Our review of Skorpios Cruceros’ Kaweskar Route in the Chilean Fjords, one of the coolest glacier cruises in the world!
11’700 years ago the last Ice Age came to an end and the modern world as we know it began to expose itself.
Thousands of glaciers had carved out the landscape, creating valleys, gorges and jagged cliffs. As the ice melted into rivers and flowed into the oceans, many untapped regions became accessible to new life.
Today in many parts of the world the glaciers have disappeared, with the only evidence of their existence remaining being the valleys they’ve left behind.
Patagonia is one of the exceptions.
After trekking the O Circuit and staying at the marvellous EcoCamp in Torres del Paine National Park, we had one final adventure in Southern Chile before heading back into Argentina – a glacier cruise with Skorpios Cruceros.
We’ve always been fascinated with glaciers, and have visited as many as possible in Canada, Central Asia and Antarctica. With climate change dramatically warming the planet we wanted to see as many glaciers as possible before they recede forever.
The Chilean Fjords stretch along the Southern Patagonian Ice Field on the west coast of South America. Home to an abundance of marine life and staggeringly gorgeous channels, it is unrivalled in terms of easily-reached beauty.
Exploring them by boat is the best way to appreciate this region’s splendour, and for 3 nights we had the privilege of visiting glaciers that few people have every seen.
The Kaweskar Route
Our 3-night glacier cruise started in the town of Puerto Natales, the gateway to some of Patagonia’s most phenomenal landscapes.
We were going on Skorpios Cruceros’ Kaweskar Route, which motored through some fantastic coves and channels that no other company visits.
Named after the local indigenous people of the area, the main attraction for the Kaweskar Route is getting as close as possible to some of the most remarkable glaciers in the Chilean Fjords.
The ship that makes the journey is the Skorpios III – a small ice-strengthened passenger ferry that would be our home for the next few nights under the control of the family-run business.
While not being high-end luxury, the Skorpios III offers all the amenities that would make any boat journey supremely comfortable – lounge areas, spacious bedrooms and ample deck space to admire the impeccable views.
To make things even more enjoyable every Skorpios cruise is all-inclusive. Your food, excursions and alcohol are all part of the package, so when you step foot on board there is no need to keep an eye on your wallet every time you hit the bar.
We knew from the moment we arrived that this was going to be a fun and memorable trip.
Day 1 – Welcome Party And Sailing The Channels
We walked to the Skorpios port just outside of town and made our way to the ship just after 4pm. Security was relaxed, as most things tend to be in Patagonia, and we wandered straight up the gangway with the staff smiling at us.
When we got inside we met one of the managers, and she took our passports and gave a briefing of the day’s schedule. Afterwards we were shown to our room on the 4th deck.
Not quite knowing what to expect, we opened the door and our jaws dropped. The room was enormous with a sitting area and a queen-sized bed, and the bathroom was one of the largest we’ve seen in all of South America.
Once we’d finished our check in and stashed our backpacks away we went downstairs to attend the mandatory safety briefing.
As to be expected on these types of cruises safety is of the highest importance, and everything was explained clearly and concisely in English and Spanish of what would happen in the very unlikely event of an emergency.
The briefings out of the way, we then made our way to the bar and started to mingle with our fellow guests.
Tea and coffee was always ready to go, but we went straight for the wine and pisco sours that were on offer. While our Spanish is approaching basic conversational level, we were excited to meet a group of people from Australia, the UK and the US that we could chat with as well.
The free-flowing drinks were going down quite smoothly when suddenly we departed from Puerto Natales and started cruising into the famous Chilean Fjords.
Everybody grabbed their drinks and headed upstairs to the outer decks, cameras in hand, to admire the beautiful weather. As Puerto Natales disappeared behind the islands we stayed out as long as we could before the wind picked up and we headed down to get ready for dinner.
The first meal was simple yet delicious. Someone had warned us not to expect much on this cruise, but we were very surprised with the quality of the dishes.
We were put on a table with a group of Chileans and Argentinians, and they were amazingly friendly. They would be a meal-buddies for the entire trip, and the local wine on the table definitely helped us with our Spanish language skills.
Afterwards a few people headed to the bar to enjoy the all-inclusive alcohol, but we opted for an early night. We didn’t want to feel hungover for the next day’s excursion. Crawling into our comfortable bed we were asleep within minutes as the Skorpios III powered through the night.
Day 2 – Amalia Glacier, El Brujo And The Calvo Fjord
We’ve never felt happier to wake up fresh, because when we crawled out of bed we opened our curtains and saw that it was a clear morning. The sky was radiantly glowing!
