Beagle Channel Glacier Alley

Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan

The Chilean glacier regions of the Beagle Channel and the Strait of Magellan can be "explored" with both small expedition ships and comfortable cruise ships. 

Our choice falls on the 317 meter long Celebrity Eclipse. During a South American cruise, the ship and its crew prove that ships of this size can apparently operate without problems in the marine regions of Tierra del Fuego, which are considered difficult.

Beagle Canal with Glacier Alley

Besides the Strait of Magellan, the Beagle Channel is the second waterway that connects the Atlantic with the Pacific.

Cruising in front of Tierra del Fuego

Cruising in front of Tierra del Fuego

Ships that use it save the trip around Cape Horn. The canal was discovered in 1831 by the British naval officer Robert FitzRoy. The waterway was named after FitzRoy's research vessel HMS Beagle. The channel separates Tierra del Fuego from the southern islands of Navarino, Hoste and Gordon. The city of Ushuaia is located on Argentine territory on the north bank. To the east of Ushuaia, the Chilean military settlement of Puerto Williams was built on the south bank of the canal on the island of Navarino.

Beagle Channel near Ushuaia Puerto Williams on the Beagle Channel

Starting point Ushuaia

From Ushuaia, the southernmost city in Latin America, various canal tours lasting several hours are offered by ship in an easterly direction. A six-hour drive to Estancia Harberton, 75 kilometers away by land, is very worthwhile.

Beagle Channel at Les Eclaireurs lighthouse Les Eclaireurs lighthouse in the Beagle Channel By boat in the Beagle Channel Estancia Harberton in the Beagle Channel

Imposing glaciers

Seen in a westerly direction, the Beagle Channel splits into two arms behind Punta Yamana. The northern one is called Brazo Noroeste. In this estuary, ship travelers experience the exciting part of the canal trip, because several imposing glaciers follow one another on the northern side of the canal. They are all offshoots of the 2.300 square kilometer ice field that covers the Cordillera Darwin on Tierra del Fuego. In the course of the 19th century, European cartographers named the ice masses striving towards the water after European countries. To the west, these are the Hollanda, Italia, Francia, Alemania, Romanche (Switzerland) and España glaciers.

In front of the Beagle Channel's Glacier Alley

In front of the Beagle Channel's Glacier Alley

The Celebrity Eclipse takes this sea route. At slow speeds, the ship glides through the inlet that resembles a Norwegian fjord. On the left in the direction of travel we see individual snow or ice fields and in between deep cuts in the rocky coast. On the right-hand side, the glaciers follow over a period of about three hours. They are all so-called sea glaciers that move towards the canal. In the case of individual glaciers, the dividing line between the fresh water flowing from the ice surface and the sea water can be clearly seen over great distances. Despite bad weather conditions, the glacier passage is an impressive experience. It is hard to imagine what the landscape should look like in the sunshine.

Glacier Alley - Hollanda Glacier Glacier Alley - Hollanda Glacier Glacier Alley - Italia Glacier Glacier Alley - Francia Glacier


Glacier Alley - Alemania Glacier Glacier Alley - in front of the Romanche Glacier Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier


Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier Glacier Alley - Espana Glacier Beagle Channel - freshwater stream of the Alemania Glacier

Cockburn Canal and Magdalena Canal

After leaving the Beagle Channel, the winding ship route leads our ship in a westerly direction through a waterway dotted with countless islands. Then the Cockburn Canal and the Magdalena Canal will be crossed in a northerly direction. The Strait of Magellan follows.

The Strait of Magellan - formerly an important sea route

The seafaring owes the discovery of the Strait of Magellan to the Portuguese Fernão Magalhães. The captain, called Magellan in German, was commissioned by the Spanish crown to discover a sea route to the Asian countries on a western course with five sailing ships.

The discovery of the Strait of Magellan

On November 1, 1520, a severe storm forced the two remaining ships, three of the ships were lost, to enter a protective bay. It was the Strait of Magellan, later named after him. Upon closer investigation, this sea route turned out to be a suitable connection for sailing ships between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Magellan also explored the regions of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.

Strait of Magellan, cruise ship and cormorant colony

Strait of Magellan, cruise ship and cormorant colony

Important sea route before the opening of the Panama Canal

The Strait of Magellan as a connection between the two oceans made a trip around Cape Horn, which was only discovered almost 100 years later and often hit by storms, superfluous. It also offered the seafarers the opportunity to take in provisions and water. This fact promoted the emergence and development of the Chilean city Punta Arenas. For almost four centuries, the connection between the two seas was more popular than the sea route around Cape Horn. However, the Strait of Magellan was also considered difficult and dangerous terrain for the crews of the sailing ships because of the wind and current conditions. With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, the sea route lost its importance for shipping. After all, cruise and expedition ships regularly call at the city of Punta Arenas.

View of Punta Arenas

View of Punta Arenas

Destination Punta Arenas

Officially, the Strait of Magellan begins in the Atlantic at Punta Dungeness near Cabo Virgenes. The northern tip of Isla Desolación marks the inlet on the Pacific side. The sea route is numbered with different lengths. In general, about 310 nautical miles (about 570 kilometers) are mentioned. At its narrowest point, the sea route is not even four kilometers wide. The approaches to the Strait of Magellan are on both oceans at almost the same latitude, around 52 degrees south. The road has belonged to Chile since 1881.

The next stage destination of the Celebrity Eclipse is the port of Punta Arenas in Chile.

Update March 2021



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