A Guide to the Top Glaciers in South America for Travelers
To get acquainted with the glaciers of South America, you need to become familiar with the Patagonia region – and no, we don’t mean the nearest location of a certain popular clothing store. Most of the glaciers in South America are located along the Andes Mountains in the Patagonia region of Chile.
Some of these glaciers are accessible by water, while others are located inland and require motor transportation to get to. These inland ones usually have a terminus (the lowest end of a glacier) on a large glacial lake, while the coastal glaciers typically flow into a sea channel.
The vast majority of glaciers in South America are retreating, meaning they are slowly getting smaller at their base and the terminus isn’t as far down the valley bed as it once was. This is typically due to precipitation and melting of the glacier that is not then recovered by new snowfall or ice forming.
The glaciers in South America have created two massive ice fields in Patagonia. These ice fields are a flat expanse of ice that stretch between glaciers and from which glaciers often flow.
The two ice fields in South America are called the Northern Patagonian Ice Field and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the largest contiguous ice field in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica, which has resulted in some epically sized glaciers, including Bruggen Glacier, the longest in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica.
Besides the sheer size of the glaciers in South America, the beauty of these icy towers of land also make them stand out. Here are some of the most awe-inspiring glaciers to visit during a trip to South America.
Iconic Glaciers in South America’s Los Glaciares National Park
To see what is arguably the most famous glacier in South America, you’ll need to travel to Los Glaciares National Park to see the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia region of Chile.
To get to the iconic site of Perito Moreno, most visitors arrive in Ushuaia, Argentina, or Punta Arenas, Chile, and use that city as a starting off point to get to Perito Moreno Glacier (our cruises from Buenos Aires, Argentina often sail to both these port cities). After a bus ride that takes anywhere from a few to several hours depending which coastal city you’re traveling from, you’ll be in the national park. Stay on the bus until it gets to the end of the road, which also happens to be right next to Perito Moreno.
Once there, you’ll be able to disembark the bus and explore the surroundings of the glacier and get incredible photos by walking around on the wooden boardwalks, or by taking a boat ride through the glacial water at its base. In addition to being astounded by the cool blue hue of the glacier, you’ll also likely witness many chunks of ice falling off the glacier into the lake below as it is constantly calving.
Perito Moreno is also the only glacier in the Patagonia region that is advancing, meaning its terminus is reaching farther down the valley floor and is taking up more space, as opposed to decreasing and shrinking.
Any way you can see Perito Moreno will be memorable, but a tour that takes you right onto the glacier will be a once in a lifetime opportunity that will let you experience the wonders of the glacier right beneath your feet. You’ll put on provided ice cleats (often called crampons) and walk around on the ice and marvel at the cool blue of the glacier that is made even more colorful by the light teal glacial water of Argentino Lake.
Perito Moreno isn’t the only glacier in Glaciares National Park. The park is actually home to 47 glaciers. Of these, another impressive glacier to know about is Upsala Glacier, which is the largest glacier in South America in terms of area size. It’s not easy to visit though since its rapid retreating has left a myriad of icebergs in the lake it feeds into, making it hard to get close to the glacier.
South America Glaciers in the Chilean Fjords
Going through Glacier Alley is a popular route on Chilean Fjords cruise itineraries. Glacier Alley consists of five tidewater glaciers located one after the other deep in the Chilean fjords. The glaciers of Glacier Alley are fed by the Darwin ice field and line the northern arm of the Beagle Channel, a large waterway that is part of the Argentine province of Tierra del Fuego and separates Chile and Argentina.
Glacier Alley’s five glaciers differ in their look and the amount of ice on them, but they all provide for a beautiful backdrop when cruising through the waterway. The five glaciers are named after European countries, which is a nod to the home continent of the European explorers who arrived here in the 19th century. The names are: Holanda (Holland), Italia (Italy), Francia (France), Alemania (Germany), and Espana (Spain).
Another popular glacier to see while in the Chilean Fjords is Garibaldi Glacier, which is home to an impressive glacial waterfall. Adding to the intrigue of the setting for Garibaldi Glacier is the large forest that borders it.
Pia Glacier is also a can’t miss glacier located within the Chilean Fjords since it is astoundingly massive with a rugged beauty that is made powerful by the calving of monstrous ice chunks.
Plan Your Trip to See South America Glaciers
A journey to see glaciers in South America will take you into a magnificent world resplendent with nature. As you witness the mountainous peaks of ice first-hand, you’ll be astounded by the power of the earth and how it is constantly evolving. In addition, you may see whales and sea lions and other sea creatures, adding to the allure of a South America vacation in this frozen part of the world.