5 Reasons to go on a Patagonia glacier cruise

  • Explore remote glaciers that are inaccessible from the land, to visit locations that few people will ever get to see.
  • Take a small boat or zodiac to get close to the face of the glaciers or land nearby and hike to dramatic viewpoints.
  • Discover some of the 48 glacial basins of the Southern Chilean Fjords, home to the epic glaciers of the Fjord of the Mountains.
  • See the icy calm waters of San Rafael lagoon, with the closest glacier to the Equator in the world.
  • Follow in Darwin’s footsteps to marvel in the endless blues of Glacier Alley in the Beagle Channel.

Patagonia Glacier Cruises

Patagonia glacier cruise highlights

Northern Chilean Fjords

Looking out from the bow of Skorpios II cruise ship to the northern Chilean Fjords

Exploring Chile's northern fjords

Cruises in the Northern Chilean Fjords sail from Puerto Montt close to the Chilean Lake District, making their way down along Chile’s crinkled coastline toward the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. This remnant of the ice sheet that used to cover almost the entirety of Patagonia now feeds 28 giant glaciers within the confines of San Rafael National Park.

The most spectacular of these is San Rafael itself, whose mighty tongue towers 60m high into its own icy lagoon (and 230m below the water’s surface). San Rafael is also considered to be the glacier closest to the Equator in the world, even if the local temperatures are anything but tropical.

The Northern Fjords cruise offers more than just epic glaciers. Along its route it makes several stops on the island of Chiloé for walks in temperate rainforest and visits to its villages with World Heritage-listed wooden churches, plus excursions to remote hot springs only accessible by boat.

As well as culture, the cruise offers the chance to see magellanic penguins and possibly even blue whales as the ship sails through the Corcovado Gulf, a Marine Protected Area that is an important feeding and breeding ground for the largest animal on the planet.

Southern Chilean Fjords

Skorpios III cruise ship in the Southern Chilean Fjords, against a glacier backdrop

The ice fields of the Southern Chilean Fjords

​​The Southern Chilean Fjords are where the Southern Patagonian Ice Field meets the sea, with nearly 50 immense glaciers calving out of the mountains and into the icy waters. Cruises here depart from and return to Puerto Natales, making them easy to combine with a hiking trip to Torres del Paine

Cruises here weave in and out of the many fjords that pierce the coastline to visit more than a dozen glaciers that are only accessible by ship. Of these, some of the most beautiful are the Amalia, El Brujo, Guillard and Herman glaciers. The variety of shapes, sizes and colours of the glaciers makes visiting each one a singular experience. In some locations, the cruise offers trips in small boats to get close to the face of the glaciers from the water. In other places, such as at the Alsina and Bernal glaciers, you have the opportunity to do short hikes through unspoil forests to scenic viewpoints and maybe even feel the crunch of ice underfoot. Wildlife to look out for on this cruise includes the chance to elephant seals as well as dolphins and a rich variety of birdlife.

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Zoe says

Before sailing, I wondered if the focus purely on just glaciers would become monotonous. I couldn't have been more wrong. Each day offered a fresh and distinct perspective on Patagonia’s epic ice, making every excursion truly exciting and unique.

Zoe Winterbotham Patagonia Customer Experience Team Leader

Tierra del Fuego & the Darwin Range

Australis cruise ship Ventus amid the mountains and glaciers of the Darwin range in Tierra del Fuego.

Cruising the glaciers of the Darwin Range

Tierra del Fuego, the great island that hangs off the bottom of South America, is also home to many glaciers. Its Darwin Range of mountains (named after the great naturalist who visited the region in the 1830s) is partially covered by an enormous ice field, and has many brilliant glaciers descending from it into the sea.

Cruises here sail in either direction between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas. They sail through Glacier Alley in the famous Beagle Channel as well as including a trip to the legendary Cape Horn.

Among the other highlights of cruising there is the chance to visit the massive Pia Glacier for zodiac cruises and hiking, as well as the the lagoon of the Aguíla Glacier and Cóndor Glacier (don’t forget to look up to try to spot one of the iconic birds of prey). Magellanic penguins are also on the watch-list, with the opportunity to visit a remote breeding colony.

