Reasons to go
- Getting to this secret glacier is an adventure in itself: it is only accessible by water!
- One of the most exciting glaciers to watch, see the chunks of ice crash into the lagoon below
- Have the views to yourself, without the crowds of some of the more mainstream glaciers
- Travel through the surrounding Laguna San Rafael National Park with its winding fjords and stunning wildlife
About San Rafael Glacier
The San Rafael Glacier descends from the northern ice cap into Laguna San Rafael, a pro glacial saltwater lake. It is one of the most dynamic glaciers in Patagonia because of its steep descent, dropping 1200m in 20km. Its 2km face is visible for miles, and the rocks that flank it are perfect for scrambling up close.
San Rafael is, however, not the most accessible glacier. Be prepared to travel by water from Puerto Rio Tranquillo or Puerto Chacabuco, our favourite route is by kayak. If you want to spend more time in the area, the Laguna San Rafael National Park covers a vast area and has some of our favourite hiking routes in the region, including the Aysen Glacier Trail.
What makes it special?
Being so steep and fast, this glacier is a really exciting one. Huge chunks of ice regularly calve off the front face creating tidal waves that will sway your kayak. But the glacier's real secret is its setting - the surrounding green rainforest contrasts beautifully with the blue ice.
Forest, beach and sea birds all reside together here: expect to see humming birds, herons, swans, chucao, steamer ducks and condors. Keep an eye out for pudu deer, dolphins, sea lions and elephant seals which often visit the clear waters.
There was a thunderous rumble and ice fell away from the top of the glacier, and then boom! This saphire blue behemoth of ice the size of a bus popped out of the water and floated off.
Harriet Pike Trekking, Mountaineering & Cycling Specialist
How can I experience San Rafael Glacier?
Visiting the San Rafael Glacier
Passenger boat from Bahia Exploradores: Adventurous but accessible, this route stays within most people's comfort zones. You'll start by driving along the Exploradores Valley, before jumping in a boat through the fjords to Laguna San Rafael. The boats are small but secure, and you can travel straight up to the glacier face to watch the ice show. You'll still have a roof over your head so that you can get out of the elements in bad weather.
We recommend you spend a night camping nearby so that you can take your time exploring: hike through the rainforest for a different perspective on the glacier.
Kayak from Puerto Rio Tranquillo: For experienced kayakers, this is a week-long expedition through the fjords to Laguna San Rafael. Camping on beaches at night and fending off strong headwinds by day, you'll watch the landscape and vegetation change as you get closer towards the highlight - the glacier face itself.
Catamaran from Puerto Chacabuco: Though a long time on the water, on this route you meander through beautiful fjords, have educational lectures and you may well find yourself singing karaoke with some local Chilean tourists on your way back from the glacier. This is the most comfortable way to travel to Laguna San Rafael if you aren't on a cruise.
Adventure Cruise: Some ships pull in to the Tempano river from where you can travel by zodiac to the glacier, but we recommend that you take a smaller cruise ship that can travel all the way there and anchor in the lagoon.
Trips that visit San Rafael Glacier
It is quite an expedition out to the San Rafael glacier but it is worth the time: you are not going to see such a display of calving ice anywhere else in Patagonia.
What our customers think
Highlights of Aysen...the San Raphael glacier approached by boat on a day of swirling mists, ultimately bright sunshine and dead calm was incredibly atmospheric. Carlos the Condor doing a close fly-past as we approached Laguna Cerro Castillo.
Sarah and Charles UK March 2017
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Patagonia is a vast and varied region, with a wealth of things to see and do, a range of places to stay and a limited transport network.
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