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. We take the cruise ship from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas. The ship and its crew demonstrate during a South American cruise that ships of this size can operate without any problems in the sea 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

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

Beagle Channel with Isla Navarino

Beagle Channel - Puerto Williams military settlement 

Starting point Ushuaia

From Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost city in Latin America, various canal tours lasting several hours are offered by boat in an easterly direction. A total of six hours drive to Estancia Harberton is very worthwhile. The distance by land is 75 kilometers. The sea route and landscape are breathtaking. As an encore there are the mighty seals resting on small islands and the cute penguins. The following photos were taken during a canal trip booked in Ushuaia on the excursion boat Ezequiel.

Troubled seas in the Beagle Channel
Beagle Channel - Estancia Harberton
Beagle Channel - resting seals

Cruise Center Hamburg Altona

Beagle Channel - penguin colony

Cruise Center Altona with cruise ship 

Breathtaking glaciers

Seen to the west, the Beagle Channel splits behind Punta Yamana. The northern arm is called Brazo Noroeste. In this inlet, cruise ship guests experience the exciting part of the canal trip, as several impressive glaciers follow each other on the northern side of the canal. They are all extensions 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 reaching the water after European countries. In the westerly direction these are the Hollanda, Italia, Francia, Alemania, Romanche (Switzerland) and España glaciers.

Beagle Channel - beginning of Glacier Alley

Beagle Channel - beginning of Glacier Alley

This route is taken by the Celebrity Eclipse. When traveling slowly, the ship glides through the inlet that resembles a Norwegian fjord. To the left in the direction of travel we see individual snow or ice fields and occasional deep cuts in the rocky coast. The glaciers follow on the right side over a period of about three hours. The so-called sea glaciers move towards the Beagle Channel. On individual glaciers, the dividing line between the fresh water flowing from the ice surface and the sea water can be clearly seen over large distances. Despite poor weather conditions and disappointing visibility, the glacier passage is an impressive experience. It's impossible to imagine what the landscape might look like when the sun is shining.

Glacier Alley - Hollanda Glacier
Glacier Alley - Italia Glacier
Glacier Alley - Francia Glacier
Glacier Alley - Alemania Glacier
Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier
Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier
Glacier Alley - Romanche Glacier
Glacier Alley - España Glacier

Glacier Alley - España Glacier

Glacier Alley - freshwater stream on 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

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.

Three of the ships were lost during the expedition. On November 1, 1520, a severe storm forced the two remaining ships to enter a protective bay. It was the Strait of Magellan, later named after him. Upon further exploration, this sea route proved 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

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 was often buffeted by storms, unnecessary. It also offered the sailors the opportunity to take on provisions and water. This circumstance 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

Punta Arenas – destination for cruise ships

The Strait of Magellan officially 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 has different lengths. Generally around 310 nautical miles (around 570 kilometers) are mentioned. At its narrowest point, the strait is less than four kilometers wide. The entrances to the Strait of Magellan on both oceans are at almost the same latitude, approximately 52 degrees south. The road has belonged to Chile since 1881.

An interesting stopover on the Strait of Magellan is Punta Arenas in Chile, the next destination of the Celebrity Eclipse.

Update February 2024