Patagonia, blessed with its Hielo Continental or Ice Cap, is home to some truly beautiful and gigantic glaciers and many travellers make it their aim to visit, kayak up to, or trek over as many as possible. Here we've selected a few of the more accessible glaciers in Patagonia to help you work out whether to include them in your journey.
See also a 12 minute video of Patagonia's Glaciers and the Los Glaciares National Park.
Hardy explorers might also want to check out expeditions on the Patagonian IceCap.
Don't forget to see our map of Patagonia's Glaciers, so you know exactly where they are.
Patagonia's most beautiful and accessible glaciers
Perito Moreno Glacier
The top spot has to be taken by Patagonia's most famous glacier, the Perito Moreno. It's a valley glacier and one of a handful of advancing glaciers in the world, meaning that it's growing by approximately 2 metres per day rather than retreating like many others. It's a truly giant glacier stretching nearly 20 miles long as it snakes down from the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap, the second largest mass of ice in the world after Greenland.
Similarly to the impressive Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine it feeds into a big lake, namely Lago Argentino, where huge chunks of ice calve off into the pristine water below. Apart from seeing this spectacular occurrence if you're lucky, we recommend hiking over it. Ice hiking is an increasingly popular activity and you don't have to be an expert to do it. can really get your adrenaline pumping. As a must-see glacier it has also become a bit touristy, not only because it's about a 1.5hr drive from the Argentinian town of El Calafate which has the biggest airport in the region with regular flights to Buenos Aires and Ushuaia. To find out more about Perito Moreno Glacier and to see all the trips that go there, visit our Perito Moreno Glacier page.
Located in the Western part of Torres del Paine National Park on the long Grey Lake, this huge glacier can be seen as you trek the W Circuit (usually on your final day of trekking if you come from the East) or whilst on the Full Circuit. The Full Circuit offers you the opportunity to approach it almost from above as you trek through Paso John Garner, a challenging trek that sees you trek to about 1,200 metres above sea level and brings you out to look down over this huge glacier tongue.
Another way of seeing Glacier Grey is by boat. Many W Circuit itineraries include this in the programme as a grand finale to the trek. Usually you'll hike from Refugio Paine Grande along Lago Grey before hiking up to the very windy viewpoint. From there you climb back down to Refugio Grey and you can catch the ferry from outside the refugio at 1pm. The ferry journey is about 3 hours long and for the first hour you'll tour the northern part of the lake, getting up close up to the blue ice, whilst sipping a Pisco Sour or whiskey cooled with a chunk of glacier ice and taking incredible photos.
We've found a selection of trips that take you to this stunning glacier:
Torres del Paine Circuit This trip includes an ice hike on Glacier Grey which is usually run by one company but is subject to review and availability each year. Get in touch if you'd like to find out more about ice hiking on this stunning glacier.
Glacier Serrano & Glacier Balmaceda
These vertical glaciers lie on the border of Torres del Paine National Park and Bernardo O'Higgins National Park. They feed into the Serrano River which flows back to Puerto Natales via the Last Hope Sound (Ultima Esperanza Fjord), which is south west of Torres del Paine, and only really accessible by boat or kayak.
It's a great place to visit after completing your W or Full Circuit of the park and theoretically you can add this to the last day of the Paine lef of your trip as you're already in the park. This trip, for example, takes you there: http://www.swoop-patagonia.co.uk/serrano-river/.
The Serrano glacier is most impressive, partly because of the steep angle into its lagoon below whereas Glacier Balmaceda can be seen from the River as it hangs down from Mount Balmaceda and on occasion, huge chunks of ice will calve off the east side of the glacier. This glacier is receding so we don't know how long it will be around.
The Marconi Glacier is found in the El Chalten/FitzRoy area. At the top sits the Marconi Pass, one of the most used access points to the Southern Patagonia Ice Cap itself. You'd need a guide to get there and trek on the glacier, but the operators who run two of the trips above are very much equipped to do this. Bear in mind that its one of the more difficult glaciers to visit, and should only really be attempted if you're used to challenging hikes on difficult terrain.
However, once you get up there, the views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap are truly spectacular and it makes it all worth it. The following trips will take you up into the mountains to traverse this giant glacier:
Glacier Viedma is a bus and boat trip from El Chalten, but not too far south west. In fact there's a 5-8 trek that heads out there. This gigantic glacier flows into the western end of Lake Viedma, which is fed primarily by the ice that calves off the glacier and melts into the lake. The width of the glacier that touches the lake is about 1.2 miles and stretches back to the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap for many miles.
Regular organised trips for Ice Trekking and Ice Climbing from a few of our partners.
Glacier de Los Tres and Piedras Blancas
Laguna Los Tres: you'll have seen this on several itineraries in the Los Glaciares National Park, but it's a beautiful viewpoint of the peaks and glaciers around Fitz Roy. If you hike in from Hosteria Pilar (to the North East) which is also a lovely place to stay overnight if you'd like a break from camping, you'll take in another spectacular glacier en route: Piedras Blancas.
This trek of the Los Glaciares National Park will also take you to other fantastic landmarks such as Glacier Torre and Laguna Madre y Hija. You can also stay at the Fitz Roy Adventure camp or go back to El Chalten to stay at a hotel for the night. See some of the following trips for ideas of what an itinerary would look like:
Torre Glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park and is popular with ice hikers as it's reasonably accessible. At the bottom of the glacier you'll find Laguna Torre which tour operators often include in their trekking itineraries because it gives you stunning views of the national park.
You'll find a trek on or to Glacier Torre in the following itineraries:
Located in a reasonably untouched region of Chilean Patagonia called Aisen, this glacier is 4miles wide and is accessible by climbing up 200 metres to the northern margin and climbing back down the south. Not many tourists and travellers have discovered it but it's a truly beautiful place with an impressive range of glaciers. In addition to this, Aisen is currently under threat from a hydroelectric project which will build dams on three of it's rivers.
To see the glacier join this exciting trip and hike on the impressive Nef Glacier.
Plus, if you've got some time to spend in this region we recommend basing yourself at an Eco Lodge and enjoying this kayaking trip which takes you to Aisen's marble caves.
Patagonia's glaciers: El Glaciarium
For some beautiful footage of the glaciers themselves see the video below courtesy of The Glaciarium, a new museum which opened near El Calafate in 2011.
The museum was put together by a whole host of glacier experts and aims to be interactive, engaging and varied. The museum blends the history of important glaciologists who gave their names to local Patagonian glaciers from the fearless italian trekker Father Agostini to present day glaciologists such as Pedro Skvarca, one of the most prominent glaciologists in Argentina. It covers issues such as global warming and answers questions such as 'why are glaciers so blue?' and 'what is an erratic rock?' To top off the Glaciarium experience, you can visit the newly opened ice Bar and enjoy a traditional Fernet with coca cola or whatever you fancy - in a cup made out of ice.
The Glaciarium is located only 4 miles from El Calafate on the way to Perito Moreno, making it a great place to visit as part of your tour of this area and a lovely compliment to an itinerary full of exhausting outdoor activities. The shuttle bus from Calafate leaves the Secretaria de Turismo Provincial hourly from 10am to 6pm, and entrance to the museum costs $100 Argentinian pesos per person (approx £15).
Swoop's Glacier Google Map
This interactive Google map of Patagonia shows Swoop's top 15 glaciers, as well as some of our other recommendations for a trip to Patagonia:
Guide to Patagonia
Patagonia spans over 1,000 miles north to south and landscapes ranging from forests, to glaciers, to volcanoes and deserts. Read our Patagonia Guide to find out: how to get there, when to go, what to see and how to find the best trip. Or find out about:
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