Patagonia, Argentina, is a place that makes people want to pack up their bags and move to this natural paradise. Estancia Cristina, an old sheep ranch (estancia) dating back to 1918, makes that a possibility. In 2005, the site opened its doors as an inn, as well as an agro-tourism day trip destination.
A visit to the estancia provides background information about the history of how Argentine Patagonia was settled, in addition to explaining the functions of the farm. A Patagonian barbecue is a highlight of the region and to this site specifically, which normally features spit-roasted lamb, often accompanied by a glass of Argentina’s iconic Malbec wine.
Access to Estancia Cristina is on a boat from Puerto Bandera, itself only a 40-minute drive from El Calafate. It is easy to combine a trip to Estancia Cristina with a visit to the Upsala Glacier, one of the most active in the area.
Perched atop El Calafate’s nearest peak, with access to a vast stretch of snow-blanketed slopes and rugged mountain trails, the Calafate Mountain Park is an obvious choice for outdoors enthusiasts and there is a range of activities on offer. Winter visitors can make the most of the snow by skiing and tubing, or venture into the wilderness on a snowshoeing or snowmobiling excursion, while summer activities include downhill mountain biking and quad biking, along with kayaking and rafting tours around the nearby lakes and rivers. Even the journey to the Calafate Mountain Park is impressive and riding the chairlift to the 1,050-meter peak of Mt Huyliche serves up jaw dropping views over Argentino Lake and El Calafate below.
In addition to its enormous beauty, it is the planet's 3rd largest reserve of fresh water and one of the continent's last advancing glaciers. It slowly pours, in crackling celestial blue, from the granite spires of the Chilean Paine Mountains into Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park.
The glacier is a kinetic attraction, emitting sonic booms as it calves icebergs the size of skyscrapers into placid Lago Argenito. Every decade or two, it extends its reach just a tad too far, forming graceful ice bridges and tunnels just a bit too thin to hold, and the entire structure collapses into the sea, creating an ice flow of epic proportions.
While many visitors stay on solid ground, more adventurous travellers can explore the inlet in small boats, or even don crampons.