Argentina travel guide: Estancias, alternatives to El Calafate Hotels
An estancia near El Calafate, Patagonia.
Photo by Alessandro Grussu/Flickr
From the eastern pampas to the southern steppe, Argentina’s Patagonia is scattered with remote estancias. These working ranches once served 20th century gauchos, the brave souls who raised cattle in a nearly desolate landscape.
Now, many of the estancias near El Calafate offer room, board, and activities like horseback riding and sheep shearing demonstrations, giving visitors a taste of the rugged and beautiful way of life in southern Patagonia.
From El Calafate, the trekker’s town accessible by airport or by bus, there are several estancias within a half or full day trip, and all are worthy of inclusion in your next Argentina El Calafate tour. Keep in mind that the best time to travel to Southern Argentina is October through April.
Estancia Cristina, only accessible by boat or a several day trek, is one of the most isolated estancias in the region, but it is also one of the best. From El Calafate, you catch a boat cruise at Puerto Banderas on Lago Argentino, and head north towards the Upsala Glacier, passing icebergs that glow several shades of blue.
Once you arrive at the 85,000 acre ranch, its beauty astounds. Set on a meadow that glows green in the spring and summer, against the backdrop of the looming Upsala Glacier, the green-and-white trimmed lodge will lure you to book another night on the spot.
The ranch, in operation since 1914, once belonged to an Englishman. Now it offers room, board, a full Patagonian lunch to day trippers, plus guided walks or horseback riding to the Upsala Glacier lookout point. After a day of exploring the ranch, you can return in the boat cruise to Puerto Banderas, or tuck into bed in your rustic cabin.
The Galpón del Glaciar estancia is the closest to El Calafate. Only 12 miles from town, it is a working ranch where traditional sheep shearing methods are practiced. If you arrive by lunchtime, you will be treated to delicious homemade scones, puddings, and baked goods.
You can choose to take a walking tour to the Native American camping grounds, go mountain biking or bird watching along Los Pájaros Lagoon, or watch Kelpis shepherding dogs hard at work at the arreo, the sheep round up before the sheep shearing demonstration.
In the evening, you can end your excursion with a delicious Patagonian lamb barbecue and watch a traditional folk dance. If you choose to spend the night here, you can book a room with a terrific view of the Cordillera de los Andes or the Lago Argentino.
Read about our other recommended El Calafate estancias in our El Calafate Tours.