is so unique because of the presence of a rare black glacier, too. And how often do you get to visit a Black Glacier? That’s rare even here in glacier-filled Patagonia.
After driving the first stretch along Argentina’s famous Ruta 40, toward the jagged tops of the ever-growing Patagonian Andes, we turned off into the Nahuel Huapi National Park. Immediately we spotted the diamond sparkles dancing on the deep blue Nahuel Huapi lake.
The first two hours were spent driving alongside it through the towering trees of the park. Nicknamed ‘the lake of seven colors’, around every one of those bends in the road was another picturesque scene of Patagonian trees framing the waters changing from turquoise, sapphire to indigo and a deep sea blue.
When we made our first official stop for pictures at a river, our white 20-seater van pulled up to join a dozen others of the same make and model doing the same thing. Along the road itself it always felt like we were entirely alone and it was only at major stops that we realized how many other people were doing the same tour (mostly other Argentinians, Chileans, Brazilians and a sprinkling of Europeans and North Americans, too). I guess we weren’t the only ones who were keen on visiting a Black Glacier.
It never felt crowded, however, and visiting Mount Tronador independently by rental car would almost have been less enjoyable. Literally surrounded by beauty, the person driving (this would have been me, so Dani could take pictures) wouldn’t have been able to take it all in. Plus, our guide was an absolute pro, mixing funny banter with really interesting information throughout the journey.
We couldn’t have been happier with our decision to book with GetYourGuide, a site that offers tours, activities and other special events all around the world. We love it because practically everywhere we go, GetYourGuide has tours we’d love to do, like the El Calafate Perito Moreno Glacier boat tour we’ve been so excited about and this amazing four-day trip through the Uyuni Salt Flats.
For now, it was deeper into the forest we drove, until the trees eventually parted to reveal the first glimpse of the main attraction – the massive Mount Tronador. An extinct volcano, Tronador has three peaks set smack dab on the international border. One peak belongs to Argentina, one to Chile and the one in the middle is international territory. Eventually, as the road twisted and headed steadily downward, we entered the ‘pampa’, a flat, wide valley which must be traversed to make it the base of Tronador, which serves as a bright, white beacon looming ever larger as the day continued.
Around 1pm we stopped for lunch at a ‘refugio’, which is a hotel and restaurant that feeds tourists like us during the day, but is there to serve as a true refuge for the daredevils taking ice-climbing lessons on the eight glaciers atop Tronador. Though at first we questioned how many people actually do this, we started to notice around town just how many backpackers have ice picks attached to their packs.
We ate inside the log cabin and then sat in the sun chairs on the lawn to take in the bright sun and admired Mount Tronador, now close enough to take in much more of its incredible scale. Just a quick ride later, we had arrived at the main attraction: the black glacier.
Visiting the Black Glacier – a glacier like no other!
From the viewing point, the snow-white glaciers on top of the mountain give way to a black glacier below, which developed after millennia of rocks, gravel and ice fell from the glaciers above. Here our guide warned us, “if you hear the sound of ice breaking, it is already too late to see it fall, so keep your eyes peeled or you’ll miss it.” Sure enough, just after we start looking up, a giant piece of white, almost blue ice, cracks off and falls down the side of the mountain, followed by the distant, but still thunderous sound a full 30 seconds later.
Thousands of meters below, just in front of us, there is a glacial lake with giant pieces of glacier floating. One piece looks like it is made of marble, with swirling layers of mud and ice, while others lay broken on their side revealing their clean, white ice inside a relatively thin, dark shell in a way that reminded me of vanilla ice cream with a chocolate outside.
Hundreds of pictures later, our visit to the Black Glacier came to end. We packed back into the van and headed up a steep road which takes visitors even a little bit closer to the actual base of the mountain, where we had 45 minutes to hike to see impressive waterfalls and fill our water bottles with fresh glacial water in the river below. Families who had camped out here overnight were having barbecues, laying like lizards taking in sun on the rocks.
The entire day, but especially this part, made us realize how perfectly untouched, unspoiled this part of the world is. We breathed the clean, fresh air in just a bit deeper, and smiled just a bit wider as we took our last look at Tronador before starting the two-hour trip back to Bariloche and, too invigorated to sleep, we both enjoyed the entire ride back into town.
How to visit the Black Glacier and Mount Tronador
We visited the Black Glacier with a guided tour, sold through GetYourGuide.com. The nine-hour Mount Tronador and Black Glacier tour from Bariloche includes a trip along the Manso River, the Los Alerces Cascade on the river, the most beautiful parts of the Nahuel Huapi National Park and the Ventisquero Negro black glacier. The tour includes hotel pick up and drop off, and is in Spanish only, but the guide spoke very slowly and was easy to understand for beginner Spanish learners. Optional lunch and mandatory National Park fee of 50 Argentine pesos were not included and are both payable by cash only.
You can also visit Mount Tronador individually if you are traveling with your own car, or shop around in Bariloche for a tour.