Los Glaciares National Park is located in the area known as Austral Andes in Argentina, in the south west of Santa Cruz on the border with Chile. By his magnificent natural beauty, it constitutes a wonder in the world, and was declared "World Heritage" by UNESCO in 1981.
This park shows a scenario of mountains, lakes and woods, including a large portion of the Andes practically under ice and snow to the west, and the arid Patagonian steppe to the east.
Its name refer to the glaciers that are born on the Ice Caps - the largest continental ice extension after Anctartica- which occupies almost half its area. Also known as Patagonic Continental Ice, creates 47 big glaciers, 13 of which flow to the Atlantic. There are also more than 200 smaller glaciers, unconnected to the Ice Caps.
All over the world glaciers are over 2500 mts over sea level, but here, in Santa Cruz, they are originated on the Ice Caps, at 1500 mts over sea level, and flow down to 200 mts, having the possibility of an unique approach and view.
As a result of the enormous pressure of the antique ice and the subsequent thaw, three big lakes, two of them inside the NP appeared: Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma, the waters of which flow as Rio Santa Cruz to the Atlantic Ocean crossing the province.
In our planet most of ice masses can be found at 2500 mts over sea level, Santa Cruz glaciers have their origin only at 1500 over sea level and go down to 200 mts over sea level, allowing a unique view and access.
As a result of the thaw of this immense system, two big lakes are formed: Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma, which waters drain to the Atlantic Ocean running across the province through Santa Cruz river.
Approximately, 260,000 ha are covered with ice, and therefore with no vegetation, and about 95,000 ha of lakes. The woods cover about 79.000 ha, and the predominant species are lenga and guindo. The flora of Los Glaciares National Park belongs to the Magellan District, the most southern one.
Among the bushes, the more representative are the notro, of beautiful red flowers, the calafate, of yellow flowers and purple fruit, and the sauco del diablo in the humid areas.
The steppe presents a high adaptation to very dry conditions and the defense against cold and wind. The "gramineas" grow in low and compact tufts, with folded leaves, rigid and covered with thick cutine which diminishes evaporation. There are often seen round bushes, like neneo o also half moon shaped bushes.
In between the upper Andean vegetation and the lakes the most important species are Nothofagus. The woods upper boundary lies between 1,000 to 1,100 Mts.
There are three Nothofagus species in the park:
* Lenga (Nothofagus pumilio)
* Ñire (Nothofagus antárctica)
* Coihue o guindo (Nothofagus betuloides)
Of these, the lenga is the most widely distributed and occupies the biggest proportion of the woods. They're found usually covered with Usnea, called "old mans´ beard", because of it's shape of long ribbons hanging from the trees.
The mountains around Lago Argentino are covered with dense and continuous woods.
To the west, as in Mayo and Spegazzini , can be found the Magellan hygrofile woods. In this sections, from the lakes level up to 500 mts. over sea level the woods are dominated by the guindo (Nothofagus Betuloides), which under favorable conditions can reach 20/30 Mts. high and one meter diameter. By the guindo is often seen the canelo, between 8 to 12 Mts. high, and the sauco. Under the trees, there are many bushes species.
The herbal stratum is open and offers Uncinia brevicaulis, Valeriana lapathyfolia, Viola maculata among others.
There is only one species of creeper which grows by the streams or by the trunks: Luzuriaga marginata. Philesia magellanica, a climbing plant of colorful red flowers, has a very restricted distribution.
Starts over 1000 - 1100 mts high, up to 1500-1600 mts ( inferior boundary to the permanent snow).2
This kind of vegetation presents very short coverage and mostly grass cushions, frequently of Azorella and Bolax Species. In humid areas the vegetation is dense, there can be found species as Azorella lycopodioides, Epilobium australe, Epilobium nivale, Alopecurus antarcticus; and also Empetrum rubrum y Marsippospermun cf reichei.
In some places, immediately over the lenga level, there is a bush area dominated by Empetrum rubrum and Pernettya sp.
As a difference with north Patagonia Andean vegetation, many Mulinum species are not here, and there are a lot of sub Antarctic species.
