Los Glaciares National Park, Santa Cruz
Concierge.com's insider take:
Los Glaciares National Park is one of South America's most compelling natural spectacles. It is here that the 250-mile-long Southern Patagonian Ice Cap—the largest expanse of permanent ice outside Antarctica and Greenland—spills over into 13 glaciers that cascade through sheer-sided fjords to milky-turquoise meltwater lakes. The most viewed is the three-mile-wide Perito Moreno glacier (pictured), which regularly calves huge columns of ice that collapse spectacularly into Lake Argentina. Drive the 50 miles yourself or take a taxi from El Calafate; alternatively, from September to March, local bus companies Interlagos Turismo (54-2902-491179) and Taqsa (54-2902-491843; www.taqsa.com.ar) run day trips from town. Hielo & Aventura offers guided hikes onto the glacier itself, crampons included (54-2902-492205; www.hieloyaventura.com). Topography and transport conspire to funnel all visitors through fast-growing tourist trap El Calafate, where poor service and unjustifiably high prices have long gone unpunished. The village of El Chaltén, at the northern end of the national park, once a rustic cluster of chalets and huts inhabited by climbers and nature lovers, is now connected by paved road to El Calafate airport. It has become a bustling outdoor-activity center, favored as much by hikers doing the day trails around the park as serious alpinists intent on tackling 11,073-foot Cerro Chaltén (also known as Cerro Fitz Roy) or 10,278-foot Cerro Torre, twin peaks of unparalleled beauty, renowned as among the toughest ascents in South America.