The day three of our visit to Patagonia was dedicated to visiting Icefields and glaciers. We had booked a full day tour which took us to Ice fields and glaciers both in Chile and Argentina.
We were picked from hotel Hotel Costaustralis in Puerto Natales by bus at six in the morning. After an hour-long drive, we reached port Puerto Chacabuco and boarded the ferry that sailed through the channels and waterways of Chilean fjords witnessing the spectacular scenery and wildlife before reaching Laguna San Rafael.
Laguna San Rafael is made by the one on of tributary of San Rafael Glacier. It is spectacularly beautiful.
San Rafael Glacier
San Rafael Glacier is one of the largest glaciers in southern Chile and is part of Northern Patagonian Ice fields. But it is not the most accessible glacier. Most tourist companies take you there by the water. You can do kayaking and hiking in the area too but we did the most sensible thing and stayed in the boat.
The glacier itself is about 70 meters tall and about 4 kilometres long. The face of the glacier is about 2 kilometres wide but what we got to see was a very small opening. Due to climate change and global temperatures, scientists believe that San Rafael Glacier has shrunk by 12 km (7.5 miles) in the past 136 years. If it continues at this rate, the estimates are that it will disappear by 2030.
That alone should make to go visit it as soon as possible.
While taking pictures around the place, I noticed one person filling a bucket with the ice. That was unusual. Surely you can’t take back ice as a souvenir. It turned out he was the boat crew and took the ice chill the drinks to serve us on the way back.
Moments later we were all drinking whiskey with millions of years old ice.
Our next stop was an island in the region where we were served Chile’s famous barbecue. The indoor barbecue was massive and was cooking for more than one hundred guests at a time. We made friends with a local lady show was far too excited about the barbecue.
We went back to port Puerto Chacabuco and then another long bus ride to the Argentinian town of El Calafate to see the Moreno Glacier.
With its trademark multi-colored houses, the tiny town of El Calafate is an hour’s drive from the Moreno Glacier. A town like Puerto Natales seems to depend heavily on tourism dollars. Our bus made a tiny stop to pick up the glacier expert (undoubtedly the rarest profession in the world) or, in other words, the tour guide.
We drove for at least half an hour before a lake became visible. “This is the biggest freshwater lake in Argentina, with a surface area of 1,415 square kilometres. It has an average depth of 150 meters and a maximum depth of 500 meters. It is fed by numerous glaciers, other lakes, and many rivers. Water from this lake flows in the Atlantic Ocean through the Santa Cruz river.”
At a narrow point, we crossed the lake, and soon afterward, the glacier became visible. It was a massive field of ice terminating in the lake as a sixty meters high wall.
When we reached the parking area, we were divided into two groups, one that was going on the boat to the front of the glacier and the other that was going to walk around it.
We opted to walk around the wooden platform about five kilometers long and had viewing galleries at different heights. Each gallery brought us closer to the ice, and the view was awesomely beautiful.
Although we could have gone closer to the ice wall in the boat, we believe the platforms were a better way of appreciating the full extent of the glacier and Southern Patagonian Ice Field.
The ice field is made of three glaciers joined together. It is one of the world’s few glaciers that is not shrinking. It advances at a speed of around 2 meters a day, but it is also melting, so it remains a stable size overall.
We were able to get close to the ice bridge, which once you could walk on. It lay broken. As we stood there, we heard massive thunder. A column of ice crumbled and falls in the lake. So scary and mesmerizing was the phenomenon that we stood there in awe.
Coming back, the wait at the Chilean border crossing was even longer. There were three buses ahead of us. By the time we got back to the hotel, it was ten pm at night.
I couldn’t help taking photos of the souvenirs.