Patagonia Glaciers are a natural phenomenon you must see to believe. They can be explored on boat trips, on hikes and by kayak in areas throughout the region. They’re made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses. In Patagonia, northern and southern portions of a massive icefield are what’s left of a much larger ice sheet that reached its maximum size about 18,000 years ago. Though just a fraction of their previous size, these icefields remain the largest expanse of ice in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica. As they melt, they feed hundreds of glaciers that flow like very slow rivers. Here are a few of the most impressive Patagonia glaciers you can see on The Best of Wild Patagonia tour.
Perito Moreno Glacier
Patagonia’s most famous glacier, Perito Moreno, is 19 miles long, 3 miles wide and an average 240 feet in height. It is one of 48 glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. What’s unique about this glacier is that it is advancing while most glaciers worldwide are retreating. Scientists speculate this may be due to the steep angle of the glacier. Besides the usual glacier calving, the advance of Perito Moreno causes a dam in Lake Argentino. Eventually the pressure creates a huge arch in the ice which eventually collapses. This event occurs every two to four years and it is quite the spectacle for those who are fortunate enough to witness it. If you want to try your luck at hitting the exact day, it’ll likely happen at some point between 2020 and 2022.
On the west side of Torres del Paine National Park is Glacier Grey and Lago Grey. This glacier is also fed by the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. Glacier Grey is 4 miles wide, 17 miles long and about 100 feet tall. No experience is required to put on a pair of crampons and make your way out onto the glacier with a guide. A small boat excursion is one of the best ways to experience the glacier. You’ll float among the gigantic blue icebergs calved from the glacier and get as close to the wall as safely possible. You’ll also be allowed to disembark for a trek along the shores of Lago Grey where the icebergs float up to the shore. Another option is to kayak on the lake or make the 5-day W Trek in Torres del Paine National Park which offers some beautiful views of Glacier Grey.
Beagle Channel is a strait in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the southern end of Chile. It is 150 miles long and 3 miles wide at the narrowest point. The eastern part is at the border between Chile and Argentina, while the western part is completely within Chile. The biggest settlements on the channel are Ushuaia, Argentina and Puerto Williams, Chile, two of the southernmost settlements of the world. Charles sailed the channel in 1833 and wrote in his field notebook, “It is scarcely possible to imagine anything more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow.” The most amazing stretch of the Beagle Channel is Glacier Alley. It is here you can see a string of tidewater glaciers that tumble down to the edge of the sea from the massive Darwin Ice Field.
Upsala is a large valley glacier inside Los Glaciares National Park. At 33 miles long, it is the third largest glacier fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and like Perito Moreno, it ends at the shore of Lago Argentino. Once the largest glacier in South America, it is drastically retreating and often large portions of ice break free – floating isles in Lake Argentino.
For a privileged view of Upsala Glacier, consider an itinerary like The Best of Wild Patagonia which can be customized to your travel style and interests. Sail in the north arm of Lake Argentino to the western front of the Upsala Glacier, enjoy browsing icebergs and stunning landscapes and a picnic by the lakeshore.