Except for birds, there is very few information about the different groups of vertebrates living in the Park. Most of consulted bibliography refer to the fauna without giving specific data about their presence in the Park. The information you will find in this section comes from rangers reports and ground observations made by Patagonia Regional Delegacy when preparing the Park’s Handling Plan.
The registered species are:
* Puyen Galaxias maculatus in Lago Argentino (Oliveros & Cordioviola, 1974).
* Perca Percichthys, presumiblemente vinciguerrae, most likely vinciguerrae, in Lago Argentino (Oliveros & Cordiviola, 1974) and Lago Viedma (Ranger Report, Cerdá).
Besides this confirmed species, it can be assumed there are others, existing in the surroundings:
* Peladilla Aplochiton zebra, registered in Lago Toro, (Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile, Mc Dowall, 1971).
* Peladilla Aplochiton taeniatus, also in Lago Toro. (Mc Dowal, 1971).
* Puyen Galaxias platei, lives in the lakes of Paine mountains (Mc Dowal 1971).
Amphibians and reptiles
There are two great herpetological* areas in Patagonia: The Ancient or Northern area and the Southern or Santa Cruz area, starting between the rivers Chubut and Deseado (Latitude S 45°).
*Herpetology: Branch of zoology dealing with reptiles and amphibians (Greek:herpetón0.
Santa Cruz area is considerably poor: Among the 60 patagonic species known nowadays, there are 56 in the Northern area and 13 in the Southern area, where 9 are common to both areas. Lizards have a greater proportion in this area than in the Northern one.
In different occasions there were observed Pleuroderna bufonina in Bahía Túnel and Río de las Vueltas. Cei (1982) mentions in Chilean territory at the same latitude Bufo variegatus, Batrachyla leptopus, y Alsodes coppingeri. Some examples of Bufo variegatus have been observed in Lago del Desierto area.
There are no reports referring to reptile species in Los Glaciares National Park. Ranger Landívar ‘s Report (1981-1982) registers lizards in the area of Punta Avellaneda. In Isla Larga (Gpque. Landívar 1981) a lizard of about 15 - 20 cm. has been observed, possibly Diplolaemus bibroni. The bibliography on reptiles agree to include the National Park area in the distribution of Liolaemus, magellanicus-lineomaculatus group. Cei (1980) mentions Liolaemus archeoforus sarmientoi to the north of the park and Diplolaemus bibrioni.
The information on birds in the park is very recent and very accurate. Up to now, there been registered 100 species. It would be necessary to complete the information for the high environments, rarely studied.
In this important diversity, there are many species considered as conservational special values as the choique or lesser rhea (Pterocnemia pennata), the andean condor (Vultur gryphus), the torrent duck (Merganetta armata), the white throated caracara (Polyborus albogularis), the yellow bridled finch (Melanodera xanthogramma) and the black throated finch (Melanodera melanodera).
There are very important groups of condors and black chested buzzard eagle (Geranoaetus melanoleucus) mainly in the northern area of the park.
Species like yellow winged blackbird (Agelaius thilius) and spectacled tyrant (Hymenops percpicillata) are rarely observed in humid areas as well as the many-colored rush tyrant (Tachuris rubrigastra). These species have been observed in Bahía Túnel area (Lago Viedma) to the North and in the lagoons of Pto. Bandera.
It is also remarkable the presence and breeding of the Magellan oystercatcher (Haematopus leucopodus) on the shores of lakes and lagoons.
Some other species as the cordilleran snipe (Gallinago Stricklandii) and the austral rail (Rallus antarcticus) are seldom seen.
There is no comprehensive study about the mammals in the area. The knowledge is limited to a list derived from rangers reports and old studies that describe mostly big mammals, and some circumstantial data about some species.
During November of 1990, some traps for small mammals were set in these locations:
a) An area covered with Berberis and Neneo, in the Lago Viedma area (Mt. Fitz Roy)
b) A ñire wood near Río de las Vueltas.
c) A lenga wood, on the eastern area next to Río de las Vueltas.
