Have you ever imagined walking on a glacier? You can, on the Exploradores Glacier, in the Northern Patagonia Ice Fields. And if hiking with crampons over the glacier isn’t for you, the road to Bahia Exploradores is an experience in itself, winding between impenetrable forests, hanging glaciers, and overlooks where you can view the tallest mountain in Patagonia.
Puerto Río Tranquilo
Each summer, this quiet and tranquil town transforms into a busy hub for thousands of travelers visiting the Marble Cathedrals, General Carrera Lake, the Exploradores Valley and Glacier, the Northern Patagonia Ice Fields, and San Rafael Lagoon National Park. Puerto Tranquilo offers these visitors an ever-growing variety of accommodations, restaurants, supplies, services and shops, as well as a beautiful and expansive beach. So far, there is no ATM Cash Machine in town, so make sure you come with enough cash.
• Reservations: It is best to book in advance. Reservations are required during the winter season. Some of the companies working in the area include:
o El Puesto Expediciones - Puerto Río Tranquilo: Pedro Lagos 258; (09) 51893146; email@example.com; www.elpuesto.cl. Facebook: El Puesto
o Valle Leones – The Outdoor Experience – Puerto Río Tranquilo: Carretera Austral s/n; (09) 77031622; www.valleleones.cl.
o Tribu Patagonia - Puerto Río Tranquilo; (09) 66108619; firstname.lastname@example.org; Facebook: Tribu Patagonia
o LAPO Expediciones Patagonia – Puerto Río Tranquilo: (09) 56322337; email@example.com; Facebook: LAPO Expediciones Patagonia
Berrocal Family Cementery
Take a moment to notice the family cemeteries along the route. One of the most picturesque and colorful is the Berrocal Family Cemetery, whose tiny houses made of tejuelas wooden tiles can be seen along the left side of the road, 1.5 km from Puerto Tranquilo.
La Nutria waterfalls
One of the most spectacular waterfalls is La Nutria, with crystalline waters falling at least 30 m in height. You’ll encounter it on the left hand side in kilometer 23; it’s a perfect place to stop and observe the micro plant world of fungi and lichens which thrive in this damp environment. The colors and textures are extraordinary, so don’t forget to pull out your macro lens! As you continue, the forest begins to envelop the road and the mountains jet up from all sides, immersing you in their ancient peaks.
If you want to stay in the valley, a surreal experience awaits at the Campo Alacaluf Complejo Turístico (Km 44; www.campoalacaluf.com; firstname.lastname@example.org). The owners, Katrin and Thomas emigrated to Aysén from Germany after falling in love with these landscapes. They have carved out a life here in the middle of the Exploradores Valley and enjoy sharing their love for nature with visitors. Their charming farmhouse and rural lodge have a capacity for nine people with options for private or shared bathrooms.
The End of the road
After your hike you can continue along the road that travels to Exploradores Bay. In this sector, the gravel road is raised to pass through marshlands and no more than a narrow strip of land separates you from the incredible natural surroundings. The forests become more lush and virgin, filled with giant Cypress of the Guaitecas and other endemic species like nalca and mosses and ferns and lichens, which combine to produce a million tones of green. If you stop and take a brief walk along the road, or simply open your windows, you will be able to hear the exotic sounds of frogs and birds that inhabit this zone. With each kilometer you drive, the sensation of being in a Jurrasic Park strengthens until you feel like a dinosaur could walk right out in front of you at any moment.
As you approach km 75, you'll see several signs letting you know that the road ends. For now, the route ends at the Exploradores River where a bridge must be built to connect the finished sections on the other side that go to the Bay. Eventually this road will provide access to the Pacific Ocean and one of the most famous natural wonders of the Aysén Region: Laguna San Rafael, a beautiful glacier that is famous for having an enormous amount of icebergs calving off its walls and floating throughout the bay.
Although the road is not finished yet, you can still see this impressive display of ice, water and marine life. Both Destino Patagonia (www.destinopatagonia.cl) and Turismo Rio Exploradores - EMTREX, (www.browsers-sanrafael.cl), offer trips that leave from the parking area at the end of the road, transporting passengers across the river, and then via boat on a 2.5 hour trip through the fiords and untouched landscapes until you reach the San Rafael Glacier and Lagoon. It’s an expedition that will leave you feeling like a true explorer!
View of the Exploradores Glacier
You’ll notice that this glacier is different from many; it doesn’t descend to the sea, nor does it give rise to a great lake or lagoon. It is a breathtaking landscape of ice, rocks, and small creeks and crevasses that form part of the mass of the Northern Patagonia Ice Fields. On a clear day, you’ll also have a majestic view of Mount San Valentin, the highest peak in Patagonia (4,058 m).
El Puesto Expediciones Refuge
After approximately 51 km, you’ll come to the Deshielo River, which descends from the Exploradores Glacier.
In another kilometer, you’ll come to the El Puesto Expediciones Refuge, where you’ll leave your car, register and choose between your options for seeing the glacier. Your first option is a short, but steep, 25 minute hike that leads to an observation deck where you’ll have a tremendous view of the Exploradores Glacier. You’ll notice that this glacier is different from many; it doesn’t descend to the sea, nor does it give rise to a great lake or lagoon. It is a breathtaking landscape of ice, rocks, and small creeks and crevasses that form part of the mass of the Northern Patagonia Ice Fields. On a clear day, you’ll also have a majestic view of Mount San Valentin, the highest peak in Patagonia (4,058 m).