How to Visit Patagonia on a Glacier Cruise

June 3, 2021

Is it easy to visit Patagonia?

Patagonia, the vast southernmost tip of South America shared by Argentina and Chile, fascinates nature-lovers. With the Andes Mountains forming the natural boundary between Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia, the region appeals to travelers who are lured to visit Patagonia for diverse reasons, ranging from glacier-viewing to wildlife encounters.

Many travelers gravitate toward Chilean Patagonia so they can explore Torres del Paine National Park (known for its waterfalls, lakes, verdant forests, mountains and the chance to see the Southern Patagonian Ice Field), as well as the immensely popular Tierra del Fuego (“Land of Fire”), an archipelago below the South American mainland. The archipelago, of course, includes Cape Horn, a rocky headland on Hornos Island, and the Diego Ramirez Islands, which are the southernmost albatross breeding grounds in the world.

Glacier viewing during a Patagonia expedition

Glacier viewing during a Patagonia expedition is a favourite activity of many Quark Expeditions guests. Courtesy Pixabay

If you wish to visit Patagonia, it does take some planning but it’s fairly straightforward once you identify an experienced expedition operator who can take you there by ship—and many seasoned travelers will suggest a Patagonia glacier cruise, or at least an expedition by small polar vessel that enables passengers to witness the stunning beauty of glaciers—in addition to a hundredfold other wonders of nature. Most travelers take an international flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then fly to Ushuaia, Argentina, to embark on a small polar vessel that’s designed to navigate the fjords and waterways of Patagonia.

If your heart’s desire is a voyage to Patagonia Chile, then Quark Expeditions’ Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine voyage would likely meet your desires. Your first full day aboard ship on that itinerary would find you sailing down the Beagle Channel, which is about 240 kilometres (150 miles) long and about five kilometres (three miles) wide. A stretch of the channel is known as Glacier Alley, which is lined with impressive tidewater glaciers with European names: Holland, Italy, Germany, Spain and France.  It’s also called Avenue of the Glaciers—and that’s where you’d be sailing within the first couple of days of your Patagonia glacier cruise.

Easy enough?

What is the best time to visit Patagonia?

March, which is the end of summer in Patagonia, provides warm weather conditions for exploring the region on a Patagonia glacier cruise. Crowds will be few, which is especially ideal since you’ll be visiting the national parks.

In addition to viewing the glaciers, deep fjords and snow-chapped mountain peaks, many travelers want to visit Patagonia at this time of year to view wildlife—especially the various species of penguins which are found in Chilean Patagonia: Magellanic, gentoo, rockhopper and macaroni. Bird populations are also impressive. Scientists estimate there are 1.35 million pairs of blue petrels, 99,000 pairs of diving petrels, and 55,000 pairs of black-browed albatross in the region. Plus, there are the ocean waters adjacent to Tierra del Fuego, which are home to southern right whales, humpbacks, blue whales and southern minkes. Dolphins, sea lions and seals (fur, leopard and southern elephant) are commonly observed here, as well.

Large rookeries of penguins are found in Tierra del Fuego

Large rookeries of penguins are found in Tierra del Fuego, a much-anticipated stop on Quark Expeditions' Patagonia
expedition. Courtesy :  Adobe Stock

How to book a Patagonia glacier cruise

Firstly, you want to choose an operator with small vessels and with a staff experienced in exploring remote destinations. One such itinerary, as mentioned above, is Quark Expeditions’ Essential Patagonia: Chilean Fjords and Torres del Paine.For an immersive Patagonia glacier cruise, you’ll want to travel with a team that includes wildlife experts —and preferably on a ship that’s equipped with Zodiacs that will get you off the ship to explore the fjords. One of Quark Expeditions’ ships is the new polar vessel Ultramarine—which is equipped with two twin-engine helicopters which will take you to the the best part of Patagonia to visit—by air. A bird’s-eye view of Patagonia, mixed with the experience of seeing the region from a kayak or from the outer deck of the small ship, puts this itinerary in a field of its own.