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What our customers think of Glacier Cruises

The landscapes were awe inspiring with temperature rainforest abutting glaciers and mountains rising straight from the sea. Wildlife was varied and differed greatly from the northern hemisphere.

Travelled: February 2017

Colin - UK

The highlight was seeing first hand the awesomeness and magnitude of a glacier up close. The landscapes were ruggedly beautiful and the wildlife was diverse and plentiful.

Travelled: December 2016

Christine -


Planning your Patagonia glacier cruise

A small boat cruises past the San Rafael glacier in the northern Chilean Fjords

Visiting the San Rafael glacier

Patagonia’s glacier cruising season runs from October through to the start of April, with itineraries of between 4–5 nights on board. Sister ships Skorpios II and Skorpios III operate the routes through the Northern and Southern Chilean Fjords from Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales respectively. The ships Ventus Australis and Stella Australis operate the Tierra del Fuego cruises between Ushuaia (Argentina) and Punta Arenas (Chile).

The Skorpios ships accommodate around 100 passengers, while the Australis ships carry up to 210 passengers. All ships have comfortable en suite cabins in a selection of classes. 

There are daily excursions to remote locations by small boat or zodiac. Activities include the opportunity to take short hikes at the glaciers as well as cruise by boat. Expert guides aboard give talks about the glaciers, wildlife and culture and history, either in English or in Spanish with headsets giving an English translation.

Cruises in the Chilean fjords attract a lot of domestic tourists, and as such are a great way to experience the local culture – whether through the food served on board to evening activities (including music and a Chilean take on bingo!) or meeting fellow travellers.

Tierra del Fuego cruises tend to have a more international flavour and can perhaps be regarded as more akin to an Antarctic cruise.

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Several glaciers descended in a winding course from the upper great expanse of snow to the sea-coast: they may be likened to great frozen Niagaras; and perhaps these cataracts of blue ice are fully as beautiful as the moving ones of water.

Charles Darwin on sailing through southern Chile

Glacier Cruises FAQs

  • I'm not normally a cruise person – are these trips for me?

    We describe these trips ‘cruises for people who don’t do cruises’. Basing yourself from a ship is a great way to explore deep into Patagonia's, mountain-lined fjords, both on and off the vessel, to watch crashing glaciers calve before you and wildlife going about their business, and experience the peaceful channels as the pioneers once did, in areas completely inaccessible by any other means. 

  • How long are the cruises?

    The majority of the cruises last five days/four nights. The exception is the Northern Chilean Fjords cruise, which is six days/five nights. 

  • How big are the ships?

    The ships we use all offer intimate travel experiences. The vessels that serve the Chilean Fjords both carry a maximum of 106 guests. In Tierra del Fuego, the ships carry a maximum of 210 guests. 

  • How active are the cruises?

    We can help you choose the right cruise to suit you, depending on how active you want to be. All of our cruises and boat trips offer the opportunity to be active, but it’s not compulsory; excursions are optional and there are different effort levels available on some cruises, so that you can mix hikes with more relaxed excursions - the choice is always yours.

  • Can I combine the cruises with other parts of Patagonia?

    The cruises combine brilliantly with the rest of Patagonia if you want to build an extended itinerary. 
    The Southern Chilean Fjords cruise starts and finishes in Puerto Natales, which is also the gateway most travellers use to visit Torres del Paine. In the north, the port of Puerto Montt puts you in the ideal place to visit the Chilean Lake District. 
    For the Tierra del Fuego cruises, starting or ending in Ushuaia offers a quick connection to El Calafate and Los Glaciares National Park, Punta Arenas also connects to Puerto Natales for Torres del Paine. 

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Ventus Australis cruise ship with glacier and mountains in icy waters of Tierra del Fuego

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How We Can Help You

Tailor-made holidays aren't for everyone. If you really want to arrange your trip yourself, or if you just need help finding the right hike, kayaking trip or lodge, we can still help.

How Swoop Can Help You

Ready to plan your Patagonia adventure?



We'll spend some time listening to your aspirations, then discuss the kind of experience that might suit you.



Next we'll discuss the options, shortlist the best trips for you and present you our impartial recommendations.



We'll place a 24 hour hold on your preferred option - without obligation - whilst we talk through the details.

Whatever your budget, group size, length of stay, preferred activity or appetite for adventure, we can help.