Los Glaciares Planning & Tips

Why you should stay in an estancia in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park

Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park has no shortage of brilliant places to stay, from luxury lodges to comfortably cool glamping opportunities. You can stay in a hotel in the centre of El Chaltén town and walk straight out of your door to join a mountain trail, or you can get close to nature by camping out on a multi-day trek. 

But for me, the best way to taste the spirit of this region is to book yourself into an estancia.

What is an estancia?

At its heart, an estancia is a ranch. The word is used through Argentina and Chile – in other parts of Latin America you might hear the word hacienda instead. In Patagonia, an estancia means not just somewhere to raise sheep and cows, but it also offers a taste of big landscapes and even bigger skies. 

The gauchos of Los Glaciares

Estancias in this region are also inextricably tied to the figure of the gaucho – the romantic cowboy of Argentinian folklore, who can always be found on his horse where the frontier meets the wilderness.

Today, many estancias have begun to offer accommodation to their portfolios. They range greatly in style, from stylish luxury to rustic farm stay, which means there’s something for every style of travel. During your stay, you can ride horses, go hiking, or simply switch off and drink in the scenery (and perhaps a good glass of malbec at the same time). Every estancia is unique, but they all offer a perfect view of Los Glaciares’s epic landscapes, with a taste of traditional Argentinian culture in this region.

Here are my favourite estancias that I visited on my most recent visit to Los Glaciares, when I spent much of my time in the saddle, connecting with the region’s gaucho culture

Estancia Nibepo Aike

Estancia Nibepo Aike is probably the most popular estancia in Los Glaciares, for one good reason: it’s perfectly located inside the national park between the town of El Calafate, the gateway to the region, and Perito Moreno glacier, its most spectacular landmark. The mountains that surround the estancia are pretty amazing as well.

Chloe at Estancia Nibepo Aike

Nibepo Aike is very much a working estancia, and day trippers come here to get a taste of traditional ranch life. On tour here you can see gauchos rounding up sheep with their dogs, as well as sheep shearing and cow milking demonstrations, finishing up with a terrific traditional asado barbeque. 

Staying here however offers far more. You can go horse riding or hiking or just laze in front of the wood fire and get to know the family who still run the ranch more than a century after it was founded. It’s a rustic and homely charm that you immediately relax into. If parts of the farm seem busy when there is a tour on, you’ll quickly have the place to yourself (there are just ten rooms. Hike up above the estancia for astounding views of the lake and mountains that surround the ranch. 

Gauchos at Estancia Nibepo Aike.

Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the estancia’s unusual sounding name, it was inspired by both Patagonia’s colonial and indigenous inhabitants: Nibepo is an amalgam of the nicknames of the daughters of the ranch’s founder, while Aike is the Tehuelche word for place. 

Estancia el Cóndor

If you want a taste of the remote, point your compass towards Estancia El Cóndor. This is definitely off the beaten path: it took me five hours to get here by road from El Calafate airport, the second half of which is on a gravel drive heading toward the turquoise blue of Lago San Martín. You can see the bars of reception on your photo slowly drop away until you’re deep in the silent wilderness. 

The effort it takes to get here is repaid by an absolutely wonderful experience. There are no daytrippers of course – and with just six double rooms, there are hardly any other guests here. Even the cattle here take time to track down because they’re so free roaming, though there’s a good chance you might eat one during your stay. 

All this remoteness creates a wonderfully intimate atmosphere here. There’s a charming family atmosphere among the guests and staff. There is horse riding for all levels, and the option out head out on longer trips and spend a night under canvas.

Galpón de Glaciar

Galpón del Glaciar is a small estancia that has converted itself into a hosteria (guesthouse). Like Nibepo Aike, it’s also close to El Calafate, but this time is located right up against the shores of Lago Argentina. 

This helps make Galpón del Glaciar a great place to stay if you’re interested in wildlife as well as the ranching lifestyle. The nearby Reserva Natural Laguna de los Pájaros is brilliant for birdwatching, with flamingoes to be seen as well as many other species of water bird – and a few condors on the wing high above you. You can ride by horseback to a small bird watching hide on the lakeshore.

The lake adds another element to the horse riding experience, as there aren’t many places you can ride along the beach or dunes as well as the pampa. 

Back at the ranch, there are sheep shearing demonstrations (the estancia still raises about 200 head of sheep despite mainly pivoting to tourism), and in the evening the restaurant hosts a lively tango show that’s great fun. There are 16 rooms, decorated in a suitably rustic style.

Estancia La Josefina

Estancia La Josefina is another place where you can get to experience Patagonia in all its remote splendour. Getting here is part of the fun – while it’s more or less equidistant from El Calafate and El Chaltén, that feels more like a detail when you need a six-hour drive to get here, followed by a boat crossing across a lake. It’s one of the most remote hotels I’ve ever visited. 

La Josefina isn’t a true estancia – it’s more like glamping in an extremely remote location, staying in permanent dome tents heated by wood stoves. You quickly get to know the small number of staff here, but they’re keen for you to get out and enjoy the nature and wild spaces on your own terms. 

There’s not much active focus on riding as most of the animals here are actually rescues. While there are horses available for riding, there’s just as much fun to be had exploring the rough trails knowing how far you are from civilization. The wild beauty of the region demands quiet and contemplation.  

For the ultimate experience, it’s possible to hike part of the way to Estancia La Josefina, though you’d need an early start to make it in a full day. I’d recommend staying here to unwind in the second half of your trip: the wonderful isolation you’ll enjoy here could make for something of a culture shock if you immediately followed it with the bustle of somewhere like El Chaltén. 

Estancia La Estela

La Estela is technically a hotel with an estancia look rather than a ranch proper. It sits on a rise looking down over Lake Viedma, and perfectly placed for a stop over on the drive between El Calafate and El Chaltén. 

There are just five suites here, all beautifully decorated – the owners have made sure that the estancia detailing really hits the mark. I stayed in the main house which has a large common area that would make it a great choice for groups, but there are other rooms in separate buildings: a classic feature of an estancia. All the rooms have lovely views over Viedma Lake. 

The estancia’s location means that it also runs a popular restaurant, which takes advantage of the lake views and offers a much more varied menu than might be expected at an estancia where barbeque can sometimes be placed front and centre. The owners are really interested in wine and their ambition is to create the southernmost winery in Patagonia, growing grapes in a greenhouse. 

There is no livestock at La Estela, but there are plenty of horses, as well as a brilliant larger than life sculpture of a horse made by a local artist. Rides are available of course – I tried the full day ride that included a lunch close to the beach, where there is a little cabin to eat in if the weather takes a turn. 

Exploring more estancias

I visited six estancias on my recent trip to Los Glaciares. There was one more that my itinerary didn’t allow me to reach, though I’ve visited before – the historic Estancia Cristina, which can only be reached by catamaran cruise north of El Calafate, past the stunning Upsala Glacier. Many visitors go for the day which makes a break there a more exclusive experience – Swoop’s Patagonia Specialist Danny has the inside information on what it’s like to stay there: take a look at his blog exploring the best luxury accommodation in Los Glaciares to find out more.


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Chloe Mazille

Swoop Patagonia Specialist

Chloe grew up in the French Alps but has lived in Chile since 2012. She has hiked and ridden extensively throughout Patagonia and is also a keen long-distance runner, having competed in marathons from Chicago to Helsinki as well in her Santiago home.