Esquel is a good base for exploring the San Rafael Glacier, one of the most beautiful places of Southern Patagonia, located in the North Patagonian Icefield (CHPN). The ride to the glacier and back (partly by land and partly by boat) is an absolutely beautiful hike every step of the journey.
From Esquel you can cross to Chile by the Futaleufu and Palena Pasos. Both are gravel roads and bind in the vicinity of Villa Santa Lucia. In this section the "Southern Road" is characterized by going through the lush and lovely Valdivian forest by a narrow and winding road, surrounded by thousands of giant nalcas. Tens of suspension bridges cross the rivers and streams that flow down from the mountain. In the evening you arrive at Port Aysen.
The trips to San Rafael Lagoon depart from Port Chacabuco, distant 15 kilometers from Aysen and sail through the Strait of Elefantes to San Rafael lagoon. The ship sails at night, runs along the lake the next day and returned to port to the third morning. Tours also leave from Port Montt to a total of five days. Some more adventurous travelers reach the glacier to make the climb to the hill located behind the San Valentin glacier.
Tourists from Europe, America and Asia are part of these excursions that leave adults and children dazzled by the grandeur of the glacier. During the trip across the lagoon there are hundreds of icebergs, some of which weigh thousands of tons. Once near the glacier, passengers are invited to browse the vicinity of it on boat.
In the afternoon you can see tears and collapses in front of the glacier, which blocks of more than 10 feet high break and plunge into the waters of the lagoon, delighting the audience with a great spectacle.
In the southern Andes are located two ice fields: the North Patagonian, of 4,200 square kilometers, which is located entirely within Chile and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, of 13,000 square kilometers, which crosses the international boundary.
Both ice plateaus are remnants of the glaciation occurred in the southern part of the American continent and whose final retreat began about 10,000 years ago. Considered a survivor of the Pleistocene ice age, the CHPN is a climatic phenomenon unique in the world, especially considering that is on the same latitude as Switzerland. This huge glacier mass has been preserved due to the extremely wet and cold weather.
Discovered in the thirties, this plateau hosts inside lots of ice covered hills, the highest of them, the Valentine's with 4,060 meters is the highest summit of Southern Patagonia. It was raised for the first time on December 18, 1952 by an expedition of the Club Andino Bariloche.
After visiting the glacier, you can continue south visiting other places of special beauty. From Port Aysen to Cochrane (to the south along the Lake General Carrera on Chilean territory) there are 400 kilometers. The first section is of asphalt but the last few kilometers are very winding, you have to travel at 30 kilometers per hour.
Bordering the lake itself, but now moving in the direction NE to Argentina you get to Chile Chico, at 200 kilometers. Touring them demand at least 6 hours trip. It borders lakes Carrera (Chile) and Buenos Aires (Argentina) by a very narrow path. In Argentine territory you can spend the night in Los Antiguos or Perito Moreno.