Naturally we ran outside to take some photos, and quickly found out how windy and cold it was. This was the last trip of the season, and winter was definitely coming to Patagonia.
We were cruising into a channel and as the day got lighter we could see the Amalia Glacier tumbling down into the sea. This was going to be our first excursion, and seeing the glacier in the distance triggered our excitement.
Once we snapped our shots we headed down for the buffet breakfast, then got ready for our zodiac ride to the mainland.
In typical fashion Alesha and I were too busy taking photos from the deck to make it down in time for the first zodiacs. As a result we were left with the last boat heading out.
Normally this wouldn’t be a problem. However being on the last one meant we had to wait for the stragglers, which predictably were people not in a rush at all to go and see the glacier.
For the next 25 minutes we sat there while chilled out locals laughed and giggled about how they had forgotten their camera, or wanted to go get another coffee, or needed to go to the bathroom one last time, or finding it hilarious that Maria had chosen that very moment to have a shower.
Alesha and I bit our tongues, but couldn’t help get frustrated as the sun kept rising and our time on the mainland may be cut short because no one was in a hurry.
Moral of the story – get on the first zodiac.
When we did eventually make it to shore we ran to catch up with the other groups, who had already seen the sun peak over the mountains and caught that first beautiful sight of the glacier.
Any frustrations we previously had disappeared as we found ourselves on a rocky paradise speckled with lagoons and chunks of ice.
The short hike to the top of a hill gave us a wide view of the mesmerising Amalia Glacier. The lighting wasn’t perfect for photos, so that gave us a good excuse to simply sit down and appreciate this spectacular frozen river.
And in all honesty, how could we complain about perfect weather when the last few cruises had supposedly been rained on the entire time?
The Amalia Glacier has receded almost more than any other glacier in Patagonia, retreating over 5km since 1945. We felt honoured to be able to see it while we could.
After 30 minutes or so it was time to head back to the Skorpios III. This time Alesha and I took our time heading back, and being on the last zodiac simply meant more time with the glacier.
El Brujo Glacier
Our next excursion after morning tea would be to El Brujo Glacier. ‘The Wizard‘ in English, El Brujo is a relatively small glacier, but with a towering face that creates a dramatic scene.
The zodiacs made the quick trip to an exposed chunk of magmatic rock and all of the passengers sat down to admire another one of nature’s wonders up close.
This glacier is quite active, and we witnessed chunks of ice tumble down into the sea, sending waves towards the rocks. We then realised why our Skorpios guides had insisted we left our life jackets on.
Back onboard we enjoyed a tasty lunch then had some time to relax before the afternoon’s adventure. While some people headed off to have a nap or chill in their rooms, we ended up back in the bar sipping on pisco sours and wine.
The Calvo Fjord
You know that if the crew are getting excited for an excursion then it is probably going to be amazing.
The Calvo Fjord is sensational stretch of water that is home to a large number of glaciers. Rather than exploring it in the zodiacs, the Skorpios team had a special icebreaker that was waiting in one of the bays.
The mid-sized vessel pulled up to the gangway and we all loaded on, with quite a few of us making a charge for the open bow for the best vistas.
Leaving the Skorpios III behind, we motored our way into the Calvo Fjord, the perfectly calm water creating mirrored reflections against the mountains above.
For 3 and a half hours we explored every inch of the Calvo Fjord. People claim it is the most beautiful location in all of the Chilean Fjords, and having seen it ourselves it is hard to argue the point.
One of the traditions for the Calvo Fjord excursion is to enjoy a glass of scotch with millennia-old glacier ice. We were all given a souvenir Skorpios tumbler glass filled with ice collected and washed from the sea, and topped with the delicious spirit.
The captain gave a toast, we clinked our glasses and settled in for the gorgeous ride back as the sun set over the peaks.
Returning to the ship we all had a bit of a buzz going, and with our stomachs rumbling settled in for the evening’s sprawling dinner and free-flowing wine again.
Day 3 – Alsina Glacier, Bernal Glacier And The Montañas Fjord
Once again we woke up, cracked the curtains and instantly flooded our room with light. It was another glorious morning, and we were ecstatic!
For whatever reason the ship had been delayed during the night, which meant the day’s journeys would be pushed back an hour or so. We weren’t complaining though, as that meant we had more time to enjoy the scenery.
After breakfast we used that extra time to have another coffee and admire the views from the deck. A few of our fellow passengers braved the cold to stand outside, and we chatted excitedly as we neared our next destination with postcard-perfect views all around us.