On three locations, only Akodon xanthorhinus was captured. In foxes feces were found Oryzomys longicaudatus jaws. Area neighbors mention red fox (Dusicyon Culpaeus) after the hares arrived (ca. 1926), which might have caused a diminish in the population of gray fox; they also mention the consequential diminish of wild cats (gato del pajonal and gato montés, Felis guigna).*
* Notice these are subjective opinions of some informants, and therefore they need confirmation.
Chilean area of Torres del Paine, next to this National Park and very similar in terms of environment, is one of the Chilean Patagonia best studied areas. There are many studies on guanacos and on the carnivorous (Iowa University and Chilean fellows), focusing on ecological and behavior aspects.
The existent information is very short. The spider Liparotoma tripunctatum has been mentioned, common specie in the humid woods of the area. Among the Heteroptera, it is mentioned for Pto. Bandera, the Eurylomata sulina sp.
Introduced or exotic species
There are two introduced salmon species:
1) Rainbow trout (Onchorhynchus mikiss).
2) Lake trout (Christivomer namaycush).
Both in lakes Argentino and Viedma.
There are many European hares (Lepus europaeus). Also the wild domestic species: horses and cows.
Wild horses population is estimated in 15 thousand in the huemul habitat of Valle Mascarello; this problem and the handling alternatives must be studied. Eliminating the horses could cause a greater predation of the puma over the huemul.
Special value fauna species
The Park has remanent and apparently isolated huemul groups.
In January 1992 Ing. Agr. Alejandro Serret with the collaboration of Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina studied the situation of the huemul (Hippocamelus bisulcus) on the northern area of the Park. As a result, the presence of an important group was confirmed in the Río Mascarello valley and in the western area of Lago Viedma between Laguna Viedma and Seno Moyano (Canal Viedma).
In 1996 and 1997, FVSA and Los Glaciares National Park continued with the area study, where 10 and 11 different animals could be seen. After these three studying periods, a minimum of 16 animals was estimated for the area and a density of 0,8 huemules/km² (Serret y Borghiani, 1997).
There are also registry of different observers for Laguna Torre, Río Torre, Laguna Toro, Río de las Vueltas, Río Eléctrico, Río Blanco, Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, Río Cóndor, Cerro Colorado, Cerro Huemules, Lago Tannhäuser, Río Guanaco, Laguna Capri, Arroyo La Rosada and Bahía Ameghino. This last one is the southernmost location for the huemul in Argentina.
In the area could also live the Lagidium wolffsohni, very rare and with restricted distribution.
It is remarkable the importance of rivers Fitz Roy and Río de las Vueltas as a habitat for the torrent duck, where a considerable number of groups live permanently.
How to get here
reat distances are not an obstacle to enjoy the attractions of this region. Here you will find different alternatives to get to the most interesting places: El Calafate, Perito Moreno glacier and the other great glaciers in the area of Lago Argentino, El Chaltén. The flights arrives daily to El Calafate International Airport from the most important cities of Argentina (Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Bariloche, Ushuaia, etc.).
Regular flights from Buenos Aires to El Calafate International Airport in El Calafate, few kilometers far from this town. Another option from Buenos Aires is International Airport in Río Gallegos (320 Km far from El Calafate). From there, bus lines or taxis to El Calafate through paved route.
From Buenos Aires by the coast side
From Buenos Aires: NR N°3, following the seaside of Mar Argentino, visiting major cities as Bahía Blanca, Trelew o Comodoro Rivadavia. Getting to Comandante Luis Piedra Buena, in Santa Cruz, you can choose to take NR N°288 (grave), which crosses the desert of patagonian steppe up to NR N° 40 (grave). From there on it follows the North-South direction towards Lago Argentino and finally PR N° 11, which ends in the National Park after crossing El Calafate.
From Río Gallegos: through Provincial Route No.5, National Route No.40 and Provincial Route No. 11. Total distance: 320 km.
From Río Gallegos
From Buenos Aires to Río Gallegos by NR N° 3. From there regular lines to El Calafate.