Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina

Geographical location

Los Glaciares National Park (49°12'-50°52'S, 72°40'-73°37'W) is a World Heritage Site situated in southern Argentine Andes, south west Santa Cruz Province along the border with Chile. El Calafate is the main urban center and is located 40 kilometers (km) from the park boundaries. El Chalten is a small town established in 1986 at the foot of Mt. Fitz Roy.

Date and history of establishment

  • The area was first protected by the provision of Decree No. 105.433 in 1937.
  • The national park was established on 28 April 1945 by Decree-Law 9.504.
  • Actual boundaries and zonation of the park were defined on 11 October 1971 by Law 19.292.
  • Inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1981.
  • In 1986, more than 100 hectares (ha) were released to the small town El Chalten, in Lake Viedma sector.


caption Mt. Fitz Roy overlook in Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina (Source: Dr. John Conway)

445,900 ha.

Land tenure



200 meters (m) to 3,375 m.

Physical features

The park comprises a mountainous lacustrine area which includes a snow-capped sector of the southern Andean Cordillera with many glaciers derived from the Patagonian Ice Field, and a pre-Andean sector to the east that is generally free of ice. The Patagonain Ice Field extends over 14,000 square kilometers (km2) and is the largest ice mantle outside Antarctica. It occupies about half of the park and has a total of 47 glaciers, 13 of which feed into the Atlantic basin, the two largest of which are Upsala (595 km2) and Viedma (575 km2). In addition, there are approximately 200 glaciers each of which are less than 3 km2 and are independent of the main ice field. Glacial activity is concentrated around two main lakes, namely Argentino and Viedma, which are themselves the product of ancient glacial activity, and drain into the Atlantic Ocean via the Santa Cruz River. Evidence suggests that all glaciers except Moreno Glacier are currently retreating. The highest peaks in the park are Mts. Fitz Roy or Chalten (3,375 m) and Torre (3,128 m). Soils above 1,100 m are nutrient-poor, overlying a base rock of granite and schist. In less inclined terrain, soils types typical of humid prairies can be found. In forested sectors, the soils are characteristically brown and acidic. The pre-Andean zone which extends eastward to the middle of the Lake Argentino basin consists mainly of nutrient poor clay soils.


This region is classified as temperate, with an annual mean temperature of 7.5°C. Average minimum and maximum temperatures are 3.3°C and 12.0°C, respectively. The park lies in the rain shadow of the Andes, creating a precipitation gradient from 900 millimeters (mm) in the Cordillera to 500 mm in the eastern sectors of the park. Mean precipitation is 809 mm and mostly falls from April to May. Snowfall during winter is common, and westerly windstorms usually occur during late spring and summer.


The park contains two well delimited major phytogeographical formations: subantarctic Patagonian forest and Patagonian steppe. The principal species in the forests include southern beech Nothofagus antarctica, N. pumilio (the most abundant), N. betuloides (at its southernmost limit), and N. dombeyi (which replaces N. betuloides from 48°S); other typical species are Fuchsia magellanica, Winter's bark Drimys winteri, Ribes magellanicus, Berberis buxifolia, Pernettya mucronata, Philesia buxifolia, and Guaytecas Islands cypress Pilgerodendron uviferum (R). Patagonian steppe occurs to the east, with extensive tussock grasslands of Stipa spp., Festuca argentina, and Poa spp., interspersed with bushes of Mulinum spinosum and Berberis buxifolia. Semidesert comprising xerophytic cushion grasses occur above 1,000 m. Higher areas to the west consist of bare snow-covered mountains and glaciers.


Little information exist about vertebrates inhabiting the park, apart from birds. Among mammals, there is an isolated population of southern Andean huemul Hippocamelus bisulcus (E). Mountain viscacha Lagidium wolffsohni probably lives in some sectors of the park, but its presence remains to be confirmed. Other species of interest are the guanaco Lama guanicoe, Argentine grey fox Duscicyon griseus and Austral hog-nosed skunk Conepatus humboldti. A total of 100 bird species have been recorded in the park. Noteworthy species include lesser rhea Pterocnemia pennata, Andean condor Vultur gryphus, which form nesting and roosting colonies called condoreras, torrent duck Merganetta armata, black-throated finch Melanodera melanodera, and others. Two species of salmonids Onchorhynchus mikiss and Christivomer namaycush were introduced in lakes Argentino and Viedma.

Cultural heritage

Prehistoric inhabitants of the area were hunters-gatherers who relied upon guanaco for their subsistence. These were followed by the Tehuelchian culture. The park includes at least 14 sites of archaeological interest which are related to these cultures. Tehuelches Indians were almost exterminated during the process of European colonization.

Local human population

There are no inhabitants within the park.

Visitors and visitor facilities

Tourist activities are concentrated in the summer months (November through to March). The average annual number of visitors during the period 1990-1995 was 78,000, the majority coming from Europe and Japan. Facilities for visitors include hotels, camping and picnic areas. Organized tours are available to the main sites such as Lake Argentino, and Upsala Glacier.

Scientific research and facilities

caption The Patagonian Andes (Source: American University)

Partial inventories of flora and fauna (mainly birds) exist. Archaeological sites have been surveyed. In addition, glacier dynamics and meteorological and atmospheric pollution surveys have been conducted. There are no research facilities within the park.

Conservation value

The area includes a reservoir of freshwater which plays a key role in the hydrology of a vast region. In spite of not having a high biological diversity, it contains a well represented sample of Patagonian cold forests and small populations of mammals and birds that are of particular conservation concern, such as the southern Chilean huemul and torrent duck.

Conservation management

A preliminary management plan of the park is available. Livestock have been removed from the Lake Rico area and Guaytecas Island cypress had slightly recovered there. Access routes are controlled by park wardens. Sport fishing of salmonids occurs and is regulated.

Management constraints

Poaching of guanaco had previously been a problem but has almost been curbed. Although some areas have remained untouched by man, they have been grazed by feral cattle. Others areas, including Mt. Fitz Roy, have been heavily overgrazed, especially by sheep. Pressures from tourism can be quite high. Large areas have been burnt by uncontrolled forest fires and uneven regeneration of the forest renders the park particularly susceptible to any disturbance. Notofagus forest in the south has been completely destroyed by fire.


A total of 28 staff in 1994, including one director, one Head of Department of Protection, one ranger in charge of fire control, one in charge of environmental education, 10 field workers, and 13 in charge of administrative and maintenance tasks. Seasonal workers are temporarily contracted in the summer.


US$1,090,000 in 1994.

IUCN management

  • II (National Park)
  • Natural World Heritage Site - Criteria ii, iii

Further reading

  • Erize, F., Canevari, M., Canevari, P., Costa, G. y Rumboll, M. (1993). Los Parques Nacionales de la Argentina y otras de sus Areas Protegidas. INCAFO, Madrid, Spain. 238 pp.
  • Mermoz, M., Ramilo, E., Chehebar, C. y Martin, C. (1993). Plan General de Manejo Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. Administracion de Parques Nacionales. Mimeogr.
  • Naruse, R. et al. (1991). Preliminary report of Glacier Research Project in Patagonia 1990. Informe inédito.
  • Tafuri, V. (1983). Estación básica de medida de la contaminación de la atmósfera en la República Argentina. Informe inédito.

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme-World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.



M, U. (2008). Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/154296


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