If you plan to visit the Carretera Austral, you can’t miss the San Rafael glacier excursion, an imposing wall of ice and its lagoon.
🔎 Check here the quide to travel the Carretera Austral.
Located in the Laguna San Rafael National Park, the glacier of the same name is part of the so-called Northern Ice Field, a huge ice mass with a large number of glaciers such as the Exploradores glacier.
Unlike the excursion to the Exploradores Glacier, here you can’t walk on top of the glacier, but you can see the almost two-kilometre long ice wall from the boat.
🔎 Check here the top 5 things to do in Carretera Austral.
Tabla de contenidos
Best time to do the San Rafael glacier excursion
The best time to visit the San Rafael glacier is during the southern hemisphere summer, from November to March. Although being an area of high mountains and ice, the cold is felt all year round, but it’s at this time of the year when conditions are best.
There is also the possibility of doing the tour in spring, autumn and winter, subject to availability, as many tour operators only run the tour from October to May.
Getting to the glacier (map)
There are two options to get to the San Rafael glacier on an excursion.
- Excursion from Puerto Río Tranquilo, the town from where the tours to the Capillas de Mármol and the Exploradores glacier also depart. In this case, excursion is done on a stretch of gravel road and then embark to San Rafael lagoon to see the face of the glacier.
- Excursion from Puerto Chacabuco, sailing between fjords, volcanoes and icebergs to reach the lagoon and see the glacier. Excursion to San Rafael glacier and lagoon from Puerto Chacabuco lasts all day. The catamaran serves refreshments to make the whole thing more enjoyable.
San Rafael glacier excursion from Puerto Río Tranquilo
To get to the San Rafael glacier from Puerto Rio Tranquilo it’s necessary to hire the services of an agency. Excursions are expensive but in our opinion worth it for the beauty of the landscape and the glacier.
Tour to the lagoon and San Rafael glacier is first done by land along the Exploradores river, on a narrow but beautiful gravel road, which goes deep into the forest of the natural park. The first 50 kilometres of the road are shared with the access road to the Exploradores Glacier, then 30 kilometres more to reach Puerto Grosse.
Once you arrive at Puerto Grosse, you board the catamaran that will sail along the mouth of the Exploradores river to the San Rafael lagoon and the glacier.
The turning point of the excursion is when you start sailing through the San Rafael lagoon between large ice floes and approach the ice wall of the glacier.
At that moment you can contemplate the bluish colour of the glacier, the transparency of the waters of the lagoon and the creaking of the ice. You may even witness a part of the ice mass breaking off and making a great noise.
Excursion to the San Rafael glacier and lagoon from Puerto Chacabuco
Located about 300 kilometres north of Puerto Río Tranquilo, other alternative to get to the San Rafael glacier is from Puerto Chacabuco. It’s a town near Puerto Aysen, where you can stay.
The difference between this excursion and the one that starts from Puerto Río Tranquilo is that it is done completely by catamaran. You get even deeper into the landscape of the Northern Ice Field, the fjords, islands and Patagonian volcanoes.
It takes four hours of navigation to reach the San Rafael Lagoon and observe the same landscape as the excursion from Puerto Rio Tranquilo. In this case, there is the possibility to get a little closer to the glacier’s ice wall with a zodiac boat or inflatable boat to photograph it more closely.
Finally, on both excursions you will be able to taste a whisky with ice from the glacier itself, a colourful experience.
Recommendations on what to wear on the excursion
As this is a place where the cold, the strong Patagonian wind and the rain are common throughout the year, it is advisable to take warm and waterproof clothes. Besides, the weather is changeable and it can be sunny and a few hours later it is raining.
Due to the reflection of the sun on the ice, it is also advisable to wear sunglasses and sunscreen. Although it may not seem like it, the reflection burns the skin.