Travelers come to Patagonia looking for adventure. For wild, rugged landscapes that showcase the power of nature and not of man. The beauty of Patagonia is that you can still find that here. Sure, there are cities and glaciers that receive over 100,000 visitors a year but there are still those hidden corners where you can gaze in awe at the beauty of the natural world around you. Arriving at Estancia Cristina for an overnight stay is one of these places.
Estancia Cristina is accessible only by boat. There are no roads that go to Cristina and upon arriving there and seeing the jagged peaks that surround the estancia you'll realize why. The land is rugged and untamed and it would be a true feat of engineering to construct a road through the glacier choked passes behind the estancia. The estancia is located inside the boundaries of Los Glaciares National Park. It was founded in 1900 by an englishman who, after years of dedication and perseverance, created a successful ranch. At the peak of the estancia, they raised 12,000 sheep, 30 cows and some 50 horses. When the park was formed the estancia had to cease all ranching activities and today Estancia Cristina, along with the National Parks Administration, tries to keep alive the history of the estancia and the remarkable legacy it left behind in this remote part of the world.
Before even arriving at Cristina you're in for a treat - the Upsala Glacier. The Upsala is larger than its more famous neighbor, Perito Moreno, but also more difficult to access. It is the second largest glacier in the National Park with walls rising 60m from the water and covers 336 sq mi (Perito Moreno covers 97 sq mi). It's about 1.5 hrs from the port near Calafate to arrive in the Upsala arm. The Upsala arm is filled with icebergs the size of small houses that have calved off of the main body. The boat can get close to these behemoth ice chunks and, if you're lucky, you might even get to see one turn. The Upsala is a very active glacier so the ship is not allowed to approach the main wall but the size of the glacier is truly astounding and you can understand the immensity of it as you watch the streams of ice fade off far into the horizon.
Once the boat docks, you'll be greeted by a fleet of guides and 4x4s ready to transport you to your chosen activity. There are 3 main options for Estancia Cristina which we'll run through below:
1. Discovery. Upon arrival at the estancia, you'll be picked up in a 4x4 and drive the dirt road to the Upsala lookout. A completely different view from what you experienced on the water, this birds eye view of the glacier shows the expanse of the Upsala and you can even see the entire Southern Patagonia Ice Field on a clear day. The viewpoint itself resembles the surface of the moon and is littered with fossils. After having some time at the viewpoint,retrace your steps in the 4x4 and have some time to explore the main estancia grounds. You can explore the museum, the main house, and the old chapel. At around 2pm settle in for a traditional Patagonia asado, including cordero de la parilla (grilled lamb). At 5:30pm the boat sails back the way it came and you'll spend the night in El Calafate
2. Trekking. This is our favorite day option. Upon arriving at the estancia, you'll make the same drive to the viewpoint as the discovery option but, instead of driving back down, you get to trek 14km through one of the most interesting and beautiful canyons in the area. The canyon is narrow and filled with deposits of sea fossils. Black rock contrasts with red and you pass dozens of lagoons nestled among the rocks. It's a photographer and geologist's dream. The final trail back to the estancia is through the meadows and rolling hills of the estancia with the waters of the cristina arm guiding your way forward. Lunch is a picnic lunch enroute. When you get back, have some time to explore the estancia before boarding the boat headed back to Calafate.
3. Overnight at Cristina. If you have the time for an overnight, this is the real deal and our number one pick for people considering Cristina. Upon arriving at the estancia, you'll be whisked away to the main house where you'll be introduced to the main dining hall and your accommodation for the night. The main lodge was built in the shape of an octagon and features big windows, a cozy fireplace, and innumerable historical objects and books to peruse at your leisure. The lodging is in 5 villas that have 4 rooms each. Each room has epic views of the mountain range behind the estancia and the windswept meadows that lead to their glacier capped summits. After settling in, you'll have the first of 3 incredible meals at Cristina. The chef uses as many local ingredients as possible and creates interesting and fresh takes on Patagonia favorites.
After lunch you have a number of options at your disposal and, with all the day trippers out and about, you feel like the estancia is all yours. You can choose to horseback ride with Cristina's resident gaucho, an activity exclusive to overnight guests, go on a self guided hike on one of the many well marked trails on the property, try your hand at fly fishing, or simply choose to explore the grounds. Whatever you decide to do, make sure to work up an appetite because dinner is sure to be delicious! The best part is that by the time you've returned from your activity of choice, the boat will have returned and you will have the estancia and this area all to yourselves. Now, there is no road, there is no boat, and it's just you and the estancia, much as the pioneers who built it must have felt (but without the 5* lodging). The guides will sit down and decide what your next day's activity will be (highly recommend the fossil trek) and after dinner make sure you leave the comfort of the fire for at least a little while to check out the stars above.
Wake up to epic vistas all around and leisurely make your way to the octagon for breakfast. After breakfast, meet up with your guide and head out on whatever excursion you have chosen for the day. The day is yours to make as you please and lunch is included - be it a picnic lunch on trail or a sit down lunch in the octagon. At 5:30pm you'll say goodbye and return to Calafate.
Keeping it wild,