Situated west of Lago General Carrera and some 200 km south of Puerto Aysén, Laguna San Rafael is one of the highlights for many travellers to Chile.
The Ventisquero San Rafael, one of a group of four glaciers that emanate in all directions from Monte San Valentín in the giant Campo de Hielo Norte, flows into the Laguna, which, in turn, empties into the sea northwards via the Río Tempano. About 45 km in length and towering 30 m above water level, the deep blue glacier groans and cracks as it calves icebergs, which are carried across the Laguna and out to sea. Around the shores of the lake is thick vegetation and above are snowy mountain peaks.
Laguna San Rafael and the Campo de Hielo Norte are part of the Parque Nacional Laguna San Rafael, which extends over 1,740,000 ha, and is a UN World Biosphere Reserve. In the national park are puma, pudú, foxes, dolphins, occasional sea lions and sea otters, and many species of bird. Walking trails are limited (about 10 km in all) but a lookout platform has been constructed, with fine views of the glacier. There is also a small ranger station that provides information, and a pier. The rangers are willing to row you out to the glacier in calm weather, an awesome three-hour adventure, past icebergs and swells created when huge chunks of ice break off the glacier and crash into the Laguna. Sadly, the glacier is disintegrating and is predicted to disappear entirely; some suggest that the wake from tour boats is contributing to the erosion.
The only access is by plane or boat; either provides spectacular views. Official cruises from Puerto Montt are run by Skorpios and Compañía Naviera Puerto Montt; various private yachts for six to 12 passengers can also be chartered. From Puerto Chacabuco, cruises to the Laguna are run throughout the year by Navimag, and from Septermber to April by Catamaranes del Sur. Local fishing boats from Puerto Chacabuco and Puerto Aysén take about 18-20 hours each way and charge a little less than the tourist boats; ask at the port. Note that these unauthorized boats may have neither adequate facilities nor a licence for the trip. Trips to Laguna San Rafael out of season are very difficult to arrange.