Massive glaciers are found in Patagonia

Massive glaciers are found in Patagonia Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay

Best part of Patagonia to visit

Luckily, most Patagonia glacier cruise offerings are long enough to enable you to fulfill your goal of taking in the best places to visit in Patagonia Chile. And for many travelers, the best part of Patagonia to visit are the regions with the greatest potential for glacier-viewing. The glaciers you’ll likely see during the 14-day“Essential Patagonia” itinerary include Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers in Glacier Alley.Situated within the protected boundary of Alberto de Agostini National Park, both Pia and Garibaldi Glaciers sit at the head of picturesque ice-choked fjords that are known for their jaw-dropping views. Located within the Cordillera Darwin (Darwin Mountain Range), the impressive Pia Glacier extends from the soaring mountaintops down into the sea. Garibaldi Glacier flows from a separate mountain, providing equally exceptional views, with the Darwin Mountains rising dramatically out of the fjord. 

Another glacier in this region is the Dainelli (Aguila) Glacier, which is situated at the end of a lagoon surrounded by lush sub-Antarctic forests in Agostini Sound. 

There are plenty more glaciers to see when you visit Patagonia.

Among the list of best places to visit in during a Patagonia glacier cruise, is of course, Cape Horn, a19,000-square-mile (49,000-square-kilometer) Biosphere Reserve that’s home to thousands of tiny plants, mosses and lichens. Three oceans—the Atlantic, Pacific and Southern Oceans—collide at Cape Horn, which churn up gale force winds and waves (which have been the cause of epic maritime tragedies throughout history.) If you were to ask a bird-lover about the best part of Patagonia to visit, you’ll get an answer that’s markedly different from asking the same question of a traveler who’s focused exclusively on glacier-viewing. The Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve, which includes Alberto de Agostini National Park and Cabo de Hornos National Park, is a wonderful destination for those hoping to see incredible bird species, such as southern giant petrel, kelp goose, and the magellanic woodpecker.

About 65 miles (105 kilometers) from Cape Horn, are the Diego Ramírez Islands, which include the Isla Norte, Isla Bartolomé and Isla Gonzálo. Diego Ramirez Islands are the southernmost albatross breeding ground in the world—and one of the most critical for the species’ survival. About 20% of the world’s black-browed albatross (55,000 pairs) and 23% of the world’s grey-headed albatross (17,000 pairs) nest here.

What to pack for a Patagonia glacier cruise

So, what to wear (and bring with you) if you’re planning to visit Patagonia? Let’s start with what clothing and gear you should bring for the off-ship activities during a Patagonia glacier cruise: 

• base layers, either wool or synthetic (bottoms and tops)

• Mid-layer warm/fleece top

• Mid-layer warm/fleece bottom

• Wool and synthetic socks (3-4 pairs)

•Glove liners

•Waterproof gloves (2 pairs minimum)

• A scarf or other face protection

•A warm hat that covers ears

•Waterproof pants (Zodiac mandatory)

•Sunscreen

• Sunglasses with UV protection (2 pairs)

•10L to 35L waterproof backpack or dry sac

Guests traveling with Quark Expeditions are given a polar-proof Quark Parka that’s theirs to take home. 

Lastly, you’ll want to pack appropriately for your time onboard the ship during your Patagonia glacier cruise. See our recommended packing list to guide you through the packing process.

Previous Article
An Unforgettable Snow Hill Island Tour
An Unforgettable Snow Hill Island Tour

Snow Hill Island is a rarely visited destination in Antarctica, but the brilliant majesty is unforgettable ...

Next Article
Explorer's Guide: How to Get to Svalbard!
Explorer's Guide: How to Get to Svalbard!

How can you get to Svalbard and what adventures await in this magical northern archipelago? Follow our guid...