The San Rafael Glacier is one of the major glaciers of the Campos de Hielo Norte [Northern Ice Field] in the Chilean Patagonia. It’s part of the largest mass of frozen water closest to the Equator in the world and the third largest mass of frozen fresh water in the Southern Hemisphere. It has a width of 2 km and a 50 m high front with a length of 20 km from its origin in the ice field to the sea. From time to time, large chunks of ice break off from its front and create the San Rafael Lagoon andTémpanos River, which connects them with the sea. The glacier is located in the Laguna San Rafael National Park, declared a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO, which has 1,742,000 hectares of extension, making it one of the largest parks in the country, of which about 400,000 hectares correspond to the Campo de Hielo [Ice Field].
The idea of accessing the glacier by land across the Exploradores valley was the dream of many, but its isolation made it impossible. Until then, the only way to get to the lagoon was on board large cruise ships or catamarans. In 2003, the first section of a gravel road was built across the valley from East to West, which started in Puerto Tranquilo and allowed access from the Carretera Austral to Puerto Grosse. This stretch leads to the “El Puesto” access to the Exploradores Glacier.
Given the imminent construction of the second section, the English emigrant Ian Farmer anticipated exploring the possibilities of the route as a destination for adventure tourism, which became a reality in 2008 with the first foray with a group from the “Escuela de Guías de la Patagonia” [Patagonian School of Guides]. As the route hadn’t been built yet, he descended the last 40 km of the Exploradores River by raft until he reached the San Rafael Lagoon. In 2010 the second section of the road to La Teresa, where the Tres Colores River is, was finally finished. Thus, in 2011, the first trips with tourists officially began in no small effort since it required crossing the river with passengers by boat and having an additional vehicle to reach Puerto Grosse, 12 km from La Teresa. The area is practically uninhabited since only four families of settlers live there, so the logistical difficulties in developing a tourist project were enormous. Currently, a brand new suspension bridge is waiting to be inaugurated, making it easier to get directly to Puerto Grosse without transshipments.
Puerto Grosse is nothing more than a group of country houses and a couple of docks next to the delta of the Exploradores River, in the middle of amazing landscapes surrounded by mountains and endless unspoiled forests. From here begins the navigable stretch of this bimodal route to the San Rafael Glacier. About five agencies are now offering tours, and navigation can take 2 to 4 hours, depending on the agency. The tour goes across the channels of the delta surrounded by large bogs and then the Elefantes fjord until you reach the lagoon through the Tempanos channel. A parade of large blue icebergs will welcome those who venture on this new route to the San Rafael Glacier.

Author: Jorge Leon
Date: February 2, 2017
Place: Laguna San Rafael National Park, Aysén region
Camera: iPhone 6s
Location: Latitud Glaciar