Cruise Epic Adventures

Adventure cruising among the glaciers of the Chilean Fjords

I’ve lived in Puerto Natales for some time, so I’m used to seeing ships come and go from the port here to explore the fjords but I had never taken one myself. For me, glaciers had always been something to explore by foot rather than by boat, so I was excited about seeing those that were only accessible by sea. 

I was setting out on Swoop’s Southern Patagonia Glaciers Cruise, a five day round trip from my home port, threading our way around the glaciers and mountains of the Chilean Fjords – one of the most beautiful parts of my country. 

On board Skorpios III

Skorpios III getting ready to sail from Puerto Natales

My home for the next five days was Skorpios III, the only A1 Ice Class vessel sailing in Southern Patagonian waters, allowing us to safely approach some of the most spectacular glaciers in the region. It’s a compact little ship carrying just 90 passengers, so some of the fears I had about being on a giant package cruise ship were instantly dispelled. This would be an intimate voyage, where it was easy to get to know my fellow passengers as well as the expert team who would guide us around the epic landscapes. 

My cabin on board Skorpios III

The first thing I learned about adventure cruising was that when you’re at sea, the weather is everything – and Patagonia’s weather is famously unpredictable! Your captain always has the last word about your route to make things as smooth as possible, but local weather meant that we visited all the locations on the itinerary but in slightly different orders. No one minded, but it was a good reminder that flexibility is everything on board.   

The Captain’s speech – and a reminder we would never be hungry on board

The second thing I learned was that you should expect to put weight on during your cruise! The voyage offered plenty of opportunities to get off the ship for hiking in some fabulously remote areas, but when you were back on board the galley crew were never slow in topping up whatever calories we had used. There weren’t three set meals a day, but four. In a brilliantly Chilean touch, between lunch, excursions and dinner were were also treated to la once, or Chilean teatime – though with alcohol included in the price it was tempting to enjoy a cocktail with cake rather than just a cup of tea. 

Boat excursions

Waterfall near Caleta Juarez

Our first excursion after sailing from Puerto Natales was to see an elephant seal colony at Caleta Juarez in the Guardramiro Fjord, close to a pretty waterfall. This cruise is more about the scenery rather than the wildlife, so this was a nice bonus to start our voyage. 

Excursions were made in small orange boats that carried about 22 people each, with a bench running down the middle side of the boat so that everyone could look out for a good view. They were a bit different to the traditional hard rubber zodiac-style boats that other expedition cruise ships use, but they were comfortable, manoeuvrable and easy to get in and out of when it came to landings. 

After the elephant seals we were now after even bigger prizes: glaciers. First on our list was the mighty Amalia Glacier. 

Amalia Glacier

Hiking next to the Amalia glacier

We had two separate approaches. The first was to go out in the small boats and land on a sandy beach where part of the glacier had retreated. This was great because there was the opportunity to hike around 2km to take in the scenery, with a long beach on one side and a meltwater river on the other. This was the sort of moment I appreciated most as a hiker – it was easy to walk to a spot where you felt like you had the entire glacier to yourself and truly enjoy how remote you were from civilization. 

I was even lucky enough to see fresh footprints from the tiny huemul deer in the sand. They’re incredibly shy (most people just get to see them on Chile’s coat of arms), so it felt like an extra gift to be in such a massive landscape and yet encounter such an intimate trace of one of Patagonia’s most iconic species. 

Amalia glacier viewed from Skorpios III

The river meant that we couldn’t get right up to the face of the glacier itself, so after our hike we went back on to the ship to sail as close as safely possible. This is one of those moments when it’s truly hard to judge (or photograph) the scale of what you were seeing. The blue walls of Amalia rose over 100m out of the sea, yet still seemed tiny against the backdrop of mountains it was slowly descending 

Glacier parade

Alsina Glacier

From here, the trip felt like a constant parade of the sublime.  At the Bernal and Brujo Glaciers, we hiked on the moraine to explore by foot and also by boat, the bright orange of our life jackets like tiny glowing dots against the deep blue of the ice. Later we sailed through the narrowest of fjords at Montañas to the frozen river of the Alsina Glacier, wedged into a mountainous canyon.

Hiking in the countryside around the Bernal glacier

These were places you can only get to by ship, which made everything feel even more special. Having worked as a hiking guide in places like Los Glaciares National Park, I’m familiar with the feeling you can get during high season when people can comment on just how many people there are on the trail. So for me it was incredible to go somewhere really difficult to access and feel like someone getting to discover these fjords for the first time. Of course, I had my fellow passengers from the cruise, but just stepping away for a little bit I had the wonderful illusion that all this nature was just there for me. It was a sort of magic for me, and a very humbling experience.  

As a former trekking guide, I wasn’t entirely sure how I would take to the experience of adventure cruising. I was worried that the individual hikes we did at each landing site would be a bit quiet and easy compared to what I’m used to. And yes, the hikes were more like simple walks to viewpoints so that everyone on the ship could participate. But as we sailed back to Puerto Natales, I realised that I had rather brilliantly missed the point. 

Admiring the Bernal Glacier

I’ve stepped on plenty of glaciers before, but almost always as part of a well-worn hiking trail.  Sailing on Skorpios III had allowed me to discover corners of Chile I would never have otherwise been able to see, and as a proud Chileno I was able to share it with nearly a hundred mostly international travellers. 

On the moraine at the foot of the Brujo Glacier

Puerto Natales is often seen as just a gateway to Torres del Paine, but if you’re looking for something a little different – or even to add to a traditional trekking trip, cruising from here to the fjords is a great great way to get an entirely new perspective on Patagonia.


Tempted by the idea of sailing through the Chilean Fjords? Swoop Patagonia are the adventure cruise experts. Visit our website to find our more.

Nicolás Sorhauru of Swoop Patagonia

Nicolás Sorhaburu

Swoop Patagonia specialist

Swoop Patagonia sales consultant Nicolás grew up in Chile and has worked a tour guide in Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares National Parks as well as an excursion manager for some of Chile's leading adventure tourism operators. He currently lives in Puerto Natales, reassuringly close to some Patagonia's mightiest mountains and glaciers.