Laguna San Rafael

Covering 6,726 square miles (17,420 square kilometers) on the Pacific coast of southern Chile, the Laguna San Rafael National Park is one of Chile's major national parks. Laguna San Rafael in Chile is a popular attraction for those on vacations to the country, and many visitors come to this park in particular to see blocks of glacier ice tumbling into the ten-mile fjord between the Peninsula de Taitao and the mainland. However, no matter what you choose to explore in the park, you are sure to leave impressed.

The Laguna San Rafael National Park was established in 1945 to protect the area's natural plants and wildlife, and was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1979. The Laguna San Rafael National Park is named for the San Rafael Lagoon, a coastal lake within the park, which was created by the retreating San Rafael Glacier in the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. To the north, the lake is connected to the Moraleda Channel, and to the south is the Ofqui Isthmus. On the east of the lake is the Northern Ice Field, which is the largest continuous ice mass outside of the earth's polar regions. The Northern Ice Field is entirely contained within the Laguna San Rafael park and is the origin of nineteen glaciers.

One of the great ways to explore the park is on a tour. Laguna San Rafael tours are often boat tours, which take sightseers into the San Rafael Lagoon so they can get up close to the giant glaciers. As you float along lake, you can hear the loud crack of an ice block breaking away from the glacier that surrounds the lake and falling into the icy waters. Ships ferry travelers from Puerto Chacabuco, Puyahuapi, and Puerto Montt, and cruises pass by here as well. In addition to boat tours, you can explore the area by hiking, mountain climbing, sea kayaking, and snow trekking.

In addition to the lakes and glaciers, the mountains in the park are also a draw. Laguna San Rafael in Chile contains several major Patagonia peaks, including Monte San Valentín, which at 13,310 feet (4,058 meters) is the highest mountain in the Southern Andes. Other notable mountains within  Laguna San Rafael National Park are Cerro Arenales, Cerro Hyades, and Cerro Pared Norte. While the glaciers, mountains, and lakes are the major attractions of Laguna San Rafael in Chile, the park also holds some allure for wildlife-lovers. Among the animals you can see here are black-browed albatross, black-necked swans, cormorants, huala ducks, dolphins, elephant seals, and chungungos (small otters).

The Laguna San Rafael National Park is the most popular attraction in the Aisén region of Chile for good reason. As national parks in Chile go, this may not be the easiest to get to, but once you've arrived you'll undoubtedly forget any inconvenience as you're blown away by the breathtaking natural scenery. The spectacular scenery of lakes ringed by massive icy glaciers is breathtaking and is sure to be a highlight of any list of things to do on a trip to Chile.

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