A pod of dolphins decided to join us, and we all rushed to the starboard side to watch them play around in our wake.
The first excursion was to the Alsina Glacier, a picturesque spot that fronts right up to the edge of a small bay.
The zodiacs were craned off the Skorpios III again, and we made our way to the gangway. The crew loaded us all safely then we set off into the bay.
This particular excursion didn’t have us disembarking the zodiacs. Instead we drifted quietly next to the Alsina Glacier. Once all the boats had entered the bay the captains shut the engines off and we sat there in silence, focused on the sounds of the glacier cracking and moaning.
Our boats then took turns to cruise the face of the glacier, getting as close as safely possible, before returning to the Skorpios III.
Lunch was waiting for us when we got back on the ship, and we tucked into a tasty meal while we motored to our last glacier of the journey.
The Bernal Glacier is in the final stages of its retreat due to global warming, and it no longer reaches the sea. While this is tragic to see, it has left behind a beautiful environment.
The zodiacs landed on the rocky shore and we began our short, 500m hike to the end of the glacier. Trekking through stunted trees and over stones took us between a turquoise lagoon, glistening in the afternoon sun.
When we finally reached the Bernal Glacier we could walk around to its side and actually touch it. We could see the ice melting right in front of us, and the deep blue hues shined brightly from different angles.
As this was our final glacier of the Skorpios Cruise we spent as much time as possible there. Alesha and I sat down on a rock and thought about how lucky we were to see these frozen masterpieces before they disappeared forever.
Montañas Fjord And Captain’s Dinner
The hike back to the zodiacs was quick, and when we returned to the ship we had a drink, then two, then three, before the icebreaker from the previous day came up to meet us.
Before the sun set we jumped back on and went for a final cruise around Montañas Fjord. The mood onboard was quite jovial, and with the captivating colours blitzing across the sky we all made the most of the last few moments of daylight in the Chilean Fjords.
The grand finale was waiting for us when we got back to the ship. At the end of every Skorpios Cruise they have the famous ‘Captain’s Dinner’ – a complete smorgasbord to say thanks to everyone for joining the crew on this amazing journey.
When we walked into the dining room there was a huge chunk of glacial ice lit up at the end of the table, with an enormous collection of food spread out for nearly 10 metres.
We grabbed our seats and were handed audio translators. The captain stood up and gave a great speech, thanking the passengers for joining them on this majestic journey, and describing the origins of the Skorpios Cruceros company and how it grew as a family-run business.
Every crew member is part of the same family, with the brothers and one sister being the managers and officers, and their cousins running the kitchen, bar and rooms.
It’s wonderful to see such a strong family unity, and it was easy to see they loved their jobs, and each other.
Afterwards the dinner began and there was a mad rush to get to the tables. What we didn’t know at the time was that most of the food available was some of the best, gourmet seafood that could be found in Chile, including abalone, king crab and oysters, as well as a whole selection of meats and salads.
Luckily we had a local explain to us what all the best food was, so we could grab some before it disappeared. We filled our plates then got tucked into it. The food on our Antarctica trip was amazing…but this was next level….
We filled our stomachs to the point of exploding, and tucked into the best Chilean wine available. When everyone had finished their meals the plates were cleared, the tables removed and the dining room turned into a dance club!
The youngest crew member stepped up as the DJ and local pop music started cranking out of the speakers. Everybody got up for a dance, grooving off the kilos of food they had just consumed.
Once Alesha and I had done our bit of shaking we decided to head upstairs to grab a drink in the quiet lounge. The rest of the English-speaking passengers were also up there and we sat up for a few more hours talking about our travels.
When we headed to bed we were parked outside of Puerto Natales, ready to dock in the morning.
Departing The Kaweskar Route
We woke up feeling a little dusty after all the wines and pisco sours, but managed to get down in time for breakfast. We swapped details with our fellow passengers and made plans to try and catch up whenever we made it into each other’s parts of the world.
Disembarking at Puerto Natales brought that chapter to an end. This was the last sailing of the Kaweskar Route for the season, and the crew were all looking forward to having the winter to work on different projects.
For us we’d wander back into Argentina and onwards to further Patagonian fields. Who knows if we’ll ever end up back in this part of Chile?
We’d like to think one day we will, and hopefully climate change hasn’t affected the glaciers too much. Still we had better return sooner rather than later.
The Kaweskar Route with Skorpios Cruceros was truly remarkable. Exploring the Chilean Fjords in itself is a beautiful experience, but being one of the lucky few who have ever seen some of the most threatened glaciers in Patagonia is something we will never forget.