Storing around 75% of the globe’s freshwater, it’s fair to say that glaciers are the lifeblood of our planet and Patagonia ranks highly on the list of impressive places to encounter these ancient ice giants. As it’s home to the lion’s share of all those in South America, glaciers here have been responsible for carving out some of the region’s most iconic landmarks. But how many of Patagonia’s famous glaciers have you actually heard of? Let us introduce you to the stars of this area’s ancient landscapes.
Patagonia’s Famous Glaciers: Perito Moreno, Argentina
Size: 97-sq. miles (156-sq.km). It is 19-miles (30km) in length and 240 ft. (72m) high.
Why is it on the list of famous glaciers? Not only is it Argentine Patagonia’s top tourist attraction, but it’s also one of the region’s most famous glaciers.
Visitors pour into the area in their droves, particularly to see the epic ice rupture that occurs every four to five years. This spectacle happens when a dam built by advancing ice cuts off a section of the lake, resulting in water pressure forcing through to create an archway of ice. Finally, this bridge collapses in a dramatic explosion of ice and water.
How can you visit? Tours from nearby El Calafate are the easiest way of visiting Patagonia’s most famous glacier.
Patagonia’s Famous Glaciers: Pío XI, Chile
Size: 50-miles (80km) in length, with a front face of around 3.7-miles (6km) and a height of approximately 250 ft. (76m).
Why is it on the list of famous glaciers? Pío XI Glacier is the longest glacier in the southern hemisphere, if you exclude Antarctica. It’s also claimed to be as large as the Chilean capital, Santiago.
But apart from its sheer size, it’s a glacier of real interest to climate change scientists, as it advanced extensively during the 20th-century – a rare occurrence given that in all of Patagonia, only Perito Moreno and Pío XI are classified as stable.
How can you visit? It is accessed by sea from Puerto Natales, a city located 3 hours from Punta Arenas.
Patagonia’s Famous Glaciers: Grey, Chile
Size: 100 sq.-miles (270km²). It is 17-miles (28km) long, 4-miles (6km) wide, 100 ft. (6m) tall.
Why is it on the list of famous glaciers? Located in a region that has been entirely shaped by glaciation – indeed, the granite towers of Torres del Paine National Park are a result of this process – it is one of the most dramatic sights to encounter here. Set to a backdrop of snow-peaked mountains and foregrounded by the bobbing icebergs in the aquamarine waters of Lago Grey, it’s nothing short of breathtaking.
How can you visit? Glacier Grey is best viewed from the John Gardner Pass when hiking the ‘O’ Circuit or ‘Q’ trek, or from Refugio Grey, which is visited by all three hikes that pass through Torres del Paine National Park.
Patagonia’s Famous Glaciers: Queulat Hanging Glacier, Chile
Why is it on the list of famous glaciers? A little-known glacier in Queulat National Park, the Ventisquero Colgante or Hanging Glacier is a spellbinding sight. Literally clinging to the cliff edge, its melting glacial waters spill from the densely-packed blue ice, transforming into a waterfall that streams into milky-white Laguna Tempanos beneath.
Although it may not have the same scale as its glacier cousins, it remains amongst the most captivating sights in all of Patagonia.
How can you visit? Take a tour or drive 12-miles (20km) south of Puyuhuapi on the Carretera Austral to arrive at the park’s entrance. From here, you can following a short path up to a viewpoint that directly faces the glacier.