Exploring the Chilean Fjords
Every summer more and more adventurers visit the marvelous places Patagonia has to offer. Torres del Paine National Park in Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina are often at the top of their list when they plan their trekking destinations. Nevertheless, very few travelers have had the opportunity to explore the fjords and glaciers that lie on the other side of those mountain ranges. These spectacular places are almost only reached by sea onboard an expedition ship, and this year we were part of an inaugural Chilean Fjords voyage.
From September to early April there are 4-night expeditions that take you to Cape Horn and some of the Chilean Fjords. These voyages start either in Ushuaia, Argentina or Punta Arenas, Chile. If you have more time and plan to explore further north we recommend that you take a look at our new 14-day expedition departing from Ushuaia and ending in Valparaíso. This special Chilean Fjords expedition is offered at the end of the Antarctica Season (in March).
A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to join the voyage, and we want to share a little bit about it. We visited plenty of glaciers and fjords, enjoyed zodiac cruising, navigated narrows like the Kirke Channel and the White Channel and enjoyed the presence of amazing wildlife. We also had the opportunity to visit a few Chilean towns and learn more about their culture and their people.
We embarked our expedition vessel at around 3pm and began to explore the ship and meet the amazing staff and other travelers that would accompany us on this journey. The next morning we entered the Garibaldi Fjord and navigated all the way to the Garibaldi Glacier where we made our first landing. It was a calm, partially sunny morning and we were all excited about getting into the zodiacs, stretching our legs and enjoying the close encounter with nature. Our ornithologist explained the differences between species of cormorants as we spotted a few on a rock.
The next day we entered the D’Agostini Fjord and were amazed to visit the Serrano Glacier. Although it had been windy the afternoon before, we entered a more sheltered area and our expedition team discovered three different landing sites, so we were able to explore the area on foot.
We continued navigating the Magellan Strait until we reached Cabo San Isidro. This was quite a windy morning and although the excursion did not go as planned, we had our fair share of fun! As in all expeditions, flexibility is paramount. The weather is unpredictable sometimes, but the expedition team always has a plan B. Our captain was able to position the ship in a less windy spot and we were able to land. We had about two hours to walk and enjoy the view, the presence of seabirds and dolphins and the beauty of the Nothofagus forest in autumn!
We entered the Peel Fjord the next morning and experienced our first zodiac cruise and landing of the day. El Brujo Glacier located in the Asia Fjord was one of the highlights of the expedition. It is one of the few glaciers in the world that is actually advancing, and it was calving actively all the time we observed it. It was thrilling and humbling to witness some big chunks of ice falling just in front of us. While on the zodiac we discovered some gorgeous waterfalls and interesting shapes of ice floating around us. In the afternoon, we entered the Amalia Fjord to enjoy the view of the Amalia Glacier. This time, we had plenty of land to explore and hike around. The interpretation of the naturalists that accompanied us was helpful to understand the phenomena of glaciers and the geology of these unique places.
The next day a spectacular cloudless day awaited us as we explored the Falcon Fjord. There was a lot of ice on the water and we could hear the crack of the ice every time the zodiac got close to a piece of it. We spotted the green-backed firecrown hummingbird several times as well as playful dolphins. We took a short hike, tried some calafate berries and snapped shots of the flowering plants and the emerging colors of the fall. In the afternoon we witnessed one of the most spectacular glaciers in this area: the Bruggen on the Eyre Fjord. This glacier has a huge face of about 5kms and once the team landed the zodiacs on the water, we cruised its entire length to have a closer look. The water was shallow and silty so the team found a great spot for us to land in the moraine of this massive glacier.
After several days exploring the fjords and glaciers of Southern Chile, we headed to Puerto Eden. This is arguably one of the most isolated places in Patagonia. It is a special place because of its cultural heritage of aboriginal peoples: Four out of the only six full blood Kaweshkar people in the world live here. We had the opportunity to meet Gabriela who shared with us experiences of her life when she was a child, the traditions and the crafts they make. We explored the tiny town and enjoyed a rainy day outdoors. Luckily with our waterproof jackets on, there was nothing to worry about!
Our next destinations were Castro in Chiloé and Niebla, close to Valdivia. In Chiloe we had a guided excursion to visit unique churches that were built just like boats were built – without nails! We enjoyed a fascinating woodwork and beautiful architecture. Before embarking again, we visited a beautiful handcraft market with colorful crafts made of wool and wood. Many of us tried the traditional Chilean empanadas and seafood right across the market! The next morning we had a fabulous sunny day in Niebla – some took a guided tour to Castillo de Niebla where we learned all about its history, why and when it was erected, while others went for a walk around town. Our voyage came to an end when we arrived in Valparaíso the next morning.
This was an expedition in the true sense: we explored remote fjords and glaciers fed by the Southern Ice Field, and while some days were sunnier than others, we enjoyed zodiac cruising with naturalists, hiked daily, and got immersed in the culture of interesting towns of Chile. If you have an adventurous spirit and are eager to explore these fjords, you won’t be disappointed!
Oh… and if you have a few extra days, we totally recommend you spend some time in Valpo, Viña del Mar and Santiago!