San Rafael Lagoon

San Rafael Lagoon is a proglacial lake linked to the sea by the River Témpanos. It measures approximately 15 kilometres long (north to south) and 10 kilometres wide (east to west), and has up to 200 meters of depth.

San Rafael Lagoon is a proglacial lake linked to the sea by the River Témpanos. It measures approximately 15 kilometres long (north to south) and 10 kilometres wide (east to west), and has up to 200 meters of depth. Despite the great inflow of freshwater from the glacier and the numerous streams, its waters are salty due to the effect of the tide.

It is one of the most important tourist attractions of the Aysén region and of Patagonia; the huge San Rafael Glacier has a front that measures 2 kilometres wide (north to south) and a length of approximately 20 kilometres. The glacier wall is over 50 metres high and, from there, huge pieces of ice detach and fall right into the lagoon. It is the glacier that reaches sea level closest to the equator, in the southern hemisphere.

The glacier has become a study object for climate change monitoring, given that its slopes reveal the presence of ice erosion through thousands of years.

San Rafael Lagoon and its glacier are located in Campos de Hielo Norte, which in turn is located entirely within Laguna San Rafael National Park, where CONAF is in charge of keeping a small office and infrastructure within the park, near the camping area.

In this national park, it is also possible to sight some of the terrestrial and marine wildlife of the region, among the outstanding birds, we find: the huala duck (Podiceps major navasi,) the black-necked swan (Cygnus melancoryphus) and the cormorant (Phalacrocorax atriceps.) In the sea, one can usually sight: the dolphin (Cephalorhynchus eutropia,) the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens,) the chunchungo or marine otter (Lontra felina) and the southern elephant seal or elefante marino, in Spanish, (Mirounga leonina).

In 1979, this park was declared a World Biosphere Reserve.

a- General Information

Year of Establishment: The San Rafael National Park, where the lagoon is located, was created on the 17th of June 1959.

Total Area: 1742000 hectares.

Distance and Estimated Time from Coyhaique: 5 hours, 1 Hour to Puerto Chacabuco and 4 hours on boat.

Fares:

National – Adults: $4.000; elderly people: $2.000; adults with disability: $2.000; children: $2.000.

International – Adults: $7.000; children: $3.500.

b- Access Routes (by land/ by sea/ by air)

  • By air, from the city of Coyhaique.
  • By sea from Puerto Chacabuco. From Puerto Chacabuco, boats sail through Témpanos river up towards the ice-wall of San Rafael glacier.
  • By land/ sea from Puerto Rio Tranquilo. This route opened in 2010, across the Exploradores River valley until Puerto Grosse from where boats set sail towards the lagoon.

c- What to do / Activities:

Tour companies in the area offer several alternatives for outdoor activities, combining boat rides, hikes and sighting the terrestrial and marine avifauna.