Sometimes the best way to discover a place is to enter through a secret door. This way, unexpected perspectives come to life, and you see landscapes you would never have witnessed if you had come through the traditional way. That’s what happens with sailing on the Serrano River, in the Chilean region of Magallanes. What better way to enter the famous Torres del Paine National Park than sailing through wild Patagonian fjords and taking a zodiac alongside giant glaciers?
If you’re lucky enough to miss one of those typical terribly-windy days in Patagonia (which may lead to the cancellation of the excursion), the full-day excursion includes a couple of hours sailing in a cozy boat, a walk to the Serrano Glacier lookout, incredible views, and an unforgettable zodiac ride on the Serrano River. Are you ready?
Early Morning. Departure from Puerto Natales.
If you came to Patagonia to sleep late, you may have picked the wrong destination. Waking up early will allow you to fully experience the wilderness of the region and maybe to witness one of the most spectacular sunrises ever (be aware that sunrise can be as early as at 4am in the heart of summer – December/January). The day starts in Puerto Natales, a quiet town halfway between the flat pampa and the mountains, at the shore of the Seno Ultima Esperanza (literally translates as Last Hope fjord).
As the boat finds its way through the channel, you can get a glimpse of the surrounding snowcapped peaks, such as Mt. Tenerife (1600mt/5250ft) and Mt. Balmaceda (2035mt/6677ft – the mountain you are currently heading to).
And you’ll understand why Puerto Natales has one of the most stunning locations ever.
The closer you get to the South Patagonian Ice Fields (16800 km /6487 mi. of glaciers), the colder it gets. So even though it can be warm – sometimes – get ready for crazy, rapidly changing weather. It rained and snowed when we reached the Balmaceda glacier, and I can tell you I will remember this cold. But oh, it was amazing.
The Balmaceda glacier is a mountain glacier you can see in the distance from Puerto Natales. The boat brings you really close to its edge and you can actually how quickly it is retreating. Its retreat (about 80 meters/year) is shocking proof of global warming. Soon after this fascinating sight, you’ll arrive at another lookout and disembark.
Welcome to the Serrano Glacier!
If you made the (good) decision to travel on until Torres del Paine, say goodbye to the boat, because it is time to get into the zodiac. But before that, follow the wooden path and enter the dense and mysterious forests of Bernardo O’Higgins National Park – the biggest National Park in South America.
Even though you’ll see less than 1% (if not less) of the park, the walk is unmissable. After 15 minutes, you reach a striking lookout of the Serrano Glacier. This glacier is also retreating, but is still massive.
At this point, it might be a good idea to put on the thermal jacket the nice guy on the sailing crew provided for you! It can be decisive in the enjoyment of the experience. Because, yes, an hour and a half sailing through a glacier-fed river is something amazing...but is also quite cold as well.
The Serrano river is fed by the Toro Lake – the biggest lake in the region – which is itself fed by glaciers, including Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine’s icy highlight. A 38-kilometer long watercourse, the Serrano River feeds the Seno Ultima Esperanza, whose waters ultimately reach the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. In winter, as the temperature dramatically decreases, the water level sinks, making navigation impossible.
As the zodiac leaves the Serrano Glacier (bye, bye majestic landscape), don’t worry if the experience reminds you of a roller coaster. That’s perfectly normal (and great).
Life’s all about highs and lows, thrills and chills.
You’ll sail against the current and eventually spot other (smaller) glaciers and interesting rock formations. Now, the ultimate surprise is that you’ll catch a sight of the Tyndall Glacier, a hidden ice monster that forms part of the ice field. You can feel lucky because that’s your only opportunity to see this glacier (unless you hike off-trail for hours).
After an hour, the boat encounters some gnarly currents and waterfalls. Impossible to keep going! But do you really think that’s the end? No! There’s more! I love surprises. The walk to bypass the waterfalls reveals a lovely surprise.
If this is your first visit to Torres del Paine National Park, the view from the first lookout of the National Park will thrill you. This final 15-minute walk is an impressive conclusion to the day’s journey. Reach the lookout and... welcome to Torres del Paine! If this postcard-perfect view of the mountain range (with Paine Grande, Los Cuernos and the towers in the background) does not impress you, nothing will.
The adventure stops at Pueblo Serrano, a tiny tourist village at the entrance to the National Park. But when I say “stops”, I’m actually lying. Everyone knows that Torres del Paine is always the beginning of an incredible adventure.
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